Latin American Stars Who Could Soon Join Growing Group In Cooperstown
In 2019, former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous selection in the history of the Hall of Fame. On that same ballot, long-time Mariners DH Edgar Martinez also was elected in what was his 10th and final appearance on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot.
No big deal, right?
Well, Rivera and Martinez became the fifth and sixth Latin American players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 2010s. Prior to those inductions, there had been just five Latin American big leaguers enshrined in Cooperstown.
While Major League Baseball allowed so-called light-skinned Latin players, primarily from Cuba, long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, what is often overlooked is the impact of Latin players in the big leagues was minimal until recent years.
Puerto Rican right fielder Roberto Clemente was the first Latin star to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. He was enshrined posthumously in 1973 in a special election after he died in a plane crash the previous New Year’s Eve en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
From 1947 through 1992, there were more Black players in the big leagues than players born in Latin America. And it was not until 1983 that Dominican righthander Juan Marichal became the first Latin American player elected by the BBWAA.
In the next 32 years, however, the only BBWAA-elected players from Latin America were Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio (1984), Panamanian second baseman Rod Carew (1991) and Cuban first baseman Tony Perez (2000). Orlando Cepeda, a first baseman from Puerto Rico, was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1999.
In 1993, however, the Latin big league players outnumbered Black players for the first time since 1950, and the Latin impact has grown each year since.
MLB opened the 2019 season with 227 players from Latin America on rosters or injured lists. The countries represented were the Dominican Republic (102), Venezuela (68), Cuba (19), Puerto Rico (18), Mexico (eight), Curacao (five), Colombia (four), Aruba (one), Nicaragua (one) and Panama (one).
In the last decade, the writers have elected Latin American stars Roberto Alomar (2011), Ivan Rodriguez (2017) and Edgar Martinez from Puerto Rico; Pedro Martinez (2015) and Vladimir Guerrero (2018) from the Dominican Republic and Mariano Rivera (2019) from Panama.
Once Albert Pujols decides to retire, he should plan on making that trip to Cooperstown five years later. It’s hard to think he will fail to be a first-time inductee. The 39-year-old, who was born in the Dominican Republic, finished the 2019 season ranked sixth all-time with 656 home runs to go with 3,202 hits and 2,075 RBIs.
Numerous other active players will require Hall of Fame consideration once they retire. The list includes Venezuelans Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve, Dominican Robinson Cano, Puerto Ricans Yadier Molina and Carlos Correa and Cuban Aroldis Chapman.
Other young Latin American stars—Ronald Acuña Jr. and Gleyber Torres from Venezuela and Juan Soto, Rafael Devers and Fernando Tatis Jr. from the Dominican Republic—are just now embarking on what could be long, fruitful careers.
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On The Horizon
A summary of Latin American players with high-quality big league careers who will appear on the next five Hall of Fame ballots.
Holdovers from the 2020 ballot include Venezuelan SS Omar Vizquel (52.6 percent in third year of eligibility), Dominican OF Manny Ramirez (28.2 percent, fourth), Dominican OF Sammy Sosa (13.9 percent, eighth) and Venezuelan OF Bobby Abreu (5.5 percent, first).
After crossing the 50 percent threshold, 11-time Gold Glover Vizquel is well positioned to be elected—eventually. Cubs ownership has buried Sosa, hurting his Hall chances.
Top first-timer: Dominican DH David Ortiz.
It will be interesting to see voters’ reaction to Ortiz, who like Sosa was linked in media reports to performance-enhancing drugs.
Beltran has the résumé to be a serious candidate, including nine all-star nods, a reputation as a strong teammate and excellence in center fielder. He ranks fourth all time among switch-hitters with 435 home runs, behind only Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504) and Chipper Jones (468).
Beltre collected 3,166 hits, amassed 477 home runs and dazzled on defense, earning five Gold Gloves at third base.
Both were solid players, but with 14 years in the big leagues it takes breakout seasons to get the voters’ attention.