Everyone Should Know About These Latino MLB Legends
People spend a lot of time talking about the greats of baseball. Yet, there isn’t too much talk about the Latino MLB legends who really made the game something to enjoy. Major League Baseball (MLB) was founded in 1869 and since then there have been so many great player to totally rock the game. The game has been around so long that it makes sense that Latinos have not only infiltrated, but elevated the amazing sport of beisbol. Here are a few rockstar baseball players that made the sport what it is.
1. Roberto Clemente
No one, Latino or not, has been a greater presence than legendary star Roberto Clemente. His legacy is of such caliber that an important annual humanitarian award presented by MLB bears his name. From humble beginnings in Puerto Rico to major stardom on and off the field, Clemente’s career was full of wonderful moments. Playing a total of 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he became selected to the All-Star Game a whopping 12 times, while being crowned batting champion 4 times. Defensively, he had a bazooka for a throwing arm.
Considering that a homerun is the grandest of all plays, Clemente had the only inside the park grand slam in MLB history in 1956. Perhaps what most non-sports people remember about Clemente was his heart, always inclined to charity and good deeds. It was precisely during a humanitarian effort trip to earthquake ravaged Nicaragua on New Years’ Eve 1972, that Clemente found an untimely death when the plane he had chartered crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff. But his memory and huge heart live on to this very day.
2. Juan Marichal
Not a karate or martial arts star, but rather a mean intended hurler like few, Juan Marichal was an ace on the mound for the San Francisco Giants in the 60s and 70s. His powerful and intimidating leg kick, unseen before his arrival in MLB, had a definite impact on opposing batters. He once pitched 16 consecutive innings in one game dubbed “The Greatest Pitching Match Ever”, winning the contest with a Willie Mays homerun in the 16th. He had a few not so notorious incidents, like striking a rival catcher with his bat that led to an almost 20-minute brawl on the diamond. Quite a character!
One of his managers with the Giants once described his pitching ability as, “just put us ahead one run late in the game, and he’s the greatest pitcher ever”. Native of the Dominican Republic, he signed with the Giants in summer of 1960 and immediately showed the world what he was made of, throwing a complete shutout game in his debut. Rivals always commended him for his laser-like accuracy and uncanny ability to conceal his pitch until it was well on its way – normally to the strike zone before batters could figure him out. He only played in one World Series game and was sometimes overshadowed by the great pitchers of the 60s. Nonetheless, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1983. Well done, young man!
3. Rod Carew
If there were an outstanding Latino player ever, it would have to be Rod Carew, the Panamanian phenom who took MLB by storm in the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. A long career highlighted by the fact he made the All-Star Game every single season, but his last. Speedy, slick and intuitive, he stole home plate a whopping seven times in 1969. Though he was never a threat for the long ball, his consistency at the plate earned him a batting championship with the Minnesota Twins in 1972.
Different circumstances forced the retirement of this legend in 1985, including a collusion by team owner to not pick up his contract after being let go by the Anaheim Angels. MLB later compensated him financially for the ordeal. He’s a member of the very exclusive 3,000 hit club, a lifetime .328 batter, and a perennial All-Star.
4. Orlando Cepeda
His humble beginnings in Puerto Rico were no impediment to get this amazing player into MLB. He played with several teams along his 17-year career, even winning it all with the Cards’ in 1967, same year he was named NLs Most Valuable Player. In total, he appeared in 3 World Series and became the first Puerto Rican to start an All-Star game.
After retirement, his record was scarred with a drug conviction when returning from teaching a hitting clinic in Colombia with marijuana hidden in his clothing. After serving his sentence, the SF Giants offered him a position in their organization, eventually becoming Goodwill Ambassador for the franchise throughout Latin America. When his opportunities for induction in the Hall of Fame were running out, a group of former Puerto Rican players started rallying for him, finally being enshrined in Cooperstown in 1999.
5. Fernando Valenzuela
One would think there’s nothing coming out of the dusty plains in the tiny village of Etchohuaquila, outside small town Navojoa, in Sonora, Mexico. But from there came a young man who took MLB by storm in 1980, Fernando “El Toro” Valenzuela, who became an impressive media phenom desperately needed by a league undergoing a major hiccup when struggles between management and the Players’ Union caused a strike in the middle of the season, and many fans showed their dislike shunning the stands.
Valenzuela had a short career, in part because of the strains put on his throwing arm while hurling his trademark “screwball” that left batters puzzled at the plate. Another of his features was his skyward glance when winding up, later emulated by Tim Robbins in the movie “Bull Durham”. With the Dodgers he won the 1981 World Series and led the Majors in wins (1986), strikeouts (1981) and tossed a no-hitter in 1990. Currently, he’s the Spanish radio color commentator for the LA Dodgers.
6. Luis Tiant
Impossible not to notice those furry whiskers on super legend Luis Tiant, a formidable lefty pitcher originally from Cuba who made his prowess in MLB for a good 19 years, mainly with Cleveland and Boston. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997, although he never got enough votes for Cooperstown. After a convincing start in his career, Tiant suffered an injury in his throwing arm forcing him to make a seemingly minor adjustment in the windup, but enough to have batters wondering what had just zipped by them. He led the Majors with a 1.60 ERA (earned run average, per every nine innings), amazing!
After an injury that many thought would finish his ball playing years, Tiant rebounded with the Red Sox in 1971, with whom he started game 1 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. He won 2 games in that WS, plus went no-decision in game 7. That World Series was special for Tiant since his parents were in the stands at Fenway; he had not seen them in 14 years since the US and Cuba broke diplomatic relations in the early 60s. Nowadays, he’s a friendly ambassador for the sport. So, if you smell the distinctive aroma of a premium cigar, and find it attached to a huge mustache, say hello to Luis Tiant!
7. El Duque
Another Cuban flamethrower, Orlando Hernandez took MLB aback with his swashbuckling pitching style that was a key component of the Yankees’ 3 consecutive World Series titles ending the 90s. He won an additional ring in 2005 with the White Sox. He came to the USA in a raft following his half-brother, Livan, already a star in MLB. But his way here was lined with incidents arranged by New York to avoid being drafted thus securing his signing for the Yankees. His high leg kick and menacing Eephus pitch, an extremely slow throw that humiliates batters not expecting it.
His best years were with the Yankees, starting 4 straight WS. But he was traded to Montreal for the 2003 season, although he never played with the Canadian team due to surgery in his throwing shoulder. Eventually, he was resigned by New York in 2004 and made it to the LCS, before losing to the Boston Red Sox, which ended an extended drought winning it all that year. In 2005, with Chicago, El Duque helped the so-called “second team, second city” finish their WS dry spell since 1917 by sweeping the Houston Astros. He played – both in the majors and minors – with a handful of teams before calling it quits definitely in 2011.
8. Bobby Alomar
Born into a baseball Family – his dad was Sandy Alomar, an All-Star during the 60s – Bobby has only one way to go in life, MLB. Raised mostly by his mother since dad was always in the majors, Roberto, his given name, was signed by the San Diego Padres at 17 and became part of their major team roster a year later. His ability as a second baseman was determined by great lateral quickness and powerful arm. He batted both ways and threw right. After a couple of seasons in the California sunshine, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays where he won to consecutive WS rings in 1992-93.
Although a stellar career, Alomar’s legacy was marred by an altercation in 1996 with umpire John Hirschbeck, where he clearly spit into the official’s face. Things didn’t end there, with Alomar stating on the record that the umpire had made a racial slur to him and was bitter for tragic deaths in his family, with Hirschbeck needing to be restrained in the locker room that day to avoid going after Bobby. Fortunately, they settled their differences and are great friends today. Alomar was inducted in the MLB Hall of Fame in 2011, in his second year of eligibility. He was the first Blue Jay ever enshrined in Cooperstown. He has also been named to the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. He resides in Toronto.
9. Sammy Sosa
It was 1998 and Cubs’ outfielder Sammy Sosa was in his prime as MLB recorded one of its most exciting seasons ever, highlighted by the intense race for beating the single-season homerun mark between Sosa and Mark McGwire, of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sosa is the only player in history to have hit over 60 homeruns in three different seasons. Of course, now we know that those days were laced with PEDs, or performance enhancing drugs, but, boy they were thrilling! Sosa debuted in the majors with crosstown rivals White Sox, but he left his mark with the Cubs.
Feared by rival managers and pitchers, he was walked more than any player of his time, robbing him of precious at bats that would’ve enhanced his chances to hit one out of the park. He didn’t start out as a power hitter, in fact, in his first seasons he was anything but. A concentrated effort led to his formation as a strong batter and then add to that his speed around the diamond. He became the Cubs’ first 30-30 player, hitting 30 HRs and stealing 30 bases in 1993. Sosa’s career started to decline after the odd sneezing injury that almost snapped his back while talking to reporters in May, 2004. Unfortunately for him, the PED incident has almost reduced his Hall of Fame chances to nothing, although he still gets more than 5% of the votes each year, enough to avoid being left out of the ballots.
10. Tony Perez
Atanacio “Tany” Perez (later anglicized into “Tony”) earned two World Series’ rings in a wonderful career over 24 seasons, adding one more as coach. Alongside legends Pete Rose and Johnny Bench he formed the backbone of the feared Cincinnati Reds, known in their heyday as the “Big Red Machine”. Born in Cuba, he was only 17 as he signed his first pro contract in 1960 for a whopping $2.50, because the rest of the signing bonus was for his visa and plane ticket to Miami. The Cuban situation at the time was shaky as Castro was turning into a ruthless dictator, almost ending Perez’ career when he had difficulties getting out of the island in 1962.
Finally, in the summer of 1964 he started in a doubleheader against the Pirates, with no luck at bat. Until the following day he batted his first hit, a double, scoring after a teammate doubled, and also registered his first RBI. Playing first base his initial years, he was switched to 3rd and eventually was selected to the All-Star game in 1967, becoming the game’s MVP after hitting the winning HR in the 15th inning of a dramatic 2-1 win for the National League. With Perez, the Reds went to the WS 4 times in 7 years. He was traded to the Expos after the 1976 season. His manager, Sparky Anderson also a legend, is quoted as saying, “Perez was the leader, and heart and soul of that team”. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2000.
11. Pedro Martinez
Not many have dominated MLB from the pitcher’s mound than Dominican born Pedro Martinez. Hall of Famer in his first try in 2015, Martinez was a feared, powerful thrower, extremely unusual for someone his size, a mere 5-10, although some question this stat. Boston enjoyed the best years of Martinez’ career, being instrumental in overcoming the Red Sox’s lengthy drought after winning the WS in 2004. Martinez’ domination came at a time when PEDs were making it more and more difficult to pitch to juiced up batters, and he not only did it in the American League, but also in the National. He’s one of only two players in history to win the Cy Young award for best pitcher in both leagues. Wow!
Possessing control beyond imaginable, his artistry painting the corners left batters powerless against a seemingly weak foe. His older brother Ramon played for the LA Dodgers and vouched with manager Tommy Lasorda to bring his kid bro along. But skinny and small, Pedro didn’t impress the skipper that much. Traded to the Montreal Expos, he really flourished into a killer fastball thrower on the advice from manager Felipe Alou to modify his grip, turning an already speedy pitch, into a laser-like dart. Pedro’s years of glory came with the Red Sox, for whom he played from 1998-2009, winning the WS in 2004, after which he signed as free agent with the NY Mets of the National League. He retired from baseball in 2010, after, he says, “discovering what it means to have a normal life”. He is currently working as baseball analyst for MLB TV.
12. Mariano Rivera
Still not eligible to be in the Hall of Fame doesn’t hold back many people’s claims about where Mariano Rivera is headed. This man from Panama defined the role of a closing pitching as a weapon in modern day baseball. This man basically holds all records for a relief pitcher, including saves and games finished. Signing as a teenager with the Yankees, Rivera began as a starter, then evolved into relief roles when it was discovered he had a 90+ mph cut fastball that shattered rival bats often. His presence helped the Yankees in their dominance during the late 90s and early aughts.
His discipline and tenacity endured for 19 seasons with NYY, a rarity among the reliever role in MLB. The smoothness of his delivery defies all notions of the ruthless power displayed once the ball is on its way to target. His social side also was prominently displayed through his charitable actions from the Mariano Rivera Foundation, always taking a step behind while showcasing the needy, never himself. He became the last player in history to regularly use “42” on his uniform; the number was retired totally from MLB in honor of Jackie Robinson. With or without a number, he’s definitely “Numero Uno” on many lists!