La Vida Latino Legends: Dominican Republic

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.

By Armando Soldevila

When baseball became popular in the United States during the 19th century, few probably thought the sport would transform into a national pastime in different nations around the world. In the Dominican Republic, where baseball is practically a religion, choosing a fantasy team made up of Dominican players of any era is an endless topic. Should A-Rod be on the team? Are hitters like Pedro Guerrero or Rico Carty on the roster? Some decisions were harder than others, but this is how our Dominican Dream Team shaped up.

C Antonio “Tony” Peña
Born June 4, 1957 in Monti Cristi, DR
Unrivaled as the most successful Dominican Republic catcher to play in the major leagues. Sure-handed and smart, he was one of the best of his generation. He won four Gold Gloves, played in five All-Star Games and twice led the league in fielding percentage. Among catchers all-time, he ranks sixth in games played and eighth in putouts.

1B José Alberto “Albert” Pujols
Born January 16, 1980 in Santo Domingo, DR
Baseball royalty. Pujols was NL rookie of the year in 2001 and never looked back, batting .300 with 100 RBI in each of his first 10 seasons. After one batting title, three MVP awards and 10 All-Star selections, he’s closing in on the exclusive 3,000 hits / 600 home runs / 2,000 RBI clubs. You prefer metrics? His 101.1 WAR among position players ranks first among active major leaguers.

2B Robinson Canó
Born October 22, 1982 in San Pedro de Macorís, DR
A lifetime .307 hitter, Canó’s durability and combination of power and fine defense have earned him one of the highest contracts in history. In 12 seasons, Cano has been among the top five in MVP voting four times. If he stays healthy, he could be looking at 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 400 home runs by the end of his career.

Follow our coverage of the Dominican Republic during the World Baseball Classic on @LaVidaBaseball and on the hashtag #PlatanoPower

SS Álex “A-Rod” Rodríguez
Born July 27, 1975 in New York, NY
The shadow of PEDs will forever chase A-Rod, whose numbers rival those of Ruth, Bonds, Mays and Aaron: .295 average, 3,115 hits, 548 doubles, 696 home runs, 2,086 RBI and 2,021 runs scored. Though A-Rod played for the USA in the first World Baseball Classic, he switched to the Dominican Republic in 2009. Miguel Tejada and Tony Fernández understand this pick.

3B Adrián Beltré
Born April 7, 1979 in Santo Domingo, DR
After 19 seasons of highs and lows, Beltré is an example of how determination and hard work can put you in the conversation for the HOF. He is 58 hits from 3,000 and 55 home runs from 500. He’s also won five Gold Gloves since 2007, putting him in the conversation for being one of the best third basemen ever. Not bad for someone who hit .215 in his first MLB season.

RF Vladimir Guerrero
Born February 9, 1975 in Nizao, DR
Considered by many as the best raw talent to come out of the country. He combined the ability to hit any pitch with power, speed and an electrifying arm, delighting fans in Montreal, Anaheim and around the world. In 16 seasons, Guerrero averaged .318 with 449 home runs. This January, he missed getting into the HOF by 15 votes in his first year of eligibility.

CF Sammy Sosa
Born November 12, 1968 in San Pedro de Macorís, DR
Say what you want about Sammy, he’s a keeper ̶ the first Latino to hit 500 and then 600 home runs, and the only player to reach 60 in each of three seasons. The electricity he brought every day to Wrigley Field is tough to forget in Chicago. During the home run chase of 1998, New York cab drivers from the Dominican Republic kept tally on their rear windshields with white shoe polish.

LF Manny Ramirez
Born May 30, 1972 in Santo Domingo, DR
Manny B Manny, a man-child and one of the best right-handed hitters in history. Fans embraced his enigmatic personality and loved his assorted hijinks, including going to the bathroom inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster in the middle of an inning. In 19 seasons, he hit .312/.411/.585 with 1,831 RBI, and won two World Series rings with Boston. That’s big boy baseball.

DH David “Big Papi” Ortiz
Born in November 18, 1975 in Santo Domingo, DR
Did you really think it would be someone else? Big Papi was larger than life; beloved by fans, teammates and rivals alike; a left-handed hitter who shone in October and helped the Boston Red Sox break the curse to win three World Series titles. Ortiz blasted 541 home runs and 632 doubles and finished eighth all-time with 1,192 extra-base hits.

SP Juan Marichal
Born October 20, 1937 in Laguna Verde, DR
The first player from the Dominican Republic in the HOF, Marichal continues to be an example for every kid in the country who dreams of becoming an MLB star. Even though he never received the Cy Young Award, the high-kicking right-hander won 191 games in the ’60s, more than Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson or anyone else, finishing his career with 243 wins and a 1.10 WHIP, one of the best in history.

SP Pedro Martínez
Born October 25, 1971 in Manoguayabo, DR
Inducted on his first ballot in 2015, Martínez is the second Dominican in the HOF. Slight and slim, the right-hander dominated hitters in the Steroid Era, thanks to an indomitable will and a lethal fastball-curve-changeup trifecta. On his way to 219 victories, three Cy Young Awards and a World Series title, Martínez became the first Latino to claim the pitching Triple Crown and notch 3,000 strikeouts.

RP José Valverde
Born March 24, 1978 in San Pedro de Macorís, DR
While true that José Mesa and Francisco Cordero also had very good years as star closers, the righty Valverde was the most efficient of the three, leading the National League

three times with 40 or more saves and twice finishing in the top six in Cy Young voting. Papá Grande was truly “Big Daddy,” saving 288 games while striking out 692 batters in 630.1 innings.

MANAGER Felipe Alou
Born May 12, 1935 in Haina, DR
Alou is a former outfielder who spent 16 years as a minor-league coach and manager for the Expos before becoming the club’s skipper at Montreal in 1992. He won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 1994, leading the club to a 74-40 record before the strike put an early end to the season. His 14-year career as an MLB manager included a four-year stint in San Francisco, where he led the Giants to a 100-win season in 2003.

Featured image: Fortaleza Ozama in Santo Domingo by Caballero1967 via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license