Puerto Rico Profile: Puerto Rican players are in full swing at the MLB Playoffs
October 12, 2001
Major League baseball fans had much to cheer about during the 2001 season, not the least of which was Barry Bonds breaking of Mark Maguires season home run record with 73 round-trippers. His heroics were not enough, however, to pull his San Francisco Giants into the playoffs. They ended the season two games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National Leagues West Division. The Seattle Mariners missed by one game setting the major league record for most wins in a single season, but their 116 wins against 46 losses put them solidly into the playoffs, 14 games ahead of second place Oakland. The Orioles legendary #8, Cal Ripken, waved his Baltimore fans a final goodbye after 21 seasons of "Hall of Fame" level play. "The Iron Mans" send-off was delayed by a week due to baseballs pause to respect the dead and injured of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Additionally, during the regular season, forty-one Puerto Ricans played on Major League fields across North America.
The long months of spring training and regular games are over and the fast and furious playoff race to the World Series has started. Though season-end statistics are indications of the eventual World Champion, the unexpected can happen. Already the Seattle Mariners, the favorites to win, have been shaken by a first game shut-out loss to the Cleveland Indians. Down, but not out!
As this weeks edition of the Herald goes to press, all eight playoff teams are still in the hunt and there are 10 Puerto Rican players in the uniforms of the contenders. Three National League teams field Puerto Ricans in their line-ups. The Atlanta Braves boast catcher Javy Lopez and shortstop Rey Sanchez, while their playoff opponent Houston Astros have rightfielder Orlando Merced on their roster. The St. Louis Cardinals have signed Rookie pitcher Jose Rodriguez but he has yet to see action in the Majors. American League playoff contenders New York and Cleveland both list Puerto Rican players. The Yankees face the Oakland As with the help of catcher Jorge Posada and centerfielder Bernie Williams, while the Cleveland Indians are looking for the help of three Puerto Ricans in their playoff battle with Seattle; 2nd baseman Roberto Alomar, leftfielder Wilfredo Cordero and right fielder Juan Gonzalez.
In spite of their initial first playoff game loss, expectations are high for the Seattle Mariners. Now the pressure is on for Joel Pineiro, a Rio Piedras native, to pitch at his peak. Though relatively new to the league, with a Year 2000 debut, he established himself as a strong competitor during the season. With six wins and only two losses and an ERA of 2.03, Pineiro has swiftly contributed to the success of his American League leading team.
Roberto Alomar, of Ponce, had a powerful season with his batting average of .336 putting him consistently on the list of Top Ten batters for the year. His contribution to the Indians did not end with the regular season. Alomar opened the playoff series against Seattle with a double to left-center and scored on teammate Juan Gonzalezs hit, for the first run of the game.
Juan Gonzalez, of Arecibo, also scored a run later in the game and judging from his regular season statistics, it will probably not be the last run he scores in the playoffs. His batting average of .325 has given him a spot with Alomar on the list of Top Ten batters for the year and he is ranked among the best at his position in right field. He also claimed the title of American League Player of the Week in the second week of September.
Wilfredo Cordero, of Mayaquez, is another talented Cleveland Indian. He covers a lot of ground in left-field and maintains a career batting average of .277.
The Atlanta Braves are off to a good start in their quest for the championship title. At press time they had a 2-game lead over the Houston Astros with contributions made by their two Puerto Rican members: Javy Lopez and Rey Sanchez. Lopez, of Ponce, continues his success at bat with a career average of .287. Rey Sanchez is another Rio Piedras native. His batting average continues to climb, finishing the regular season at .281, improving on his previous career average of .274.
The Braves opponents in the first round of the playoffs are the Houston Astros. Though the first two games brought a rough start for them, the Astros are not counted out in the series. Orlando Merced is the lone Puerto Rican on the Texas team. Originally from Hato Rey, he holds a solid batting average of .279.
Rookie Jose Rodriguez is new to the League, but wears his Cardinals jersey proudly. Far from his hometown of Cayey, Rodriguez plays ball near the famed St. Louis Arch. Though he has had no playing time this year, he is prepared to provide strong pitching in the playoffs if called upon.
The New York Yankees boast two Puerto Rican players. Jorge Posada, of Santurce, is at the top of his game as catcher and bats .277 . Bernie Williams, of San Juan, is batting .307 and remains a fan favorite both in Puerto Rico and throughout the league. As usual, he will be a key player in New Yorks quest to repeat as World Champions.
These players have established themselves as pillars of their respective teams. But there were also new Puerto Rican faces in the Major Leagues this year, who may make their mark in future championship games. Rookies Felipe Lopez of the Toronto Blue Jays, Cesar Crespo of the San Diego Padres and Dicky Gonzalez of the New York Mets have started this new year strong and look forward to their turn as World Champions.
Puerto Ricos passion for Americas Pastime is reflected in the fine players each year produced on the island, an increasing number of whom ink major league contracts. Their presence in the American and National Leagues is a continuing source of pride to all Puerto Ricans, especially to the thousands of youngsters honing their skills on the islands little league ball fields. The tradition of Roberto Clemente continues to be alive and well in the professional ballparks of America.
Batting Averages of Puerto Rican Players in the Major Leagues