Who tops list of Latino shortstops?
Rich lineage traces back to glove wizardry of Carrasquel
From the way Chico Carrasquel played defense to the way Alex Rodriguez has performed on offense, no other position in Major League Baseball has been influenced by Latino players as much as shortstop.
Contributions from countless players from the past like Luis Aparicio, Tony Fernandez, Alfredo Griffin, and Dave Concepcion, along with current shortstops like Omar Vizquel, Cesar Izturis and Miguel Tejada, have helped transform shortstop into the premier position on the field, but who is the all-time best? That's where the fans come in.
The Chevrolet Presents the Major League Baseball Latino Legends Team program commemorates the storied history and immense contribution that players of Latin American heritage have made to Major League Baseball. As part of the program, a ballot featuring 60 Latino players representing seven countries and territories has been created, and between Aug. 29 and Oct. 10, fans will be able to vote -- via ballots in English and Spanish -- at participating Chevy dealerships nationwide or online at MLB.com.
There is a "write-in" section on the ballot for players not listed.
"If you ask my dad, he'll say Davy [Concepcion]. If you ask my grandfather, he'll say Chico," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, the first manager in Major League Baseball from Venezuela. "We were always looking up to a shortstop growing up. Now, if you ask my kids, they'll say Alex Gonzalez and if you ask my kids' kids, they'll say [Cesar] Izturis."
The Venezuelan-born Carrasquel was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, but was sold to the Chicago White Sox before the 1950 season for $35,000. There, he became the third Venezuelan to play in the Major Leagues behind his brother, Alejandro, a pitcher for the Washington Senators in 1939, and Jesus Ramos, an outfielder for Cincinnati in 1944.
Carrasquel, who made his big-league debut in 1950, was a four-time All-Star with the White Sox. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the 1955 season, and also played for the Kansas City Athletics and Baltimore Orioles before retiring in 1959 with a .258 lifetime average, 55 home runs, 1,199 hits, and 474 RBIs.
Carrasquel cemented his place in history by becoming the first Latin American player to start in an All-Star Game in 1951. But he is also remembered for his expansive range, his sidearm relays to first on double plays and his undeniable flair.
"In those times, it was not easy to come to the United States and play the game," Guillen said. "He opened a lot of doors for us. He is one of the biggest reasons people make a lot of money and come from other countries to play. You can say Chico Carrasquel was a big part of that."
In May, Carrasquel died of cardiac arrest at his home in Venezuela, and two national days of mourning followed. The White Sox responded by honoring their former shortstop with a video tribute before a game at U.S. Cellular Field.
"There is a not a bigger funeral in my country, no matter who dies, than Chico Carrasquel, because the way he was and the way people loved him," Guillen said. "He always wanted to die in Venezuela and he did, and I think he went back there to do it."
As a player, Carrasquel was followed in Chicago by countryman Aparicio, a 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner. Aparicio's defense, speed on the bases and ability to spray the ball to all fields elevated what people came to expect from the shortstop position.
Concepcion, also from Venezuela, later emerged as one of the game's top shortstops, earning nine All-Star nods during his 19-year tenure with the Cincinnati Reds. Vizquel, who grew up admiring Concepcion, continues the tradition of top shortstops from Venezuela. The Giants' shortstop, like many other infielders from his country, wears no. 13 in honor of Concepcion.
"[Vizquel] is one of the greatest from anywhere, not just Venezuela," Giants manager Felipe Alou said of Vizquel. "He's everything we heard he is. He is smart and a good all-around player. He always wants to play."
Vizquel is a three-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner.
"To me, he's a Hall of Famer, nobody's going to be better than him -- I don't care how many Gold Gloves you win," Guillen said. "To me, it would be Luis, Vizquel, and Davy as the three top shortstops in our country. Chico [Carrasquel] should be in that category, too."
In the Dominican Republic, Fernandez is the pride of San Pedro de Macoris, a city responsible for rearing countless big-league players, including Juan Samuel, Sammy Sosa, Alfonso Soriano and Luis Castillo.
A four-time Gold Glove winner, Fernandez was selected to five All-Star Games. He finished his career with a .288 batting average in 2,158 games, primarily with Toronto, including a .327 average in postseason play. Fernandez drove in nine RBIs for the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series and is best known for leaping and throwing the ball in the air on balls hit to his far right -- a move Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has perfected.
Before moving to third base prior to the 2004 season, A-Rod elevated the shortstop position again by incorporating the stellar play and style of his predecessors on defense, while displaying unprecedented power on offense. Rodriguez was born in New York City and raised in Miami to parents from the Dominican Republic. His choice for top shortstop is Tejada.
"He has the combination of power and defense, hits in the middle of the order," Rodriguez said. "He can do everything."
Here are the candidates:
Luis Aparicio, Venezuela (1956-73): Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1984, Aparicio was a 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner. He won AL Rookie of the Year in 1956 and led the American League in stolen bases nine times.
Dave Concepcion, Venezuela (1970-88): An integral part of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine, Concepcion won five Gold Gloves during the 1970s. The nine-time All-Star was an inspiration to shortstops from Latin America because of his defense, offense and flair for the game. He posted a .297 batting average in nine postseason series, including a .267 batting average in four World Series with the Reds.
Tony Fernandez, Dominican Republic (1983-2001): A slick-fielding shortstop from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, Fernandez's style and fielding ability made him one of the top shortstops during the 1980s and early 1990s, primarily with Toronto. He won four Gold Gloves and was selected to five All-Star Games. He finished his career with a .288 batting average in 2,158 games, including a .327 average in postseason play.
Alex Rodriguez, Dominican Republic (1994-current): Regarded as one of the best all-around players in the game, Rodriguez shined as a shortstop before moving to third base for the Yankees prior to the 2004 season. Rodriguez was named the AL's Most Valuable Player in 2003 and he became the youngest player ever to reach the 400-home run plateau when he hit the mark in 2005. A two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop, Rodriguez is a nine-time All-Star.
Miguel Tejada, Dominican Republic (1997-current): The 2002 AL Most Valuable Player while with Oakland, Tejada leads all active players with more than 900 consecutive games played. Arguably the best all-around shortstop in the game today, Tejada is a three-time All-Star. He started in the 2005 Mid-Summer Classic in Detroit and was named the game's MVP.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.