Guerrero begins Hall of Fame career by signing with Expos

Written by: Janey Murray

He had already been passed over by a couple of teams – but Vladimir Guerrero remained confident that at least one major league club was going to recognize his potential and give him an opportunity.

“I knew I would be signed,” Guerrero told Sports Illustrated in 2000. “There are so many teams. The Dodgers thought I had a long swing and I was slow, which I was because I was fat. I started to lose weight in the Dodgers’ camp because I was practicing two times a day.”

As a child growing up in Nizao Bani, Dominican Republic, Guerrero began playing baseball at a young age, often using sticks for bats and lemons wrapped in rags for balls. His brother Wilton, who would ultimately play eight seasons in the big leagues, was signed by the Dodgers in October 1991.

At 16 years old, Guerrero took part in an extended tryout at the Dodgers’ Dominican Academy, but the club ultimately decided they didn’t consider him a prospect. The Texas Rangers took a look at him and passed. It was a tryout with the Montreal Expos that would finally do the trick.

Latin American scout Fred Ferreira invited Guerrero and 25 other players to a tryout in 1993. After watching Guerrero take one at bat, Ferreira was impressed enough to sign him, citing his arm, speed and athletic build. So on March 1, 1993 – less than a month after his 18th birthday – Guerrero inked a deal with Montreal for $2,000.

Guerrero’s talent was evident early in his professional career as he climbed the ranks of the minor leagues. In his first full season with the Class A Albany Polecats in 1995, he won the South Atlantic League batting title, hitting .333 with 16 homers.

“Inevitably, you get the question: Who’s the best player you were ever around?” Doug Sisson, Guerrero’s manager in Albany, told ESPN in 2016. “It’s Vladimir. And the conversation just stops. That’s how good he was.”

Guerrero made a swift ascent to the major leagues, debuting with the Expos on Sept. 19, 1996. In a matchup with the Braves in Atlanta, Guerrero started in right field and batted sixth, going 1-for-5 with every out coming on contact.

“Guerrero has a dangerous bat,” Expos manager Felipe Alou told the Gazette. “Dangerous for line drives, dangerous for home runs. Dangerous for anything.”

The gamble the Expos took in signing a relatively unknown player paid off, as the right fielder was dominant in his tenure with Montreal. In eight years with the club, he batted .323 with 234 home runs, 1,215 hits and a .978 OPS.

Following stints with the Angels, Rangers and Orioles, Guerrero’s last year in the big leagues was 2011. Over his 16 big league seasons, he batted .318 with 449 homers, 1,496 RBI and 2,590 hits.

Guerrero was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.

Janey Murray is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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