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Torriente compared with Clemente

Torriente compared with Clemente

Many years before Roberto Clemente became arguably the best right fielder in the Major Leagues, a burly, fun-loving gentleman from Cuba patrolled the position in the Negro Leagues and had the same reputation.

Cristobal "Carlos" Torriente was to his league what Clemente was to his -- the best of the rest.

The compact, five-tool Torriente (1893-1938) spent 17 seasons in the Negro Leagues, playing for the Cuban Stars, Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs and Cleveland Cubs, compiling a .339 career batting average.

Torriente, 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, batted .432 in one season (1920) and at least .300 seven other times, all good reasons for him to be selected this year as a candidate for the special Negro League Hall of Fame election.

A 12-member voting committee -- appointed by the Hall of Fame Board of Directors and chaired by former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent -- will meet Feb. 25-27 to review the final ballots of the 39 candidates. The committee will then vote, and any candidate who receives 75 percent of the votes (nine) will be elected to the Hall of Fame and be enshrined during the July 30 induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with Bruce Sutter, Tracy Ringolsby (the Spink Award winner) and the Ford C. Frick recipient, to be named later this month.

Known during his playing days as a "bad ball" hitter and nicknamed the "Cuban Strongman," the left-handed Torriente hit the ball to all fields, but is remembered most for the power he generated. While playing for the Chicago American Giants, he regularly belted 400-foot drives and, legend has it, one time during the 1920 season, hit a ball that cracked a clock 17 feet above the center-field fence.

According to former Negro Leagues shortstop Bob Williams, "The hands of the clock started going 'round and 'round."

Torriente had good hands, ran well and possessed a strong throwing arm. Though he built his reputation as a right fielder, he also played second and third base, a remarkable feat for a left-hander. Oh yes, he also pitched, posting a 15-5 record during his professional career in the Negro Leagues.

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Also in 1920, when Torriente was playing for the Winter League Havana Reds, the New York Giants visited, bringing Babe Ruth with them. In one game, Torriente homered in his first two at-bats. When he came up for the third time, two men were on base. Ruth, a star pitcher for the Red Sox, trotted in from right field and demanded to pitch to Torriente, who proceeded to hit a two-run double.

Ruth struck out the next three batters, then returned to the outfield. Later in the game, Torriente hit another home run.

Torriente returned to the American Giants for the 1921 season, helped his team capture the second of its three consecutive league championships and delivered a critical home run in the deciding game of the Negro League World Series.

Torriente had a single-game high of seven RBIs, went 5-for-5 three times and had 14 four-hit games during his career. He ranks 11th on the Negro League all-time list in RBIs (309), 12th in slugging percentage (.517) and 16th in total bases (1,055).

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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