Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Puerto Rico's All-Time Baseball Team

The Mets lost to the Florida Marlins last night, to start a 3-game series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Hiram Bithorn is believed to be the first native of Puerto Rico to play in the major leagues. He pitched for both Chicago teams, starting with the Cubs in 1942 and '43, then going off to World War II, returning to the Cubs in '46 (missing their appearance in the '45 World Series), and pitching with the White Sox in '47. Trying a comeback in the Mexican League, he was shot and killed by a police officer in 1951. The cop went to prison for it. Bithorn was only 34 years old.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium was built in 1962, seats 18,000, and is home to the Santurce Crabbers, hometown team of Roberto Clemente, and formerly the San Juan Senators. It hosted a special, one-off, Opening Day game in 2001, with the Toronto Blue Jays beating the Texas Rangers, 8-1. And in their last 2 seasons, 2003 and 2004, the Montreal Expos played a few "home" games at Bithorn, meaning that, at that point, they were being ignored in 3 languages: English, French and Spanish. It's also hosted World Baseball Classic games in 2006 and 2009.

An indoor arena, Roberto Clemente Coliseum, is next-door. Clemente's Number 21, Ruben Gomez's Number 22, and Orlando Cepeda's Number 30 are on Bithorn Stadium's outfield wall, not so much "retired" (as so many Hispanic players still want to wear Clemente's 21) as placed in a mini-Hall of Fame.
Puerto Rico's All-Time Baseball Team

1B Orlando Cepeda of Ponce. Hall of Fame, Number 30 retired by San Francisco Giants. Honorable Mention to Victor Pellot, a.k.a. Vic Power, of Arecibo, Willie Montanez of Catano and Carlos Delgado of Aguadilla.

2B Roberto Alomar of Salinas. He is now eligible for the Hall of Fame, but is not in. The Toronto Blue Jays have not retired his Number 12, but have placed him in their "Level of Excellence" at the Rogers Centre. Honorable Mention to Felix Mantilla of Isabela, Felix Millan, Carlos Baerga, Jose Vidro and Joey Cora.

SS Jose Oquendo. Honorable Mention to Sandy Alomar Sr., Jose Valentin, Rey Sanchez and Alex Cora.

3B Jose Hernandez. I was thinking Aurelio Rodriguez, but he was Mexican. Honorable Mention to Mike Lowell, Hispanic on his mother's side.

LF Jose Cruz Sr. Number 25 retired by the Houston Astros. Honorable Mention to Luis Olmo, who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers shortly after Bithorn's arrival in the majors, batted .313 and led the National League in triples in 1945, and in 1949 became the first Puerto Rican to play in the World Series.

CF Bernie Williams. Number 51 not yet retired by the Yankees, but not awarded to anyone else, either. You were expecting me to name Carlos Beltran? Honorable Mention to Juan Beniquez and Jose Cruz Jr.

RF Roberto Clemente. Hall of Fame, Number 21 retired by Pittsburgh Pirates, statue outside PNC Park (before that, it was outside Three Rivers Stadium). Steroid-user Juan Gonzalez is ineligible, and wasn't better than Roberto, anyway. And then there was Ruben Sierra, but I'm not sure I can label him "Honorable Mention," either. I can give that label to Danny Tartabull, although his father, Jose Tartabull, was born in Cuba and is thus ineligible for this team.

C Jorge Posada. Although, like his former Yankee teammate Danny Tartabull, his parents are Cuban exiles. Ozzie Virgil Jr. was born in Puerto Rico, but Ozzie Sr. is Dominican, and both spent their formative years in the U.S. Honorable Mention to Benito Santiago, Sandy Alomar Jr. of Salinas, and Javy Lopez, and to Benjie, Jose and Yadier Molina of Bayamon. Steroid-user Ivan Rodriguez is ineligible.

SP Juan Pizarro

SP Rogelio "Roger" Moret

SP Ed Figueroa

SP Jaime Novarro

SP Javier Vazquez.
Believe it or not, he has now passed Pizarro to become the winningest career pitcher born on the island. Honorable Mention to Jose Santiago, Ruben Gomez, Ricky Bones and Joel Piniero.

RP Luis Arroyo. Honorable Mention to Willie Hernandez and Roberto Hernandez.

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