Caracas-born Elio Chacon had a rather brief Major League career–three seasons, from 1960-62. But he earns special distinction in this blog for being an Original Met, as well as inspiring a 21st-century rock group. Who else can say that?
Rather unique among the OM’s (Original Mets) selected in the expansion draft of 1961, 25-year-old Elio was neither old nor washed-up. He had played two seasons in Cincinnati–at this time, with few Latinos in the big leagues, he was only the seventh Venezuelan to come north–and done OK at second base and the outfield. He even scored the winning run in the only Reds victory of the 1961 World Series–on a heads-up play, he dashed home when a ball got away from Yankees’ catcher Elston Howard. Elio wore #17 for Cincinnati, the same number as trailblazer Chico Carrasquel.
In the short view, Elio’s career was a mere wisp of time; in reality, it began several seasons before, and continued several seasons after, his stint in the National League. In 1956, he played with Cincy affiliates Savannah and Havana (the Sugar Kings had a relationship with MLB before Castro’s revolution). From the mid-1950s until the early 1970s, Elio traversed the continent, playing in Jersey City, Portland, Buffalo, Denver and Tulsa before ending up in Reynosa, Mexico (just over the border from McAllen, TX) at age 34.
Fourteen seasons–more than 1300 games– of Triple-A ball. Now there’s a man who doesn’t know the word quit, or he just loves baseball and has accepted the fact that leading the ’62 Mets in stolen bases doesn’t mean a whole lot. (I mean, he only had 12.) And those games comprise only his North American ledger: Elio played 17 seasons in his native Venezuela, mainly for the Tiburones of La Guaira and the Tigres de Aragua. Way back in 1956, in fact, he was the Rookie of the Year (Novato del Ano) for Industrales de Valencia. In 1971, he played alongside Luis Aparicio with the Aguilas de Zulia in Maracaibo.
Some say Elio never got another chance in MLB after 1962 because of an on-field fight with Willie Mays. Mays spiked him sliding back into second on a pickoff attempt, Elio punched the Say-Hey Kid in his Say-Hey Face, and the Say-Hey Kid body slammed the slim shortstop, causing a larger brawl to erupt between the Mets and the Giants. Whatever the consequence, after 1962 he never made an MLB roster again. (It could’ve been that career .232 average, although shortstops didn’t have to hit as much back then.)
But Elio lives in the pop culture of today. In 1984, a band from Hoboken, New Jersey named themselves Yo La Tengo (I Got It) for a famed anecdote in Mets history. Centerfielder Richie Ashburn was having problems communicating with Chacon on ‘tweeners between short and the outfield. He asked another Met who spoke a bit of Spanish how to say “I got it!” Hence, “yo la tengo.” Legend has it that in the next game, Asburn used his new Spanish phrase correctly, watched Elio drift off the ball, and was promptly run over by right-fielder Frank Thomas, who spoke no Spanish. There you go. (Thomas also supposedly asked him what the hell “yellow tango” meant).
Elio died in his native Caracas at age 55. His time on the Major League diamonds was short, but he was a baseball lifer, playing thousands of games in four different countries. Hey, Elio—Yo la tengo, hermano.