Taking a Look at the All-Time Puerto Rico Team
When the Houston Astros made shortstop Carlos Correa the top pick in the 2012 draft, it was further proof that Puerto Rico remains a “rich port” for baseball stars. The tiny island, which operates as a territory of the United States, is the birthplace of 234 Major League players including three Hall of Famers — Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar — as well as 40 players who have been named to All-Star teams.
In 1942 Hi Bithorn became the first player from Puerto Rico to break into the major leagues, and in 1962 a new stadium opened up that would be named after him. Hiram Bithorn Stadium hosted 44 games for the Montreal Expos in 2003-2004.
Players from Puerto Rico have accomplished many notable achievements in the majors, with the most noteworthy coming in 1973 when Clemente became the first Latin American to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If you want to learn more about Clemente’s great accomplishments on and off the field, then pay a visit to the Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh. Duane Rider is a Clemente fan who decided to honor his idol by restoring an old fire house and opening a museum filled with pictures and artifacts from his life. Clemente, who dedicated his 3,000th (and tragically last) hit to the people of Puerto Rico, inspired a generation of Puerto Rican boys to take up the game with his combination of talent, humility and passion.
In 1959 Orlando Cepeda became the first Puerto Rican to start in an All-Star Game, while Ed Figueroa was the first Puerto Rican native to win 20 games in the majors, which he did while pitching for the Yankees in 1978. Carlos Baerga became the first in baseball history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same inning, which he accomplished on April 8, 1993, against the New York Yankees. In 1998, Juan Gonzalez, a two-time MVP, became just the second player to accumulate 100 RBI by the All-Star break.
Seven-time All-Star Carlos Beltran is the first player to have at least 50 RBI in each league in the same season, which he accomplished while playing with the Royals and Astros in 2004. When Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez retired earlier this year, he left the game as the all-time leader in games caught (2,427) and putouts as a catcher (14,864).
Two Yankee greats from Puerto Rico managed to make their mark on the game. Catcher Jorge Posada ranks second all-time in number of playoff games played with 125, while Bernie Williams ranks number one all-time in postseason RBI with 80. What’s even more amazing about Williams’ achievements in the big leagues is the fact that he attended the Escuela Libre de Musica in San Juan, a high school that focused on performing arts and did not offer sports.
The catching Molina brothers—Yadier, Jose and Bengie—have already caught more than 3,000 games combined and Yadier and Jose are still active. Bengie caught for 13 years and earned two Gold Gloves, while Jose is in his 13th season. Yadier is definitely the best of the bunch, as he has been named to four All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves.
Carlos Delgado, from Aguadilla, ranks first in home runs and RBI among his countrymen. He blasted 473 home runs and drove in 1,512 runs during a stellar 17-year career that ended in 2009. Delgado will gain eligibility for the Hall of Fame in 2015, while Pudge Rodriquez enters the ballot in 2017.
A total of 17 Puerto Rican natives are currently active in the majors including Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Geovany Soto, and Javier Lopez.
Willie Hernandez of Aguado turned in a magical 1984 season for the Tigers, appearing in a league-leading 80 games and recording 32 saves with a 1.92 ERA. He surrendered just 96 hits in 140-1/3 innings. It led to Hernandez becoming just the fifth player to win the MVP and Cy Young Awards in the same season. Hernandez’s 147 career saves rank second among Puerto Rican natives, trailing the 326 posted by Roberto Hernandez.
Following the format in my recently released book Baseball State by State, which features all-time teams of Major League and Negro League players by state of birth (plus Canada), I thought it would be fun to tackle a similar list for Puerto Rico. I list the top selection for each position in bold, followed by honorable mention players (ranked in order). Players’ city of birth is listed in parentheses. As I do in the book, I also included the best baseball places to see, best nicknames, most unusual name, stats leaders, future stars and all-time best player. All-time teams are a fun way to explore baseball history — what would your list look like?
All-Time Puerto Rico Team:
C-Ivan Rodriquez (Vega Baja)
Also: Jorge Posada (Santurce); Benito Santiago (Ponce); Javy Lopez (Ponce); Yadier Molina (Bayamon); Sandy Alomar Jr. (Velaquez); Bengie Molina (Rio Piedras); Ozzie Virgil (Mayaguez); Ellie Rodriquez (Fajardo); Jose Molina (Bayamon); Geovany Soto (San Juan)
1b-Orlando Cepeda (Ponce)
Also: Carlos Delgado (Aguadilla); Vic Power (Arecibo); Willie Montanez (Catano)
2b-Roberto Alomar (Velaquez)
Also: Carlos Baerga (San Juan); Felix Millan (Yabucoa); Jose Vidro (Mayaguez); Sandy Alomar Sr. (Salinas); Jose Oquendo (Rio Piedras); Joey Cora (Caguas); Luis Alicea (Santurce); Tony Bernazard (Caguas); Jose Lind (Toabaja)
3b-Mike Lowell (San Juan)
SS- Jose Valentin (Manati)
Also: Jose Hernandez (Rio Piedras); Ivan DeJesus (Santurce); Felipe Lopez (Bayamon); Rey Sanchez (Rio Piedras)
OF-Roberto Clemente (Carolina)
OF-Bernie Williams (San Juan)
OF-Carlos Beltran (Manati)
Also: Juan Gonzalez (Vega Baja) ; Jose Cruz (Arroyo); Danny Tartabull (San Juan); Jose Cruz Jr. (Arroyo); Sixto Lezcano (Arecibo); Ivan Calderon (Fajardo); Juan Beniquez (San Sebastian); Will Cordero (Mayaguez); Jerry Morales (Yabucoa); Orlando Merced (Hato Rey); Candy Maldonado (Humacao)
DH-Ruben Sierra (Rio Piedras)
RHP-Javier Vasquez (Ponce)
Also: Ed Figueroa (Ciales); Jose Guzman (Santa Isabel); Joel Pineiro (Rio Piedras); Jaime Navarro (Bayamon); Ruben Gomez (Arroyo); Ricky Bones (Salinas)
LHP- Juan Pizarro (Santurce)
Also: Jonathan Sanchez (Mayaguez)
Relief Pitcher-Roberto Hernandez (Santurce)
Also: Willie Hernandez (Aquada); Luis Arroyo (Penuelas); Juan Agosto (Rio Piedras); Ramon Hernandez (Carolina); Edwin Nunez (Humacao); Luis DeLeon (Ponce); Eduardo Rodriquez (Barceloneta)
Manager-Edwin Rodriquez (Ponce)
Best Baseball Place to See: Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan
Best Nickname: Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez
Other Nicknames: Carlos “Sea Bass” Beltran; Enrique “Kiko” Calero; Orlando “Baby Bull” and “Cha Cha” Cepeda; Roberto “Sweetness” Clemente; Juan “Igor” or “Juan Gone” Gonzalez; Jose “Coco” Laboy; Felix “The Cat” Mantilla; Jorge “Sado” Posada; Jesus “Bombo” Rivera; Ruben “El Caballo” Sierra; Osvaldo “Ozzie” Virgil
Most Unusual Name: Sixto Lezcano
All-Time Leader in Games: Ivan Rodriquez, 2543
All-Time Leader in Average: Roberto Clemente, .317
All-Time Leader in Hits: Roberto Clemente, 3000
All-Time Leader in Home Runs: Carlos Delgado, 473
All-Time Leader in Stolen Bases: Roberto Alomar, 474
All-Time Leader in RBI: Carlos Delgado, 1512
All-Time Leader in Wins: Javier Vazquez, 165
All-Time Leader in Saves: Roberto Hernandez, 326
All-Time Leader in Strikeouts: Javier Vazquez, 2536
Future Stars: Carlos Correa (Santa Isabel); Irving Falu (Hato Rey)
All-Time Best Player: Roberto Clemente
Chris Jensen’s first book, Baseball State by State: Major and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, was just released by McFarland.