As the World Baseball Classic gets underway, 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.
A Hall of Famer. A two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner. Three Cy Youngs. All-Stars. Golden Glovers. Silver Sluggers. Venezuelan baseball has come of age during the past 25 years. Except for Luis Aparicio, Andrés Galarraga and Víctor Davalillo, all these players started their MLB careers after 1996. Led by Miguel Cabrera, the best player ever from Venezuela, this lineup hits for power and average, plus runs and catches everything up the middle. And you won’t find many starters better than Johan Santana and Félix Hernández. Do you want to bet against them?
C Salvador Pérez
Born May 10, 1990 in Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela
Despite his young age, Pérez is the most accomplished Venezuelan backstop in history. A starter for the Kansas City Royals at 22. Four-time All-Star. Four Gold Gloves. One World Series ring. A powerful, accurate throwing arm. And pop in his bat, with 21 and 22 home runs the past two seasons.
1B Andrés “Big Cat” Galarraga
Born June 18, 1961 in Caracas, Distrito Capital, Venezuela
First Venezuelan to win a batting title. The second to win a home run crown. Two-time RBI champ, with 399 home runs to his name. And such a slick fielder that his nickname was “Big Cat.” During his peak from 1993 to 2000, Galarraga averaged .312/.372/573 and 35 home runs.
2B José Altuve
Born May 6, 1990 in Maracay, Aragua, Venezuela
Barely 5’6″, he’s a giant hitting machine. In just six campaigns, Altuve has two batting crowns and three 200-hit seasons, setting the record in 2014 for Venezuelans in MLB with 225. He can run, twice leading the American League in steals; and he can stun you with power, blasting 24 home runs in 2016.
SS Luis Aparicio
Born April 29, 1934 in Maracaibo, Zulia, Venezuela
A true legend, Aparicio was the first Latino voted Rookie of the Year and is the only Venezuelan in the HOF. He may not have had Omar Vizquel’s soft hands but he certainly had more range, winning nine Gold Gloves; and he was a threat on the base paths, leading the American League in steals his first nine seasons.
FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE OF VENEZUELA DURING THE WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC ON @LAVIDABASEBALL AND ON THE HASHTAG #VamosVenezuela
3B Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera
Born April 18, 1983 in Maracay, Aragua, Venezuela
After four batting crowns, two MVP Awards and one Triple Crown campaign, Cabrera is flat-out one of the best hitters in history. He’s averaged .321/.399/.562 while totaling 2,519 hits. Since 1901, no other right-handed batsman has accomplished as much in his first 14 years.
LF Magglio Ordóñez
Born January 28, 1974 in Caracas, Distrito Capital, Venezuela
He could play left field (though he didn’t do so in the majors), play right field, play anywhere. Ordóñez and Miguel Cabrera are the only Venezuelans to hit better than .300/.350/.500 in their careers. Besides winning one batting crown, Ordóñez struck out only 852 times in 1,848 games.
CF Víctor “Vic” Davalillo
Born July 31, 1936 in Churuguara, Falcón, Venezuela
While Davalillo’s MLB numbers are not as stellar in comparison to some, he was a skilled contact hitter who batted over .300 five times in 16 seasons*. Back home, he’s considered one of the best of all time. In winter league play, he averaged .325 while totaling 1,505 hits, both Venezuelan records.
RF Bob “Bobby” Abreu
Born March 11, 1974 in Maracay, Aragua, Venezuela
An on-base machine who hit .291/.395/.475 and was underrated much of his career. Abreu is one of four players to total more than 500 doubles, 250 home runs and 400 steals. The other three? Barry Bonds; and two already in the HOF, Craig Biggio and Rickey Henderson.
DH Víctor Martínez
Born December 23, 1978 in Ciudad Bolivar, Bolivar, Venezuela
A catcher turned designated hitter turned superstar. Martínez, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordóñez are the only Venezuelans to play 1,000 MLB games and average better than .300. In 14 seasons, Martínez has totaled 386 doubles, 227 home runs and 1,077 RBI.
SP Johan Santana
Born March 13, 1979 in Tovar, Merida, Venezuela
Injuries cut short a brilliant career. The lefty was arguably the best hurler from 2003 to 2008, including a stellar 2006 season when he became only the second Latino after Pedro Martínez to claim the pitching Triple Crown. His 2.85 ERA during that span was 56 percent lower than the MLB average. One no-hitter, two Cy Young Awards, and three strikeout titles spark hope that he will be the first Venezuelan pitcher in the HOF.
SP Félix Hernández
Born April 8, 1986 in Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela
With 154 wins in 12 seasons, Hernández is two short of catching Freddy García for the most ever by a Venezuelan. An imposing righty, they call him “El Rey Félix” or King Félix. And this is why: one Cy Young Award, one wins title and two ERA titles ̶ plus a perfect game, only the second-ever by a Latino.
RP Francisco “K-Rod” Rodríguez
Born January 7, 1982 in Caracas, Distrito Federal, Venezuela
Imperfect off the field, almost perfect on the mound, K-Rod has been an elite reliever for 15 years while throwing 95-mph fastballs and lockdown changeups. The righty set the MLB record of 62 saves in 2008, and his total of 430 is 193 more than the next Venezuelan on the list, Ugueth Urbina.
Manager Oswaldo “Ozzie” Guillén
Born January 20, 1964 in Ocumare del Tuy, Miranda, Venezuela
A force of nature, Guillén is the only Latin American manager to win the World Series, leading the Chicago White Sox to the title when they broke an 88-year drought in 2005. He’s smart enough to know that you don’t get fancy with potent lineups. But with Ozzie, you never know when storms might be brewing. This team would be fun to cover.
* Two of those five times, Davalillo played in fewer than 100 games. One season, it was 24 games.
Featured image: Castillo San Carlos de Borromeo in Nueva Esparata, Venezuela via CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license
Inset images: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images (Altuve); Jared Wickerham/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images (Cabrera); Rob Leiter/MLB Photos/Getty Images (Hernandez)