Tuesday, January 3, 2012

#305 - Tito Fuentes

Tito Fuentes gets both a "5" card and an action shot - based on my admittedly loose interpretation of what those are - in this set. Why the accolades? His offensive season, while pretty good, wasn't as good as those of a bunch of NL second basemen. No post-season achievements either. Nope. Tito had a huge year defensively, posting a then-record six errors and a .993 fielding percentage on the tough Candlestick turf. That record wouldn't be broken for a few years until Ryne Sandberg topped it. The season sort of came out of nowhere; Tito had led the league in errors each of the two previous seasons. But the fans always loved him. An avowed hot dog he kept people entertained with his flashy fielding and his bat bounces at the plate. In keeping up with his image Tito offers us a photo in what appears to be a rare Giant away uni shot in which he wears his headband on his hat. Maybe he expected rain.

Tito Fuentes was one of the last Cuban-born players to be able to play Stateside for a long time. He was signed out of high school in Havana by the Giants in '62 and then hit .229 that summer in the States for a couple D league teams. In '63 he ramped things up considerably by hitting .338 in A ball. He split '64 between Double and Triple A, hitting .347 at the lower level but dropping 100 points at the upper one. In '65 he moved to shortstop - he'd played exclusively second until then - and his .302 average got him called up late that summer where the only thing he did of any notoriety was nearly club John Roseboro in the head with his bat right after Juan Marichal did the same thing. Tito escaped without a fine, however, and returned in '66 to split time between second and short and posted good enough numbers offensively - despite taking only nine walks - to come in third in NL ROY voting. In '67 he played almost exclusively at second but his .209 average meant a lot of time on the bench. In '68 the Giants picked up Ron Hunt to play second and Tito was the odd man out, returning to Triple A for the better part of the next two seasons. In '68 he put up a .329 average in a season cut short in May due to a broken leg. In '69 he topped that with a .340 and was brought back up where he finished out the season backing up short and third.

Two big things then happened to change the course of Fuentes' Giants career. In 1970 the grass was replaced by turf. That season Tito backed up at second and short since the Giants had a new full-time third baseman in Al "Dirt" Gallagher. Then prior to the '71 season San Francisco sent Ron Hunt to Montreal. Tito's quicker reflexes allowed him to be much more adept at fielding on the faster turf and that year he reclaimed second base for the first time since his rookie year. While he would post fat error totals his first two seasons, a big reason for that was that he and Chris Speier had to cover an inordinately large range to make up for defensive holes on the corners; Willie McCovey was hurt a bunch and Dave Kingman was starting to get some serious time at both first and third, for instance. In '71 Tito's steady play contributed to the division title and he had a nice post-season, hitting .313 and homering to win the Giants' only victory in the playoffs. In '73 along with the super E record he set personal bests in hits and RBI's. In '74 Tito held out and then hurt his back, missing a bunch of time. After the season he was traded to the Padres with Butch Metzger for Derrel Thomas.

In San Diego in '75 Fuentes boosted his average to .280, rejoining McCovey on the right side of the infield. But Enzo Hernandez was no Speier so Tito's error totals came up again. After a .263 season in '76 he crossed to the AL and was signed by Detroit as a free agent. There he had perhaps his finest offensive season, hitting .309 with 190 hits. But the Tigers had a bunch of young infielders coming up - particularly Lou Whitaker - and prior to '78 spring training Tito was sold to the Expos. That team dropped him before spring ball ended and after a tryout with the Yankees, he signed with Oakland in June. After just a few appearances and a .140 average he was released, finishing his time as a player. Tito ended up with a .268 average and is second all-time in range factor at second base per nine innings.

Fuentes had a master plan when he finished, knowing that his pension wouldn't kick in until he was 45. He took a job selling insurance for most of the next ten years. In 1980 he was asked to do some Spanish language broadcasting for Oakland. The next year he began doing the same thing for the Giants which he continued to do on a more regular basis through '92. By then he was fully vested so he took some time off, again did some insurance work, and in '96 took his broadcasting specialty to Fox. That gig lasted through '04 and since '05 he has been doing his Spanish language thing back for the Giants.

Along with bringing back the action card, Tito offers us a return of the parenthetical name. Tito also gives us the one name signature and some pretty good star bullets. He missed by a couple years spending time on the Padres with a serious boxer, but I'll get to that on that guy's card.

Now these two guys definitely faced each other a bunch of times:

1. Fuentes and Doug Rader '76 Padres;
2. Rader and Don Wilson '67 to '74 Astros.


  1. The thing I remember most about Tito Fuentes was his extremely closed batting stance, where he pretty much had his back to the pitcher.

  2. More headbands right here: