Friday, May 26, 2017

Jorge "Chato" Vazquez retires after injury-plagued career

Injury-prone Mexico City Diablos Rojos slugger Jorge "Chato" Vazquez has retired from baseball at age 35.  When healthy, the 5'11" 250-pounder from Culiacan was capable of terrorizing pitchers in any league he played in, pounding out a combined 314 homers with 1,090 RBIs over 1,374 games for his professional career on both sides of the border, homering every 17.1 at-bats along the way.  Great power numbers indeed, but those 1,374 games were spread out over 19 summers and winters dating back to Vazquez' debut with the Mexico City Tigres late in the 1999 season as a 17-year-old.  Given that it's possible to play nearly 180 games in single a year between the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues, that's a problem.

After never hitting more than 14 homers in the next four seasons, Vazquez had a breakout year in 2005 for the Tigres (then playing in Puebla) by hitting .379 with 33 homers and 96 RBIs in just 71 games.  That began a string of four injury-plagued years for the Tigres during which the first baseman only played 280 of a possible 440 games but still clubbed 99 homers and drove in 302 runs while never batting less than .323.

That was enough for the New York Yankees to sign him as a 27-year-old for 2009, and he went on to play three years at AA Trenton and AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and knocking out a combined 63 homers in 261 games.  Vazquez' best year was 2011 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, when he socked 32 homers with 93 RBIs (but also striking out 166 times) in 118 games.  The New York press was intrigued by the stocky slugger, who was invited to the Yankees' spring training camp in 2010, but he never received a call-up to the big club and was let go during spring training in 2012 despite his gaudy numbers in the International League the previous season.

Vazquez returned to the Tigres that spring and continued his pattern of spending time on the DL each of the next five years, hitting 42 homers and topping .300 twice in 232 total games.  Let go by Quintana Roo last winter as part of the Tigres' housecleaning of veterans after the team was sold by longtime owner Carlos Peralta to a group fronted by ex-Dodgers pitching star Fernando Valenzuela, Chato was signed by the Diablos Rojos for the current season.  He got off to a good start in Mexico City, rocking 8 homers with 24 ribbies while hitting .281 over his first 34 games before back problems made it impossible for him to continue playing.  His last game was Tuesday in Cancun against his old team, the Tigres.  Vazquez batted fourth and went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored but by then, his back pains were such that 38-year-old Refugio "Cuco" Cervantes (himself a 20-year LMB vet) had already been pressed into service at first after the latter played just six games for Tabasco last year.

Vazquez retires with 201 homers and 703 RBIs in 895 Mexican League games while also cracking a grand slam for Mexico in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and winning MVP honors in the 2011 Caribbean Series as a reinforcement for the champion Obregon Yaquis (he cracked a walkoff homer in the title game, which certainly didn't hurt his chances for the trophy).  He spent nine winters in the Mexican Pacific League, eight with his hometown Culiacan Tomateros, hitting .307 with a total of 71 homers and 234 RBIs in 208 games.   However, for all the things he accomplished on the field, Jorge "Chato" Vazquez will also be remembered as one of those cases of "what might have been" after never playing a full season during his career.

As a sidebar, Vazquez' nickname "Chato" translates to "flat" in English, which is puzzling until you dig a little deeper into Mexican culture.  South of the border, it's common to give someone a handle that is totally opposite of appearance.  Thus, Bartolo Colon might be nicknamed "Flaco" (or "Skinny") while Jose Altuve would be called "Gordo" (or "Fatso").  Within that context, nicknaming someone standing 5'11" while tipping the scales at 250 pounds "Flatty" is entirely within the tradition.