New York’s 5 most underappreciated Latino players

For all the headlines and Hot Stove rumors generated this past winter, none was juicier than the possibility of Manny Machado being signed by the Yankees. To the Twitter-verse, it was a no-brainer even though general manager Brian Cashman never – ever – had any intention of luring the free agent slugger to the Bronx.

Anyone dreaming of Manny in Yankee pinstripes ended up shaking their fist at the sky.

The unspoken reason for the Yankees’ resistance, however, made sense: Machado’s admitted lack of hustle would’ve had a corrosive effect in the clubhouse, both on the Yankees’ Spanish-speaking players and manager Aaron Boone. At the price he was asking for – 10 years, $300 million – Machado would’ve been a liability instead of asset.

And yet, Manny’s star power would’ve turned him into the most talked-about Latino in Yankees history. He wouldn’t have been more beloved than, say, Mariano Rivera, but a tabloid gold mine nonetheless. It would’ve made for irresistible, back-page drama, in stark contrast to the Latinos who didn’t get the headlines they were due over the years.

So who’s on this list of New York’s anti-Machados? The ones who deserved more love and/or attention? Here’s our Top-5 of this era:

Johan Santana

Mets: 2008-2010, 2012

The Venezuelan lefthander has thrown the only no-hitter in Mets’ history. For that Santana deserves a statue in Flushing.

This is the same franchise that produced Nolan Ryan, who set the record for no-hitters with seven, Tom Seaver, Doc Gooden, and Zack Wheeler, yet it was the Venezuelan left-hander who tossed a no-no against the Cardinals on June 1, 2012.

Yet, that no-hitter against the Cardinals wasn’t Santana’s defining moment as a Met. That came on Sept. 27, 2008 when he shut out the Marlins, 2-0 to keep his team alive in a pennant race that would go down to the last day. Santana wasn’t just good. He was unhittable, not to mention super-human, that day.

He pitched the whole game with a torn meniscus in his knee, not bothering to tell anyone until a week later. Santana didn’t want to take a chance on missing the start. Talk about taking one for the team.

Bernie Williams

Yankees, 1991-2006

You could argue that the soft-spoken center fielder is second only to Derek Jeter in crowd-response at Old Timers Day. And let’s be fair: the Yankees DID retire Williams’ No. 51 in 2015, commemorating him with a plaque in Monument Park. There’s just one piece missing from the Bernie love-in: the absence of a farewell tour after his last season in 2006.

Not only did Bernie fail to receive the proper send-off, he never officially retired. Instead, the center fielder waited at home for a call from the Yankees in 2007 that never came. The rest of the Core Four stars were beginning to age out, and it was clear the organization was getting ready for a makeover in 2009 and the world championship it netted them.

Thing is, Williams had come off a fairly productive ’06 season, batting .281, his best since 2002, with 12 home runs and 61 RBI. Those numbers were in line with the previous four years. He would’ve been 38 in 2007, and Johnny Damon had already taken over in center field.

So Williams flew back to Puerto Rico and disappeared from public view for a few summers. Of course that’s all changed. He has become a legend in the Bronx, not to mention an accomplished jazz musician. But someone who’d won a batting title (1998) and was a four-time world champ sure deserved a better exit.

Omar Minaya

Mets general manager: 2005-2010

There’s a mini renaissance going on in Flushing, and for that it’s rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen who’s getting much of the credit. Before him was Sandy Alderson, who’s Marine-style discipline and Ivy League-smarts set the Mets on the road to respectability.

But the organization’s foundation was laid by Minaya, who became Major League Baseball’s first Latino general manager with the Expos in 2002.

With the Mets, the Dominican-born Minaya helped acquire, directly or indirectly, many of the players who bolster the Mets today: Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, to name a few. It was Minaya who paved the way for the eventual signing of free agent Pedro Martinez, who single-handedly changed the culture of a miserable clubhouse.

Minaya doesn’t get enough credit for his acumen in evaluating talent, a fact that’s compounded by his low-key demeanor. He left the Mets to work for the Players Association, all but invisible to the media. And even now, having returned to the Mets as a special advisor to Van Wagenen, Minaya shuns interviews. He’s not interested in repairing his legacy. Too bad: the man’s body of work should be remembered more generously.

Orlando Hernández

Yankees, 1998-2004; Mets 2006-07

No one was tougher than this Cuban right-hander. October pressure meant nothing to the refuge who spent 10 hours in a 20-foot sailboat as he escaped his country.

Hernández, his 21-year-old girlfriend and six companions were stranded on an uninhabited cay in the Bahamas for three days, eating Spam and stale bread before finally being rescued by the Coast Guard.

The journey more than prepared him for baseball’s postseason. In fact, in the hours before Game 4 of the 1998 American League Championship Series, with the Indians ahead in the series, 2-1, Hernandez calmly ordered lunch in the Yankees’ hotel restaurant, unworried about the Tribe’s potent lineup. A hot meal was the bigger problem.

As soon as Hernández decided service was slow, he went into the kitchen, befriended the wait staff and emerged with plates of food. With a smile on his face, Hernández served lunch to everyone in the restaurant. Joe Torre, who was seated at a nearby table, said, “I knew right then and there, Duque was going to be on that night.”

He shut out the Indians, 4-0, leading the Yankees to the pennant and an eventual world championship.

Carlos Beltrán

Mets, 2005-2010; Yankees 2014-2016

We’re not talking about Beltrán’s stint in the Bronx – the Yankees loved him and so did the fans. Cashman’s decision to add Beltrán to his advisory staff last off-season was the starter’s gun on the Puerto Rican slugger’s future career as a manager.

But Beltrán is still waiting for an official pardon for the famous Strike Three he looked at to end the 2006 National League Championship Series against the Cardinals. The Mets were one base hit away from going to the World Series.

Instead, Beltrán’s whiff with the bases loaded against Adam Wainwright sent the Mets on a tailspin that would last almost a decade. Never mind that it was Beltrán who took them so deep into October.

His 41 home runs and 116 RBI were both career highs, and the Mets’ 97 wins have not been matched since. Somehow, Beltrán’s role in that surge has been forgotten.

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