Jan 28, 2020

Rafael Santana: 1986 World Champion Mets Short Stop (1984-1987)

 Rafael Francisco Santana was born January 31, 1958, in La Romana, Dominican Republic. The town was a thriving tourist spot with plenty of employment far removed from many small poor towns in the Dominican. 

In 1976 he signed with the Al New York club as an amateur free agent, playing in their farm system until 1981.

That year he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later, who turned out to be George Frazier. He hit over .280 in both the 1982 & 1983 seasons. They were both minor league bests for him, while he was playing a fine short stop.

Santana began the 1983 season with the Cardinals & watched the team raise their 1982 World Series Champion flag in the home opener. There he was a team mate of future Met, Keith Hernandez, one of the Cardinals biggest stars. 

He would appear in 30 games for the Cardinals, mostly as a defensive replacement & pinch hitter batting just .214. By the end of June he was sent back down to AAA.

With Ozzy Smith at the Cardinal short stop position, Santana was expendable. In January of 1984 he was released by St. Louis & a few hours later signed with the New York Mets.

In 1984 Santana batted .276 at AAA Tidewater in 77 games & was called up to the Mets by July, to fill a roster spot. He started his Mets career battling Ron Gardenhire for the back up spot behind Jose Oquendo. Santana eventually took over the position by August.

The scouting reports on Santana said he had limited range, with good speed and a strong arm. It is now known, that he would drive first baseman Keith Hernandez crazy with his high arched throws that would barely the base runners.

It also seemed Santana would only fire the ball when absolutely necessary, otherwise it appeared he lobbed the ball over the infield on a constant basis.

In fifty games at short, he made six errors with a .970 fielding %. In 1984 at the plate he hit .271 with eleven doubles, one triple, & 12 RBIs. He hit the first of his 13 career HRs during the last week of the season in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

By 1985 the Mets traded off Jose Oquendo & Santana became the teams regular shortstop, a job he would hold for three seasons. He was a weak hitter and mostly batting in the eighth spot within a strong Mets mid eighties line up of power hitters.

He would hit .257 in 1985, which was his career best as a regular player, with one HR, 19 doubles & 29 RBIs. That year he led all short stops in put outs (301) turned 81 double plays, & made 25 errors (fifth most in the league).

In the 1986 Championship season he hit under .200 most of the season. On May 24th he doubled home two runs in the 4th inning, off the San Diego Padres Mark Thurmund. The runs put the Mets ahead in a game they would win 5-4. In June he drove in five runs but was still batting under .200, until he had a good August getting him over that mark.

He began the month with a six game hit streak & on August 15th he had one of his biggest offensive days. He had three hits with a pair of doubles & two runs scored against the St. Louis Cardinals in a 4-2 loss at Shea. 

On August 26th he hit his only HR of the year, it came against the San Diego Padres off Dave Dravecky at Jack Murphy Stadium. 

In September he actually had three separate multi RBI games as the Mets rolled into the playoffs. Santana finished the season at .218, with one HR 11 doubles 28 RBIs & a .285 on base %.

His .973 fielding % was fourth best among NL shortstops. 

Overall his defense was a solid piece of the Mets infield & only Hall of Famer Ozzy Smith was better than him defensively. Santana believes what made that Mets team so good was its chemistry.

As a member of a wild bunch on the 1986 team, Santana was a low key type of guy. He never got in any trouble & always conducted himself like a gentleman.

 In a 2009 interview from his home in Cape Coral, Florida he said: "I never got in trouble. I was never arrested. My job was too important for me to do something stupid." He later stated that lots of teams did wild things but when you win in New York it gets more publicized.                       

Post Season -1986 NLCS: In the NLCS against the Houston Astros, he played in all six games. He set an NLCS record for shortstops at the time, in putouts (13) assists (18) and chances (31) in a six-game series while being part of four double plays. At the plate he was 3-17 batting .176 overall.

Post Season -1986 World Series: In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, he hit .250 (5-20) scoring three runs & driving in two others.

In Game #5 at Fenway Park he drove in his first run, a 9th inning single off Bruce Hurst in the Mets 4-2 loss.

In Game #6, he was pinch hit for in the bottom of the 5th inning by Danny Heep, with the Mets down 2-1. Heep's double play grounder tied the game but removed the solid defense of Rafael Santana. Young Kevin Elster took over & made a costly error allowing the Red Sox to tie the game up in the 7th inning.

In the bottom of the 7th inning of Game #7, he singled home Lenny Dykstra after Ray Knight had homered off Calvin Schiraldi. He soon scored on Keith Hernandez’s sacrifice fly with the Mets sixth run.

After the Championship: The next season, Santana had the league’s second best fielding% at short (.973) turned over 82 doubles plays & was third in put outs & assists. At the plate he had career best in HRs (5) doubles (21) and RBIs (44), but it was his last season as a Met.

Kevin Elster was on the scene, as the organizations choice for shortstop of the future. On December 11, 1987 Santana was Traded (with minor leaguer Victor Garcia) to the AL New York club for Steve Frey, Phil Lombardi and Darren Reed. 

Mets Career Stats: In his Mets career he has played 478 games at short stop (5th on the Mets all time list). He played 483 games overall, batting .248 with 379 hits 8 HRs 62 doubles 4 triples 113 RBIs & a .296 on base %.

Post Mets Career: There he played a full season as their regular short stop, 143 games, batting .240 with four HRs and 38 RBIs. He made 22 errors (third among AL short stops) & grounded into 17 double plays.

On an off day in September 1988, Santana chose to visit his old Mets friends at a game at Shea Stadium. That was the night the Mets clinched the NL Eastern Title. 

The next day, the cross town AL Team questioned him about the visit. He told his AL New York team mates it was his off day & he does what he wants to do, on his days off.

An elbow injury forced him to miss the entire 1989 season, and that November he was released.

In 1990, he signed with the Cleveland Indians joining former 1986 Mets team mates Kieth Hernandez & Jesse Orosco. But this was a totally different scene & there was no joyous times like in New York for the trio. He would only play in seven games there getting released on April 25th.

He was still living in Bayside Queens & tried to get back with the Mets in a supporting role. Then Manager Bud Harrelson talked to the front office about signing him, but they wanted Mario Diaz from Seattle. After a short seven season career Santana retired at the age of 32.

In his career he batted.246 with 497 hits 13 HRs 74 doubles, five triples, a .295 on base % and 156 RBI in 668 games. On the field he posted a lifetime .969 fielding percentage at short stop (97th all time) making 87 errors & turning 364 double plays.

Retirement: Since his playing career, Santana has been a long time coach in the Dominican Winter League, with the Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox & Chicago White Sox farm systems. 

He has been with the White Sox since 1998 & is in charge of the White Sox player development in the Dominican Republic.

When Omar Minaya was the Mets GM, She told the press Santana was being thought of for the Mets first base coach position. Santana called Fred Wilpon who said, Minaya had complete control. When Santana called Minaya he never got a response back. 

He is a member of the Mets Alumni Association along with past Mets players, and still makes many personal appearances. He phoned Omar Minaya about a coaching job during the mid 2000's but never got a call back from him.

Santana attended the 1986 Mets, twentieth Anniversary Reunion at She Stadium in 2006 & amp; the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium in 2008.

He was also on hand at Citi Field in 2016 for the 30th Anniversary of the '86 Championship Team.

Family: He has two sons who are also playing pro baseball. Santana currently lives in South Florida.

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