Thursday, November 4, 2010
Veintidos didn't look like he had much of a future when the Twins acquired him from the Mets before the 1974 season. He split the 1973 season between the Mets' A and AA affiliates in Visalia and Memphis, posting underwhelming numbers (a combined 6.21 ERA and 2.22 WHIP in 58 total innings). He blossomed for the Twins in '74, though. After going 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA for AA Orlando, he was promoted to AAA Tacoma for the rest of the season. He ended up 12-4 with a 3.67 ERA there, in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He became a top pitching prospect, so highly regarded that Topps included him in their 1975 baseball card set.
He made the team out of spring training in 1975 and came north to Met Stadium with the Twins. He was sent back to Tacoma before he could get into a game, though. He imploded in the minors that year, going 5-11 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.85 WHIP. Despite rebounding with a respectable 11-8, 3.81 year at Tacoma in 1976, he still simply walked too many guys (107 in 163 innings). 1977 was his final year in Tacoma, with the Twins organization, and in pro ball. His ERA ballooned to 6.98 in only 40 innings. Just like that, two years after coming so close to getting his shot, his career was over.
I'm a huge, obsessive baseball fan, but even I have never really thought about or tried compiling a list of players who got the call to the big leagues, were issued a uniform, hung out in the dugout with the team, but never actually played. How do you get over that? You can go the rest of your life telling people, "Yeah, I was a major leaguer." But there's no evidence. Until you see your first pitch, you're not part of the box score. And if you don't have the stats, you're not going into the official record. If not for Juan's appearance on a Topps baseball card, there's no way I (or any Twins fan my age or younger) would have ever heard of him.
Around 1992 or so, baseball card companies started rushing young prospects into their sets in attempt to have the sought after "rookie" cards of those who panned out. Prior to that, it was pretty infrequent for a guy to appear in a major set without having a big league game under his belt.
Veintidos has been elusive to Twins autograph collectors while living in his native Puerto Rico for the past 30+ years. Last month, Noel Martir Arcelay, a member of the website SportsCollectors.net (SCN), tracked him down and arranged a private signing. Figuring it was a rare opportunity, I paid the modest $6 fee and mailed my '75 Veintidos rookie card in to Noel for the signing. I just got my card back the other day, and am very happy about this cool addition to my collection of Twins memoribilia.