Hispanic Heritage Month 2014: A Look at New York Yankees' Greatest All-Time Latino Baseball Players
Through 101 years, 27 World Series championships, 40 AL Pennants and 51 Baseball Hall of Famers, the famous interlocking "NY" of the New York Yankees has been recognized as a symbol of excellence around baseball and around the world.
The Yankees -- the fourth-most valuable sports franchise in the world at $2.4 billion according to Forbes -- have built an empire through decades of championships, dynasties and hallowed names in baseball like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and Jeter. But part of their great legacy, through different times and eras, has been interwoven with the contributions on all spectra from talented Hispanic athletes.
Some, like Luis Sojo and Ramiro Mendoza, played small, but vital roles on great teams. Others, like Luis Arroyo, Ed Figueroa, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano, were stars that shone bright on baseball's biggest stages and were the faces of championship teams and even dynasties.
Latin Post takes a look at some of the greatest Latino baseball players to put on the pinstripes for the Yankees.
Vernon "Lefty" Gomez
One of the first Latino players to play in the major leagues, Gomez, born in 1908 in Rodeo, California, to a father of Spanish-Portugese descent, became one of the most fearsome pitchers in all of baseball during the 1930s, helping the Yankees win five World Series titles to go with his seven All-Star appearances and two Triple Crown wins (wins, ERA and strikeouts). Known for his dominating pitching as well as his infectious sense of humor, Gomez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 -- only the second Hispanic player ever at the time to be given the honor -- and after dying of heart failure in 1989, Gomez was ranked No. 73 on The Sporting News's 100 Greatest Baseball Players list and nominated for Major League Baseball's All-Century Team.
Lopez, born in 1929 in Colón, Panama, was traded to the Yankees in 1959, splitting time for the Yankees at both the outfield and at third base. Lopez was part of the glorious early 60s era of the Yankees, playing alongside Hall of Fame greats Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris for squads that won two of the five consecutive World Series they made from 1960 to 1964. Lopez was particularly impressive during the 1961 World Series, which the Yankees won in five games against the Cincinnati Reds, Lopez hitting .333 in four of those games, driving in seven RBI -- five of them in the deciding Game 5 of the series for a 13-5 Yankees win. Prior to the Yankees, Lopez was among the contenders for Rookie of the Year in 1955.
Figueroa holds the prestigious distinction of being the only Puerto Rican-born pitcher in MLB history to win 20 games. Debuting in 1974 for the California Angels, Ciales, Puerto Rico-born right-handed pitcher Figueroa was traded to the Yankees in 1975 for All-Star Bobby Bonds. Figueroa wasted no time becoming the staff ace, going 19-10 with a 3.02 ERA to finish fourth in AL Cy Young voting in 1976. He was solid for the Yankees for the next two seasons, helping to fortify the starting rotation as the Yankees went on to win two consecutive World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. He did so alongside another star with Puerto Rican roots...
His father, Martinez, being half-Puerto Rican, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native Jackson was one of baseball's most prolific stars of the 1970s, winning five World Series titles -- three with the Oakland Athletics dynasty of the early 70s -- to go alongside 14 All-Star appearances, the 1973 AL MVP and four AL Home Run championships, among other accolades. But it was with the Yankees that this future Hall of Famer made his mark on the game with a legendary 1977 World Series -- for which he won the series MVP as the Yankees won in six games -- batting an eye-popping .450 with eight RBIs and five home runs for the series, including his epic three-home run Game 6 in the series-clincher that helped earn Jackson the moniker of "Mr. October" for his postseason heroics.
For the last two decades of New York Yankees baseball, one affectionate word has said it all for legions of Yankees fans, while foes and opposing fans have dreaded the Panama City, Panama-born righ-hander -- the most dominating reliever in MLB history -- known by another moniker: "The Sandman."
Rivera, master of his legendary, deceptively powerful high fastball and biting cutter, signed with the Yankees in 1990 fresh out of Panama and debuted in 1995 under the tutelage of AL saves champion John Wetteland. Little did fans know that they were witnessing greatness as the unflappable Rivera notched an MLB all-time record 652 saves, winning five World Series championships, a World Series MVP in 1999, the ALCS MVP in 2003, five AL saves titles, and even finishing in the top three among AL Cy Young candidates four times in his illustrious career -- all of it spent with the Yankees. Machine-like in consistency, a rock under pressure and durable to an almost-superhuman level, Rivera was immortalized after he retired in 2013 by having the Yankees retire his iconic No.42, making him the last player to ever wear the number after it was retired around all of MLB baseball in honor of the legendary Jackie Robinson.
The next stop for the iconic closer from Panama? The Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, for sure, once he's eligible in 2018.
The Yankees' dynasty of the 1990s was chalk full of great Latino players. Among the greatest of them was the soft-spoken, hard-hitting, smooth-fielding, guitar-strumming class act from San Juan, Puerto Rico-born Bernabe Williams Figueroa in 1968.
But to Yankee fans, he's known simply as "Bernie."
One of baseball's greatest center fielders through the 1990s, Williams was part of the core of the mid-90s Yankees dynasty consisting of himself, Rivera, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettite that won four World Series titles from 1996 through 2000 and appeared in five World Series altogether. A five-time AL All-Star, Williams also won four Gold Gloves and the AL batting title in 1998 during the Yankees' memorable 114-48 season en route to their second World Series title in three years.
His most memorable series was arguably the 1996 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, where he won Game 1 with a walk-off homer and finished the series hitting .474 with two homers to take home the series MVP trophy. In addition to being a clutch hitter and postseason performer, Williams is also a gifted guitar player and musician, having been nominated for a Grammy award in 2009 for his jazz album "Moving Forward," which featured artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Secada, Dave Koz and more.
Yes, folks, Bernie Williams could do it all.
In 1997, the Florida Marlins signed young pitching sensation Livan Hernandez, and the slick right-handed hurler pitched the Marlins all the way to the 1997 World Series title. How did the Yankees top that? By signing his Olympic Gold Medal-winning half-brother the following year.
Born in Villa Clara, Cuba, Orlando -- nicknamed "El Duque" -- defected from Cuba in late 1997 and was granted a visa to enter the U.S. later thanks in part to the Yankees. El Duque never looked back, becoming an integral part of a fearsome starting pitching rotation for the Yankees that included David Wells, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite and David Cone over five seasons as the Yankees cruised to three straight World Series titles.
Orlando's most famous performance was his 1999 ALCS stint against hated rivals the Boston Red Sox, where he went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and struck out 13 in the series to win MVP honors. His signature high-leg kick became such a hit among Yankees fans that Hernandez's move was even featured in a Yankees commercial during that time.
He may no longer wear pinstripes anymore, but Cano, born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, left his mark on the Yankees during his eight years with the franchise. Cano blossomed from promising prospect to full-fledged superstar by 2009, exploding for a .320 hitting season with 204 hits, 25 homers and 85 RBIs while playing second base for the Yankees as he helped guide them to their first World Series title since 2000.
He followed that up with four straight MLB All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves and four straight Silver Slugger awards for the franchise before he bolted in free agency to Seattle after the 2013 season. Cano also was named MVP of the 2013 World Baseball Classic as he led the Dominican Republic to the championship, helping his country field the only undefeated team in tournament history.
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