On Jan. 26, 1813 Juan Pablo Duarte was born. Duarte would go to a life as a leader in the movement to establish the Dominican Republic as an independent nation. In his honor, Richard brings you the All-Dominican Team.
Notwithstanding its rather ignominious exit from the World Baseball Classic last year, the Dominican Republic has a strong history in baseball. No country has sent more players to the United States to play major league baseball, and indeed, the DR has sent more players than all but a few U.S. states.
With that in mind, it seems reasonable to attempt to create an All-Dominican team, with the best players from that country. For today, we will stick with just the position players, pitchers being a category of their own. A couple of ground rules: Players qualified if, and only if, they were born in the Dominican Republic; none of that wishy-washy WBC eligibility stuff. (Eaten at an Olive Garden in the last 18 months? Name end with a vowel? Welcome to Team Italy!) Players must be at their primary position, defined here as the place where they played the most games.
And with that, let’s begin
Catcher: Tony Pena
Like a huge number of players, if Pena’s best season instead represented a typical one, he would be in the Hall of Fame. In 1983 he hit .301, finished 12th in the MVP voting and won a Gold Glove. Only the Gold Glove talent would remain throughout his career. Pena was widely viewed as a brilliant defensive catcher. His nickname, El Gato, reflected his quickness behind the plate, and his strong arm allowed him to throw out more than 40 percent of base stealers four times in his career. For good measure, he was also a career .357 hitter in the World Series.
First base: Albert Pujols
There have been some pretty good Dominican-born players to see major time at first base, from Pedro Guerrero to Carlos Pena. But this is the easiest choice on the list. Pujols is simply great. Despite playing only nine seasons—not even enough for Hall of Fame eligibility, remember—he has more than 1,700 hits, nearly 400 doubles, more than 350 home runs, and three MVP Awards. Only one player (Joe Medwick) had more doubles at the same age as Pujols. That he has done it all while playing a Gold Glove-caliber first base—and hitting for a 1.009 OPS in the playoffs—only enhances his legend.
Second base: Alfonso Soriano
Sometimes you have to live with a player’s defense in order to get his bat in the lineup, and such is the case with Alfonso Soriano. Though he hasn’t played second base since the 2005 season, no doubt to the gratitude of groundball pitchers everywhere, Soriano still has more games there than at any other position. The living embodiment of the cliché that a Dominican ballplayer “can’t walk off the island,” Soriano has fewer walks than all comparable players with his OPS. But his combination of power and speed—he has a chance to be just the seventh 300-300 player—makes him valuable.
|All-Dominican third baseman Adrian Beltre doing what he does best (Icon/SMI)|
Third base: Adrian Beltre
A stark contrast to the man above him, Beltre derives an enormous portion of his value from his defense. Some have gone so far as to suggest Beltre is the best defensive third baseman who has ever played. At the least he is in the discussion, which is why he makes this team despite a career .325 OBP. While Pena might be in the Hall of Fame if he could have repeated his best season, had Beltre repeated his 2004 (.334/.388/.629, 48 home runs) with any kind of frequency he would be in the discussion for best non-Ruth player ever.
Shortstop: Miguel Tejada
It seems strange to put Tejada here, since he was signed by the Orioles for 2010 with the apparent intention of moving him to third base. Shortstop is a loaded position for the Dominican Republic; for now the spot belongs to Tejada, but it could easily shift to Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes in the next few years. Meanwhile, it was probably only a few years ago that Tejada himself took the position away from Tony Fernandez. But this is not to sell him short; Tejada is a former MVP and has led both leagues in doubles. He may not be the Dominican shortstop for long, but for now he has earned the place.
Left field: Manny Ramirez
I know, he’s served a 50-game suspension for PED use. And I know that his defense, even when he’s interested in it, which isn’t all the time, needs improvement. I know that his attitude and clubhouse presence have been questioned, and not without reason. But when you hit like Manny Ramirez, these things are forgiven. Ramirez has a career triple crown, and leads Dominican-born players in runs, doubles and RBIs while placing second in hits, home runs and OPS. This is his spot, no question.
Center field: Cesar Cedeno
Here’s the list of center fielders who had a better OPS+ at age 21 and 22 than Cesar Cedeno: Tris Speaker. That’s it. Cedeno’s age-21 season, adjusted out of the 1972 Astrodome—where hitting went to die—and into 2009’s Minute Maid Park, produces a .339/.406/.569 batting line. That would have been the fourth-best OPS in the National League in 2009, from a 21-year-old playing center field in just his third major league season. You can see why he was drawing comparison to Willie Mays. Cedeno never reached that peak, and he is viewed by some as ultimately as disappointment—his post-age-22 OPS+ is “just” 119. Nonetheless, he is easily among the top 50 center fielders of all time.
Right field: Sammy Sosa
Another guy with PED links, but another one who could flat-out hit. Sosa had one of the great power peaks of all time: From 1998 through 2002 he averaged—averaged!—58 home runs a season. Never the owner of a great batting eye—even in his home-run-hitting prime he is not far above the league OBP for his career—Sosa also struck out a huge amount. But just as home runs cover a lot of distance, they also cover a lot of sins. That puts Sosa on the team.
We will return to do the pitchers and manager someday in the near future, but for now we can look at the Dominican Republic team and know they can stake claim as one of the great nations for producing baseball talent.