In the spirit of the season with Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a look at the all-time best players of Latin descent for each of the American League teams.
Baltimore Orioles: Mike Cuellar of Cuba. Cuellar only had an eight-year run in Baltimore, and arrived well after he’d turned 30, but the O’s saw a workhorse, and innings and wins are what they got. Cuellar became the first Latin pitcher to win the Cy Young Award when he split it with Denny McClain in 1969 -- his first year as an Oriole. He went on to notch 143 wins during his time in Baltimore, and also delivered WAR seasons worth 2.5 wins or more in five of his first six seasons.
Boston Red Sox: Pedro Martinez of the Dominican Republic. When you can count Manny Ramirez and Luis Tiant among the runners-up, you know you’ve got a full field, but three Cy Young awards and a career 2.52 ERA for the Red Sox over seven seasons during the age of injection-enabled offense puts Pedro on a plane all his own.
Chicago White Sox: Minnie Minoso of Cuba. In his various stints with the White Sox, the Cuban Comet managed to miss the team’s lone pennant in 1959, but the vast majority of his career value (42.7 WAR) came from his the nine seasons in his first two incarnations with the Sox (1951-57, 1960-61); there were three more yet to come. There’s room for an honorable mention for Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio (31.5 WAR), but like Minoso, he spent chunks of his career in other unis.
Cleveland Indians: In another full field, you could pick Venezuela’s Omar Vizquel or Mexican-American Mike Garcia; Garcia was a rotation regular for the 1950's Tribe, and he’s a reasonable choice for the 32.4 WAR, 3.27 ERA and 142 wins he gave them. However, his value on the mound was essentially equal to Manny Ramirez’s 32.8 WAR he produced with his bat in almost eight seasons with the Indians. Surprising nobody, Manny’s WAR numbers go down when you count his defense, but that production at the plate puts the Dominican immigrant among the 10 most productive Indian bats of all time.
Detroit Tigers: It might be cause for surprise, but the Tigers are one of the very few teams from among the league’s original eight who have yet to boast a long-term Latin star. Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera has only just become the franchise’s first Latin player to accumulate 20 career WAR with the Kitties, and he still hasn’t spent half of his career in Detroit. One man worthy of an honorable mention is Willie Hernandez, for his MVP- and Cy-winning 1984 season, but the Motor City was the Puerto Rican Hernandez’s third stop, and his career didn’t make it to the ’90s.
Kansas City Royals: It’s been so long since Carlos Beltran of Puerto Rico played for the Royals that you might forget he was almost every bit the MVP-caliber player there as he’d get more recognition for in Houston and New York. His 2003 season (7.3 WAR) rates among the 10 greatest seasons by a Royals position player, a list that has five different George Brett seasons and four other guys besides Beltran on it. Before the season, you might have wanted to lean towards Mexico’ Joakim Soria, but a bumpy 2011 was enough for me to play wait and see.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels’ roster has been characterized by so much turnover historically that it’s been hard for anyone to settle in and pile up big career totals as a Halo, something that only recently changed with Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson. So while Vladimir Guerrero of the Dominican Republic has played less than half of his career in Anaheim, he’s pretty much by his lonesome for spending so much of his productive career there.
Minnesota Twins: One of the other reasons tabbing Vladi as an Angel was necessary is because Panama’s Rod Carew did most of his damage during his long career with the Twins. If you remember the fleet-footed old man for his 3,000th hit at the end of his career back in 1985, you might remember him as an Angel, but more than 2,000 of those hits came hitting in the frosty confines of Minnesota’s old Metropolitan Stadium, as unlikely a landing spot for a youngster from the Canal Zone as you might imagine.
New York Yankees: You might fidget over Lefty Gomez, who was Portuguese and Spanish on his father’s side and all-Californian enough to merit the nickname “Goofy,” and Dominican Alex Rodriguez and Puerto Rico’s Jorge Posada would be easy choices in other organizations. But with almost 56 WAR contributed to one pinstriped contender after another, the man who has delivered the most career value is Panama’s Mariano Rivera.
Oakland Athletics: It’s important not to forget that Reggie Jackson claims Hispanic heritage on his mother’s side, but the key player from the Big Green Machine of the ’70s who deserves a shoutout here is Cuba’s Bert Campaneris. With 649 career steals, Campy leads all Latin ballplayers while ranking 14th overall, and his 43.1 career WAR suggests how much value he added in the field as well as on the bases.
Seattle Mariners: Perhaps no player more perfectly captures Puerto Rico’s complicated relationship with the United States than Edgar Martinez, who was born in New York City but grew up on the island. Whatever label you care to apply, anyone can take pride in the definitive DH’s career after he hit .312/.418/.515 while producing 66.9 WAR at the plate.
Tampa Bay Rays: With an existence that doesn’t even stretch back two full decades yet, it might be premature to tab an all-time great Latin Ray, but Dominicans Carlos Pena and Julio Lugo lead the pack of notables, with Cuba’s Rolando Arrojo leading the pitchers.
Texas Rangers: Ivan Rodriguez’s career may well be winding down, and he might be a decade removed from his last full season in Arlington, but Pudge has been the pride of Puerto Rico as the greatest position player in Rangers history, topping all Texas players with 48.6 WAR. He’s long since punched his own ticket to Cooperstown.
Toronto Blue Jays: As one of the first franchises to truly invest in Dominican talent, it should come as no surprise that some of the best ballplayers in Blue Jays history came from the island: infielder Tony Fernandez, slugger George Bell and pitcher Juan Guzman. But the Jays also came away with a ton of talent from Puerto Rico, starting with Carlos Delgado and Roberto Alomar. If you go by WAR, it should be Delgado, but Alomar’s Gold Glove-studded career as a fielder is one of the great causes for debate over the strengths and limitations of both scouting and statistical analysis of defense. For the purposes of this sort of exercise, let’s give the new Hall of Famer his due and tab Alomar.
On Friday, we’ll turn to the National League and give the 16 greats of those franchises their props.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.