January 13, 2006

Of Venezuela y Argenis Salazar

I would like to elevate Argenis Salazar onto a medium-height pedestal just for a moment. Actually, I would like to elevate Dave Concepcion onto a pedestal (one that for all arguments, should be considerably higher than Salazar’s). Both were born and raised in Venezuela (currently made famous thanks to the O’s: oil and Ozzie Guillen), both played shortstop (like Guillen also), and both enjoyed careers in the majors, Concepcion finally retiring at age 290 after 180 years with the Big Red Machine. Who really knows how old Davey Concepcion is? He’s like Orlando Hernandez—he could be 50 years old or 75, it doesn’t matter, you still want him starting on your team.

Anyway, I want to recognize Salazar first, and the fantastic year he had in 1982. Imagine this: you’re in the Montreal system, it’s 1980, and you’re playing in Calgary, Alberta, in the middle of a wheat field, hitting in the .240s and generally sucking it up while guys like Tim Wallach pass you by on their way to growing pencilthin moustaches and playing in the hot corner for Youppi and breaking their knees every time they dive for a ball, but, more importantly, getting a front row seat as guys like Tim Raines, Hawk Dawson and Steve Rogers have fantastic careers with generally nobody watching.

Okay, so you make it out of the rodeo in Calgary and your next assignment is West Palm Beach, Florida. Are you kidding? It’s 1982, sunglasses and feathered hair, blazers and pastels, old people and spring breakers arriving in their Jeeps with the gigantic wheels and Bud Lights…all right, it was a little early for Spuds MacKenzie, but you get the idea. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that Argenis Salazar starting smoking something when he got down to the beach, but all of a sudden he sets career highs in nine statistical categories, including 25 stolen bases and 109 hits. He got 105 hits the previous two years combined. To top it off, he was of the MVP of his league’s all-star game.

After 82, he gets a cup of coffee at the end of 83 with les Expos, then gets sent back down in 84 and resurfaces via trade with the Royals in 1986, where he plays in 117 games, hits in the .240s and generally sucks it up. So out of the six years recorded on the back of his 87 Topps card, Salazar played for 7 teams (major and minor), with only one of them in a truly warm weather climate (not really comparable to Venezuela, but you can’t be perfect)—and that’s the year he’s a breakout star. It’s too bad he wasn’t born maybe 15 years later, he could’ve been the starter for the Marlins.

Which brings me to Concepcion. He was great, borderline Hall of Fame material, and a starter on a very good team for more than fifteen years in a row. That’s saying something. Anyway, I’m not really interested in his career, or contemplating him as a person. But if you want to talk about other Reds, I really liked George Foster, for sort of no reason except that he looked like a bad-ass and he would probably put cigarettes out on his tongue and strike matches on his cheek, like some kind of bastard Marlboro Man. Anyway, I wrote him a fan letter and asked for his autograph, and he sent back a form letter asking for $10. Actually, that might not be entirely accurate. I’m still looking through a cloud of anger about this.

What I want to talk about is his 1987 Topps card. I started thinking about the players with long, interesting names, like Joaquin Andujar and Cookie Lavagetto, names that just roll off the tongue like singing scat or ordering a fine wine. So when I started looking through 1987 Topps, I came across such favorites as Oddibe McDowell (I actually got excited about his card once), Argenis Salazar and Dave Concepcion. But Concepcion’s card’s different. Not only is he featured in a rare in-focus action shot, but he’s tagging out Herm Winningham of the Expos. That’s two rather long names on one card! What are the odds? The football equivalent would be Karl Mecklenburg tackling Bill Romanowski (but I don’t think their positions would allow for that name-on-name action). In basketball it would be Dikembe Mutombo blocking Dave DeBusschere, or maybe someone in the right time frame perhaps…I don’t know what it would be in hockey, but I’m guessing it doesn't involve Brett Hull.


sam said...


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Stack said...

Tim Wallach should not be characterized as having had a front row seat to watch Dawson, Raines, and Steve "freakin doesn't belong in the same sentence as Wallach, Raines, and Dawson" Rogers. At least use Gary Carter or even Al Oliver.

Wallach was the clubhouse and statistical leader of the Montreal Expos. He was the first Captain in franchise history and the 5 time all-star, and 3 time gold glover, still owns many franchise records.

He was also my all-time favorite player (though thats a fact not likely to end up on his Coopertown Plaque once he's inducted as a manager/player a few years from now after he's led some lucky franchise to multiple world series)