Vladimir Guerrero and the 15 Best Dominican Players in MLB History
Baltimore Orioles DH Vladimir Guerrero set the record for hits by an MLB player born in the Dominican Republic with a single against the Boston Red Sox Monday night. Guerrero's hit was the 2,587th of his career, and during the next plate appearance, he stole the 181st base of his career. One more home run over the next two days would bring Guerrero to the milestone figure of 450 for his career.
To many fans watching in the United States, Guerrero's achievement last night might mean relatively little, but to Latin American players, records like those mean the world.
It is a matter of national pride, yes, but also a permanent mark of their perseverance: Of all the players who have ever overcome all it took to reach the big leagues coming out of the Dominican, Guerrero has collected the most hits.
Is Guerrero, with his career .318/.379/.553 line and his 2004 MVP award, the best Dominican player of all time? He has a great deal of competition there, and it is not a question of mere trivia.
Here are the 15 best Dominican players in MLB history, the men clearing the way for a future in which Latino ballplayers are even more successful and respected.
15. Julio Franco
It was Franco whose hits record Guerrero broke Monday night. His career spanned over a quarter-century, and Franco notched a career .298 batting average, .365 on-base percentage and .417 slugging average.
If his birth date is accurate--and many insist his age was always listed a few years light--he played into his late 40s. Franco was a nearly unmatched physical specimen in the game.
14. Aramis Ramirez
At age 33, Ramirez is already on the right side of 300 career home runs and consistently drives the ball while playing an almost acceptable third base. Given another few good years, Ramirez could nearly match Guerrero's career value totals despite lesser offensive numbers.
13. Miguel Tejada
No doubt the crummy and protracted end to Tejada's career has already made it tough for some to retain a clear memory of how good he once was. From 2001-06, Tejada played every game on the schedule.
He averaged .300/.351/.501 over that span, with 176 home runs in six seasons. He won an MVP award and made four All-Star teams during that sparkling stretch.
12. Hanley Ramirez
He can run, hit and hit for power, and although Ramirez will never be an above-average fielder at shortstop, he can stick there. He is more well-rounded than Tejada or a number of other famed Dominican shortstops ever were, and should recover from a disappointing 2011 to get his career back on a near Hall of Fame track.
11. Jose Reyes
Reyes and Ramirez are six in one hand, half a dozen in the other. Each is a part of the new and most electrifying breed of Dominican ballplayer ever to come into the league.
Reyes has less power than Ramirez, but more speed, and he fields shortstop significantly better than does his Marlins counterpart. Looking at long-term projectability, Reyes is a safer bet...balky hamstrings and all.
10. Pedro Guerrero
Guerrero bloomed late and battled injuries later on in his career, and therefore, his counting stats do not do justice to his considerable skills.
Guerrero's OPS, adjusted to the leagues and ballparks in which he played, was 37 percent better than that of an average hitter over his career. Willie McGee deserved the 1985 NL MVP, but a compelling case could have been made for Guerrero, as well.
9. David Ortiz
Though being a full-time career DH hurts Ortiz's stock, he has achieved enough to offset that and become one of the all-time Dominican baseball icons. His nationalism is never much out of evidence, and he brings a gregariousness that makes him larger than life in Boston and in the DR itself.
8. Sammy Sosa
Speaking of gregarious sluggers...
Sosa will be remembered with the taints that plagued his later career. He got caught corking a bat in 2003; walked out on his team at the end of the 2004 season; and became a focal point of the steroids scandal.
For several years, though, Sosa was the unofficial Dominican ambassador to the United States. He was engaging, brilliantly fun to watch, and a remarkably generous man.
7. Adrian Beltre
Sometime in the next three or four years, Adrian Beltre will be the one who breaks Guerrero's mark.
When he does, he can add that to a list of accomplishments that already includes one of the best all-around seasons in big-league history in 2004; over 300 career home runs; and two very well-deserved Gold Glove awards at third base.
He might someday be remembered as the most complete Dominican player ever.
6. Manny Ramirez
Ramirez has a case for the title of best pure right-handed hitter of all time, but getting caught twice using performance-enhancing drugs tarnishes that legacy.
Raised primarily in New York, Ramirez is not, perhaps, a Dominican in the same sense as others on this list, but because he has always embraced his heritage in public, especially when it serves him well to speak poor English, he belongs on the list.
5. Juan Marichal
"The Dominican Dandy," they called Marichal.
His high leg kick was as deceptive as it was whimsical, and his accomplishments (at a time when the trails for Latino ballplayers were still being blazed too slowly) speak for themselves.
Marichal remains a legend in his home country, and announced MLB games in Spanish for years.
4. Vladimir Guerrero
Though it might be over soon (one apparent inequity in the game even today is that Latino ballplayers are expected to decline faster for some unimaginable reason), Guerrero has had an amazing career. His milestone moments are but fleeting reminders of the longevity and success he has enjoyed.
Guerrero is a DH now, but was once a raw, athletic outfielder with arm to spare. He has a unique swing and plate approach that make him singularly fun to watch, and he will be in the Hall of Fame someday.
3. Alex Rodriguez
Born in New York and raised in Miami, Rodriguez is not properly Dominican. If he were, he would already own the record for hits by a Dominican-born player.
As it is, his partial Dominican ancestry and his choice to play for the country at the 2009 World Baseball Classic make him eligible for my list, despite his absence from the Dominican MLB records.
2. Albert Pujols
As many Dominican players have been known to do, Pujols seems to have fudged his age a bit for the purposes of the records when he arrived Stateside. He lists himself at age 31, but could be a year or even three or five older than that.
Still, Pujols will finish Wednesday with a .900-plus OPS that will still be the worst of his career. He is a once-in-a-lifetime find, an impossibly talented hitter who tumbled to the Cardinals in the middle of an amateur draft during which even they passed on him a dozen times.
Not all of Pujols' memories of his home are positive, but he has never shied from his status as a Dominican role model.
1. Pedro Martinez
Dominican or otherwise, Martinez might be the best right-handed pitcher in baseball history. He had razor's edge command, a nasty repertoire and certainly the best peak of any pitcher ever.
Because he brought his heritage with him to the mound seemingly all the time, though, Martinez became even more important than he might have been.
He could soon be just the second Dominican pitcher to join the Hall, alongside Marichal.