#CardCorner: 1979 Topps Willie Montañez
Montañez, however, would make up for lost time – becoming one of most consistent hitters of the 1970s.
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Montañez played for nine teams in his 14-year big league odyssey – appearing for only one club, the Phillies, for more than two seasons. But in that span he topped the .300 batting mark three times, hit 30 home runs in a season and was traded seven times in as many years as teams coveted his contact-first approach at the plate.
Born Guillermo Montañez on April 1, 1948, in Catano, Puerto Rico, the lefty swinging Montañez signed with the St. Louis Cardinals when he was 16 years old. He played 32 games in 1965 with the Cardinals’ Florida Rookie League team, hitting .235 with no extra base hits in 81 at-bats.
The Angels, however, saw the future and selected Montañez in the Rule 5 Draft, meaning he would have to be kept on the big league roster the entire season. Montañez was tabbed to start the Angels’ first intrasquad game of the 1966 Spring Training slate in Palm Springs, Calif. – drawing the nod at first base on a team that featured most of the Angels’ regulars for that season.
But after appearing in only eight of California’s first 16 games of the season – mostly as a pinch runner – Montañez was returned to the Cardinals on May 5. He would spend the rest of the 1966 season as well as the next two years in Class A ball. He hit .375 in 14 games with Triple-A Tulsa in 1969, but missed the remainder of the season after suffering a fractured knee and torn ankle ligaments.
On Oct. 7, 1969, the Cardinals and Phillies pulled off a blockbuster deal – one that initially did not include Montañez. St. Louis sent Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Hoerner to the Phillies in exchange for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. But Flood refused to report – putting in motion legal action testing the Reserve Clause that would eventually wind up with the United States Supreme Court.
Meanwhile – to complete the deal – the Cardinals offered the Phillies a list of players they could choose from to take the place of Flood. On April 8, 1970, the Phillies took Montañez.
“I was really surprised when they told me I was going to the Phillies,” Montañez told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It was kind of hard, too. They told me on the last day of Spring Training.
“I’m just happy to be here now and just want a chance to play.”
He finished with a.275 batting average, 139 home runs, 279 doubles and 1,604 hits in 1,632 games. Missing out on the Phillies’ late 1970s division-winning teams by just one year, Montañez never appeared in a postseason game.
Among players whose majority of seasons came during the divisional play era, only 12 players have ever appeared in more big league games without a postseason appearance. It was another footnote in a career full of them, but Montañez was much more than that.
A pro’s pro who was included in deals involving 30 different players, Guillermo Montañez had himself a career.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum