Monday, December 7, 2009

An All Bowman Cardboard Tribute of the “Guy With 3 K’s In His Name”!

On page 217 of Vince Staten’s biography of Dizzy Dean, titled “Ol Diz” Staten discusses Dean’s announcing style (Dean was the host of Game of the Week after his playing days). Staten says “He (Dean) was a competent announcer, (but) he was not a teacher in the Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan mold.” He goes on to discuss Dean’s mangling of the English language and his trademark pronunciations (mispronunciations) especially when it came to players names. Staten remarks that rather try and pronounce certain long and uncommon names, he would describe the player or use their number. Rather than try and say the name of the Chicago White Sox’ shortstop Chico Carrasquel in 1953, Dizzy Dean called him “that hitter with 3 K’s in his name.” Maybe I was tired when I read that line, maybe I had too much coffee or too little to eat, but I thought that was the funniest thing ever. I laughed quite a bit and shared the story with a few people at work. A couple of those people had heard the name Dizzy Dean before, but the quote was lost on them. I still think that it is hilarious, so I wanted to share it with the blog-o-sphere, hoping that one of you might find it funny. I also thought that this morning would be a great time to do a cardboard tribute of the White Sox shortstop and show off the 4 cards of the man with 3 K’s in his name.
I have always been a fan of Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel based on what I have read about him and his play with the White Sox. While I was working on my book on the White Sox and spring training in Sarasota, Florida, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Chico while doing research. He was in his mid-sixties at the time and was a remarkable individual filled with stories and insight on every topic I brought up. His career in Major League baseball was a short one, but he dedicated half a century of his life to professional baseball and inspired and mentored many.
I had his 1955 Bowman (TV set) card in my stack of cards to scan at Mom and Dad’s to use for the Card of the Day, but after reading that quote that made me laugh so hard, and then remembering how gracious an interviewee he was, I decided to up it from CotD to a full-blown, "All Bowman 5-Card Cardboard Tribute". I had to borrow the images of the 4 other cards I am showing from the internet, but when I can scan their backs-they may return as CotD at a later date. The ’55 Bowman is card #173 in the set, the back of the card discusses CC’s (yep, Carrasquel was the ORIGINAL CC) defensive dominance at shortstop. It explains: “For the second straight year, and for the third time, Chico was the American League’s best fielding shortstop. His average was .975 for 155 games in 1954. He made 20 errors in 792 total chances and participated in 102 double plays. He hit .255, and included 28 doubles, 3 triples and 12 homers among his 158 hits. He batted in 62 runs and scored 106. Began in baseball in 1949 with Fort Worth. Came to the White Sox in 1950 and has been a regular ever since.”
That is what the fine folks at the Bowman Gum Company had to say about CC, but for the sake of this post we are going to start at the beginning of his pro career and rewind back to 1946 when he played for the Cerveceria Caracas (Beer Company of Caracas) club in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. Chico was only 17 years old when he began playing (and starring) for the CC team. He was their starting shortstop and lead-off hitter. He started the season by hitting the first home run EVER in the newly formed VPBL and played for Cerveceria Caracas for 3 seasons, establishing himself as one of the league’s top fielders and batters alike. It was during his time with CC that he caught the attention of Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey signed him and assigned him to the (AA) Fort Worth Rock Cats of the Texas League where he batted .315 in 128 games, proving that he was ready to take the next step towards the Big Leagues. The Dodgers already had an All Star shortstop named Pee Wee Reese who was in the middle of the prime of his career. That and the fact that the Dodgers didn’t have any multilingual players made him expendable and after the ’49 season the Chicago White Sox purchased his contract. The Sox also acquired relief pitcher Luis Aloma that offseason.
Aloma was a pretty capable pitcher and he went 7-2 with a 3.80 ERA that year, he was also in the top ten in the league in games, saves and games finished. His primary responsibility was to act as an interpreter for Carrasquel, though. The White Sox also had an All Star shortstop like the Dodgers, but Luke Appling (HOF 1964) was in his 20th season and was just about ready to retire. Appling was an All Star at shortstop 7 times for the Sox and was one of the league’s top hitters, but in 1950 he was 43 years old and started only 20 games at short, opening the door for Carrasquel. According to the book “Ol Diz”, Dizzy Dean also had a special pronunciation for Appling’s first name; it was “Loo-oo-oo-K”. Appling was a nemesis to Dean during their playing days and he was still playing when Dean became a broadcaster. Replacing a fan favorite and a future Hall of Famer who spent 20 seasons with a team is never easy and CC didn’t make fans forget about Appling, but his strong rookie season ingratiated him with the Sox fans immediately. Despite the language barrier, Carrasquel and his double play partner, another future HOFer, Nellie Fox (HOF 1997) gelled on the field almost immediately. 1950 was Fox’s first year with the Sox as well, beginning the next season Fox would begin a streak of 11 straight All Star games, but in 1950 they were both the new guys on the team. Defensively the two became the best middle infield in the American League, but offensively in their rookie seasons with the Sox, Carrasquel was more of a standout. He put together a 24 game hitting streak and batted .282, which would be his highest average in his career. He also drove in 46 runs and scored 72 times. He finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind his future teammate Walt Dropo of the Boston Red Sox who had one of the best rookie campaigns ever, batting .322 with 34 homers and a whopping 144 runs batted in. Whitey Ford of the Yankees finished 2nd, ahead of CC. Carrasquel also received consideration in the MVP balloting as well, finishing 12th with 6% of the vote. Fellow shortstop Phil Rizzuto was the AL MVP in ’50, Rizzuto faired better at the plate (.324/7/66), but Carrasquel was the better fielder and led all shortstops in fielding percentage that year.
The next season, in 1951, Carrasquel knew no sophomore slump. He set a Major League Baseball record by accepting 297 chances (over 53 games) without an error. He was also selected as the starting shortstop for the 1951 All Star Game. This was quite a coup for 2 reasons. First, he was selected over the reigning MVP, Phil Rizzuto. The second reason was that he was the first Hispanic player to play in an All Star game. That shocked me, but CC was only the 3rd Venezuelan born player to appear in the big leagues. His uncle, Alex Carrasquel, was the first when he first took the mound for the Washington Senators in 1939. In his All Star debut Carrasquel was 1-2. Both he and Nellie Fox started the game for the White Sox. Fox batted second (1-3) and CC hit in the 8th spot. The AL lost the game 8-3, but Carrasquel made history. He would return to the Midsummer Classic 3 more times, in consecutive years (1953-’55) and was a career .333 hitter (4-12) facing the best pitchers the NL had to offer. In 1954 Carrasquel played all nine innings of the All Star game and also had one of his best years at the plate. He led the league in plate appearances (718) and games (155) and was in the top-ten in many offensive categories. He set a career high scoring 106 runs (5th in AL), stole 7 bases, had 115 singles (9th in AL) and hit 28 doubles (4th in AL). He also walked 85 times (5th in AL) and was on base 248 times (7th in AL). His final stat line for ’54 was .255/12/62 with a .975 fielding percentage to lead the league in that category again. 1955 would mark the end of Carrasquel’s “Half Decade of Dominance”. He would play in his 4th and final All Star game (went 2-3) and also played his last season in Chicago. After the end of the ’55 season he would be traded to the Indians for (future HOFer) Larry Doby. The White Sox had another slick-fielding Venezuelan shortstop who was ready to hit the big leagues, his name was Luis Aparicio and he would be the Sox’ starting shortstop for 10 seasons, leading the league in stolen bases in 9 of them.
From 1930 until 1962 the White Sox had 3 different regular shortstops, Luke Appling, Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio and they were all perennial All Stars. Carrasquel would spend 2-1/2 seasons playing for the Indians. 1957 was his best year in Cleveland statistically-he batted .276 with 8 homers and 57 RBI. He started the ’58 season with the Indians, but ended with Kansas City. After the ’58 season the A’s would trade CC for another future HOFer, Dick Williams, and CC would spend his final big league season with the Baltimore Orioles. Even though at 33 years of age he wasn’t the player he had been, it still had to be a thrill to see CC and Brooks Robinson playing alongside one and other on the left side of the Baltimore infield. In 1960 Carrasquel played for the Montreal Royals (AAA) of the International League. He only appeared in 35 games and batted just .206. That would be the last season he would play professionally in the United States. Following that year he returned to Venezuela and remained involved in pro baseball as a player, a coach, a manager and also a major league scout for the Royals and Mets. He also continued as a community advisor with the White Sox, right up until his passing.
Over his 10 year career in the Majors, Carrasquel batted .258. He had 1,199 hits, 172 doubles, 25 triples and 55 homeruns. Four of his homers were grand slams. He also drew 491 walks, stole 31 bases, scored 568 times and drove in 474 runs. He was the first Venezuelan shortstop in the Majors and paved the way for future All Stars like Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen, Omar Vizquel and Cesar Izturis.
Carrasquel, along with 3 of his Countrymen and fellow All Star shortstops, Aparicio, Ozzie Guillen and Dave Concepcion threw out the first pitch at the White Sox home opener in 2004. The next year Chico Carrasquel died at his home in Caracas, Venezuela, he was 77. That was a quick look at my take on this legendary, slick-fielding, tough hitting and trailblazing shortstop. He is a Legend in his country and has mentored many, many future Major Leaguers along the years. The Chico Carrasqule Foundation was named in his honor and continues his charity work that was so important to him in his own name. There have been many, many fine shortstops and ballplayers to come from Venezuela, but Alfonso "Chico" Carrasquel was the first and the greatest. You can find a eulogy in Espanol of Carrasquel here. I love this sport, I love this hobby! Troll out.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Troll, I'll be glad when you find time to research and do a good long post again! Just kidding. My brain is in overload mode! Nice to see the long posts coming again.