COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Fresh from swinging some heavy lumber in the basement of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Vladimir Guerrero took a quick peek at where his likeness will hang in three months.
Talk about a sense of pride.
“I feel happy and my people feel happy,” the 43-year-old native of the Dominican Republic said Thursday in the Plaque Gallery after a whirlwind tour of baseball’s mecca. “I’m the first one from my town, obviously, but I’m also the first Dominican hitter in the Hall of Fame.”
Guerrero, a nine-time All-Star outfielder, was elected in January on his second try. He will be inducted July 29 with first-ballot sluggers Jim Thome and Chipper Jones, relief ace Trevor Hoffman, and former Detroit Tigers stars Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, who were elected in December by a veterans committee. Guerrero received 92.9 per cent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“Growing up in my town of Don Gregorio, all I wanted to do was sign a professional baseball contract,” said Guerrero, who was accompanied by girlfriend Roxannie Rodriguez and brother Julio. “Fortunately, and thanks to God, over 16 years I did enough to make it here.
“I never thought I would be in the Hall of Fame, but now that I’m here I’m so glad it has happened.”
Guerrero, who earned eight Silver Slugger Awards and the 2004 AL MVP, retired in 2011 with a .318 batting average, 2,590 hits, 1,496 RBIs and 449 home runs. A notorious bad-ball hitter, he hit .300 or better 13 times, knocked in at least 100 runs 10 times, and surpassed 30 homers eight times. Guerrero also had a pair of seasons with 30 homers and 30 steals. His 31-game hitting streak in 1999 remains tied for 25th on the all-time list, and his rocket arm produced 126 assists.
Guerrero will become the first player with an Angels hat on his bronze Hall of Fame plaque, a surprise to many because he spent more time with the Montreal Expos. He played half of his 16 seasons in the major leagues with the Expos, spent six years with the Angels, and also played for the Rangers and Orioles. He went to the post-season five times with the Angels, but never made it that far with Montreal.
Of the 323 members of the Hall of Fame, Guerrero is one of only three born in the Dominican Republic. The other two are pitchers — right-handers Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez.
Guerrero’s only prior trip to Cooperstown was in 2015, the year Martinez was inducted.
“There’s a lot of Dominican players and I feel happy to be the first Dominican hitter,” Guerrero said after swinging bats once wielded by Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Tony Gwynn, and Pedro Guerrero. “It’s been a while since I’ve held a bat in my hands.”
On his tour, Guerrero took special note of the museum’s Viva Baseball exhibit and the bat he used for that hitting streak.
The Hall of Fame visit capped a memorable month for Guerrero. In late March, his 19-year-old son, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., homered with two outs in the ninth inning to lift the Toronto Blue Jays over the St. Louis Cardinals, 1-0, in an exhibition game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium where his father played much of his Hall of Fame career.
The elder Guerrero hit 234 home runs over eight seasons with Montreal and his 19-year-old son is among the game’s top prospects . At mid-week, Junior was hitting .353 in the Double-A Eastern League with 22 RBIs in 17 games.
The Associated Press