In Venezuela, when an opposing runner reaches first base, the public address system exhorts the home fans to chant a very English-sounding refrain: Do-Blay Play! Do-Blay Play!
Yesterday, sitting around the proverbial office water cooler, I had a conversation with a co-worker about an odd play in New York baseball history. On August 2, 1985, two Yankees were thrown out at home plate on the same play. (I had been trying to convey how hard it was to explain baseball to a first-time viewer, especially when plays like this occur).
Surprisingly, my memory of the play was correct–the Yankees tagged out were Bobby Meacham, who held at second while Rickey Henderson’s soaring drive approached the fence, and Dale Berra, who most definitely did NOT hold at first. Consequently, the relay to Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk nabbed both runners in rapid succession for a rather unforeseen 8-6-1 double play. Incredible.
What this former Bronx resident did not remember was this: the two White Sox who handled the ball prior to Fisk’s tag-outs were Venezuelans–centerfielder Luis Salazar and rookie shortstop Oswaldo “Ozzie” Guillen. The two had been traded together to Chicago from San Diego the previous winter.
Luis, from Barcelona, home to the Caribes of Anzoategui, was a player’s player who manned every position except catcher in a 13-year MLB career. Thirteen years, 1300 games, and 1,000 hits (2 innings pitched, too!). Like another Luis, Mr. Sojo, Salazar was an all-rounder you wanted on your team. In 1982, he led the National League in double plays turned by a third baseman. So perhaps his star turn starting the double play in Yankee Stadium that hot August afternoon three years later should have come as no surprise.
Guillen himself, before he became such a voluble and volatile Venezuelan manager, was a great shortstop in the national tradition, and that 1985 season was on his way to being named Rookie of the Year. He played 13 seasons with the White Sox, and 16 in total, in a career that might have been better if not for a catastrophic knee injury. He led AL campocortos in fielding in 1985; he won the Gold Glove in 1990. A 1992 collision with outfielder Tim Raines curtailed his defense and running abilities, though he hung on for several more seasons. For those whose only memory of Ozzie Guillen is as the White Sox large-and-in-charge manager, go back to the record–the man from Ocumare de la Tuy was a hell of a player.
These guys haven’t let physical setbacks stop them.
Guillen went on to lead the White Sox to their first World Series crown in 97 years as a second-year manager in 1985.
Salazar, the man who started the Yankee-killing relay that August afternoon, suffered a terrible leg injury later that season, breaking his left tibia and rupturing several ligaments. His leg was completely rebuilt, yet after missing nearly all of the ’86 campaign, he played eight more seasons. He then went on to different coaching roles in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Three seasons ago, during a spring training game, Salazar was explaining something to a player on the field when a wicked line drive off the bat of Brian McAnn struck him in the face. The impact knocked him several feet down the dugout steps, and he broke an arm and several other bones in the face-first fall. He lay bleeding and unconscious for fourteen minutes before being airlifted to a nearby hospital.
He lived, but lost sight in his left eye, which was later removed. That season he continued his duties as manager of Atlanta’s minor league A affiliate in Lynchburg, Tennesee–five weeks after the accident, he was back in the dugout, wearing an eyepatch and protective glasses. He pitched batting practice, he hit grounders, and he mentored a young shortstop from Curacao, Kingdom of the Netherlands named Andrelton Simmons to the major league level.
Later in 2011, Luis Salazar was elected to the Venezuelan Hall of Fame in recognition of his long Major League and Venezuelan League career. Inducted alongside him? None other than Ozzie Guillen, his longtime La Guiara teammate, and the man with whom he made history three decades ago in Yankee Stadium.
It’s not how often you fall, compadres, but how many times you get back up. “I lost my eye, but I thank God he saved my life,” said Salazar to ESPN’s Anna Katherine Clemmons. “I have a second chance at life, and I very much appreciate it.”