San Francisco Giants: The Importance of Tito Fuentes
By Michael Saltzman
Keeping up with the Holiday’s we are going to do a San Francisco Giants themed “Twelve Days of Christmas.” This series will include everything from wishes, to reflections, historical remembrances. Enjoy!
On the 12th day of Christmas, I felt it was important to write about a sometimes forgotten member of the San Francisco Giants, who has a big place in the hearts of all Giants fans.
Later this off-season, we will look at the 64 greatest Giants in San Francisco history. Looking at the team since the moved to the West Coast, Tito Fuentes just missed the cut. He was ranked 65th on my rankings. Over nine seasons, Fuentes earned an 8.2 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Averaging less than 1 win a season was a huge factor in Fuentes missing the cut.
However, Fuentes played more games as a Giant than Jack Clark, Bobby Bonds and Jim Ray Hart, among others. Fuentes had exactly 1000 hits as a Giant, but his slashline of .262/.304/.345 was far below many hitters in Giants history. His OPS of .649 is the lowest among Giants with 1000 or more hits and fourth worst among Giants with 500 or more hits. Only Jesus Alou, Kirt Manwaring and Jose Uribe had a worse OPS.
To judge Fuentes solely on his numbers, however, does a disservice to his legacy as a player and also his legacy as a Giant. The Giants initially signed Fuentes as an 18-year-old amateur before the start of the 1962 season. He was one of the last baseball players signed directly out of Cuba before the United States embargo against Cuba.
Fuentes’ biggest moment as a Giant came in Game 1 of the 1971 National League Championship Series. His home run in Game 1 help lead the Giants to their only victory in the series.
In 1973, he set a National League record by recording a .993 fielding percentage, the highest for any regular second baseman in league history. It wasn’t broken for thirteen seasons, when Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg had a .994 fielding percentage in 1986.
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Fuentes was traded to the San Diego Padres in 1974 and retired from the game in 1978.
Fuentes returned to the Giants as a Spanish language radio announcer in 1981, the team’s first year of Spanish language radio broadcasts. He was voted the starting second baseman on the Dream Team for the Giants 25th Anniversary team by San Francisco fans the following year in 1982.
In 1997, his number “23” was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.
He was also inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame on February 23, 2002 in San Francisco, California.
To remember Fuentes’ career by his batting average is a disservice to the impact he had on and off the field for the Giants. What he has done for Cuba, the Giant’s Spanish-speaking audience and for generations of Latin players reaches far beyond anything his glove could get to at second base.
Next: How 2011 Set the Foundation for the Future
From all of us at Around the Foghorn, have a Merry Christmas and Happy Hollidays!