NEW YORK -- He will be the first Angel in baseball heaven. He will be the first Dominican Republic-born position player to enter the hallowed Hall of Cooperstown. Vladimir Guerrero's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29 will mean so much to so many, but first
NEW YORK -- He will be the first Angel in baseball heaven. He will be the first Dominican Republic-born position player to enter the hallowed Hall of Cooperstown. Vladimir Guerrero's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29 will mean so much to so many, but first and foremost it will mean the wildest dreams of that young boy who played "plaquita" on the streets of Nizao has had his wildest dreams come true.
"I'm forever thankful," Guerrero said through interpreter Jose Mota, "for this beautiful moment."
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Guerrero made it clear at Thursday's Hall of Fame news conference at the St. Regis New York -- the first public appearance of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's loaded 2018 class that also features Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman -- that he shares this moment with each of the four teams he played with during his magnificent Major League career. The Angels, Expos, Rangers and Orioles are forever a part of him.
But there can be just one team on Guerrero's bronze cap, and the only unsettled intrigue surrounding this setting was whether that cap would be that of the Expos or that of the Halos.
Having come up as a member of the Expos, established himself as an All-Star with the Expos and logged more games with Montreal than any of the four clubs he played for, this was no easy decision for the 42-year-old Guerrero. But the opportunity to be the first to represent the Angels team where he experienced tremendous personal and team success was one Guerrero could not turn down.
"I know what it represented," Guerrero said. "What it represents now and all the winning that happened while I was with the Angels."
In six seasons with the Angels after signing as a free agent before the 2004 season, Guerrero was a part of five American League West title clubs, including the '09 team that reached the AL Championship Series against the Yankees. He also had the greatest individual honor of his playing career -- the 2004 AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Guerrero had a .319/.381/.546 line with 173 homers and 616 RBIs in 846 games with the Halos. In eight seasons with the Expos, he slashed .323/.390/.588 with 234 homers and 702 RBIs in 1,004 games. He was a four-time All-Star for both clubs, but never reached the postseason with the Expos, who signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 1993.
"Those are seven years in Montreal I'll never forget," Guerrero said. "Very special years for me. Then going to the Angels, getting a taste of winning and the way Montreal prepared me for that. I toiled with this for a long time, because the Canadian people mean a whole lot."
Guerrero, who played one season apiece in Baltimore and Texas, could have joined Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines as the only players with Montreal caps on their plaques in the Hall.
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But to say the Angels' organization is thankful Guerrero went another route is an understatement.
"I look at Vladdy and that reward for all that hard work," Angels owner Arte Moreno said. "I look at the fans, because they got to see a great player -- and we've had some really good players come through Anaheim. Obviously Rod Carew was there, Nolan Ryan was there for a long time. There were a bunch of really good players. But to see someone wear our colors [entering the Hall] is a proud moment for our fans."
Moreno said he made it a point not to have any discussion with Guerrero about the plaque decision, understanding how special his Montreal career was to him.
"We had an opportunity to get him in '04, and he just lit it up for us," Moreno said. "Every night. People loved to watch him play. I had scouts that would tell me, 'I'd pay to see this guy play. He's just so electric.'"
A five-tool talent with an incredible arm in right field and the ability to drive even bouncing balls in the dirt, Guerrero was considered one of the game's most entertaining players wherever he roamed. That he'll be forever identified as an Angel is one thing, but his distinction as just the third Dominican-born player to reach the Hall -- pitchers Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez were the first and second, respectively -- is not to be overlooked, either. Evidence of what Guerrero means to the Latin American community, at large, was on display at the news conference, where a sizable throng of Spanish-language reporters ensured Guerrero received more questions than any of the other Hall of Famers.
"It is why I still live in the same village that saw me come into the world," Guerrero said. "I want to be with the people who saw me grow up and share the success that I've had with those people. To this day, those are my people, and that's what keeps me grounded."
Guerrero relayed how baseball shaped his life, how his earliest Minor League days taught him the importance of being on time, how proud he was to learn how to cook for himself and to make the healthy food choices that allowed him to have a long and productive career and how much he'll always appreciate Felipe Alou for giving him his first everyday opportunity in the big leagues. He even sought to set the record straight that the long-told story about him wearing mismatched shoes to his tryout with the Expos was "not right."
Mostly, though, Guerrero expressed gratitude for the recognition of the impact his incredible career -- one in which he became just the sixth player in history (joining Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial) with at least 449 home runs and a career batting average of .318 or higher -- had on the game of baseball.
"The one thing that came to mind after I retired was knowing when I was going to appear on the ballot," he said. "I was excited I appeared last year. To be elected in my second year means a whole lot."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.