For most baseball fans, the nickname "Big Train" conjures up thoughts of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson. For fans that grew up in my era, the nickname might also bring to mind the 1969 exploits of power-hitting first baseman Donn Clendenon. He was also known as "Big Train," a nickname that had nothing to do with baseball but was given to him because of the powerful way that the multi-sport star ran with a football.
Clendenon died over the weekend at the age of 70, the victim of a long battle with leukemia. I once interviewed Big Train for MLB Radio, and while I hardly can say that I knew him well, he could not have been more friendly or cordial during our brief exchange on the air. He seemed like a true gentleman.
Although Clendenon played most of his prime seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, his contributions to the New York Mets in 1969 will remain his most lasting legacy. In many ways, the 1969 season was the most tumultuous season of Clendenon’s career. After having been taken by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 expansion draft, Clendenon found himself on the trading block. In January, the Expos made him the centerpiece of a four-player package that brought star outfielder Rusty Staub over from the Houston Astros. Clendenon, however, did not want to play for Houston; when spring training rolled around, Clendenon announced that he intended to retire and would not report to his new team. The Commissioner’s Office eventually intervened, ordering the two teams to restructure the deal, with Clendenon remaining in Montreal.
The Mets probably didn’t know it at the time, but Clendenon’s brief retirement and his subsequent return to Montreal would eventually pay major dividends for the New York franchise. Unhappy with Clendenon—who in turn became unhappy because of sporadic playing time in Montreal—the Expos decided to trade Clendenon a second time. On June 15, which used to be baseball’s trading deadline, the Mets made themselves a fortuitous deal with the Expos, sending backup infielder Kevin Collins and three minor league pitchers north of the border for Clendenon. (Of the players dealt, only young right-hander Steve Renko did anything of consequence for the expansion Expos, becoming an effective member of the starting rotation in the franchise’s early years.)
This time, Clendenon didn’t balk at the deal. He joined the Mets, at first becoming a platoon partner with Ed Kranepool at first base. Clendenon immediately strengthened the Mets’ lineup against left-handed pitching and deepened a relatively thin and inexperienced bench. In due time, he became the Mets’ everyday first baseman—in an important decision made by manager Gil Hodges. In 72 games with the Mets, Clendenon finished with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs, solid power numbers to be sure, but hardly earth-shattering. Still, Clendenon gave the Mets a more powerful presence against left-handed pitching, deepened the bench by allowing Hodges to bring Kranepool over the bench, and delivered some timely home runs over the final three and a half months of the season. With Clendenon providing a boost, the Mets overcame a nine-and-a-half game deficit and won the Eastern Division by eight games over the far more talented Chicago Cubs.
More significantly, Clendenon saved his best hitting for the postseason. He became the centerpiece of the Mets’ offense during the World Series against the substantially favored Baltimore Orioles. In Game One, Clendenon doubled and singled in a Series-opening loss. In Game Two, he powered a critical solo home run that lifted the Mets to a 2-1 victory. Clendenon then homered in Game Four, and again in the clinching Game Five, as the Mets finalized their stunning upset of the seemingly invincible Birds of Baltimore.
While the Mets probably could have won the National League East without Clendenon, they would have been hard-pressed to overpower the supremely talented Orioles—in five games no less—without the intimidating presence of the modern day Big Train.
Just when it appeared that the Washington Nationals had died a slow death in the National League wildcard race, they managed to sweep the New York Mets in a three-game series and maintain hopes of an unlikely playoff berth. Given their resilience in the series against the Mets, it seems like an appropriate time to pay tribute to their manager, who continues to work wonders in The District.
Of all the great players in major league history, Frank Robinson remains the most underrated. By the time he called it quits as a player in 1976, most fans failed to give him his proper due; the attention given to his retirement fell short of the pomp-and-circumstance afforded players like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Unfortunately, the passing of time hasn’t done much to improve his legacy with the mainstream fans and media. Whenever a writer provides his listing of an all-time team or a media outlet conducts of survey of fans, Robinson’s name never seems to make the cut. He’s never listed among the top three outfielders of all time, and rarely even given consideration as the team’s designated hitter.
Now it’s probably too much to expect that Robinson would break through an all-time outfield of Ted Williams, Mays, and Babe Ruth (not to mention Aaron and Barry Bonds); the competition among all-time outfielders is awfully stiff, featuring tougher competition than just any about other position. But when voters make up a second or third team, and don’t include Robinson, or when ballots don’t even feature F. Robby’s name among the initial choices, those developments border on the galling.
Why is Robinson remembered as only a very good-to-excellent player, and not one of the all-time greats? Perhaps it has something to do with his rough and sometimes surly personality, which can overshadow what is genuinely a good man. Catch Robinson at the wrong time and watch the gruffness as it flies from his body to your face. But I think there’s more to it than that. Perhaps Robinson lacks recognition because he didn’t possess a hallmark feature to his game that stood out above the rest. Historians remember Williams as the greatest pure hitter, hail the speedy Mays as greatest defensive center fielder, and recall the triumvirate of Aaron, Bonds, and Ruth for their lofty home run totals. In comparison, Robinson wasn’t as great a hitter as Williams, didn’t have Mays’ defensive abilities, and didn’t possess as much raw power as Aaron, Bonds, or Ruth. So in a sense, relegating him to a lower echelon than the above immortals seems like a reasonable and appropriate choice.
Yet, trying to compartmentalize Robinson’s career might not be the best way to appreciate his full resume. As a five-tool talent during the prime years of his career, Robby did everything well: he hit for average and power, ran well and stole bases efficiently, played a good defensive right field, and threw well from the outfield (at least until he hurt his shoulder). Simply put, he had no discernible weakness in his all-encompassing game, putting him in a similar all-round category as players like Aaron and Mays.
And then there are the more subtle aspects to the game, especially the parts that involve intelligence and effort. As a hitter, Robinson was both patient and aggressive; he was selective enough to draw walks and limit his strikeouts, but daunting enough to take a stance that featured half of his body hanging over home plate, challenging pitchers to throw at him inside (and pile up his hit-by-pitch totals). On the bases, Robinson was one of the greatest baserunners of all-time. Hustling at all times, he ran with an unmatched abandon and urgency, even when plagued by injury. On potential double plays, few runners of his era have ever matched Robinson’s intensity in knocking down middle infielders. While arguments could be made for the likes of Don Baylor and Hal McRae, it’s debatable whether either of those gamers took out the second baseman with the kind of ferocity that Robinson did. And then there’s Robinson’s defensive play, which featured an emphasis on the fundamentals—hitting the cutoff man and throwing to the right base. From controlling the strike zone to understanding the importance of running the bases to grasping game situations in the outfield, Robinson excelled at every one of these underappreciated aspects of the game.
So where would I place Robinson on an all-time team? In all honesty, I couldn’t place him ahead of Aaron, Mays, or Ruth—they were the three supreme beings in my mind—but I’d find a place for him on the second-team outfield, along with Bonds and Williams. And if I could include a designated hitter, I might just select Robinson. He was effective in that capacity toward the end of his career, making the adjustment from fulltime outfielder to specialty role, a transition often difficult for superstar players who fail to recognize the effects of age on their declining skills. In contrast, he adapted and improvised, maintaining his effectiveness as a player through 1974, just two years before his retirement.
Robinson’s achievements as a player are sufficient to gain him a place in the game’s mythical pantheon. Yet, they don’t encapsulate all of his contributions to the game. In 1975, he became the first African-American manager in major league history, a pioneering feat that hasn’t been given its full recognition. Overcoming racist elements from some quarters of the game—particularly fans and some opponents—Robinson learned quickly on the job. Beginning with his work as a player-manager for the Cleveland Indians, Robinson has become one of the best field managers of the free agent era. (That’s an area that sets him apart from the other great outfielders, most of whom did little managerial work after their playing days, with one enjoying long-term success as managers.) In his early years with the Indians, Robinson lost his temper too often and didn’t handle his disagreements with umpires very effectively, but he learned to curb his temper and selected his fights more judiciously. (He still retains some of that old anger, as evidenced by his recent 45-second staredown with umpire Jim Wolf). After enduring growing pains in the dugout, Robinson became an improved manager with the San Francisco Giants, guiding the team to a respectable third-place finish in 1982, and later led the Baltimore Orioles out of the wilderness of one of the worst eras in the franchise’s history. A Manager of the Year Award in Baltimore, coupled with his work in helping both the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals become perennial overachievers, has started to convince some observers that he’s one of the game’s finest managers. As with his playing legacy, Robinson the manager remains underrated, but his old-school approach and deep-seeded knowledge of the game has earned him the respect of both the old-time print media and their younger counterparts on the internet.
Few men have combined a Hall of Fame playing career with an exemplary tenure as a manager. Frank Robinson deserves recognition for both; he was one of the game’s immortals on the field, and remains one of its inspiring leaders from the dugout. Simply put, he’s one of baseball’s great men.
On September 15, 1985, the New York Yankees acquire pitcher Joe Niekro from the Houston Astros for three minor leaguers. The trade reunites Joe with his older brother, Phil. The brothers had been teammates with Atlanta in 1974…
On September 15, 1979, Bob "The Bull" Watson of the Boston Red Sox becomes the first player to hit for the cycle in both the American and National leagues. Watson’s cycle helps the Red Sox to a 10-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Earlier in his career, Watson had hit for the cycle with the Houston Astros…
On September 15, 1969, Steve Carlton of the St. Louis Cardinals sets a major league record by fanning 19 batters but loses a 4-3 decision to the New York Mets. "Lefty" surrenders a pair of two-run homers to Ron Swoboda…
On September 15, 1963, the three Alou brothers—Felipe, Jesus, and Matty—play in the San Francisco Giants’ outfield at the same time. Manager Alvin Dark removes starting outfielders Willie Mays and Willie McCovey from the game and plays the Alous together for one inning of the Giants’ 13-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates…
On September 15, 1950, Johnny Mize of the New York Yankees sets a major league record by hitting three home runs in a game for the sixth time. In spite of Mize’s six RBIs, the Yankees lose to the Tigers, 9-7…
On September 15, 1921, four Philadelphia A’s pitchers combine to issue 16 walks in a game against the Cleveland Indians. Arliss Taylor, making his only major league appearance, strikes out Joe Sewell, one of the best contact hitters in history. The A’s lose, 17-3.
On September 13, 1991, a 55-ton piece of concrete falls from the rafters of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium onto the playing field. Fortunately, no one is injured in the mishap, which forces the Expos to relocate their next four home games…
On September 13, 1971, Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles rips home runs in each game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers to become the 11th man to enter the 500-home run club. Robinson’s 28 home runs in 1971 will help the Orioles win the American League pennant…
On September 13, 1965, Willie Mays hits his 500th career home run. Connecting against Don Nottebart of the Houston Astros, Mays becomes only the fifth player to reach the milestone. Mays’ blast helps the San Francisco Giants to a 5-1 win…
On September 13, 1946, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox defies the “Boudreau Shift” by hitting an inside-the-park home run to left field. The opposite field homer gives Boston a 1-0 victory and clinches the American League pennant for the Red Sox…
On September 13, 1936, 17-year-old Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians strikes out 17 Philadelphia A’s in a 5-2 victory. Feller breaks the American League record for most strikeouts in a single game, and matches the major league mark…
On September 13, 1927, Babe Ruth hits two home runs to lead the New York Yankees to a doubleheader sweep and the clinching of the American League pennant. Ruth hits his 51st and 52nd home runs while Waite Hoyt earns his 20th victory of the season…
The Yankees’ Tuesday night loss to the Devil Rays underscored two of their biggest problem points this season: shoddy defense and an inability to hit with runners in scoring position. In the ninth inning, rookie second baseman Robinson Cano made three different mistakes, including a botch-up of a routine ground ball up the middle that allowed the game’s winning run to scored. After the initial error, Cano passively played a ground ball by the speedy Carl Crawford, who beat the throw to first base. And then when Crawford took off for second base on a stolen basse attempt, Cano took the throw in front of the bag and tried to sweep the tag backward instead of straddling the bag and applying a more direct tag to Crawford. Fortunately for the Yankees, Crawford didn’t come home to score, but the damage had already been done to Mariano Rivera, who didn’t allow a hard hit ball in the entire inning and deserved a better ninth-inning fate… The Yankees’ offense didn’t perform much better. After jumping on Casey Fossum for three early runs, the Yankees failed to score over the final seven frames. They collected 11 hits on the night, but once again couldn’t put forth the kind of timely hit that would have put the game away against a non-contending team. The ankees also showed a terrible lack of patience in the ninth inning, as Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter both swung at first pitches, Posada grounding out to third and Jeter tapping into a game-ending double play. For the Yankees, it was simply one of their worst loss of the season–and the latest in a long line of 2005 defeats to Lou Piniella’s Devil Rays…
The Pirates made news on Tuesday when they announced the firing of Lloyd McClendon and the hiring of Pete Mackanin on an interim basis. Former Bucs skipper Jim Leyland appears to be the leading candidate for the permanent position, with Pirate coach John Russell also in the running. While Leyland’s resume is superior, he might not have the youthful energy needed for the massive rebuilding project the Pirates face. Leyland was considered a candidate for the Mets’ job last winter, but there were questions about Leyland’s willingness to put in the long hours that the modern day managerial job requires… I’d like to see the Pirates go in a different direction. Why not bring back one of the former players from their glory days, one who remembers what it was like to win in a Pirates uniform and who’s had experience as either a major league coach or minor league manager? Former Pirates outfielder Gene Clines, a coach under Dusty Baker in Chicago, is an intelligent baseball man who relates well to players, even ones with difficult personalities like Barry Bonds. (Clines was Bonds’ hitting instructor with the Giants.) Another possibility would be former Bucs third baseman Richie Hebner, who has loads of experience as both a manager and coach in the minor leagues. If nothing else, Hebner would bring some flavor to the Pirates’ dugout, with his off-color language and old style baseball chatter. As Cosmo Kramer would say, Hebner likes to “let the expletives fly.” Given the Pirates’ performance this summer, a few expletives are probably in order…
Speaking of Bonds, he appears ready to return to the Giants later this month, though it remains to be seen whether he plays the outfield regularly or merely comes off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It’s been revealed that former Giants reliever Jason Christiansen was the teammate that grappled with Bonds in an off-field incident earlier this season. (Not surprisingly, Christiansen has since been traded.) According to several news sources, Bonds struck Christiansen in the jaw and Christiansen responded by tying up Bonds in a headlock. If it had been Cliff Johnson putting the temperamental Giant in the headlock, Bonds’ season might truly be over.
On September 6, 1996, Eddie Murray of the Baltimore Orioles hits his 500th career home run. Connecting against Felipe Lira of the Detroit Tigers, Murray becomes the 15th member of the 500-home run club…
On September 6, 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles breaks one of baseball’s most famous records. Ripken plays in his 2,131st consecutive game, surpassing the mark held by Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. The record becomes official after four and a half innings. During a 22-minute delay, Ripken takes a victory lap around Camden Yards…
On September 6, 1982, the Pittsburgh Pirates hold “Willie Stargell Day” at Three Rivers Stadium. The 41-year old slugger, who will retire at the end of the season, contributes a pinch-hit single in a 6-1 win over the New York Mets…
On September 6, 1973, the New York Yankees, out of contention in the American League’s Eastern Division, sell two of the Alou brothers to National League teams. The Yanks peddle first baseman Felipe Alou to the Montreal Expos and outfielder Matty Alou to the St. Louis Cardinals…
On September 6, 1963, the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators play the 100,000th game in major league history, according to Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen. Bennie Daniels pitches the Senators to a 7-2 victory over the Indians…
On September 6, 1943, Carl Scheib of the Philadelphia Athletics becomes the youngest player in American League history. Scheib makes his major league debut at the age of 16 years and eight months.
As with any all-time all-star team, nominations and final selections will stir the pots of argument and debate. That’s a good thing, because it forces us to learn more about the players involved, while bringing to better light the accomplishments of those who have been overlooked for too long. And the passion in our voices reminds us of how important it is to pay homage to those who performed so well in past generations. In the case of Major League Baseball’s Latino Legends ballot, there is an added element that raises another question: how exactly do we define Latino? There is no definitive answer to this complex question–almost every scholar will propose a different formula–but for the purposes of this promotion, the following seems simple and reasonable. Let’s define Latino players as those who were either born in Latin American countries, or those who have Latino heritage on both their mothers’ and fathers’ sides of the family. By using that definition–and this is what Major League Baseball seems to have done with its ballot–we exclude Reggie Jackson (who was Latino only on his father’s side) and Ted Williams (whose mother was half-Mexican). Besides, Jackson and Williams have never really been referred to as “Latino” in previous baseball discussions, so it might make sense to maintain the status quo on that one.
Even without Jackson and Williams, there is no shortage of talent on an all-Latino team. Here is one writer’s opinion on who deserves to make the final cut–and who just missed:
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez: Rodriguez is showing signs of decline in Detroit this season, but that’s understandable for a player who’s been catching the bulk of his teams’ games since the middle of the 1991 season. After making his major league debut at the age of 19, the native of Puerto Rico quickly established himself as the best throwing catcher in either league, drawing comparisons to the defensive standards established by Johnny Bench. Quick and agile behind the plate, Rodriguez also became a force with the bat, setting an American League record for catchers by hitting 35 home runs in 1999. He also batted .332, giving him the best single-season average for an AL catcher since Bill Dickey in 1936. Such numbers earned Rodriguez a controversial selection as league MVP, as he surprisingly beat out Pedro Martinez. I-Rod didn’t deserve the MVP that year, but he certainly deserves the ranking as the greatest Latino catcher of all-time… There’s really no one who comes close to Rodriguez among Latino receivers; he’s a future Hall of Famer who ranks several notches ahead of 1970s standout Manny Sanguillen. The former Pirates’ catcher was overrated offensively–he never saw a pitch he didn’t like–but was an underrated defender, baserunner, and team leader… Jorge Posada could move past Sanguillen on the list, but he’ll have to reverse a downward trend that might put him in a part-time role by 2006.
Orlando Cepeda: An underrated defensive first baseman, Cepeda built most of his reputation as one of the game’s most feared sluggers of the 1960s. The Puerto Rican-born Cepeda nearly won a Triple Crown with the Giants in 1961–a year that saw him overshadowed by Roger Maris–but it was as a member of the Cardinals that Cepeda achieved the most glory. Filling the team’s need for a cleanup hitter, “Cha Cha” won the National League’s MVP Award in unanimous fashion in 1967, leading St. Louis to the World Championship. Cepeda later had success with Atlanta and Boston, helping the Braves to their first playoff berth and serving as the first DH in Red Sox franchise history… Based on pure hitting ability and defensive play, Cepeda rates one notch above Tony Perez, who fell short of the “Baby Bull” on both sides of the ball. One could also make an argument for Perez as a third baseman; he played five seasons there, though not particularly well, making him too much of a liability on an all-time team. And then there’s Rafael Palmeiro, who remains a kind of candidate-in-waiting until more is learned about the extent of his steroid use.
Roberto Alomar: The spitting incident and his listless tenure with the Mets will always taint Alomar’s record and will likely cost him some Hall of Fame votes, but they shouldn’t prevent acknowledgment of his five-tool greatness. A native of Puerto Rico, Alomar piled up ten Gold Gloves, the most by any second baseman, surpassing Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski and Ryne Sandberg. Alomar’s combination of soft hands, acrobatic range, and quick trigger on the double play, coupled with his ability to steal bases and hit for average and power, made the switch-hitter the preeminent second baseman of the 1990s and early 2000s… Among Latino second basemen, only Rod Carew was a better hitter than Alomar, but Carew’s lack of power and his defensive limitations in the middle infield–which forced a mid-career switch to first base–make Alomar the deserving choice.
Alex Rodriguez: This ranks as the weakest position historically for Latino players, motivating me to cheat (but just a little bit) and give the nod to Rodriguez based on a sampling of less than two seasons at the position. Assuming that he can stay healthy and put in at least three more productive seasons at the corner, I’ll go with A-Rod over the underrated but unspectacular Mike Lowell (born in Puerto Rico) and career journeymen like Edgardo Alfonso, Vinny Castilla, and the original A-Rod (Aurelio Rodriguez). In making a nearly seamless transition on the left side of the infield, Rodriguez has displayed the necessary quickness, smooth hands, and strong arm that the hot corner requires. And now that’s he more comfortable in his second season in the Bronx, he’s regained the ferocious hitting stroke that once appeared to be in decline, but now has him ranked among the top three players in the game… Castilla’s numbers will always be treated with some contempt because of Coors Field, but he does have longevity on his side, enough to place him at No. 2 on the third base depth chart. In his earlier years, Castilla was a fine third baseman, having made a successful conversion from shortstop. If not for mid-career back problems, Alfonso might have achieved a higher ranking than Castilla, but it doesn’t appear that Alfonso’s physical condition will allow him to hit .320 or reach 25 home runs ever again. As for Lowell, he could certainly move up on this list, but he’s only been a fulltime player since 2000 and will have to prove that his 2005 performance was just a momentary blip and not the start of a downward trend.
Luis Aparicio: With A-Rod tucked away at third base, Aparicio becomes the logical choice at shortstop. In the current-day era of massive shortstops who have builds like outfielders from the 1950s, the merits of Aparicio might not be fully appreciated. That’s unfortunate, given the Venezuelan’s prowess in the field–some historians believe only Ozzie Smith was better–his ability to spray singles to all fields, and his proficiency in stealing bases. Aparicio’s .313 on-base percentage won’t impress many, but his “small ball” approach at the plate and artful work at shortstop fit in well with pennant winners in Chicago and Baltimore… Like several current-day players on the ballot, Miguel Tejada will move up the charts as he builds up years on his major league resume. For now, the multi-tasking Tejada will have to settle for the honor of being the game’s best active shortstop–and one of the top five players in the game.
Manny Ramirez: His lapses in concentration in the outfield and on the basepaths can be maddening, but when it comes to action with a bat in his hand, no Latino has ever been better than Ramirez. Defying the stereotype that Latino players lack patience at the plate, Ramirez understands the parameters of the strike zone better than most, which explains his .411 career on-base percentage coming into the current season. With 423 home runs as of this writing, he could very well surpass both Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa as the Latin American home run king. Ramirez rarely swings at pitches that stray from the plate, uses both sides of the playing field, and absolutely murders two-strike breaking balls… Minnie Minoso’s career took a hit because of racism that delayed the start of his major league career–he didn’t debut as a rookie until the age of 28–but he was the kind of dynamic, enthusiastic player who used his blazing speed and daring baserunning style to pile up loads of triples and stolen bases. Minoso was also a patient hitter who compiled a lifetime .391 on-base percentage, and a rangy left fielder with enough athletic ability to play third base. In the minds of some, he’s a Hall of Fame talent.
Bernie Williams: If I had simply picked the three best outfielders regardless of position, the third choice would have been Vladimir Guerrero, but an all-time team should distinguish corner outfielders from center fielders. Though probably a hair short of the Hall of Fame, Williams accomplished what few athletes in New York City have been able to do: he remained an underrated star, despite playing for both a baseball dynasty and the most successful franchise in the sport’s history, all the while performing in the country’s largest media market. While watching Williams stumble and stagger in 2005, it’s easy to forget how great a player he was from the mid-1990s through the start of the new millennium. After emerging as the MVP of the American League Championship Series in 1996, he batted .328 with 21 home runs in 1997, and finally achieved some recognition for his standout defensive play, overcoming his below-average throwing arm and lack of natural instincts to garner his first Gold Glove Award. The following three seasons, Williams’ performance reached its peak. In 1998, he won the American League’s batting title with a .339 mark and captured his second straight Gold Glove. The following season, Williams put up some of the best offensive numbers of his career– including 202 hits and a personal best 116 runs. In 2000, Williams drove in a career-high 121 runs as the Yankees claimed their third consecutive set of World Series rings. Other than Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, no player meant more to that Yankee dynasty than Williams did… There haven’t been many great Latino center fielders in major league history, but a solid backup to Williams would be former National League standout Cesar Cedeno. As a young player with the Astros, he once stirred comparisons to Willie Mays, but a voluntary manslaughter conviction haunted Cedeno for years. The effects of the Astrodome didn’t help Cedeno either, compressing his 40-home run potential to the 25-and-under range. Still, Cedeno enjoyed a solid career, which he capped off with a spree of clutch hitting for the Cardinals during their pennant-winning season of 1985. Cedeno hit .434 in 28 late-season games, as the Cardinals sealed another National League East title… Carlos Beltran could easily surpass Cedeno in due time, but keep in mind he’s only 28 and struggling in his first season with the Mets. If the Beltran of the 2004 playoffs ever shows up, he could become the No. 1 Latino center fielder by the end of his career.
Roberto Clemente: Clemente will never gain total favor with the Sabermetric crowd because of his lack of patience at the plate, but he did most everything else at a superior level. Though not a pure power hitter by any means, the native of Puerto Rico hit 240 home runs (impressive given that he played all but two and a half seasons at cavernous Forbes Field), while compiling a .317 lifetime batting average, collecting four batting titles, and featuring unmatched baserunning skills. On the defensive side, “The Great One” remains the standard-bearer among right fielders, combining the best throwing arm of my lifetime with the quickness and agility usually seen in a shortstop (his original position as an amateur). And let’s not forget his postseason contributions, which were crucial to the Pirates’ ability to win two World Championships. In 14 World Series games, Clemente batted safely in each, delivered critical hits in two Game Seven situations, fielded his position flawlessly at all times, and made two of the most outlandish throws a major leaguer has ever made… In time, Vlad Guerrero may surpass Clemente as the greatest Latino right fielder in major league history. In addition to having far more power, the free-swinging Guerrero covers both sides of the plate better than his Latino predecessor. Whether Guerrero ultimately surpasses Clemente will depend on Vlad’s back and knees. If he can stay healthy and retain his peak for four or five more seasons, we might have to start calling Guerrero “The Greatest One.”
Edgar Martinez: Like right field, this selection requires little angst. The choice must be Martinez, a borderline Hall of Famer who won two batting titles and was probably the most disciplined Latino hitter of all-time. Born in New York but a descendent of Puerto Rican heritage, Martinez led the American League in on-base percentage three times, all the while spraying hits to every corner and gap in the outfield… If I’m going to pick players who actually DH’ed for much of their career, then my second choice will have to be a personal favorite, Rico Carty. From 1975 to 1979, Carty prospered as a DH with the Indians, Blue Jays, and A’s, despite having to endure some of the worst knees this side of Orlando Cepeda. A phenomenal two-strike hitter, Carty regularly walked more than he struck out, an unusual feat for a man with 200-home run power.
Juan Marichal: This is one all-time position that could change in the near future, especially if fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez continues to pitch at his 2005 level. But for now, we’ll go with the historical choice of Marichal, a mound magician who used an assortment of pitches to confound National League hitters throughout the 1960s. Though not overpowering in the classic sense, Marichal did accumulate six seasons of 200-plus strikeouts, all the while showing amazing durability (he led the NL in complete games and innings pitched two times apiece). With Gibson, Koufax, and Seaver as contemporaries, it doesn’t surprise me that Marichal never won a Cy Young Award; but it is amazing that Marichal earned only one Cy Young vote along the way… Martinez is the runner-up for now, but closing fast against Marichal, who had the benefit of pitching many of his prime seasons in a pitcher’s era. If Martinez can come close to matching Marichal’s 16-season longevity (which included a prime run of 11 years), then Pedro will take over the top spot.
Mariano Rivera: This might have been the easiest position to make a pick; no argument can be made for anyone but Mariano Rivera, who might be the game’s greatest reliever regardless of heritage. And yet it almost didn’t happen. If the Yankees had re-signed John Wetteland after the 1996 season, Rivera might have remained in a set-up role for two or three more seasons, thereby wasting some of the Panamanian’s prime years. Thankfully, the Yankees made the right decision, let Wetteland go to Texas, and watched Rivera become the class of closers from 1997 to the current day. Eric Gagne and Trevor Hoffman have been more dominant at various times, but neither has sustained Rivera’s year-to-year excellence nor come close to matching Mo’s sparkling October resume–now at 10 postseasons and counting… If I’m forced to pick a second reliever (and I guess I must), then I’ll take onetime MVP and Cy Young Award winner Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez. Though Hernandez didn’t enjoy long-term prosperity as a closer, he did have several successful years in a set-up role for the Cubs and Phillies before reaching his peak with the 1984 Tigers. Hernandez also pitched well in two World Series, holding opponents scoreless for the Phillies in the ’83 Classic and notching two saves for the Tigers in the ’84 Series.