Jul 8, 2012

Former Early Eighties Mets Infielder: Jose Oquendo (1983-1984)

Jose Manuel (Contreras) Oquendo was born on July 4th 1963 in Puerto Rico. The five foot, ten switch hitter was signed by the New York Mets in 1979 at the age of 16. He wasn’t known for his hitting, but more for his glove although he did make a number of errors in the minor leagues. After two years at A ball Lynchburg he was the AAA Tidewater Tides main short stop. Oquendo was up in the big leagues by the time he was 19 years old, getting called up in May 1983.

He won over the regular shortstop job from Ron Gardenhire debuting in his first start on May 3rd against the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium. In his early days with the Mets he was strictly a short stop before becoming the versatile all round position player he would become in St. Louis. At short stop he made 21 errors posting a .960 fielding percentage while turning 65 double plays. He only hit .213 with seven doubles, 17 RBIs & eight stolen bases in 120 games in 1983.

On August 21st he hit his first career HR off Gary Lavelle of the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. It would be his only Mets career HR in 507 at bats. The following year he lost his starting job to Rafael Santana & Ron Gardenhire as well, dropping down to a third string shortstop & utility player.

In 81 games in the 1984 season he hit .222 with five doubles no HRs no triples & 10 RBIs. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a minor leaguers Angel Salazar & John Young that off season. The following season the Cards & Mets bitter rivalry really heated up into the mid eighties.

Oquendo spent the 1985 season in the minors, and worked at playing other positions. He began to draw more walks and get higher on base percentages as well. When he returned in 1986 he hit .297 with a .359 on base % in 76 games. In the Cardinals 1987 Championship season, Oquendo hit .286 with a .408 on base percentage playing outfield (46 games) second base (32 games) short stop (23 games) & third base (8 games). He became Whitey Herzog’s so called “secret weapon” on the Cardinals team.

In the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants , he played in five games getting just two hits (2-12) but did hit a three run HR at Busch Stadium in the final Game #7.

In 1988 he became one of the few players in MLB history to play every position on the field. In August ’88 he pitched an inning giving up three runs in a blow out against the Philadelphia Phillies. That year he played majority of his games at second (69 games) & third (47 games).

In 1989 Oquendo led the league in games played (163) while batting .291 with a career high 28 doubles, 79 walks & a .375 on base %, while driving in 48 runs. His average fell off the next two seasons & by 1992 he was seeing limited action.

He played with the Cardinals until 1995, retiring after a 12 year career, batting a lifetime .256 with 821 hits 14 HRs 104 doubles 24 triples 254 RBIs & a .346 on base %.

In 1998 he managed in the New York Penn. League with the New Jersey Cardinals. From there he went on to coach third base for the St. Louis Cardinals under Tony LaRussa in 1998. He has been there ever since & is their 2012 third base coach.

Trivia: In 2004 ESPN’s “THE Cheap Seats” went on a quest to get him inducted to the Hall of Fame as the ultimate utility player, eventually a plaque was placed in his honor in the utility closet.

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