Big Cat, Big Bat
Andres Galarraga Debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot
By SAMANTHA CARR
December 16, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When scouts first looked at Andres Galarraga, they believed he was too heavy to make it in the big leagues.
Just a few years later, while playing for the Montreal Expos, Galarraga was proving people wrong – while moving around the field with a grace that earned him the nickname “The Big Cat.”
|Andres Galarraga is one of 26 players on the BBWAA ballot for the Class of 2010 at the Hall of Fame. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
“Galarraga is fabulous,” said future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt during the early portion of Galarraga’s career. “He’s about to become known as a superstar, believe me.”
Galarraga is one of 26 players on the 2010 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2010 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He is making his debut on the BBWAA ballot.
BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 6. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 25 in Cooperstown.
Born on June 18, 1961, in Caracas, Venezuela, Galarraga began playing professionally in his home country at age 16. He was signed by the Montreal Expos in 1979 at the recommendation of Felipe Alou despite his large size – recorded at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds.
“His swing was beautiful,” said Alou. “His reactions and instincts were incredible, and his speed for his size was phenomenal.”
Galarraga was named Rookie of the Year in the Triple-A International League in 1985 and made his debut with the Expos that August. After early struggles with injuries, Galarraga became known for his quickness at first base.
“His specialty is to dive after errant throws and keep his foot on the bag,” said Jim Fanning, a former Expos executive and broadcaster.
He earned his first All-Star appearance in 1988, hitting .302 with 99 runs, 92 RBI and 29 home runs on the season. He led the league in hits (184), total bases (329), doubles (42) and extra base his (79).
After a few more injuries and a short stint in St. Louis, Galarraga found himself renewing his career in Colorado in 1993. That year, he won the batting title, the first for a Venezuelan-born player, with a .370 batting average. He won his first of two Comeback Player of the Year Awards – and had his third knee surgery after the season.
In 1996, Galarraga finished sixth in MVP voting, won his second Silver Slugger Award and led the league in home runs (47) and RBI (150).
“He does everything well. He can hit for average, hit for power, field and run,” said former manager Buck Rodgers. “He has a great attitude and great intensity. He’s a solid citizen, a great family man, a great team man. Anything good there is to say about a player can be said about him.”
He signed with the Braves in 1998 and had a successful season, hitting .305 with 44 homers and 121 RBI. He became the first Venezuelan player with 300 home runs.
“Of all the qualifications for the Hall of Fame, 300 home runs is certainly one of them. It’s not the last one he’s going to hit, but it’s a milestone he’s been aiming at,” said teammate Chipper Jones.
Galarraga developed back problems in Spring Training of 1999. He eventually was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He missed the entire season undergoing chemotherapy, but stayed positive.
He returned to the field in 2000, hitting .302 with 28 home runs, 100 RBI and an All-Star Game appearance in front of the home fans at Turner Field. He was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award for a second time.
Galarraga spent time with the Rangers, Giants and Expos from 2001-2003. In 2004, he suffered a cancer relapse, but after beating it for a second time, he came back with the Angels, serving mostly as an experienced bench player in 2004. He retired in Spring Training in 2005 with the Mets.
“It was the right time to give a younger guy a chance to play,” he said.
Galarraga is a career triple crown winner (winning a batting, home run and RBI title at least once in his career), made five All-Star appearances, won two Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Slugger Awards and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times. He hit 399 home runs with 1,425 RBI and 444 doubles. He finished his career with a .288 batting average and 2,333 hits.
Samantha Carr is the media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum