Gold Gloves—Part IV: MLB 2B in Puerto Rico Winter Ball (Roberto Alomar and José “Chico” Lind)

Roberto Alomar con los Criollos de Caguas

Seven MLB 2B who played in Puerto Rico have 21 Rawlings Gold Gloves (GG) between them: 16 American League (AL) and five National League (NL). This covers 1957-to-2018. In 1957, GG were awarded to nine total MLB players by position. From 1958-on, separate AL-NL recipients received this award. Nellie Fox—1957 Chicago White Sox—won the first GG at 2B. This is Part IV in a series on Gold Gloves (GG) earned by MLB players who played winter ball in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.

The most GG won by a 2B is 10 by Roberto Alomar, followed by Ryne Sandberg (nine), Bill Mazeroski (eight), Frank White (eight), Joe Morgan and Bobby Richardson with five apiece. Charlie Neal was the first GG recipient (1959 Dodgers) who played professionally in Puerto Rico, for the Caguas Criollos. Others were: Félix Millán (1969 and 1972 Atlanta Braves), Davey Johnson (1969-71 Baltimore Orioles), Harold Reynolds (1988-90 Seattle Mariners), Roberto Alomar (1991-95 Toronto Blue Jays, 1996 and 1998 Baltimore Orioles and 1999-2001 Cleveland Indians), José “Chico” Lind (1992 Pittsburgh Pirates), plus Dee Gordon (2015 Miami Marlins). This blog focuses on Roberto Alomar and José Lind.

Roberto Alomar and José Lind were league rookies in the 1985-86 Puerto Rico Winter League season—Alomar with Caguas and Lind with Santurce. Their respective teams qualified for the 18-game round robin after Caguas finished first in the regular season (33-21), with third-place Santurce (31-23) two games back. Santurce (8-10) and Caguas (6-12) faltered in the round robin behind Mayagüez (12-6) and San Juan (10-8). The latter teams faced off in the league finals.

Chico Lind

Lind, a native of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, played behind Mark McLemore and Luis Aguayo, early in the 1985-86 season, but got more playing time after McLemore returned to the States. Devon White and Jack Howell were two other Angels prospects with Santurce, managed by Frank Verdi (7-14 ledger) and Sandy Alomar, Sr. (24-9 record), who replaced the fired Verdi. Lind got to play with veteran SS Iván de Jesús Sr., Juan Beníquez and Rubén Sierra, all named to the league’s All-Star team, along with Santurce LHP Brad Havens. LHP Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams got hit hard in Santurce’s 12-3 loss to Mayagüez, to open the round robin, on January 4, 1986. Lind played in 14 of his team’s 18 round robin games, hitting .245 (12-for-49).

Roberto Alomar, from Salinas, Puerto Rico, played in 22 games for Felipe Alou’s Caguas Criollos, stating that “Alou asks you to play hard, and if you’re hurt, let him know…I liked Alou. He’s a straightforward guy.” Alomar benefitted from observing the work ethic of teammates Germán “Deportivo” Rivera (3B) and OF Henry Cotto, veterans who loved the game and always gave their all. Al Newman played 2B much of this season until Felipe Alou moved Newman to SS, so Alomar could get more playing time. When I conversed with Newman in Plant City, Florida, in spring training 1992, he recalled: “I tell you, when I first got down there, I was the 2B and Alomar was young [17]. Later in the season I moved over to SS so he could play second.”

Lind made his MLB debut with the 1987 Pittsburgh Pirates, on August 28, less than eight months before Roberto Alomar debuted with the San Diego Padres, April 22, 1988. Lind spent five seasons in the minors starting in 1983, with his last stop at Vancouver in the 1987 Pacific Coast

League. He hit .322 in 35 games for the 1987 Buccos, with 46 hits in 143 AB, eight doubles, four triples and 11 RBIs. Lind then had a solid 1987-88 winter season with Santurce, alongside SS Jay Bell, who later became Lind’s double play partner with the Pirates, 1989-to-1992. Kevin Kennedy, who managed Lind with Santurce for three seasons—1986-87 through 1988-89—told me that coming over from rookie ball in the U.S. with the Dodgers organization, and going to Puerto Rico [in 1986-87] was like going from rookie ball to the big leagues. Kennedy became used to the “produce or pack” mentality and the fact that winning—not developing players—was paramount in Puerto Rico. Santurce made it to the 1987-88 league finals versus Mayagüez, losing in seven games. When the Puerto Rico sportswriters named the 1987-88 league All-Star team, Caguas’s Roberto Alomar got the most votes at 2B; Santurce’s Jay Bell got the nod at SS.

Roberto Alomar had a longer Puerto Rico Winter League and MLB career than Chico Lind. Alomar participated in four Caribbean Series events: February 1987 with Caguas; February 1995 with San Juan; February 1996 as an Arecibo reinforcement; and February 1997 reinforcing Mayagüez. Lind never played in a Caribbean Series with Santurce; he sat out the 1990-91 league title season, when the Crabbers featured Mark Lemke and Casey Candaele at 2B; and only played one game in Santurce’s 1992-93 Caribbean Series championship season. Sadly, Lind had some demons affecting him, including an instance in 1992-93 when a Santurce team executive told Lind he was no longer part of the Crabbers organization after Lind showed up intoxicated.

The 1986-87 Caguas Criollos won the league title and 1987 Caribbean Series thanks to Roberto Alomar and other talented teammates including Carmelo Martínez, Ellis Burks, Van Snider, and 18-year old Bernie Williams, among others. Bobby Bonilla (Mayagüez) and Candy Maldonado (Arecibo) replaced Burks and Snider for the February 1987 Caribbean Series. Caguas also picked up Ponce’s David Cone and San Juan’s LHP Juan Nieves, to shore up their pitching staff. Tim Foli was the Caguas manager until he was fired after three games in the Caribbean Series. But Roberto Alomar thrived under Foli, “an aggressive type who taught me a lot.” Alomar later [spring training 1992] told me he “liked to play under pressure” and that helped him and his Caguas teammates win four straight games under Ramón Avilés—who replaced Foli—to enable Caguas to win the 1987 Caribbean Series over the Aguilas Cibaeñas from the Dominican Republic, in a tie-breaker, in Hermosillo, Mexico.

Alomar continued his fine play for the 1987-88 Criollos, a team which finished fifth (24-30) of six teams. Those Criollos had Roberto Kelly, star CF from Panamá, and Rob Dibble, an excellent closer. Alomar played in 49 games for manager Terry Bevington; hit .302 with a league-best 60 hits; and stole 14 bases.   Alomar’s first three MLB seasons were with the 1988-to-1990 San Diego Padres, a .283/.339/.379/.718 slash line. A 1990 NL All-Star, he stole 90 total bases his three San Diego seasons, prior to being traded to Toronto with Joe Carter, for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernández, on December 5, 1990. Alomar was also traded by Caguas to Ponce, prior to the 1989-90 season, for then-Ponce OF Juan González.

On September 15, 1991, I had a press pass for the Phillies home game versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. That evening, I conversed with Dickie Thon, the Phillies SS; Jim Fregosi, Phillies manager; Ray Miller (Pirates pitching coach), Jay Bell, Bobby Bonilla, Don Slaught, Orlando Merced and Chico Lind of the Pirates, among others. Lind jokingly told me “Bell was not that good a SS in Puerto Rico.” Bell, who had been playing cards with some teammates, mentioned the “high level of play in Puerto Rico, abundant rainfall which affected playing conditions, too many round robin games,” among other items. More of Bell’s thoughts/insights will be covered in the Part on SS who earned GG. Ray Miller had managed Caguas to a 1980-81 league title, and later managed the 1983-84 and 1989-90 Crabbers. Miller observed much had changed in Puerto Rico since he first managed Caguas: there were more cable TV stations, more entertainment options and fewer fans at games. League records confirmed Miller’s comment since only 254,047 fans paid to see league games in 1989-90, a 51.8 percent decrease from 527,219 in 1983-84.

Lind played well at times for Ray Miller in 1989-90, but 3B Charlie Hayes was sent packing with his .184 BA. Shortstop Rey Quiñónes—traded from Seattle to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1989—was released by the Pirates before the end of that big league season. Miller then had to contend with Quiñónes’s inconsistent defense and lack of a work ethic with Santurce. Rubén Sierra did not suit up in 1989-90, which was one reason Santurce finished fifth at 22-28. When I conversed with Miller in the visitor’s clubhouse at Veterans Stadium, he reiterated his concern about the status of winter ball throughout the Caribbean, noting big league organizations’ reluctance to send their top prospects to the Caribbean.

A pivotal MLB season for Lind and Roberto Alomar came in 1992. Lind won his only NL GG; Alomar earned his second straight AL GG and was MVP of the ALCS. Lind’s six errors in 745 chances gave him a .992 fielding PCT, his best fielding metric since .995 in 35 games for Pittsburgh in 1987. Lind became the first Pittsburgh 2B in 25 years to win a GG at 2B, with Bill Mazeroski doing this 1963-to-1967. Lind broke Ryne Sandberg’s string of nine straight GG with the Chicago Cubs, 1983-to-1991. Lind’s 1992 GG allowed Roberto Alomar’s 10 GG at 2B to eclipse Ryne Sandberg’s nine career GG at 2B. Pittsburgh came close to playing Toronto in the 1992 World Series, until the ninth inning of game seven, NLCS, Pirates-Atlanta.

The MLB Network ranked game seven of the 1992 NLCS (October 14, 1992) fourth-best game of all-time. Pittsburgh won games five and six by a combined 20-5 score, to knot the series at three games. The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, in game seven, on an Orlando Merced sacrifice fly (SF). They were up, 2-0, in the sixth, when Jay Bell scored on a single by Andy Van Slyke. Atlanta rallied with three runs in their home ninth, to advance to the World Series. Terry Pendleton doubled and moved to third when Lind misplayed David Justice’s grounder. Pendleton scored on a Ron Gant SF. Justice scored the tying run and Sid Bream tallied the winning run, on a two-out Francisco Cabrera pinch-hit single.

Roberto Alomar homered for Toronto against Oakland, in game four of the 1992 ALCS, on October 11.  Toronto trailed 6-4 in the top of the ninth, when Devon White tripled, and Alomar drilled a two-run homer to RF off Dennis Eckersley, tying the game at six. Toronto scored the winning run in the 11th to take a three games-to-one lead. They won this series in six games, and the 1992 and 1993 World Series. Alomar’s key game-tying homer off Andy Benes in the 1993 MLB All-Star Game at Camden Yards, tied the contest at two, in the bottom of third. Five of the nine AL players in the starting line-up had played in Puerto Rico:  catcher Iván Rodríguez, 2B Alomar, 3B Wade Boggs, SS Cal Ripken Jr. and OF Joe Carter.

José Lind concluded his MLB career with the 1993-1995 Kansas City Royals and 1995 California Angels. The Pirates traded him to Kansas City on November 19, 1992 for Joel Johnston and Dennis Moeller. Lind’s fielding PCT was .994 in 1993 and .988 in 1994. Mike García, long-time Kansas City Royals fan, opined via a twitter message, April 21, 2019: “Chico Lind paired up with [SS] Greg Gagne is a much underrated middle infield in KC.” The 1994 Royals finished 64-51, which included a 14-game win streak late in the strike-shortened season. Max Rieper’s superb August 18, 2014 article in the Royals Review on the 1994 Royals, https://www.royalsreview.com/2014/8/18/6031403/a-look-back-at-the-1994-royals, mentions Chico Lind’s 16 walks in 315 plate appearances; Kansas City’s fine IF defense of Wally Joyner (1B), Lind (2B), Gary Gaetti, 4x GG (3B) and Greg Gagne (SS). Joyner, Puerto Rico League MVP in 1985-86 with Mayagüez, played against Lind’s Crabbers in the 1985-86 regular season/round robin.  Lind’s MLB slash line was .254/.295/.316/.610, in 1,044 games. His 4,000 plate appearances included 69 sacrifice hits, 31 SF, eight HBP, 215 walks and 3,677 AB. Lind scored 368 runs and drove in 324. He had 145 doubles, 27 triples and nine HR in nine MLB seasons. His 8,901 career innings at 2B resulted in a .988 fielding PCT, with 2,183 putouts, 23,094 assists, 545 double plays and only 62 errors. Lind’s minor-league slash line in six seasons, including Vancouver in 1987 and 1995, was .258/.311/.308/.620, with 91 SB.

Meanwhile, Roberto Alomar continued his stellar play with Toronto through 1995, before moving on to Baltimore (1996-to-1998) and Cleveland (1999-to-2001) in free agency. Alomar, as noted in a previous blog, was MVP of the February 1995 Caribbean Series hosted by Puerto Rico, with 14 hits in 25 AB in the “Dream Team’s” undefeated six games—when they outscored their opponents from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela by a combined 49-15! Roberto Alomar’s .560/.633/.840/1.473 slash line was incredible. He led the series in all these categories, plus with nine runs and 10 RBIs. Bernie Williams, Juan González and Rubén Sierra were the OF; the DH was Edgar Martínez; Carmelo Martínez (1B), Alomar (2B), Carlos Baerga (3B) and Rey Sánchez (SS) were the IF; and Carlos Delgado was the catcher.

Roberto Alomar, playing for the San Juan Senators, won back-to-back Puerto Rico batting titles, 1995-96 and 1996-97, at .362 and .347. The latter season was a tight chase with Mayagüez SS Wil Cordero, who hit .344. In 1995-96, Alomar bested Rey Ordoñez, the Santurce SS, .362-to-.351. Alomar led the league in SLG both seasons–.559 in 1995-96 and .597 in 1996-97. Willard Brown was the only other player in league history to accomplish this feat and he did it three times: 1946-47 (.390 BA, .626 SLG), 1947-48 (.432 BA, .906 SLG) and 1949-50 (.354 BA, .598 SLG). Other back-to-back Puerto Rico Winter League batting champs were Perucho Cepeda for Guayama, 1938-39 (.465) and 1939-40 (.383); Félix Millán, the Caguas 2B, 1968-69 (.317) and 1969-70 (.345); and Bayamón SS Dickie Thon, in 1980-81 (.329) and 1981-82 (.333). Thon had fond memories of Puerto Rico winter ball, when we spoke in Philadelphia. He would eventually play against Roberto Alomar in 1992 and 1993, when Thon was with Texas and Milwaukee.

Chico Lind’s personal life spiraled downward in 1996 and 1997, but he continued his pro career at age 35, playing for the 1999 Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic (independent) League. The Bluefish won the six-team league title after besting the Somerset Patriots in the finals. His 1999-to-2002 seasons with Bridgeport resulted in 131 games and a .278/.301/.369/.670 slash line. Lind’s 2000 season, a .301 BA in 66 games, was his best one with Bridgeport. From 2003-to-2005 he managed Bridgeport to a 200-192 record, for a .510 winning PCT. Lind proved he still loved the game of baseball, in his role as manager.

Roberto Alomar’s journey to Cooperstown took a positive turn, in 1997 and 1998, when he played well for the AL All-Stars. On July 8, 1997, in Cleveland, he had five assists and a putout in his five innings. His older brother, Sandy Alomar Sr., was the game’s MVP, after his two-run HR in the AL’s 3-1 win. The game’s other runs also came on HR by Puerto Rico players—Javy López for the NL in the top of the seventh off José Rosado; Edgar Martínez for the AL in the home second, off Greg Maddux. Bernie Williams was on base in the home seventh when Sandy Alomar Jr. hit the game-winner off Shawn Estes. Claire Smith, writing for the New York Times on July 10, 1997, penned: For Puerto Rico, an All-Star Link. Her article stated: “But the strongest touch beyond the American mainland came from the eight All-Star players born or raised in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which is as baseball crazy as any of the contiguous 48 states.”  These eight were the Alomar brothers, Joey Cora, Bernie Williams, Iván Rodríguez, Edgar Martínez, LHP José Rosado—who won this All-Star game—and Javy López. Joey Cora, a Caguas native, made a fine play in the sixth, to take a hit away from Tony Gwynn.

Then, on July 7, 1998, at Coors Field, Denver, Colorado, Roberto Alomar was named All-Star game MVP, highest-scoring one in history—a 13-8 AL win—after going three-for-four with two runs and a HR. Joe Morgan, the 5x NL GG winner, was one of the TV announcers. Kevin Kennedy, who managed Santurce versus Alomar’s Caguas team, shared radio announcing duties. Alomar hit second. Four other AL starting players had played in Puerto Rico: RF Juan González (Ponce, Caguas, Santurce, and San Juan), 1B Jim Thome (Ponce), catcher Iván Rodríguez (Caguas, Bayamón, Mayagüez and Ponce) and SS Cal Ripken Jr. (Caguas). Five AL reserves played in Puerto Rico: Sandy Alomar Jr. (Santurce and Ponce), Rafael Palmeiro (San Juan), Ray Durham (Arecibo), Paul O’Neill (San Juan and Mayagüez) and Bernie Williams (Caguas and Arecibo). For the NL, RF Tony Gwynn (Bayamón) and three reserves—Javy López (San Juan and Ponce), Greg Vaughn (Ponce) and Devon White (Santurce) also played in Puerto Rico.

Roberto Alomar completed his 17-year MLB career with a .300/.371/.443/.814 slash line. His .300 career BA was based on 2,724 hits in 9,073 AB. He hit 504 doubles, 80 triples and 210 HR. The 1,134 RBIs/1,508 runs scored are impressive. Ditto for 474 SB to 114 CS, 80.6 percent success rate. He struck out 1,140 times to 1,032 walks. His MLB post-season slash line was .313/.381/.448/.829, in 11 Series—four ALDS, five ALCS and two World Series. He scored 32 runs and drove in 33, in 58 post-season games. Just as significant is 20 SB in the post-season, versus two CS. Alomar’s career regular season fielding PCT at 2B was .984, with 11,163 chances, 4,458 putouts, 6,524 assistants and 181 errors. Alomar was a 12x All-Star (11 in the AL); a 10x AL GG winner (five-Toronto, two-Baltimore and three-Cleveland); and a 4x Silver Slugger winner (Toronto-1992, Baltimore-1996 and Cleveland-1999 and 2000). His double play partners included 2x GG Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore, and 11x GG Omar Vizquel in Cleveland. His five minor-league seasons resulted in a .315/.373/.415/.788 slash line, 96 SB and 42 CS. Roberto Alomar’s 13-year Puerto Rico regular season career had a .303/.391/.439/.831 slash line. He finished his career at age 36 with Santurce, 2004-05, after his 2004 MLB season. Alomar, in Puerto Rico, had 353 hits in 1,165 AB, with 76 doubles, 10 triples, 21 HR and 119 RBIs. He scored 208 runs; stole 56 bases; got 169 walks; and struck out 112 times-once every 10.4 AB. In 2011, he was inducted into the Caribbean Series Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Fellow Cooperstown Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda said it best with these remarks, courtesy of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center: “I’ve seen a lot of second basemen in my time. I played with Julián Javier, Félix Millán and Cookie Rojas. I played against Bill Mazeroski and Joe Morgan. In All-Star games, I saw Rod Carew. As good as they were, none of them were as good as Roberto Alomar. I’ve been watching baseball for sixty years, and he’s the best I’ve ever seen.” This ends Part IV of this series on MLB 2B who won GG and play

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