With the World Baseball Classic in full swing, inevitable arguments began in the La Vida newsroom as to who the all-time legends are in each country.
To settle these arguments–and probably start some new ones–we’ve asked some of our favorite writers to give us their picks for five countries (Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela), plus a special Pan-American team with players from Nicaragua, Panama and elsewhere.
Tell us who we missed or who you would add on Twitter using the hashtag #LaVidaLegends or leave us a comment below.
By Danny Torres
Four Hall of Famers and a couple more on the way ̶ remarkable for a small island, but its passion for the game has inspired some of the best at their positions. For starters, how would Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar and Iván Rodríguez look penciled in on a lineup card? Not to mention Carlos Beltrán and Edgar Martínez? Puerto Rico could go seven deep at catcher, including the three Molina brothers. How good is this team? Yadier didn’t make the cut. Neither did Carlos Delgado, Bernie Williams or Mike Lowell. That’s one heck of a second team.
C Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez
Born November 27, 1971 in Manatí, PR
When he debuted in the major leagues at 19, Pudge threw out the first two runners who tried to steal. But here’s why he’s compared to Johnny Bench and why he’s only the third Latino inducted into the HOF on the first ballot: all-time leader in putouts for catchers, 14-time All-Star, 13 Gold Gloves (most by any backstop), seven Silver Slugger Awards and a World Series title.
Watch Pudge tour the Hall of Fame for the first time As Part of the INCOMING Class of 2017.
1B Victor Pellot aka “Vic Power”
Born November 1, 1927 in Arecibo, PR
Absolutely the best-fielding first baseman most people have never heard of. Dark-skinned, Pellot countered the racism he faced with biting humor. Too flamboyant for the New York Yankees, who traded him to the Philadelphia Athletics and missed out on a six-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glover. In a meaningless game against the Detroit Tigers in 1958, Pellot stole home ̶ twice.
2B Roberto “Robbie” Alomar
Born February 5, 1968 in Ponce, PR
Son of Santos “Sandy” Alomar, Sr., a former All-Star second baseman; and brother of Sandy, Jr., a stellar catcher in his own right, Robbie rode his genes all the way to the HOF in 2011. He made every play look easy, winning 10 Gold Gloves, the most by any second sacker. In 17 seasons, Robbie hit .300, went to 12 straight All-Star Games and won back-to-back World Series.
SS Francisco Lindor
Born November 14, 1993 in Caguas, PR
Another prodigy, the Cleveland Indians’ first-round pick in 2011 has dazzled in his first two MLB seasons. Not only did Lindor last year become the first Puerto Rican shortstop to win a Gold Glove, he was an All-Star who averaged .301 with 15 home runs and 78 RBI. During the Indians’ playoff run, he hit .310/.355/.466 with 18 hits in 15 games.
3B Edgar Martínez
Born January 2, 1963 in New York, NY
Known primarily as the best DH to grace the game, Martínez, having played 564 games at third base, earns this spot because he’s one of the best hitters ever, period. Before Big Papi, there was Edgar. Over 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, he hit .312/.418/.515 and won two batting titles. Only 12 other players in history have similar lines ̶ guys like Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Musial, Aaron and Manny.
WATCH: Edgar and other Puerto Rican players congratulate Pudge on his induction into the Hall of Fame.
RF Roberto Clemente
Born August 18, 1934 in Carolina, PR
The patron saint of Latino players, an advocate for justice and equality, his legacy endures almost 45 years while on a relief mission to Nicaragua. Where do we start? He was the first Latino to reach 3,000 hits, the first Latino World Series MVP and the first Latino to enter the HOF. Also notched twelve Gold Gloves ̶ tied with Willie Mays for the most of any outfielder in history–four batting titles, two World Series rings and one MVP award. Plus, an MLB award in his name is given annually to a player for off-the-field contributions.
CF Carlos Beltrán
Born April 24, 1977 in Manatí, PR
Few have done more to assume Clemente’s mantle than Beltrán, one of five switch-hitters in history to surpass 400 home runs. Rookie of the Year, nine-time All-Star, three Gold Gloves, the 2013 Roberto Clemente Award and founder of the Carlos Beltrán Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. Like Clemente, he rises to the occasion. In six postseasons, Señor Octubre has hit .323/.432/.646.
LF Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre
Born January 29, 1909 in Coamo, PR
The color barrier denied this enormously talented player proper due. Coimbre was a legend who shined with the Ponce Lions of the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League, the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues and throughout Latin America. The legendary Satchel Paige once said, “Coimbre could not be pitched to. No one gave me more trouble …” In Puerto Rico, Coimbre hit .337 and supposedly went three seasons without striking out.
DH Orlando Cepeda
Born September 17, 1937 in Ponce, PR
Nicknamed “Baby Bull,” Cepeda was a feared slugger whose peak years were cut short by injuries. The National League Rookie of the Year in 1958 and MVP in 1967, he was the first Latino to win home run and RBI titles. Over 17 seasons, Cepeda hit .297 and finished with 379 home runs and 1,365 RBI. Voted into the HOF by the Veterans Committee in 1999.
SP Javier Vázquez
Born July 25, 1976 in Ponce, PR
A hard-throwing right-hander nicknamed the “Silent Assassin,” Vázquez won 165 games in 14 seasons, the most by any pitcher from Puerto Rico. A 2004 All-Star, he recorded 2,536 strikeouts, or 8.04K/9. “The best breaking ball I’ve seen,” said Sandy Alomar, Jr. “You didn’t know where it was going to land.”
SP Juan “Terín” Pizarro
Born February 7, 1937 in Santurce, PR
Pizarro was an overpowering old-school lefty with a rubber arm who played 18 MLB seasons, plus winters in Puerto Rico and Mexico. A two-time All-Star and 1957 World Series champion with the Milwaukee Braves, he won 131 games in the major leagues and more than 400 overall, earning induction into the Caribbean Baseball HOF and the Puerto Rican Sports HOF.
RP Guillermo “Willie” Hernández
Born November 14, 1954 in Aguada, PR
Who can forget the summer of 1984? Willie cemented his legacy by appearing in 80 games, finishing 68 and saving 32 while winning the American League Cy Young and MVP Awards and taking the Detroit Tigers to the World Series championship. More impressive than his 1.92 ERA was that in 140.1 innings, this southpaw struck out 112 and walked only 36.
MANAGER Edwin Rodríguez Morales
Born August 14, 1960 in Ponce, Puerto Rico
After a brief career playing for the N.Y. Yankees and San Diego Padres, he eventually turned his sights towards the dugout. Known for his astute ability, he is considered by many to be a players’ manager. In 2010, he was named the interim manager for the Florida Marlins, thus becoming the first Puerto Rican manager in Major League Baseball history. After a short-lived stint with the Marlins, he managed Team Puerto Rico, which finished as runner-up in the 2013 WBC.
Featured image: Castillo San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Inset images: National Baseball Hall of Fame