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Monday, January 22, 2007

Jose Cruz

Eligible in 1994.

John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: January 22, 2007 at 02:20 AM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: January 22, 2007 at 02:22 AM (#2284055)
You might not be aware of this, but he was very underrated. ;-)
   2. OCF Posted: January 22, 2007 at 07:52 AM (#2284217)
Among position players, one of the most extreme "late bloomer" cases ever. Our standards for corner outfielders are and need to be so high that I won't be able to put him on my ballot, but here are some people I would probably take Cruz ahead of: Kiki Cuyler, Rocky Colavito, Chuck Klein, Tommy Henrich, Albert Belle, Sam Thompson, Tony Oliva, Heinie Manush, Al Oliver, George Foster, Harry Hooper, Chick Hafey, Jim Rice.
   3. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: January 22, 2007 at 10:58 PM (#2284765)
Two things I remember about Jose Cruz:
-He appeared on TV and on baseball cards to have very thick hair, especially for a ballplayer. Often ballplayers seem to wear very short hair cuts or be balding (perhaps due to wearing hats so much?), and while Cruz's hair wasn't short, it was more like Eric Astrada length, and I was always surprised how thick it looked. Not curly locks like Carter or permed like Sutton, just thick.
-He had a high leg kick when batting. I don't have a strong sense today of exactly how it worked. My memory is of him raising his leg and balancing on it well prior to the delivery of the pitch. I don't think he pointed it outward like pictures I've seen of Mel Ott. Maybe it was like Sadahura Oh? I think it was more pronounced than Dave Winfield's (since Winfield had so much other stuff going on at the same time). I think it was sort of like Ruben Sierra's, only lasting longer. Or maybe not? Again, it's hard to exactly remember twenty years down the pike.
   4. OCF Posted: January 22, 2007 at 11:38 PM (#2284791)
1980 ALCS - the high water mark for a generation of Astros fans.

Philadelphia won Game 1 3-1 behind Carlton.

Game 2 went into the 10th tied 3-3. In the top of the 10th, after a single and a sacrifice, the Phillies intentionally walked Joe Morgan to get to Cruz; considering the extent to which Cruz was considered a clutch god that year, Astros fans were surprised but very happy. Cruz singled to break the tie; the inning exploded into 4 runs and Houston won 7-4, tying the series.

Game 3 was a pitchers' duel, Larry Christenson versus Joe Niekro. Cruz was stranded in the 4th after a 1-out triple. After that, he was walked intentionally twice, including after Joe Morgan's leadoff triple in the bottom of the 11th (the latter is, of course, a near-automatic IBB no matter who the batter is.) Morgan scored on a SF, Astros up 2 games to 1 (and it was a best-of-five series.)

Game 4 was another pitchers' duel, Vern Ruhle versus Carlton. The Phillies rallied from down 2-0 with a 3-run 8th (Rose and Schmidt were both involved); the Astros tied the game in the bottom of the 9th and then had the rally cut short on a 9-3 double play (I don't remember the details of that one - what was the story?) The Phillies won it in the 10th on doubles by Luzinski and Trillo. Cruz was quiet in the game.

So it came down to a decisive Game 5, Ryan versus Bystrom. Cruz got the Astros off to a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first. The Phillies struck back in the 2nd with Boone's 2-RBI single. An unearned Astro run in the 6th left it tied 2-2. In the Astro 7th: a single, a sacrifice, Mogan grounded out (to third??), then Cruz walked (UIBB?) Single, wild pitch, triple, and Houston had a 3-run lead. The very next inning: a single, an infield single, and a bunt single to load the bases; Sambito in for Ryan. One out (and a run) on a force. Forsch (usually a starter) in for Sambito. Struck out Schmidt! (Almost out of it.) But a single by Unser and a triple by Trillo - and the Phillies lead 7-5. The very next inning, four singles made 2 runs, with the last single, the game-tier, being Cruz's. The game went into the 10th, where Maddox ended it with an RBI double.

Three of the five games went extra innings; the series was teetering on the edge to the very end. One of the great post-season series. In the series, Cruz was 6 for 15 with 8 walks: .400/.609/.600, with 3 runs and 4 RBI. Puhl was .526/.591/.632. None of the other Astro batters did much although Morgan did have that 10th inning triple.
   5. KJOK Posted: January 23, 2007 at 01:51 AM (#2284870)
Among position players, one of the most extreme "late bloomer" cases ever.

I somewhat question whether he was really a 'late bloomer' when you consider how good his age 23, rookie season as a CFer was. I think it was more of a case where the Cardinals simply mishandled him, forcing him into a platoon role with Luis Melendez in his 2nd season because of a slow start - then he did have a 'bad' season his 3rd year, and at that point they basically gave up on him, bringing up Bake McBride to play CF and trading for Reggie Smith to play RF, and letting him rot on the bench. If they had let him learn to hit lefties decently earlier, he might not have looked like such a late bloomer.
   6. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: January 23, 2007 at 02:19 AM (#2284882)
Doc:

The kick was more of a coiling mechanism. He drew it up as the pitcher went into his windup.

One of the interesting things about Jose's career is that he hit BETTER in the Astrodome every year until 1981. Then every year until 1986 he hit MUCH better on the road with 1984 being his BEST road season with .344/.391/.545. Bill James Abstract after that season talks about Cruz and his home/road split and leaves the reader thinking that this had been the story for all of Cruz's career in Houston which was clearly not the case. In 1977, for example, Cruz hit .312/.394/.517 in the Dome. I can't recall whether they changed the building sometime in the early 80's or not. Or did Cruz change his style of hitting to accomodate a change in skill set? Akin to the AL not throwing George Brett any fastballs after the 1980 season so he adapts. Anyone? Bueller?

As for Cruz in St. Louis, the guy had some speed so they put him centerfield. But I remember an interview with Jack Buck where he used Cruz as an example of a guy where he had the physical ability to play a position, centerfield, but just wasn't comfortable and it affected his whole game.

"Cheo" was a heckuva player......
   7. 44magnum Posted: January 26, 2007 at 12:35 AM (#2286432)
The only Astro I've ever liked to watch play. I vaguely recall him having a game similar to Sanberg vs Cards on Game of the Week? Anyone remember?
   8. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: January 26, 2007 at 12:53 AM (#2286439)
The only "downside" to his career was the constant charge about him being underrated, which was true when he actually was :-), but by the mid-Eighties, everybody knew he was a terrific player. He was much better than the underrated player of the Seventies, though (Joe Rudi).
   9. Boots Day Posted: January 26, 2007 at 01:01 AM (#2286444)
He appeared on TV and on baseball cards to have very thick hair, especially for a ballplayer.

I always kind of assumed he was of at least part Indian heritage, with not just that hair but the very high cheekbones. I remember asking my then-girlfriend, who had lived in Mexico and Peru, if she thought Cruz looked like an Aztec or Mayan or something. She didn't know, and I don't either.
   10. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: January 26, 2007 at 02:22 AM (#2286504)
He was much better than the underrated player of the Seventies, though (Joe Rudi).

Sure, if Rudi had been that player. He must line up behind Grich or Singleton, I think.
   11. Group Captain Mandrake Posted: January 26, 2007 at 02:44 AM (#2286515)
The only Astro I've ever liked to watch play. I vaguely recall him having a game similar to Sanberg vs Cards on Game of the Week? Anyone remember?


This game?
   12. 44magnum Posted: January 26, 2007 at 02:55 AM (#2286524)
The game I'm thinking of was in the '80's & also a Saturday game of the week. IIRC, Cruz got the winning hit to top off an improbable comeback. Thanks for the link to the 6rbi game though. That box is filled with some prime NL West rejects of the late 70's.
   13. Roger Cedeno's Spleen Posted: January 26, 2007 at 06:33 AM (#2286614)
I always kind of assumed he was of at least part Indian heritage, with not just that hair but the very high cheekbones. I remember asking my then-girlfriend, who had lived in Mexico and Peru, if she thought Cruz looked like an Aztec or Mayan or something. She didn't know, and I don't either.


He looks like Magua (Wes Studi) with a full head of hair:
"When Lasorda is dead, Cheo will eat his heart. Before he dies Cheo will put his pitchers under the knife so Lasorda will see his staff wiped out forever..."
   14. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: January 26, 2007 at 03:44 PM (#2286696)
Sure, if Rudi had been that player. He must line up behind Grich or Singleton, I think.

The line is much longer than that, Eric. Rudi was a fine player, but he's no where near close to being the most underrated player of that time, despite what Curt Gowdy and others thought.
   15. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: January 26, 2007 at 04:00 PM (#2286708)
Sure, we could tack on the Evanses, and Roy White. Rudi's teammate Tenace, perhaps. Maybe Amos Otis and Toby Harrah? I'm not as good with pitchers. I suppose there's arguments for Simmons (underrated due to defense) and Blyleven (underrated due to ???).
   16. tjm1 Posted: January 26, 2007 at 08:10 PM (#2286837)
Pitchers are much less likely to be severely overrated, because as Bill James pointed out in the 1987 abstract, I think (it was the first one I ever read, anyways), the key statistics used to measure pitchers do a lot better job than the key statistics used to measure hitters. This is even more true considering the stats used most commonly in the 1970s.

For a pitcher to be severely overrated, he needs to pitch in a hitters' park for a poor hitting, poor defensive team. A hitter merely needs a lot of his value tied up in walks.

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