|09-03-2005, 12:55 PM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Cooperstown, NY
Cooperstown Confidential--September 3, 2005 (Part 1)
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.
Author of the book, Tales From The Mets Dugout, available from Sports Publishing.
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