This guy Cruz who keeps showing up in the box scores had quite a year in 1979: 344 hits, 178 runs, 144 RBIs, 66 doubles, 171 walks and 85 stolen bases. On defense he had a hand in 100 double plays and threw out 15 runners from the outfield. He also found time to appear in 61 games as a relief pitcher and get 10 saves.
Actually, these Ruthian figures belong to five Cruzes, not one, but there is so much confusion attached to the name that the average fan can hardly be blamed for not knowing who's Cruz. Pay attention, because there may be a quiz later.
Jose Cruz is an outfielder for the Astros. Also known as Cheo, he is not to be mistaken for his two brothers. Hector, who sometimes goes by the name of Heity and plays the outfield and third base for the Reds, and Cirilo, or Tommy, who went to spring training with the Twins but is now playing rightfield for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Then there are Julio Cruz, the Mariners' second baseman; Victor Cruz, who pitches for the Indians; and Todd Cruz, a utility infielder for the Angels. For good measure there is Henry Cruz, an outfielder-first baseman for Des Moines in the Triple-A American Association, who has had cups of coffee with the White Sox and Dodgers.
To add to the general bewilderment, the Cruzes tend to bounce around. The aforementioned seven have played in 21 different big league organizations. In the last six years, 16 of the 26 major league teams have had one Cruz or another in their systems. The St. Louis Cardinal organization at various times has dressed the three Cruz brothers and Victor.
May 4, 1980
Little wonder they keep getting each other's mail. "I got a letter once addressed to Julio Cruz, Houston Astro, that was meant for me," says Jose, "and a letter to Hector Cruz that was meant for my brother." Julio adds, "Last year I got a letter addressed to Hector Cruz, asking him—or me—to play baseball in Mexico during the winter." Todd has faced a slightly different dilemma. "The people in the stands use every first name they can think of for Cruz," he complains. "They're never sure just who you are, but they see Cruz on your back and yell Jose or Hector or Julio. Nobody ever calls me Todd."
The confusion is not likely to clear up anytime soon because, quite simply, the name accrues. There were 19 Cruzes in organized baseball last year, with first names ranging from A to V. There is even another Jose Cruz, an outfielder in the Montreal Expos' system. Cruzes are not easy to track down, either. When the San Francisco Giants' scouting director, Jack Schwarz, was asked if Jesus Cruz was still in his organization, he said, "No, I'm sorry, we released him this spring. But wait—we do have an Alberto Cruz."
Put all of the Cruzes together, and, presto, you have a pretty fair team. Tommy would be at first; Julio at second; Todd at short; Heity at third; Jose, Jose and Domingo would play the outfield; Henry would be behind the plate (he was a fill-in catcher in the minors); and Victor, Concepcion, Eleuterio and Ruben would pitch. On the bench would be Aaron, Alberto, Homar, Jesus, Nicolas, Pedro and Ponciano. They could be called the Caribbean Cruzes. The Pirates even have a scout named Pablo Cruz, which is also the name of a rock group, but never mind.
The oddest thing is that before the Cardinals brought up Jose in 1970, there had never been a Cruz in the major leagues, unless you count Walton Cruise, who hit .346 in 1921 for the Boston Braves. Cruz is a common Latin surname, but not common enough to explain the sudden glut in baseball. In the San Juan, Puerto Rico phone directory, for example, there are four pages of Cruzes, whereas Rodriguez and Rivera take up more than 15 pages apiece. The most famous Cruz before Jose was Oswaldo Cruz, a Brazilian bacteriologist, who at the turn of the century helped save Rio de Janeiro from a yellow-fever epidemic.
Nor can the preponderance of Cruzes be explained by a sudden influx of Latin-American players: the percentage of Latinos in U.S. baseball is only slightly higher than it was 10 years ago. It's just a phenomenon of the game that every once in a while a name comes along in swarms. Between 1923 and 1936, for example, there were 18 Moores in the majors; there have been only 11 since. In 1970 there were eight guys named May, Maye or Mays; now there are only three. The magic name for the '80s is Cruz.
So, in the interest of straightening things out, here is a complete guide, a shakedown Cruz, if you will:
For a brief time in 1973, all three Cruz brothers, who are from Puerto Rico, were with the Cardinals, although they never started in the same outfield as Matty, Felipe and Jesus Alou once did for the Giants. At 32, Jose is the oldest and most successful. He has hit as high as .315, in 1978, and in 1977 he stole 44 bases, drove in 83 runs and hit 17 home runs. Last season he fell off a bit but still led the weak-hitting Astros in almost every offensive category, including game-winning RBIs with 14. This year he leads the National League in RBIs with 16. As for his fielding, well, when Jose had chicken pox this spring, one Astro said, "Funny, he never caught anything last year." He's not that bad, actually.
Tommy, 29, was the most widely traveled of the Cruzes even before he took off for Japan. In chronological order, he belonged to the Cardinals, Rangers, White Sox, Yankees and Twins, getting only two major league at bats while tearing up three Triple-A leagues. Minnesota invited him to spring training this year, but things didn't work out. Tommy says, "I told them, 'Give me more money or let me go to Japan.' They said, 'O.K., go to Japan.' " So far, Tommy and the Ham Fighters are happy with each other, although Tommy wishes the Japanese pitchers would throw him a fastball every once in a while.
Hector, 27, bears a resemblance to Jose, and when they play together in the Puerto Rican winter league, they are frequently mistaken for one another. "We really don't look that much alike if you know us," says Hector. "But if you don't see us for a year or two, you might have trouble." The similarity ends there, Hector's highest batting average in four full seasons having been .236. Still, four National League teams have found him to be a useful hitter. For the Cardinals in 1976, he knocked in 71 runs despite batting .228. He subsequently played for the Cubs and Giants before being picked up by the Reds in midseason last year. Hector proved very valuable to Cincy in August when he batted .344 with four homers and 14 RBIs, four of them game-winners. Cincinnati Manager John McNamara says the Reds could not have won the division—by 1½ games over the Astros—without him. But Hector hated to have to beat his brother's team. "We couldn't both win it," Hector says. "We did it, and I'm glad. But I still felt a little for Jose. He wanted it so bad."
Julio may be the most exciting—and excitable of the Cruzes. Last year he missed 54 games with a thumb injury yet stole 49 bases. He had 24 successful attempts in a row, three short of the league record, until he was thrown out on his last try of the season. This year he swiped his first five bases without being caught before being temporarily sidelined with a foot injury. Gene Mauch, the manager of the rival Twins, says, "He's a good little player, but when he's on base, he's better than that. He's like Maury Wills. He was a good player, but when he got on, he was a super player." Once Julio starts reaching first with any regularity—his batting average went up 36 points to .271 last year—his own manager, Darrell Johnson, says he'll steal 100 bases.
Julio, 25, is already an accomplished second baseman. He is a great lover of basketball—he says he can dunk even though he's 5'9"—so he likes to take a jumping pivot at second base even when it's not necessary. That's given him a hot-dog reputation he doesn't mind. Mariner Coach Bill Mazeroski says, "He has more range than anyone else. I think he's as good as there is in either league."
That's a lot of praise for someone who was never drafted, perhaps because he didn't play seriously until he was 19. Julio grew up in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. How tough was it, Julio? "It was so tough that if we went to play soft-ball somewhere, we'd seldom get there because we'd have to cross someone else's territory and there would be trouble." At 14, Julio moved to Southern California with his parents. In 1974 he went to an Angels' tryout camp on a lark. He was signed by California, and while playing in the Angel system led several minor leagues in stolen bases. California left Julio unprotected in the 1976 expansion draft, and at 22 he was the Mariners' second baseman and leadoff hitter.
When he first came up, Julio had a tendency to take out his frustrations by swinging his bat at defenseless sinks and batting helmets. He has since calmed down. He is also one of the more popular Mariners, especially with children. "No child within reach of Julio escapes being swept into his arms," says Jack Carvalho, Seattle's promotion director.
Victor is the Cruz, as one of his Cleveland teammates puts it, "with a beach ball under his shirt." Actually, it's more like a soccer ball now that he's shed 14 pounds. Pudgy or not, Victor, 22, and a native of the Dominican Republic, is a much coveted relief pitcher. After he was named Toronto's rookie of the year in 1978, the Indians outbid the Brewers for his services by offering the Blue Jays in-fielders Alfredo Griffin and Phil Lansford. "He could have been the difference in winning the division title for us," says General Manager Harry Dalton of Milwaukee, which finished second in the American League East last season. Even though Victor had his ups and downs in 1979, he still appeared in 61 games and got 10 saves. His stuff is so good that he strikes out seven batters every nine innings, and he's almost as exciting as Julio in the field. Victor made two errors in his seven chances last year.
The label on Todd is good field, no hit, but he's had only 63 games in the majors, so it's still too early to tell. Of Mexican descent, Todd, 24, grew up in Highland Park, Mich., outside Detroit, and was drafted by the Phillies in 1973. They traded him to the Royals, who traded him to the Angels in the off-season, giving Todd three teams in three years. And for the second year in a row, Todd finds himself starting a season playing behind Fred Patek at shortstop. But Patek, for one, thinks Cruz should be playing some position every day.
And now for the quiz: What in the world does Ham Fighters mean?