March 31, 2000


Nine Latino Baseball Heroes are Enshrined at Cooperstown

By Tom and Joanne O'Toole

(Editor's Note: Recently Tony Perez was selected to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, bringing the total number of players in the Hall to eight [two Latino broadcasters are also included]. The following story highlights the careers of the nine Latino Hall of Fame representatives.)



Roberto Clemente

The crowning achievement to a baseball career is to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Of the almost 250 current members in the Hall of Fame, nine are Latinos -- seven players and two broadcasters.

Cooperstown has been singled out as the birthplace of baseball because folklore has it that Abner Doubleday chased the cows out of Elihu Phinney's pasture on an afternoon in 1839, and had the inspiration to invent the game that has become our national pastime. That pasture is now the site of the 10,000 seat Doubleday Field.

It is every baseball player's "field of dreams." And every fan's too. Those who are fortunate enough to play here, and fans who watch, always recall it in baseball conversation.

While the Hall of Fame and Museum is a repository of baseball's rich treasures, and a showplace of the game's outstanding heroes, you'll want to seek out the tributes to the Latino greats. Let us tell you about them first.

ROBERTO CLEMENTE

Undoubledly the greatest Latino player elected to the Hall of Fame is the late Roberto Clemente.

The Pittsburgh Pirates' right fielder, Clemente played with an intensity that won him universal admiration. Although he had an unorthodox batting style, he topped the .300 mark 13 times, won four batting crowns, and amassed 3,000 hits.

A brilliant outfielder with a rifle-arm, he lead outfielders in assists five seasons.

Clemente was the National League MPV in 1966, and was the star of the 1971 World Series when he batted .414.

Born august 18, 1934, at Caroline, Puerto Rico, Cle-mente died in an airplane crash on December 31, 1972, while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, and thus became the first Latin American to attain baseball's highest individual honor.

ORLANDO CEPEDA

A recent inductee is Orlando Cepeda, joining Clemente as the only hall of famers from Puerto Rico.

A career .297 hitter with 379 home runs, 1,365 RBIs, and 417 doubles in 17 seasons, Cepeda was consistently one of the best-hitting first basemen of the 1960s.

The son of the great Puerto Rican slugger Peruchi "The Bull" Cepeda, the "Baby Bull" went on to earn National League Rookie of the Year honors with the San Francisco Giants in 1958. He homered in his first major league contest.

In his first year in the "bigs," he batted .312, banged 25 home runs, had 96 RBIs, scored 88 runs, and smacked a league-leading 38 doubles.

Nicknames "Cha-Cha," he played in seven All Star games, earned the Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1966, was the National League's MVP in 1967, and capture the Designated Hitter of the Year Award in 1973.

Born September 17, 1937, at Ponce, Puerto Rico, Cepeda was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.

MARTIN DIHIGO

Among the early greats of baseball, Martin Dihigo was one of the most versatile of the Negro Leagues' stars.

Early in his career he played for both the U.S., black leagues, and for the winter loop in his native Cuba. Later he began a long and illustrious career in Mexico.

An example of Dihigo's exceptional all-around ability was highlighted in 1938 when, as a pitcher, infielder, and outfielder, he stunned and lead the Mexican League with an 18-2 record on the mound, and a 0.90 ERA. He did this while also winning the batting crown with a .387 average. What an accomplishment!

Born May 24, 1905, at Matanzas, Cuba, Dihigo died May 20, 1971, at Cienfuegos, Cuba.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

JUAN MARICHAL

The pride of both the Dominican Republic and the San Francisco Giants, pitcher Juan Marichal, won 243 games and lost only 142 over 16 marvelous seasons.

The high-kicking right-hander enjoyed six 20-game seasons, hurled a no-hitter against Houston in 1963, and was name to 10 All Star teams.

He twice led the National League in complete games and shutouts, finishing 244 contests during his career. Marichal fanned 2,303 batters, and compiled a 2.89 ERA.

Born October 20, 1938, at Laguna Verde, Dominican Republic, Marichal was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.

LUIS APARICIO

Considered the greatest shorts top of his time, Luis Aparicio was a graceful fielder with exceptional hands, and a sweeping range of the diamond.

He still holds the all-time shorts top record for most games at the position (2,581), and American League marks for assists (8,016), and chances (12,564), teaming for much of his career with fellow Hall of Famer Nellie Fox.

Aparicio also resurrected the stolen base as an offensive weapon, stealing over 50 bases three straight seasons, and leading the league in steals nine consecutive times.

He was a starter for 18 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Boston Red Sox.

Born April 29, 1934, at Maracaibo, Venezuela, Apari-cio was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

ROD CAREW

Considered a wizard with the bat, Rod Carew lined, chopped, and bunted his way to 3,053 hits during his career.

His seven batting titles are surpassed only by Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, and Honus Wagner, and equaled only by Rogers Hornsby and Stand Musial. Pretty heady company.

Carew uses a variety of relaxed, crouched batting stances, hitting over .300 in 15 consecutive seasons with the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels, and achieving a .328 lifetime batting average.

He was honored as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1967, and as its MVP 10 years later. He was named to 17 straight All Star teams.

Born October 1, 1945, at Gatun, Panama (where he is still a national hero), Carew was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.

TONY PEREZ

Cuban-born Tony Perez left a job at a sugar cane factory in Havana to sign a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1960. After seasoning in the minors and a stint on the bench, Perez became the team's full-time third baseman in 1967.

Despite batting behind Johnny Bench most of the time, Perez still managed to amass 954 RBIs during the 1970s, more than any other major league player, except Bench.

A seven-time All-Star, Perez played 16 of his 23 seasons for the "Big Red Machine." He had a career total of 379 home runs, and 1,652 RBIs -- more than any other Latin American player.

Perez performed in five World Series. Showing his prowess at bat, he became the oldest player ever to hit a grand slam, at the age of 42 on May 13, 1985, when he returned to the Reds to end his career. He retired from the game in 1986.

Born May 14, 1942, at Ciego De Avila, Cuba, Perez was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

TWO GREAT BROADCASTERS

Each year since 1978 the very prestigious Ford C. Frick Award honors a broadcaster "for major contributions to the game of baseball." The award is presented in Cooperstown prior to the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Receiving the award in 1985 was Buck Canel (1906-1980) of Argentina, a household name in the Latin American baseball community for five decades.

Recognition came to him through his association with NBC's Gillete Cavalcade of Sports, for whom he did Spanish broadcasts. He was behind the microphone for an unprecedented 42 World Series, beginning in 1937.

Canel also did Spanish language broadcasts of New York Yankees home games for the city's more than 2 million Latinos and Puerto Ricans.

As former Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth observed, "His broadcasting of baseball to Latin America has a definite impact on the growth of baseball interest in that region and provide an equally important impetus for young Latinos dreaming about a career in professional baseball."

Joining the Hall of Fame and receiving the Ford C. Frick Award in 1998 was Jaime Jarrin of Ecuador. He is synonymous with baseball among the sport's continually expanding Latino audience.

Broadcasting games for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1959, Jarrin's consecutive-years total with the Dodgers ranks second longest by a play-by-plan announcer with one club --behind his English-speaking counterpart with the team, Vin Scully.

"The Spanish voice of the Dodgers," Jarrin has been the lead play-by-play man of the team's Spanish flagship station since 1973. He has also called the action in 16 World Series.

Highly respected for his ability, baseball knowledge, superior inflection, and dulcet tone, Jarrin reached Latino listeners throughout Southern California, into Nevada, and down into Mexico.

Okay, Now Let's Play Ball!....

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is at 25 Main Street (P.O. Box 590), Cooperstown, New York 13326-0590. The local telephone is (607) 547-7200, and toll-free is (888) 425-5633.

The baseball shrine is open seven days a week year around, but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. It is open 9-9 May through September, and 9-5 October through April. Weekends in October, November, and December the hall is open until 8 p.m.

Admission is $9.50 for adults, $8 for seniors, children 7-12 are $4, and under 7 are free.

For plenty of information on the town and surrounding sightseeing, contact the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, 31 Chestnut Street, Cooperstown, New York 13326, or telephone (607) 547-9983. The ladies at the office can be very helpful finding accommodations if you didn't make prior reservations.

(Tom and Joanne O'Toole are fulltime freelance travel journalists and photographers.)

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