#CardCorner: 1986 Topps Pedro Guerrero
One was Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. The other was Pedro Guerrero.
A lifetime .300 hitter over 15 big league seasons, Guerrero emerged from the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic to become one of the best all-around hitters of his era.
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Born June 29, 1956, in San Pedro de Macoris, Guerrero worked to support his family from a young age while honing his skills on the local diamonds. San Pedro would become known as the cradle of shortstops, but the 5-foot-11, thickly-muscled Guerrero didn’t fit that mold. Instead, with line drives ringing off his bat but his position in the field still in flux, Guerrero was signed by Indians scout Reggie Otero in 1973 at the age of 16.
The Indians sent Guerrero – who spoke virtually no English – to their Gulf Coast League team in Sarasota, Fla., where he hit .255 in 44 games.
“I had a really bad time,” Guerrero told the Los Angeles Times. “I’d never been away from home before. I used to cry every day.”
But Guerrero slowly assimilated into his new home, and by the spring of 1974 he was ticketed for Class A ball. But on April 3, the Indians traded Guerrero to the Dodgers in a straight-up deal for pitcher Bruce Ellingsen, who had been a 63rd round draft choice in 1967.
Ellingsen went 1-1 in 16 games with Cleveland in 1974 and never pitched in the majors again. Guerrero, meanwhile, was on his way to stardom.
Otero, who had left the Indians to join the Dodgers’ organization, told his new bosses to get Guerrero if they could. Guerrero made Otero look good by hitting .290 in two stops in Class A in 1974, then hit .345 with 10 homers and 76 RBI for Class A Danville of the Midwest League in 1975.
By 1977, Guerrero was with Triple-A Albuquerque, where he was hitting .403 through 32 games when a fractured ankle ended his season. He returned to Albuquerque in 1978, hitting .337 with 14 homers, 116 RBI and 17 stolen bases – earning a call-up to the big leagues in September, where he totaled five hits in eight at-bats.
Guerrero began to show his age in 1990, hitting .281 with 13 homers and 80 RBI in 136 games. On Aug. 16, Guerrero became enraged at Houston pitcher Danny Darwin after some inside pitches and punched Darwin in the mouth after Darwin reached first base the following inning, drawing a one-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.
Then in 1991, Guerrero was hitting .284 with 53 RBI on July 7 when he fractured his leg in a collision with Cardinals catcher Tom Pagnozzi, sending him to the disabled list for six weeks. He hit just .246 after returning and finished the season with a .272 average and 70 RBI in 115 games.
“Pete is a throwback,” Cardinals manager Joe Torre told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He has his fun, but he really wants to play. He’s got a lot of pride.”
Guerrero’s contract expired after the season, but the Cardinals brought him back despite acquiring Andrés Galarraga to play first base. Sent to left field to start the season, Guerrero was quickly relegated to a bench role. A shoulder injury limited to 43 games and a .219 batting average.
Finding no offers in the big leagues, Guerrero played in the Mexican League and with the independent Sioux Falls Canaries in 1993, returned to the Canaries in 1994 and then appeared in 66 games with the Angels’ Double-A team in Midland, Texas, in 1995 before retiring.
Guerrero was arrested on cocaine conspiracy charges in 1999 – charges for which he was later acquitted. He went on to manage in the Mexican League.
Guerrero suffered a stroke in 2015 and another one in 2017 – the latter leaving him in a condition where doctors briefly declared him brain dead. But Guerrero recovered from each emergency.
He finished his big league career with 1,618 hits, 267 doubles, 215 home runs, 898 RBI, a .370 on-base percentage and five All-Star Game selections.
At his peak, few National Leaguers were considered more complete hitters.
“He’s got power in any yard,” said Cardinals pitcher Danny Cox when Guerrero was dealt to St. Louis. “And not only does he hit for power, he hits for average.
“If you make a mistake, he’s going to make you pay for it.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum