Friday, March 7, 2008

the roadrunner

the roadrunner
The Roadrunner Manny Sanguillen from Mop Up Duty

Manuel De Jesus Sanguillen Magan, better known as Manny Sanguillen, was born March 21, 1944 in Colon, Panama.

Along with Omar Moreno and Rennie Stennett, Sanguillen was one of the Panamanian stars that Pittsburgh scouts had discovered back in the Lumber Company days when the Pirates ruled the Latino roost. Panama is a mother lode of baseball talent and has produced stars like Mariano Rivera, Carlos Lee, Manny Corpas, and Rod Carew in addition to the Buc haul.

Sangy's first game for the Bucs was played on July 23, 1967. In his first full season of 1969, Sanguillen hit .303 for the Pirates. To put it mildly, he was a free swinger, and he used a long, heavy bat to swat pitches that were well off the dish.

If a ball got by him, it was a fairly safe bet that it was a wild pitch or a 55' curve ball. He was also a pretty decent baserunner for a catcher before his wheels went south on him later in his career.

He twice finished third in the NL batting race, in 1970 when he batted .325, and again in 1975 when he hit a career-high .328. Sanguillen was a great contact hitter, but rarely walked. Sangy also rarely struck out.

He never saw a pitch he didn't like and couldn't hit. Some thought he should show more plate discipline, but there wasn't a NL hurler of the era that had any idea of how to pitch to the swing-at-will Panamanian.

Sanguillen turned into a solid catcher, even if not exactly defensively stellar (some years passed balls plagued him.) But he was always among the league leaders in throwing out wanna be base stealers.

Sanguillen also liked to yap to the batters while he was behind the plate, sometimes while the pitch was in mid flight, just to distract them a bit from the job at hand.

Overshadowed by Johnny Bench, he edged out the Red's catcher on The Sporting News NL All-Star Team in 1971, the only time between 1967 and 1975 that Bench was not selected. Sangy was durable and dependable, catching more than 100 games in seven of his first eight full seasons with the Pirates.

The exception was 1973, when the Pirates tried to move Sanguillen to right field as the successor to its' legendary star Roberto Clemente. The experiment ended by July when Richie Zisk took over. That's all you need to know to realize how poorly Sangy was faring in the outfield. He gladly strapped on the tools of ignorance once again.

Sanguillen was a close friend of Clemente. He was the only Pirate that didn't attend Clemente's funeral. Sanguillen chose instead to dive into the waters off the Puerto Rican coast where Clemente's plane had crashed in a last ditch effort to recover his bud's body.

On November 6, 1976 Sanguillen was involved in one of the oddball trades in the MLB annals. He was sent to the Oakland A's in exchange for manager Chuck Tanner and $100,000. To this day, Sanguillen is the only player in major-league history to be traded for a manager.

After one season with the A's, Sanguillen was dealt back to the Pirates for Miguel Dilone and Elias Sosa.

He won two World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971 & 1979. He batted .379, collecting 11 hits for the Pirates in the 1971 World Series and contributing a two-out, game-winning RBI single in Game 2 of the 1979 World Series, both against the star crossed Baltimore Orioles.

After playing for Pittsburgh virtually all of his career, Sanguillen last suited up for the Bradenton Explorers of the Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989. In 13 big league seasons, 12 with the Bucs, he hit .296, scored 566 times and drove in 585 runs.

Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit have been receiving extra defensive instruction throughout camp, and God knows they need it. Sangy, a special spring instructor, is just the guy to teach them the ropes.

Trying to show his young charges how to field a throw to the plate like an infielder, he grabbed a mitt and mask (at the age of 63 and just coming off major knee surgery) and took a couple of pegs. They bounced off him - Sangy blamed the mitt, hehe - but his point was made.

"How about Manny?" Paulino asked WTAE TV. Doumit added that "He played back in the era when men were men. ...he would have gone out there without a mask unless we'd given it to him." Fortunately, the Buc staff curbed his enthusiasm and gently reminded Sanguillen that drill was for the catchers, not the coaches.

Now Sangy does less physical work, but he still gets to hang out at PNC Park. Walk out to center field and say "hi" to the smiling guy sitting on a lawn chair hawking Manny's BBQ. The pulled pork sandwiches are pretty dang good, and if you ask nicely, you'll even end up with an autograph. The Roadrunner is still a crowd pleaser. (To prove it, he ran away with our poll for Pittsburgh's best catcher, taking a whopping 72% of the vote.)

(Our contribution to spring training will be highlighting the careers of the old Bucs in camp who are trying to pass on the torch to today's squad. Up next - Steve Blass.)

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