Friday, April 4, 2014

Latinos at the 1965 All-Star Game Part I

I was recently looking for pictures online for the Wayback Wednesday and Throwback Thursday albums on the Facebook Baseball page: Baseball Sisco Kid Style and came across the following photo and decided to shed some light on some of the players. 
From Left to Right: Felix Mantilla (Puerto Rico), Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico)
Tony Oliva (Cuba), Cookie Rojas (Cuba), Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic),
Zoilo Versalles (Cuba), Vic Davalillo (Venezuela) and Leo Cárdenas (Cuba)
This photo was taken at the 1965 All-Star Game that was played at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As you can see from the caption there are players representing four Latino markets: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. We all know about the two Hall of Famers in the picture: Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal. I wanted to focus on the other six players in the photo (going from left to right).

1. Felix Mantilla
The starting second baseman for the American League was Felix Mantilla of the Boston Red Sox. Mantilla was born on July 29, 1934 in Isabella, Puerto Rico. The Boston Braves signed him as a free agent in 1952 and he would make his debut with the Milwaukee Braves on June 21, 1956. Mantilla would play for six seasons with the Braves before being drafted by the New York Mets (from the Milwaukee Braves) as the 12th pick in the 1961 expansion draft. As a member of the original 1962 Mets, Mantilla had one of his best seasons. Mantilla batted .275 with a slash line of .330/.399/.729 with 128 hits in 466 at-bats. He drove in 59 runs with 17 doubles, 4 triples and 11 homeruns. After the 1962 season, Mantilla was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Al Moran, Pumpsie Green and Tracy Stallard.

Mantilla would play a total of three seasons with the Red Sox with the 1964 and 1965 seasons being his most successful. In 1964 Mantilla hit .289 with a slash line of .357/.553/.910. He would put up 123 hits with a career high 20 doubles and 30 homeruns with 1 triple and 64 RBI's. Mantilla would follow that season with a 1965 campaign where he batted .275 with a slash line of .374/.416/.790 with 147 hits in 534 at-bats with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 18 homeruns and a career high of 92 RBI's while making his only All-Star appearance. Mantilla would be traded to the Houston Astros during spring training in 1966 and would be released by the Astros after the 1966 season. He would sign with the Chicago Cubs in 1967 and would be released later on that season after not playing for the Cubs.

2. Tony Oliva
The next player in the picture is one that many feel should be a Hall of Famer. Tony Oliva is a beloved player in the Minneapolis area and by the Twins faithful. Oliva was born on  July 20, 1938 in Pinar del Rio, Cuba and was signed by the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in 1961. Oliva would make his debut on September 9, 1962. Oliva was one of the most prolific hitters in the American League. Oliva led the American League in batting three times (1964, 1965, 1971), hits five times (1964-1966, 1969-1970) and doubles four times (1964, 1967, 1969-1970).

Oliva won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1964 with a .323 batting average and a slash line of .359/.557/.916 with 109 runs scored, a league best 217 hits with 43 doubles, 9 triples and 32 homeruns with 94 RBI's. Oliva was an eight time All-Star from 1964-1971, a Gold Glove winner in 1966 and was in the top ten of the American League MVP race five times. Oliva would retire after 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins after the 1976 season.

3. Cookie Rojas
The next player is the only Latino in this picture that would manage in the Major Leagues. Octavio Victor (Rivas) Rojas aka Cookie Rojas was born on March 6, 1939 in La Habana, Cuba. Rojas was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs as an amateur free agent in 1956 and would make his debut on April 10, 1962. After playing briefly for the Redlegs in 1962, Rojas was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jim Owens. Rojas was a very dependable player for the Phillies. Rojas played each outfield position, second, shortstop, third, catcher and even pitched once in his seven seasons in Philadelphia. He would be an All-Star for the Phillies in 1965 when he batted a career best .303 with a slash line of .356/.380/.736 with 158 hits, 25 doubles, 3 triples 3 homeruns and 42 RBI's.

Rojas would be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in arguably the most important trade in Baseball history. On October 7, 1969 Rojas was traded along with Dick Allen and Jerry Johnson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Byron Browne, Curt Flood, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver. Flood would refuse to report to his new team. On April 8, 1970, the St. Louis Cardinals would send Willie Montañez and later Jim Browning (on August 30, 1970) to the Philadelphia Phillies to complete the trade.

If you don't know, in refusing to accept the trade to the Phillies, Flood in effect ended his career by suing Major League Baseball. The result of that lawsuit would be the end of the infamous Reserve Clause and the ushering in of free agency to Major League Baseball. For more information on Curt Flood, I recommend reading the article How Curt Flood Changed Baseball and Killed His Career in the Process by Allen Barra from The Atlantic website dated July 12, 2011. Back to Rojas.

Rojas' stay with the Cardinals would be brief. On June 13, 1970 Rojas was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Kansas City Royals for Fred Rico. It was in Kansas City that Rojas would be the most successful. Rojas would make four consecutive All-Star appearances with the Royals from 1971-1974 averaging a .276 batting average, 138 hits with 23 doubles, 2 triples and 5 homers with 60 RBI's a season during that stretch. Rojas would play his last game for the Royals after the 1977 ALCS loss to the New York Yankees.

Rojas would later go into coaching and would manage the Calfornia Angels for one season, leading the team to a 75-79 record in 1988 before being removed from the head coach position with eight games left in the season. In doing so, Rojas became only the third Cuban-born manager in major-league history after Mike Gonzalez (1938, 1940) and Preston Gomez (1969-1972, 1974-1975, 1980).

For part II, I'm going to focus on the remaining three players in the picture Zoilo Versalles, Vic Davalillo, and Leo Cárdenas.

Until Then Play Ball,
Sisco Kid.
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