June 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Baseball Goes Latin
On opening day this year, 34 Puerto Rican players were on the payrolls of 19 major league baseball teams. The Herald would like to give you an opportunity to pick your favorite from among those players at a time when the American Pastime continues to expand beyond the mainland.
This year, including the Puerto Rican professionals, almost 30% of the ballplayers were born outside of the 50 United States (29.2%, compared to 27.3% in 2004).
Baseball has truly become an international game, especially a Latin game. 24.6% of the 829 players listed on the rosters or disabled lists of the 30 teams were from Latin American countries or Puerto Rico. Leading the way was the Dominican Republic with 91 players, followed by Venezuela with 46 and Puerto Rico with 34.
Picking a favorite Puerto Rican player is a difficult task due to the wealth of talent they represent in the big leagues. Some of the perennial favorites such as Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees and Juan Gonzalez of the Cleveland Indians and some of the more recent favorites such as Jose Vidro of the Washington Nationals are suffering injuries or set-backs and are not always playing.
So the Herald has gone for "advice and consent" to our sports columnist, Gabrielle Paese, to create a list of five players which could be as representative as possible under impossible circumstances. We have agreed on the following players, each of whom, we feel, could be anyone's favorite: Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets, Carlos Delgado of the Florida Marlins, Javier Vazquez of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ivan Rodriguez of the Detroit Tigers and Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beltran, from Manati, is the switch-hitting center field sensation for the New York Mets. He joined the Kansas City Royals in the Fall of 1998 and was named the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year. After being traded to Houston in the middle of last season, he led the Astros to the National League Championship Series, where they fell one game short of reaching the World Series. That performance made him one of the most sought-after free agents in the off-season, and he signed a monstrous contract with the New York Mets (7 years, $19 million).
Though his career has been relatively short, his records are too numerous to list. Some of the highlights of last year include becoming the 13th player in major league history and only the second switch-hitter to smack 35 or more home runs, bat in 100 or more runs and steal 35 or more bases in one season. He also became the only major league player in history to drive in 50 runs in both leagues in the same season and the only player ever to hit at least 10 or more home runs and steal 10 or more bases in both leagues in the same season.
Beltran missed a few games in late May this year due to a slightly torn muscle in his right leg but, after the 58 games in which he has played, he is batting .279, with 7 home runs, 14 doubles and 29 runs batted in.
The other Carlos with the big move this season is Carlos Delgado from Aguadilla. In the off season, Delgado signed a big money contract to play first base with the Florida Marlins, after seven seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. Going into this season, he had hit at least 30 home runs for eight consecutive seasons, the 14th player in major league history to do so.
Last year, he hit more than 90 RBIs for the ninth consecutive season and his career total of RBIs reached 1000 on July 25. All of that was accomplished in spite of the fact that he missed 33 games due to injury to his rib carriage. In the 49 games prior to being put on the disabled list, Delgado batted .227 with 8 HR and 32 RBI. In the 79 games after recovering from the injury, he batted .294 with 24 HR and 67 RBI.
After 63 games this season, Delgado is batting .325, with 14 HR and 49 RBI.
On the mound, from Ponce, is Javier Carlos Vazquez, outstanding pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Javy Vazquez began his major league career in 1998 with the Montreal Expos, with whom he played six years before spending last year with the New York Yankees.
He was traded to Arizona for future Hall-of-Famer Randy "Big Unit" Johnson, a deal that many thought left the Diamondbacks with the short end of the stick. But Javy so far has a better win-loss record than Johnson, and Arizona boasts a better record than the imploding Bronx Bombers.
He is a workhorse pitcher, totaling at least 32 starts in each of the last five seasons. Known to allow a high number of home runs, he has also registered more than his share of strike outs. An injury in 2001 halted what would most likely have been his best season. On September 17, 2001, in a game with the Florida Marlins, Vazquez was hit with a pitch, which resulted in a fractured eye socket and the end of his play for that year. He ended the season with a 16-11 record and a good chance of reaching the 20 game winning mark.
Vazquez's career totals are 85 wins and 82 losses, with an earned run average of 4.27. His statistics this year are 7W, 4L, and a 4.27 ERA.
"Pudge" Rodriguez, from Vega Baja, has been an outstanding player in the major leagues for 15 years. He is starting his second year as catcher for the Detroit Tigers, where his leadership has helped turn a team that lost 119 games in 2003 into a .500 ball club. Before his arrival in Motown, Pudge spent one year with the Florida Marlins.
In that, his only year in the National League, he batted .297 with 16 home runs and 85 RBIs and took the Marlins to the World Series. As the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series that year, he hit .313 (21-for-67) with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 17 games during the postseason.
However, Rodriguez is best known for his exploits as a Texas Ranger, where, among numerous other honors, he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player for the 1999 season. During his 12 years in Texas, he played almost errorless baseball, was known for his rifle-armed anti-theft throws to second base, and left after the 2002 season as the Rangers' all-time leader in at-bats (5,656), hits (1,723) and doubles (344).
Rodriguez's career batting average is .306, with 255 HR and 1025 RBI. After 55 games this year, he is batting .283, with 5 HR and 25 RBI.
As we look to the future, we focus on Yadier Molina from Bayamon, who has not yet played a full major league season. The name Molina is becoming synonymous with "catcher", as two of his brothers, Bengie and Jose, play behind the plate for the Los Angeles Angels.
Yadier came up to the St. Louis Cardinals from Triple-A Memphis on June 3, 2004. In his first year, he made a significant contribution to the National League Champion Cardinals and appeared in three World Series games against Boston, including a start in Game 4.
Last season, he played in 51 games (39 starts), caught 344 innings allowing 139 earned runs for a 3.64 catcher's ERA and caught shutouts in three of his starts. He also threw out 50% of opponents attempting to steal bases (8 of 16).
During his still short career, Molina has a batting average of .258, with 4 HR, 34 RBI, and 13 doubles. Of that, 2 HR, 19 RBI, and 7 doubles have been tallied during the 55 games he has played this year, along with a .251 batting average.
Above are the five options. We know the choice is difficult, but give it a try.
Please vote above!