The Secret Weapon – Discretion Advised
I’ve always loved Cardinal baseball, having grown up in St. Louis. I saw Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, Julian Javier. I saw one game of the 1964 World Series, listened to Harry Carey announce the games on my trusty transistor radio. After all this time, I think one of my favorite players is The Secret Weapon: Jose Oquendo. I’ve had my reasons in the past, but recently I’ve learned one more thing about Jose that just increases his stature in my eyes.
Jose began his career in baseball at age 19 with the Mets, but spent the bulk of his career with the Cards. A utility infielder, he spend most of his playing time at second base. But he was known to pitch too. Oquendo once pitched in relief for four innings, shutting out the Atlanta Braves for three innings, earning the first decision by a non-pitcher in 20 years. He once struck out Deion Sanders looking. His best year came in 1989, when he was in the top 10 in batting average, hits, triples, walks, singles, on base percentage, and games played.
He earned his nickname (from Whitey Hezog) of “The Secret Weapon” for his ability to play any infield or outfield position. And here’s what impresses me: that same year he pitched four innings in relief (1988), he also caught a game, making him the first NL player to play all 9 positions in a season. That’s right. All nine positions in one season. In this age of specialization and prima donnas, Jose did what was asked of him. He did it all.
I’ve always admired that. But now the news that increased his status to superstardom in my eyes. The August 18 Post Dispatch reported that there actually are some professional baseball players who play without an “athletic protector” – a cup. Here’s a quote from the article:
“I tell you what, I don’t take the team picture without wearing a cup,” said third baseman Mark DeRosa, who thought it “absurd” that a major-league infielder would put himself at such risk. “My mind was made up in Atlanta one day. Rafael Furcal didn’t wear one. Then he got hit there by a line drive one day during batting practice. When we rolled him over he was blue in the face.” Skip Schumaker never wore a cup as an outfielder but doesn’t leave home without it at second base. “It’s crazy. Not me,” Schumaker said. “For some guys, it’s too uncomfortable. Thinking about the alternative strikes me as pretty uncomfortable.”
Third base coach Jose Oquendo never wore a cup during his 12-year major-league career. He insisted he went without even during a cameo behind the plate in 1988.
“I would guess about half the Latin guys don’t wear one. You don’t wear one growing up and you get here … it doesn’t feel comfortable,” Oquendo said. “I never gave it much thought. You just make sure you catch it.”
You must make sure you catch it. At any position. Including catcher. Forget Manny Ramirez. Forget Barry Bonds. Here’s a real man and a real ballplayer: Jose Oquendo, the cupless Secret Weapon.
For you true blue baseball freaks – here’s a Youtube video about the quest of two STL fans to get Oquendo into the Hall of Fame. Kinda cheesy but it has a nice series of ESPN clips of Jose in action.