The small island nation of the Dominican Republic has built an incredible track record for producing Major League sluggers. Home to roughly 10.6 million people, about 1/31st of the U.S. population, the Dominican influence can be felt across the MLB record books and the story of how baseball has been
The small island nation of the Dominican Republic has built an incredible track record for producing Major League sluggers. Home to roughly 10.6 million people, about 1/31st of the U.S. population, the Dominican influence can be felt across the MLB record books and the story of how baseball has been played in America over the last six-plus decades.
The list of accomplished Dominican hitters grows by the year, but here is a quick look at five of the very best to ever swing the bat in the Majors.
Career achievements: 3 NL MVP Awards, 2001 NL Rookie of the Year, 10 All-Star Game selections, 6 Silver Slugger Awards, 2 Gold Glove Awards, 2003 NL batting title, 2-time World Series champion, 659 HR and 2,091 RBIs (as of Sept. 3, 2020)
Few -- if any -- players have enjoyed a greater 11-year start to a Major League career than Pujols. The Santo Domingo native had to win a position battle in Spring Training just to make the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster in 2001, but he quickly proved he belonged, belting 37 homers and driving in 130 runs to unanimously win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. Pujols only got better after that, capturing three NL MVP honors with the Cardinals in 2005, ’08 and ’09 and helping St. Louis to World Series titles in ’06 and ’11.
Pujols hit 445 home runs and racked up 3,893 total bases as a Cardinal -- the highest totals for the first 11 seasons of any player’s career -- before signing a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Angels following the 2011 season. “The Machine” has set numerous milestones since then, knocking a grand slam in 2017 for his 600th career home run, collecting his 3,000th career hit in ‘18 and then joining Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez as the only players with at least 2,000 RBIs (per the Elias Sports Bureau) in ‘19. Pujols and Aaron are the only sluggers in history with at least 600 doubles, 600 homers, 1,000 walks and 2,000 RBIs.
Career achievements: 2018 Hall of Fame inductee; 2004 AL MVP; 9 All-Star Game selections; 8 Silver Slugger Awards; 449 HR; .318 career BA
Guerrero is one of the singular hitters in history in terms of strength, talent and approach. The Nizao native had a well-earned reputation at swinging at everything -- including pitches that bounced up off the dirt -- but was as adept as anyone at doing damage against turning pitches way outside the strike zone. Guerrero became a household name in 1998 when he hit .324, belted 38 homers and 109 RBIs for the Montreal Expos, and gained even more notoriety for his incredible throwing arm in right field. Guerrero could run, too, swiping as many as 40 bases for the Expos in 2002 as he came just one homer away of joining the exclusive 40/40 club.
Guerrero signed with the Angels as a free agent after the 2003 season and made an immediate impact in Anaheim as he won the AL Most Valuable Player Award with 39 homers, 126 RBIs and a league-leading 124 runs and 366 total bases. Despite his free-swinging approach, Guerrero never struck out more than 95 times in any season. Among the players who matched Guerrero’s career total of 449 home runs, only Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott struck out fewer times. Guerrero earned the ultimate honor when he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018.
Career achievements: 2-time World Series champion; 12 All-Star Game selections; 9 Silver Slugger Awards, 2004 World Series MVP Awards; 2002 AL batting title; 555 HR; 1,831 RBIs; .312 career BA
Few sluggers have ever struck more fear into opposing pitchers in an RBI situation than Manny Ramírez. He crushed 21 grand slams in his career, making him the only player in history with at least 500 homers, a .400 career on-base percentage and at least 20 grand slams.
The Indians took Ramírez with the 13th overall pick of the 1991 Draft out of George Washington High School in Washington Heights, N.Y., and watched him slowly but surely mature into a force of nature in heart of their lineup. Ramírez crushed the ball with seemingly no effort at all, and possessed one of the best batting eyes of his generation. And he was a run-producing machine, driving in 100 or more runs in 12 seasons -- tied for the sixth-highest total in history.
Ramírez signed an eight-year, $160 million free agent contract with the Red Sox following the 2000 season and helped the moribund franchise finally reach the top of the mountain in ’04, when Boston captured its first World Series title in 86 years. Ramírez claimed World Series MVP honors after hitting .412 across the Red Sox’s four-game sweep of the Cardinals. Teaming up with close friend David Ortiz to form a dynamic duo, Ramírez helped Boston earn another World Series sweep in ’07. His 29 postseason home runs are the most in MLB history.
Career achievements: 5 Gold Glove Awards; 2 Platinum Glove Award; 4 All-Star Game selections; 4 Silver Slugger Awards; 477 HRs; 3,166 hits
Beltré may have been a “late bloomer,” but he enjoyed as stellar a second half to his career as any player of his era. The Santo Domingo native debuted for the Dodgers at age 19 and was an average hitter over his first six seasons, but he erupted in 2004, crushing 48 homers to lead the Major Leagues while batting .334 and finishing runner-up to Barry Bonds in the NL MVP vote. Beltré signed a five-year, $64 million free agent contract with the Mariners after that season, but he failed to play up to expectations across five seasons in Seattle.
But Beltré parlayed an excellent 2010 season with the Red Sox (MLB-high 49 doubles) into a six-year deal with the Rangers, and then saw his career take off toward a Hall of Fame trajectory. He homered three times in Game 4 of the ’11 ALDS against the Rays to send Texas on to the ALCS and eventually the World Series, where he homered in Games 5 and 6 against the Cardinals. His bat continued to flourish in Arlington, as he averaged 27 homers and 182 hits per season from 2012-16, and his glove at third base also earned national acclaim as he took home back-to-back Rawlings Platinum Glove Awards (given to the best overall defender in each league) in ’11 and ’12. Beltré perhaps cemented his Hall of Fame candidacy on July 30, 2017, when he doubled for his 3,000th career hit. He became only the third primary third baseman to reach that mark (along with Wade Boggs and George Brett) and the first Dominican-born player to do so (since joined by Pujols).
Career achievements: 1998 NL MVP Award; 7 All-Star Game selections; 6 Silver Slugger Awards; 609 HRs
Sosa, who grew up in poverty in San Pedro de Macoris, became one of the most famous men in two countries -- American and the Dominican Republic -- after he battled Mark McGwire for the single-season home run record in 1998. Sosa, who had never topped 33 homers before the ’93 season and never topped 40 before ’98, slugged neck-and-neck with McGwire across the thrilling summer of ’98, first to see if either man could top Roger Maris’ long-standing record of 61 homers in a season and then (when it became apparent that both would surpass Maris) to see who would finish with the new record. Sosa clubbed a record 20 home runs in June alone, and finished runner-up to McGwire’s 70 homers with 66 round-trippers. But, Sosa took home the NL MVP Award that year after helping lead the Cubs to a postseason berth.
While injuries soon took their toll on McGwire, Sosa kept rolling. Slammin’ Sammy crushed 63 more dingers in 1999 and 64 in 2001 (the year Barry Bonds set a new single-season record with 73), making him the only player in history with three 60-homer seasons. He became the fifth player to hit 600 home runs during his final season with the Rangers in ’07.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.