High on any list of the great natural hitters, the powerful Dominican called himself
"the Big Boy." In 1960, as a naive youngster, he signed ten pro contracts. When the
mess was straightened out, he became the property of the Milwaukee Braves
, who converted
the slow-footed catcher into a poor outfielder. As a rookie in 1964 he hit .330,
losing both the batting crown race (to Roberto Clemente
) and the Rookie of the Year
award (to Richie Allen). Tuberculosis sidelined him for the entire 1968 season; he
spent five months in a sanitarium. Incredibly, he returned to hit .342 in 1969, despite
seven shoulder dislocations. His .366 in 1970 (highest ML average since Ted Williams
hit .388 in 1957) led the NL, and he started on the All-Star team as a write-in candidate.
He broke his knee in a winter ball collision, costing him the 1971 season, and nearly
career. He was with three teams in 1973 and was playing in Mexico when the Indians
signed him as a DH for 1974. His 31 home runs in 1978, with Toronto and Oakland,
were a career high.