Guerrero’s legendary hitting skill spanned his whole career
At 36 years of age, Vladimir Guerrero was entering the final stages of his big league career when he signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles on Feb. 18, 2011.
But that didn’t mean that Guerrero’s presence in the Orioles lineup was anything less than inspiring.
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“I can’t remember in recent memory when we’ve made a signing that has generated as much enthusiasm as this one has,” Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail told the Baltimore Sun. “I’ve been told and seen a little bit of the of the wide-eyed amusement and wide-eyed amazement our players have shown when Vlad has come on, and how excited they are to have him.”
Heading into his new contract, Guerrero was coming off an All-Star season with the Texas Rangers where he hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI as the team’s primary designated hitter. Guerrero helped the Rangers advance to the World Series for the first time in 2010, clubbing a key two-run double in Game 6 of the ALCS vs. the Yankees that broke a 1-1 tie and led to a 6-1, series-clinching win for Texas.
Prior to his one-year stop in the Lone Star State, Guerrero established himself as one of the game’s premier players – first with the Expos and then with the Angels. From 1998-2008, Guerrero averaged 35 homers, 112 RBI and 185 hits per season while batting .325 with a .581 slugging percentage. During those seasons, Guerrero struck out just 70 times per year – cementing his reputation as a hitter who was almost impossible to fool at the plate.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter immediately penciled Guerrero into the cleanup spot in the Orioles’ lineup.
“It obviously helps everybody,” said Showalter of Guerrero’s presence on the roster. “It gives us a presence in our lineup.”
Injuries, however, sapped Guerrero of much of his power during the 2011 season. He finished with just 13 home runs – his lowest total since playing in just 90 games in 1997, and his slugging percentage of .416 was the lowest of any full season of his career. But Guerrero still totaled 30 doubles among his 163 hits and batted .290 while playing in 145 games in what would be his final season in the big leagues.
In 16 seasons, Guerrero hit .318 with 449 home runs, 1,496 RBI, 181 stolen bases and 2,590 hits. A nine-time All-Star, Guerrero won the 2004 American League Most Valuable Player Award with the Angels and earned eight Silver Slugger Awards for his play in right field – where his legendary arm intimidated baserunners for years – and as a designated hitter.
“His hand-eye coordination was amazing, and pitchers always knew that,” said Mickey Hatcher, who was Guerrero’s hitting coach with the Angels. “To extend a pitch on him that he couldn’t hit, you’d have to throw a pitch the catcher couldn’t catch.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum