Inside the moment Guerrero finally gets Cooperstown call
2:15 PM ET
- Leonte LandinoESPN Deportes Close
- Leonte Landino is an editor for ESPN Deportes.
Editor's note: This story was originally posted in Spanish. You can read that version here.
LONG ISLAND, N.Y. -- On January 17, 2017, Vladimir Guerrero was joined by his family and a large group of neighbors and relatives in his native town of Don Gregorio in the Dominican Republic, waiting anxiously for a phone call that would change the life of the former baseball star.
Guerrero was in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Things looked promising for a preeminent hitter with a .318 lifetime batting average in more than 8,000 plate appearances. That is the fourth-best career batting average of any player since Ted Williams retired in 1961.
However, Guerrero's phone never rang.
Guerrero is not just one of the 700-plus Dominicans who have donned a Major League Baseball uniform. For people in his native Don Gregorio, "Vladi" is the ultimate "SÃ se puede" (We can do it) poster boy, a very well-known and understood phrase all over Latin America, with an emotional and unique emotional charge, filled with hope throughout all generations.
For the large Guerrero family, with more than 100 people between siblings and cousins, Vladimir, or "Miqueas," as they call him, is the one who has reached the highest in baseball among the nearly 20 men within his family who have, at the very least, signed a contract with an MLB organization at any level.
Virgilio Rojo, one of Guerrero's closest friends who also serves as his publicist, asked him back then: "Miqueas, do you really want to be in the Hall of Fame?"
Guerrero was succinct.
"Yes. I think I deserve it."
The prayers of a whole hometown kept on going throughout the course of a year. On Wednesday, the time of waiting for the single phone call that would change the course of a family and a whole community had arrived.
However, on this occasion, Guerrero preferred the privacy of his second home in Long Island, New York. It's a simple home Guerrero keeps, which he uses to share with his relatives who are based in the area.
Guerrero, just like many millions of Dominicans in one way or another, has a primo (cousin) in New York.
It was a very simple affair. Only his closest relatives were invited. No pomp, no circumstance. And not in his hometown. Guerrero wanted to avoid last year's hype.
Despite the fact that this year there was more of a certainty of voting results turning out in his favor, the 2004 AL MVP wasn't going to risk a repeat of last year's letdown. Maybe Guerrero perceived it as a sort of f ailure in the presence of his people, making it a hard pill to swallow.
Only Guerrero, a guy who keeps his thoughts and feelings very close to his heart and mind, knows that.
Sources within baseball said that if a call came, it would happen between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 24. The idea was to gather his close family core and wait. Sounds easy enough. That's because you've never waited for a call to tell you that you are, from now on, immortal.
At approximately 2 p.m., Jordan MVP Barber, a popular barber among MLB players, arrived at Guerrero's home for a special haircut. It was a session filled with an eerie calmness, while Guerrero's relatives were waiting and speculating on the results of this year's BBWAA voting. This year, more than 50 percent of voters made their ballots public, and those projections showed his chances were about 96 percent. However, no one could be certain about the outcome.
"Are you nervous?" I as ked Guerrero.
"What can I tell you? ... Uh... I can't control things. I have to remain calm and trust in God's will and what writers ultimately decided," said Guerrero, with that perceptive look that served as a reminder for every occasion of his natural, no-gloves swing that was one of baseball's best sights for 16 years.
At 5 p.m., the whole family was seated. Virgilio was, once again, next to Guerrero, who was waiting for that phone call again. Tension started to fill the room.
For more than half an hour, jokes and phrases were exchanged in an attempt to ease everyone's stress. "Could it be that they don't have this house's number?" Guerrero said. "Maybe they have my number in the Dominican Republic." Nervous laughs filled the room.
DoÃ±a Altagracia, his mother, said: "There's no rush. To be in a rush is part of a recipe for failure."
At 5:45 p.m., the phone finally rang. Jack O'Connell, the BBWAA secretary-treasurer, asked for Guerrero and told him that, according to voting results, he was finally selected to join the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Afterward, O'Connell had Hall of Fame Executive Committee President Jane Forbes Clark join the call in order to officially welcome Guerrero to the Hall of Fame and formally invite him to the activities.
The house's living room was filled with joy and hugs. DoÃ±a Altagracia proposed a toast and a prayer.
"Once, I asked someone what was the highest level you could reach in this baseball thing. The major leagues, that was the answer. I said my kids would get there some day and, when I saw what Vladimir was able to do, I knew he could reach even higher. A lot of people laughed at my dream, but it wasn't a dream, nonetheless. I saw it. I visualized it. I knew this was all going to happen," said Altagracia, also known as "La ChichÃ" to her closest peopl e, in a display of exuberant emotion.
"Last year, it was a huge blow to me, how can I explain it to you? ...", Guerrero said. "We always tried to be with God, going forward. Now, I'm happy to be the first hitter from my country to receive this honor."
Guerrero was in shock. Overwhelmed by so many displays of affection. His brothers and cousins brought him the news that, in the dusty streets of Don Gregorio, its corners were exploding of joy after learning the news. His sons, nephews and other relatives started to celebrate just as if they were a national soccer team hosting the World Cup.
A lot of days have passed since young Vladimir arrived at Campo Las Palmas, the Dodgers' Dominican base. After eight months living and training at the team's facility, the promise of signing with the Dodgers was never fulfilled.
His brother Ezequiel, who had already signed with the Dodgers, told team executives that, by instructions of Vlad imir's mother, he would have to return home if he didn't have a contract. As a way of shooting the messenger, the Dodgers released Ezequiel as well.
The Guerrero brothers arrived at DoÃ±a Altagracia's home with their talents within them and hoping to return to Don Gregorio. Shortly afterward, scout Arturo De Freitas showed Vladimir a contract with the Montreal Expos for just $2,000, and $100 more out of agent Fred Ferreira's pocket.
"I did what my mom told me to," said Ezequiel, bursting with joy. "I brought Miqueas back home."
The rest is history. Today, one of the most talented hitters in baseball history is officially a member of the 2018 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, after receiving over 92.9 percent of votes, alongside Braves icon Chipper Jones, slugger Jim Thome and closer Trevor Hoffman.
Today, Guerrero breathes a little easier.
The phone call took more than a year to finally arrive, but it did. Mique as is a member of the Hall of Fame and Don Gregorio will forever have a symbol of hope to look up to.
Leonte Landino is a journalist and baseball producer with ESPN International, and an active member and Director of the Luis Castro Latin American Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). You can follow Leonte on Twitter at @leontelandino.Source: Google News US Sports | Netizen 24 United States