The plans for the historic moment in Cooperstown, N.Y., began with a conversation that seemed rather innocent, almost tongue in cheek. Slugger Vladimir Guerrero was back home in Don Gregorio, Dominican Republic, when he called versatile Angels broadcaster and former major-leaguer José Mota in late 2009.
Guerrero casually suggested what will become a historic first induction speech that will be given with the help of a translator for the Baseball Hall of Fame. A few months after taking his final at-bat with the Angels in 2009, Guerrero called to tell Mota he was set to sign with the Texas Rangers. Mota, the son of beloved Dodgers pinch-hit great Manny Mota, had served as Guerrero’s interpreter at times with the Angels.
Their paths had actually crossed earlier in Montreal one spring as Mota was at the end of his career and Guerrero was starting his path toward a place among the immortals at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
They are more than close friends. They’re almost family. As they lamented the end of their working relationship with the Angels almost nine years ago, Guerrero noted that their days working together might not be over.
“If I’m lucky enough to make the Hall of Fame will you be there with me?” Guerrero said in Spanish.
Mota, who is arguably the most versatile broadcaster currently working for a Major League Baseball team, didn’t hesitate.
“I’ll be there no matter what as a friend,” Mota told Guerrero, who will become the third native of the Dominican Republic inducted into the Hall of Fame. “If it’s going to make you more comfortable, yes, I’d be honored to help you as a friend.”
Paths to Cooperstown
Mota has returned to Cooperstown this weekend for the first time since he went there in 1985 with his New York-Penn League teammates from Niagara Falls.
He vividly remembers the emotion he felt when he saw Roberto Clemente’s Hall of Fame plaque because it reminded him how close his father had been to the legendary Clemente during their playing careers with the Pirates.
Although José Mota’s playing career was quite modest, he already has made a contribution to baseball worthy of a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A year ago, he granted the Hall of Fame’s request to donate the scorecard he used when he made history last Aug. 19-20 by becoming the first broadcaster to handle play-by-play duties in English and Spanish for a major league team’s broadcast.
Mota, 53, proudly donated his scorecard.
In a way, it’s quite fitting that Mota will handle the historic translation this induction weekend, which marks the 20th anniversary of legendary Dodgers Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín’s receiving the Ford Frick Award at the Hall of Fame.
Jarrín and the immortal Vin Scully are two of Mota’s biggest mentors. Few if any other broadcasters can claim that they were mentored by men who are considered the greatest Spanish language and greatest English language baseball broadcasters to ever take the mic.
If Mota wasn’t born for this moment, he surely was groomed for it.
He spent his youth at Dodger Stadium while his father finished his 20-year career by playing the final 13 years of his career with the Dodgers from 1969 through 1982. Manny Mota began his career with the Giants in 1962 and then played with the Pirates from 1963 through 1968, becoming one of Clemente’s closest friends in baseball.
Manny Mota eventually finished his career as baseball’s all-time leader in pinch hits, setting a mark that has since been broken.
When José Mota wasn’t on the Dodger Stadium field or the home clubhouse chasing his father, he could usually be found in the family section or in the broadcast booth with Jarrin or Scully.
“My mentors are Jaime and Vin,” José Mota said. “They would all take me into their booth when I was a kid. Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers’ broadcast booth and the Dodger stadium family section is where I spent my time.
“That was my schooling. How fortunate was that? In the broadcast booth is where I met Tim McCarver, Jack Buck, all these legendary broadcasters.”
Over time, those Frick Ford Award winners would easily recognize Jose Mota when they visited Dodger Stadium.
“Hey, little Mota,” they would say to José.
“I took a liking to that,” he said.
Which baseball lover wouldn’t?
His Own Path
Another historic figure also helped nurture Mota’s broadcast career, encouraging the bilingual ballplayer to not limit himself to Spanish.
The late Preston Gómez, the first Latino to manage in the major leagues, was a coach with the Dodgers when he first met a young Mota. He used to hit fungos to Mota while the big leaguers took batting practice.
Gómez, who managed the Padres, Astros and Cubs during his career, was a special adviser for the Angels when Disney hired Mota in 2002 for the broadcast team.
Gómez knew that the Dominican Republic native had been educated in the United States and had played baseball at Cal State Fullerton before his modest professional baseball career.
Gómez was proud that Mota had excelled as a color analyst and play-by-play Spanish national broadcaster for FOX baseball Game of the Week and the World Series and playoffs as well as NFL Sunday broadcasts from 1997 until he was hired by the Disney for the Angels in 1992.
But Gómez knew Mota could do even more.
“Preston Gómez, he was very influential for me,” José Mota said. “He kept saying,
‘With your voice, your experience, you’re bilingual, don’t pigeonhole yourself to just do Spanish.’ I remember that voice saying: ‘You got to do the English broadcast. You have to do the English.’”
Gómez is no longer with us, but he would definitely be proud. He would share the joy and pride Jarrin and Scully have in Mota’s career.
Mota “was a wonderful kid and very polite,” Scully told The Los Angeles Times last year. “We were happy to have him in the booth while his dad was playing. He has grown up to be a wonderful broadcaster and delightful friend.”
Mota has definitely not let anybody pigeonhole him. He’s an integral part of the Angels’ broadcast team. He does pre and postgame analysis for Fox Sports West. He also has worked as a color analyst for the team’s Spanish broadcast.
He’s more than respected by Latino players. He’s respected by all players, whether they speak Spanish or not. He’s admired and seen as a trusted mentor, one capable of perhaps even managing in the majors someday if he decides to drop the mic, so to speak.
When Mota steps to the podium with Guerrero on Sunday the rest of the baseball world will see and hear what Angels and Dodgers fans have known for decades: Manny Mota’s kid can pinch hit in both languages.
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