No. 4 top Latino pitcher: Dennis Martinez

No. 4 top Latino pitcher: Dennis Martinez

No. 4 top Latino pitcher: Dennis Martinez
In a salute to Hispanic Heritage Month, posed the following question to some of the most respected authorities on baseball -- men and women who have deep knowledge of Latinos in baseball: Who were the top Latino pitchers in the history of the game? Only retired players could be considered. Based on a compilation of experts' rankings, here is a look at who finished No. 4.

Someone suggested to Sandy Alomar Jr. that Mariano Rivera, the closer extraordinaire, probably should have been eligible for consideration as one of the five top Latino pitchers ever.

Sitting in front of his locker at Progressive Field, Alomar, a retired Major League catcher who is now first-base coach for the Cleveland Indians, shook his head.

"You can't compare a starter to a reliever," said Alomar, a pronouncement so emphatic that no one should dare argue to the contrary.

A panel of 20 experts was polled to determine who are the top five retired Latino pitchers of all-time.
Overview Best of the best?
No. 5 Fernando Valenzuela
No. 4 Dennis Martinez
No. 3 Luis Tiant
No. 2 Pedro Martinez
No. 1 Juan Marichal

So that's that. No Mariano to consider, but plenty of reasons to consider right-hander Dennis Martinez, a pitcher Alomar knew well from their three seasons with the Tribe in the mid-1990s. Alomar pointed to two reasons straightaway: durability and longevity.

Oh, and stuff -- Martinez had good stuff, Alomar said. No one wins in the Major Leagues -- not like Martinez did -- without good stuff.

"His reputation was he was a competitor," Alomar said. "One thing you could say, 'Hey, he's not afraid to pitch inside.' That was the reputation he had. He didn't miss in the middle of the plate."

It's difficult to sum up Martinez's 23-year-career in the bigs any better than Alomar did. He was a dependable starter for five Major League teams from 1976-98.

"He's a legend in Latin America," said Jesse Sanchez, a veteran baseball writer for "El Presidente -- The President -- Dennis Martinez put Central America on the map. Also, he's got the numbers; he's the winningest Latino in the history of baseball."

Voting panel
Peter Bjarkman: Bjarkman, a freelance author, has been a leading expert on baseball in Cuba and other Latin American countries.
Adrian Burgos: Burgos, a history professor at Illinois, was one of 12 members of a Hall of Fame committee that led to the induction of 17 black and Latino players and administrators in 2006.
Dick Clark: Author, historian, SABR member and a member of the 2006 Hall of Fame panel.
Raymond Doswell: Curator for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Doswell has done extensive research on baseball in America and in Latin America and was part of the Hall of Fame panel in 2006.
Leslie Heaphy: A history professor at Kent State, Heaphy has written extensively on the history of baseball, particularly on the Negro Leagues and on women in baseball. She was also on the 2006 Hall of Fame panel.
Bob Kendrick: President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kendrick has lectured broadly about black baseball and its role in civil rights.
Larry Lester: One of the founders of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was another member of the 2002 Hall of Fame panel.
John Thorn: Thorn is the official historian of MLB. He founded Total Sports Publishing and was its publisher from 1998-2002 and was a consultant for Ken Burns' documentary, "Baseball."
James A. Riley: Author of Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues (seminal work in this area) and authority on black baseball.
Luis Rodriguez-Mayoral: A one-time front-office executive with the Rangers and the Tigers, Rodriguez-Mayoral has written and lectured extensively and he has ties to the Clemente family that go back to 1961.

His win total of 245 was two more than Hall of Famer Juan Marichal's total of 243. Even the other, more heralded Martinez -- Pedro -- can't brag about more wins. This distinction is a tribute to Dennis Martinez's meticulous approach to the craft.

"Winning 100 games in the Major League level is difficult," Alomar said. "I mean, he won over 200 games, and he had longevity."

Martinez broke into the bigs on Sept. 14, 1976, with the Baltimore Orioles, a team deep in pitching. He would be one of the workhorses on the 1983 Orioles team that won the World Series. He was part of a rotation that featured Scott McGregor, Mike Boddicker, Mike Flanagan and Jim Palmer, the latter of whom was winding down his Hall of Fame career.

Martinez posted 15 seasons of double-digit wins, the last of which came in 1995, when he anchored the Indians rotation that went to the World Series.

Comparing Martinez's body of work to others of his era, some people might want to discount it. To do so would be a mistake. No, he never won 20 ballgames as Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens did. He was, however, a pitcher who a manager could count on.

Sanchez said that Martinez's reliability was often overlooked. Remember, too, that he spent eight years with the Montreal Expos, who at the time suffered from a lack of media attention. So fans elsewhere had a built-in excuse to dismiss him: They never saw enough of Martinez, the first Latino to record a perfect game -- he did that in 1991 while pitching for the Expos against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. It was the 13th perfect game in Major League history.

Pity those fans, of course. They missed seeing a first-rate pitcher, whose off-the-field celebrity didn't reach the heights it probably should have. But a pitcher like El Presidente is a star anywhere. Or in any era.

Justice B. Hill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.