Clemente tops list of greatest players from PR

September 9th, 2020

Puerto Rico has given Major League Baseball some of the best players in the game today -- from potential future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina to superstar shortstops Javier "El Mago" Báez, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa.

It's also given MLB some of the great players of the past -- some of the greatest to ever play the game, in fact.

In honor of MLB's celebration of Hispanic Heritage month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, here are the top five Puerto Rican position players of all time.

1) Roberto Clemente
Career achievements: 3,000 hits, .317 batting average, 240 HR, 2 World Series championships, 1966 NL MVP, 1971 WS MVP, 15-time All-Star, 12 Gold Gloves, 4 batting titles, Hall of Fame (1973)

No. 1 is no surprise. Clemente stands alone. Born in Carolina in 1934, he is not just the greatest Puerto Rican player of all time, he is one of the most iconic players in baseball history. There's a reason MLB celebrates Clemente's legacy every year with Roberto Clemente Day and the Clemente Award.

On the field, Clemente was one of the greatest right fielders ever. The Pirates legend collected exactly 3,000 hits in his MLB career -- making him the only Puerto Rican-born member of the 3,000-hit club -- spending all of his 18 seasons in Pittsburgh. He was a .317 career hitter who made all but one All-Star game from 1960-72 and won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves from '61-72. Clemente hit .310 in the Pirates' seven-game World Series victory over the Yankees in 1960, and he hit .414 with two home runs against the Orioles in the 1971 Fall Classic, including one in the deciding Game 7, to take home World Series MVP honors.

Off the field, Clemente was a humanitarian who did charity work throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Though Clemente's death in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972, while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, was one of baseball's most tragic moments, his legacy will live forever.

2) Roberto Alomar
Career achievements: .300 batting average, 210 HR, 474 stolen bases, 2 World Series championships, 12-time All-Star, 1998 ASG MVP, 10 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers, Hall of Fame (2011)

Hailing from Ponce, and the great Alomar baseball family, Robbie Alomar is one of the best second basemen ever. An All-Star for four different franchises in his 17-year career -- the Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles and Indians -- Alomar was as slick as it got at the keystone, winning 10 Gold Gloves in an 11-season span at the position from 1991-2001. He could do it all -- field, hit and run. Alomar finished with 2,724 career hits and 474 steals, the most of any Puerto Rican Major Leaguer.

He was part of one of the most important trades in Blue Jays franchise history, going to Toronto along with Joe Carter in a December 1990 deal with San Diego. Alomar and Carter became integral players for the Blue Jays teams that won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and '93 -- Alomar was the '92 ALCS MVP after hitting .423 with two home runs and five stolen bases, and he also hit .480 with an 1.159 OPS in Toronto's Fall Classic win over the Phillies in '93. And he was just as important to the Orioles and Indians playoff teams of the late '90s, coming up with so many clutch postseason hits.

3) Iván Rodríguez
Career achievements: 2,844 hits, .296 batting average, 311 HR, 46% caught stealing (9-time league leader), 2003 World Series champion, 1999 AL MVP, 14-time All-Star, 13 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, Hall of Fame (2017)

Pudge is the best all-around catcher in modern baseball history, and the Manatí native stands alongside legends of the game like Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra when it comes to the all-time greats. A strong hitter who collected close to 3,000 hits and over 300 home runs, Rodríguez's true calling card was his defense and arm behind the plate. He led his league in caught stealing percentage nine times (and the Majors five times), including catching a personal-best 60% of basestealers in 2001 with the Rangers. That's why he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves at catcher from 1992-2001, before going on to win three more in four years from 2004-07.

Rodríguez was a star for the Rangers, Marlins and Tigers in his 21-year career. In his MVP season with Texas in 1999, Pudge hit .332 with 35 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 113 RBIs for the AL West champions while also catching a Major League-best 55% of basestealers. Rodríguez only spent one season in Florida, but he made it count, leading the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship upset over the Yankees. Then he went on to be an All-Star in four straight seasons in Detroit.

4) Carlos Beltrán
Career achievements: 2,725 hits, 435 HR, 312 stolen bases, 1,587 RBIs, 1,582 runs, 2017 World Series champion, 1999 AL Rookie of the Year, 9-time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers

From Manatí like Pudge, Beltrán is one of baseball's best switch-hitters. In his prime, he was a power-speed superstar and an elite defensive center fielder, excelling at all parts of the game. In his 20 seasons in the Majors, Beltrán starred for the Royals, Astros and Mets in the first half of his career and played key roles as a veteran for the Giants, Cardinals, Yankees and Astros again in his late-career return to Houston.

Carlos Delgado is the only Puerto Rican player with more home runs than Beltrán's 435, and only Alomar and José Cruz have more stolen bases than Beltrán's 312. No Puerto Rican player has more RBIs than Beltrán's 1,587 or runs scored than Beltrán's 1,582.

Beltrán nearly joined the 40-40 club in 2003 with the Royals and Astros, finishing with 38 homers and 42 steals that year before having one of the greatest postseason runs of all time, slugging eight home runs in 12 games for Houston to tie Barry Bonds' single-postseason record. Beltrán crushed 41 home runs for the 2006 NL East champion Mets, a career high. And in 2017, he won his only World Series ring with Houston at age 40 in the final year of his playing career.

5) Orlando Cepeda
Career achievements: .297 batting average, 379 HR, 1,365 RBIs, 1967 World Series champion / NL MVP, 1958 NL Rookie of the Year, 11-time All-Star, 1961 NL HR title, Hall of Fame (1999)

There are a few worthy candidates for the final spot on this list, but Cepeda, the great Giant from Ponce, stands out. Cepeda was one of the pioneering players from Puerto Rico, debuting three years after Clemente in 1958 and playing 17 seasons until 1974. Cepeda made his MLB debut in the Giants' first year in San Francisco and immediately formed one of the best duos in baseball alongside Willie Mays. At age 20, Cepeda hit .312 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 38 doubles to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award unanimously.

That was only the beginning. Cepeda would go on to be an All-Star the next six seasons, including a 46-homer, 142-RBI season in 1961 when he led the NL in both categories and finished as the runner-up for MVP to Frank Robinson. Cepeda got his MVP trophy six years later with the Cardinals, when the first baseman hit .325 with 25 homers and a league-leading 111 RBIs and was a unanimous winner. He got his World Series ring that year, too, as St. Louis defeated the Red Sox in seven games.

The Giants retired Cepeda's No. 30 in 1999, the same year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and his statue stands outside Oracle Park in San Francisco.

Honorable mentions
Carlos Delgado -- 17 seasons, 473 HR, 1,512 RBIs, 2-time All-Star, 3 Silver Sluggers
Juan González -- 17 seasons, 434 HR, 2-time AL MVP, 3-time All-Star, 6 Silver Sluggers