miércoles, 22 de junio de 2011
The long line of Venezuelan shortstops in the major leagues
For Barbara, in Cleveland
During the last 60 years 30 Venezuelan shortstops have played in the major leagues. In every decade there have been one or more Venezuelans playing in this most demanding position, one where speed, range, agility, a strong throwing arm and intelligence are all very desirable ingredients.
The Venezuelan line of shortstops started in 1950, when a relatively tall Venezuelan boy arrived in Chicago. He had been signed by the Dodgers who gave up on him because he would not learn to speak English. The White Sox got him to replace legendary Luke Appling and simply hired an interpreter to help him communicate. Carrasquel would have a distinguished career of 18 years with them and, almost at the end of his career, with the Cleveland Indians. I remember seeing him go five for five at Yankee Stadium in his first season, when he ran third in the Rookie of the Year Contest, behind winner Walt Dropo and Whitey Ford.
In June 1953 a second Venezuelan shortstop arrived, Pompeyo Davalillo, but stayed up only one month with the Senators. Luis Aparicio arrived in 1956 in Chicago, replacing Carrasquel. Aparicio teamed up with Nellie Fox around second base and understood each other pretty well. Little Louie also had an 18 year-career, mostly with the White Sox, although also with the Orioles and, during his last three years, with the Boston Red Sox. Aparicio would become a hall of fame (I went to Cooperstown to see his photo hanging there) due to his magnificent ability fielding and running bases. However, I can assure readers that he was not the best Venezuelan shortstop who has ever lived. The best was Luis Aparicio, father. I had the pleasure to see him play. He would not board an airplane, so he never played abroad. After many years of playing, in a game in Maracaibo, Venezuela, time was called and Aparicio the father walked out, handing his glove to Aparicio the son. I was not there but I had the photo, no TV then.
The fourth Venezuelan shortstop to reach the majors, in chronological order, was Elio Chacon. Chacon had a short career, from 1960 to 1962, an s second baseman and a shortstop for the Reds and the Mets. In June 19, 1960, he stole home playing for the Cincinnati Reds.
Then, Cesar Gutierrez arrived to play for the Giants and later on Detroit. . In a double header in June 1970 he went seven for seven (six singles and a double), still a record, I think.
Remigio (Remy) Hermoso played from 1967 to 1974 with the Braves and the Cleveland Indians. He was a superb fielder but weak at the plate.
The third Venezuelan outstanding shortstop, after Carrasquel and Aparicio, arrived in 1970 to play for the Reds, David Concepcion, taller than Carrasquel by one inch. He stayed in the majors for 19 seasons, all with the big red machine and has come close, but no quite, to be admitted into the Hall of Fame. He had excellent numbers, going to nine all-star games and winning six gold gloves and many analysts feel he should have been inducted.
Enzo Hernandez, Damaso Blanco, Angel Salazar, and then…. Ozzie Guillen, another outstanding shortstop. He played for 16 years, starting with the White Sox and was rookie of the year in 1985, when he won the fielding title in the American League. He would become the first Latin American manager to win a World Series and Manager of the Year, with the White Sox.
Gustavo Polidor, Al Pedrique and then…. Omar Vizquel, who arrived in 1989 and is still going at 44, like the rabbit of the batteries. Omar started with Seattle and moved to Cleveland, where he is very well liked. He is now playing with the White Sox, no longer as a shortstop but as utility infielder, still doing a very good job. Omar will probably be our next hall of fame and is the object of passionate discussions among analysts and fans about his merits to become inducted. Slowly, every day that goes by he accumulates merits to go to Cooperstown.
In the 1990s arrived Jose Escobar, Cristobal Colon (not the discoverer of America), Giomar Guevara, the excellent Alex Gonzales, in his 13th season, currently playing for the Braves and Cesar Isturiz, already in his 11th season, currently with the Orioles.
Marco Scutaro came to the majors in 2002 and is currently with the red Sox. I felt he was a “great” one but his potential greatness has not yet materialized.
After seven other, respectable but lesser capable Venezuelan shortstops arrived in the major during the early years of the century, two potential greats have appeared: one is Elvis Andrus, with the Texas Rangers and the other is Asdrubal Cabrera, with the Cleveland Indians. It is still early in their careers to say how far they will go, but, so far, they have shown extremely good attributes. Cabrera, in particular, is an exciting and colorful player to watch. He always seems to be close to doing something good for his team.
There might be something in the water or in the air, in Venezuela, which promotes excellence at the shortstop position and a well-developed instinct for the game.