Playing a childhood game with a broomstick and a folded-up license plate has taken former Montreal Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero to the baseball Hall of Fame.
Guerrero, along with third baseman Chipper Jones, infielder Jim Thome and reliever Trevor Hoffman were named the Class of 2018 for the Hall on Wednesday night. Guerrero, who was famous for connecting on pitches well outside of the strikezone, says his keen eye was developed on the streets of Don Gregorio, Dominican Republic.
"It really came down to a game we played back home," said Guerrero through a translator. "Poor people, similar to cricket in a way, used a broomstick as a bat. You'd throw a rubber ball, a softball, anything, and you'd try and knock down folded license plates. Because the ball has to be bounced before hitting the license plate at home plate, that opened up my hitting zone.
"A lot of times pitchers in the big leagues didn't realize I could hit those breaking balls."
Guerrero also played for the Anaheim Angels, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles in a 16-season career in which he compiled a .318 batting average and .553 slugging percentage with 449 home runs and 1,496 RBIs. He was the American League MVP in 2004, his first season with the Angels, when he batted .337 with 39 home runs and 126 runs batted in, plus league-leading totals in runs (124) and total bases (366).
He was an eight-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award as the best offensive player at his position – seven times as a right-fielder and once as a designated hitter. He appeared in nine all-star games and had 13 seasons with a .300 or better batting average. He had four 200-plus hit seasons, drove in 100 or more runs 10 times and scored 100 or more runs six times.
"I'm quite thankful to Montreal, to the Expos, because that's a team that after some teams overlooked me in the Dominican Republic, gave me the opportunity to break into professional baseball," said Guerrero, the third Dominican to be named to Cooperstown, behind pitchers Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez. "Always thankful for how I was treated in Canada.
"Also, special thanks to (former Expos manager) Felipe Alou. I'm truly blessed to have someone like Felipe, a Dominican manager, in my first three or four years in the majors."
Guerrero, in his second year on the ballot, received 392 votes for 92.9 per cent. Seventy-five per cent is needed for induction. The 42-year-old becomes the youngest current Hall of Famer.
In a conference call with reporters, Guerrero would not reveal what cap he would wear when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. Instead, he will make the announcement on Thursday morning at a news conference in New York City.
"It's very difficult because each team means a lot to me," said Guerrero. "From Montreal, my original ballclub, to the Angels, and getting a taste of winning immediately, to the Texas Rangers and getting to the World Series, and of course the Baltimore Orioles who gave me a chance to stay in baseball."
Guerrero's son, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a minor-league third baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, was recently ranked No. 4 on MLB's top prospects list.