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Luis Polonia

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Luis Andrew Polonia Almonte
(La Hormiga Atomica/The Atomic Ant [1]; Catch 22)

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 5' 8", Weight 152 lb.

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[edit] Biographical Information

Luis Polonia was a speedy journeyman with a high batting average who played 12 years in the big leagues. His speed resulted in many triples but he was not a wise baserunner and led his league in times caught stealing five times (3 in the majors, 2 in the minors). He appeared in 1,379 major league games with a .293 average. He was in the top five in triples four different times, and in the top five in stolen bases three times. Not a particularly strong defensive outfielder, Dennis Lamp once said "If you hit him 100 fly balls, you could write a book about it: Catch-22." [2]

He appeared in four World Series. Polonia, though, is as notable for his star performances in the winter in over two decades of play. He is among the top 10 contact hitters in Dominican League history and led the league in numerous categories. As of 2012, he is the all-time Dominican League leader in hits, triples and runs and the all-time Caribbean Series leader in hits, doubles and Series played. He also appeared for the Dominican national team in both the World Baseball Classic and Pan American Games.

[edit] 1984-1986: Early Career

Polonia was born in the Dominican Republic and was signed for the Oakland Athletics in January 1984 by scout Juan Marichal. He debuted that year with the Madison Muskies and hit .307/~.380/.430 with 103 runs, 10 triples, 55 steals in 79 tries and 10 outfield errors. He was 4th in the Midwest League in average, trailed Brian Finley by one to finish second in triples, led in times caught stealing, led in hits (162) and also was second to Finley in runs and steals. He joined Dave Hengel, Mark Doran and Finley as MWL All-Star outfielders. [3] In the 1984-1985 Dominican League, he batted .299/~.368/.341 with 10 steals in 41 games and finished 8th in average. [4]

In 1985, Luis was on the Huntsville Stars, in AA in his second year in professional baseball. The switch-hitter produced at a .289/~.362/.400 clip with 82 runs, 39 steals and a Southern League-leading 18 triples. The runner-up, Alex Marte, had half as many three-baggers. Huntsville won the title; the big star was Jose Canseco, but Stan Javier, Rob Nelson, Terry Steinbach, Tim Belcher, Eric Plunk, Greg Cadaret, Brian Dorsett and Polonia helped form a talented roster. [5]

Polonia played for the 1986 Tacoma Tigers; he was thrown out trying to steal 21 times in 57 attempts to lead the Pacific Coast League. His 36 steals placed him third behind Devon White and Cecil Espy. Polonia hit .301/~.361/.368 with 98 runs. He was second in the PCL in runs, trailing Mickey Brantley. Baseball America did not rate him among the top 10 prospects in the league, though outfielders Glenn Braggs, White, Brantley, Ty Gainey and Jose Gonzalez all were chosen. [6]

In the 1986-1987 Dominican League, Polonia batted .322/~.396/.394 with five triples and 11 stolen bases in 44 games. He finished sixth in average, between Tony Pena and Marte. He also led in hits (58) [7]

[edit] 1987-1988: Oakland

Polonia spent some time in Tacoma in 1987 (18 for 56, 18 runs, 14 walks in 14 games) but was up with the Athletics as well and played 125 games for them. He showed talent by hitting .287 with 10 triples and stealing 29 bases (only getting caught 7 times). He tied Phil Bradley for second in the American League in triples, trailing only Willie Wilson. In his big league debut, he started in center field and hit leadoff. He grounded out in his first two at-bats, facing Mike Moore, then drew a walk and flew out his other two trips to the plate. [8] His first hit in the majors came the next day, a bunt single off Scott Bankhead [9] and his first home run on April 28 off Calvin Schiraldi. [10]

That winter, Luis moved to the Águilas Cibaeñas, where he would spend many years. He hit .339/~.425/.467, stole 15 bases and hit 6 triples, leading the Dominican League. He continued to rise two spots in the batting leader lists, finishing fourth. He was four steals behind leader Stan Javier and led the league with 42 runs. [11]

The Athletics, managed by Tony LaRussa and stocked with teammates of Polonia from his minor league days, were just about to explode. They won the pennant in 1988 and 1989, winning the World Series in 1989. Polonia batted .292/.338/.378 (a 104 OPS+) in 1988 and stole 24 bases in 33 tries in 84 games. He was 2 for 5 with a walk in the 1988 ALCS but was caught stealing in his lone try. In the 1988 World Series, he was just 1 for 9 with a run as Oakland was upset by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

[edit] 1989-1990: Two years, three teams

Polonia was hitting .286/.315/.369 for the A's in 1989 when he was traded on June 21st with Cadaret and Plunk to the New York Yankees for Rickey Henderson. He batted .313/.359/.405 the rest of the season with the Yankees for the first of four .300 seasons in the majors. On August 16th, he was arrested in his hotel room for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail after the season. [12]

After starting 7 for 22 for the Yankees in 1990, Luis was dealt to the California Angels for Claudell Washington and Rich Monteleone. He hit .336/.376/.417 for the Angels. His 122 OPS+ that year was a career high. He tied Nelson Liriano and Lance Johnson for third in the American League with 9 triples, trailing Tony Fernandez and Sammy Sosa. Polonia had the best average in the league but his 436 plate appearances fell short of qualifying and George Brett won the batting crown instead.

In the winter of 1990-1991, he hit .283/~.327/.391 for the Aguilas. [13]

[edit] 1991-1993: Angels

At age 27, Polonia produced at a .296/.352/.379 clip for the Angels in 1991. The left fielder tied Shane Mack for 8th in the AL in triples (8), was 4th with 48 steals and was caught stealing 23 times, leading the loop.

In 1992, Luis slipped to .286/.337/.329 as his OPS+ fell under 100 for the first time in six years in the major leagues. He was 4th in the AL with 51 swipes but was again gunned down the most (21 times).

With the Angels in 1993, Polonia only hit .271/.328/.326 for a 74 OPS+. He stole 55 bases, more than Rickey Henderson, and tied Roberto Alomar for second in the AL behind Kenny Lofton. He was caught 24 times, tying Chad Curtis for the league lead.

[edit] 1994-1996: New York, Atlanta, other stops

A free agent, he came back to the Yanks in 1994, hitting .311/.383/.414 in 95 games. Teams were not letting him run as often - he stole 20 and was caught 12 times. He still tied Lofton and Felix Jose for second in the AL in times thrown out running despite not finishing in the top 10 in steals. He tied for 5th in triples (6). It was Polonia's last year as a clear-cut starter.

For the 1994-1995 Aguilas, Polonia batted .253 and slugged .455. [14]

Polonia hit .261/.326/.349 for the Yankees in 1995 and was traded on August 11th to the Atlanta Braves for Troy Hughes. He batted .261/.304/.396 down the pennant race and then went 2 for 5 with 3 RBI in the NLDS and NLCS. In the 1995 World Series, Polonia drove in Fred McGriff with the winner in game one. He platooned with Ryan Klesko in left field that Series and was 4 for 14 with a walk, double, homer, 3 runs and four RBI to help Atlanta win it all by prevailing over the Cleveland Indians.

In the 1996 Caribbean Series, Polonia was 8 for 24 with 3 doubles for the Aguilas, who finished a disappointing third. [15]

The Seattle Mariners signed Polonia for the 1996 season but released him in spring training. He was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles and played 14 games for the Rochester Red Wings (.240/~.333/.280, 5 for 5 in stolen base attempts in 13 games) for his first minor league action in 8 years. He hit .240/.285/.309 in 58 games for the Orioles and was let go in August. Picked up by Atlanta once more, he batted a hot .419 as a key bench threat down the stretch. He was just 0 for 10 with a walk in the 1996 Postseason and Atlanta fell to his old New York teammates in the 1996 World Series.

Polonia played in the 1997 Caribbean Series. [16]

[edit] 1997-1998: Mexico City

He signed as a free agent with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but did not play with them in the majors in 1997, when the team was not yet in operation at the major league level, or in their inaugural 1998 season. Instead, he played in Mexico for the Mexico City Tigres. He batted .377/.475/.525 his first year in Mexico, with 105 runs, 29 doubles, 75 walks and 48 steals (in 60 tries) in 110 games. He led the Mexican League in stolen bases and finished second in average, five points behind Cornelio Garcia. He was second in runs, two behind Daniel Fernandez. [17]

Back in winter play, Polonia cranked out a .382 average and slugged .522. He led the league with 15 doubles (one ahead of Matt Franco) and his 60 hits tied Domingo Cedeno for the lead. In batting average, he finished second behind another Franco, Julio Franco, trailing by 54 points. Polonia was still 37 points ahead of #3 Cedeno. During the 1998 Caribbean Series, Polonia was 8 for 26 with 4 runs. He made the All-Tournament team in left field, joining Magglio Ordonez and Darryl Brinkley in the outfield. [18]

In 1998, Luis hit .381/.455/.577 with 36 steals in 45 tries and 82 runs in 86 games for the Tigres. He led the LMB with 14 triples at age 34. Polonia also took part in a historic first - the first batting title tie in the history of the LMB. Luis, hitting .38095, sat out the last game, as Miguel Flores went 3 for 6 to reach .38095. [19]

During the 1998-1999 Dominican winter league, Luis won the batting championship with a .336 mark, 19 points ahead of runner-up Luis Castillo. Polonia slugged .406 and led the league in hits (73), doubles (15) and stolen bases (19, his only time leading the Dominican League in that department). He had now won his first two batting championships in what would be the twilight of most careers. In the 1999 Caribbean Series, Polonia finished third with a .474 average and scored six runs in seven games. He was again in the All-Tournament outfield, joining Karim Garcia and Carlos Mendoza. [20]

[edit] 1999-2000: Back to the majors

Polonia caught on with the Detroit Tigers in 1999, hitting .324/.357/.526 with an unusual 10 home runs in 333 at-bats. The veteran almost matched his best OPS+ with a 121. He also tied for fifth in the AL in triples, with 5. He also spent time in AAA with the Toledo Mud Hens and hit .323/~.363/.435 with 13 steals in 16 tries in 42 games there.

In 2000, he was hitting .273/.325/.416 when released by the Tigers in mid-season and he signed with the Yanks for the third time. The 5' 8" flyhawk hit .286/.341/.377 as a back-up with the Yankees, and finished his major league career on a World Series winner by playing 2 games in the Series. He went 2 for 4 in the 2000 Postseason.

[edit] 2001: Mexico, once more

Polonia was 7 for 25 with five runs in the 2001 Caribbean Series to help the Dominicans to a title. [21] Returning to Mexico for one more try, Luis batted .365 and slugged .574 for the Mexico City Tigers. He had 7 triples, two behind much younger league leaders Demond Smith and Albino Contreras and stole 20 bases. Had he qualified, he would have finished second in the batting title race - behind a guy he had already lost one batting crown to, Julio Franco. [22]

[edit] 2002-2008: Winter ball and international competition

While his summer career was over, Luis kept on playing internationally. He hit .331 in the 2001-2002 Dominican League, finishing fourth. [23] In 2002-2003, he batted .305 and slugged .424. In the 2003 Caribbean Series, the old-timer batted .344 with five runs and made the All-Tournament outfield alongside Orlando Merced and Jose Valentin. [24]

Polonia played for the Dominican team in the 2003 Pan-American Games. [25]

During the 2003-2004 Dominican League season, Polonia finished 4th with a .326 average, slugged .434 and stole 11 bases. He tied for second in doubles and led with 57 hits. [26] In the 2004-2005 Dominican campaign, Polonia posted a .321 average with 11 steals. Turning 41 during the winter, he still led the league with 32 runs (his first time leading in that category on the island in 17 years) and 15 doubles and tied Luis Terrero for the lead in triples (4). [27]

Polonia played for the Aguilas in the 2005 Caribbean Series.

In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Polonia was a last-minute replacement for Vladimir Guerrero, who was on bereavement leave. Luis was 0 for 1 against Italy but 2 for 2 with a RBI after replacing 0-for-2 David Ortiz as DH against Australia. Polonia wound up with the best average of any Dominican in the tourney, though most of the team consisted of present MLB stars and Polonia had long been gone from the majors. [28]

Despite being much older than teammates like Tony Pena Jr. and Tony Abreu, Polonia continued to shine for the Aguilas. In 2006-2007, he hit .328/.408/.411. Only Melky Cabrera had a better average among their regulars. [29] He led the league with 64 hits, his 5th time topping the Dominican circuit, 20 years after his first. He also led with 35 runs, his third time leading in that department. [30] In the 2007 Caribbean Series, Luis set a Caribbean Series record in game one with 9 plate appearances in a 18-inning win - his lone hit was a crucial one, coming in the winning rally. The Dominican DH hit .281/.375/.281 with 3 runs in six games to help his team to yet another title. [31]

In the 2007 Pan-American Games, 43-year-old Polonia was 1 for 8 as a DH/LF for the Dominican Republic. [32]

Polonia hit .233/.327/.267 in the 2007-2008 winter season, one of his worst years yet. One of his teammates, Starling Marte, was born the year after Polonia had made it to the majors ! [33] The 44-year-old still stole five bases in five tries. In the 2008 Caribbean Series, he was 1 for 11 with a run and a walk and was caught stealing in his only attempt to steal. The Aguilas' other left fielder, Bernie Castro, far outperformed one of the greatest Caribbean Series players ever and the Aguilas finished second. [34] He was just 4 for 31 the next winter to end his career. [35]

Through 2011, he was the all-time Dominican League leader in hits (927, 50 more than runner-up Miguel Dilone), triples (43, two more than Manny Mota), runs (517, 21 more than Dilone). He was also among the leaders in average (.304, 5th behind Ralph Garr, Pedro Guerrero, Manny Mota and Matty Alou), doubles (2nd with 147, 10 behind Rafael Batista), RBI (6th with 302, between Rufino Linares and Rico Carty), steals (2nd with 184, a distant 211 behind Dilone), walks (359, 2nd, 20 behind Batista) and games played (3rd with 791, trailing Batista and Dilone and one ahead of Jesus Alou). [36]

Through 2012, he is the all-time Caribbean Series leader in Series played (14), games played (78), at-bats (306), hits (90) and doubles (17). [37] Miguel Tejada broke his double record the next year, though.

Polonia also runs the Expo Baseball Academy in Santiago and has had at least two dozen of his products signed to pro contracts. [38] He is the father of Rodney Polonia. [39]

[edit] Notable Achievements

[edit] Sources

  1. [Notice of Polonia's nickname in the Dominican Republic on MLB.com
  2. 1988 Modesto Bee article
  3. 1985 Baseball Guide, pg. 422-425
  4. 1986 Baseball America Statistics Report, pg. 196
  5. 1986 Baseball America Statistics Report, pg. 87-94
  6. 1987 Baseball America Statistics Report, pg. 70-75
  7. 1988 Baseball America Statistics Report, pg. 224; Dominican League leaders
  8. Box score of Polonia's debut
  9. Box score of Polonia's first hit
  10. Box score of Polonia's first home run
  11. 1989 Baseball Almanac, pg. 229; Dominican League website (cited previously)
  12. New York Times article on Polonia's arrest; Los Angeles Times article on Polonia's sentencing
  13. 1992 Baseball Almanac, pg. 266
  14. 1996 Baseball Almanac, pg. 325
  15. 1997 Baseball Almanac, pg. 325
  16. 1998 Baseball Almanac, pg. 303
  17. The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, pg. 41 and 220; 1998 Baseball Almanac, pg. 296
  18. 1999 Baseball Almanac, pg. 327-329
  19. 1999 Baseball Almanac, pg. 320-321; The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics]], pg. 220
  20. 2000 Baseball Almanac, pg. 330-331
  21. 2002 Baseball Almanac, pg. 369
  22. 2002 Baseball Almanac, pg. 360-361
  23. 2003 Baseball Almanac, pg. 383
  24. 2003 Baseball Almanac, pg. 365
  25. ESPN Deportes.com
  26. 2005 Baseball Almanac, pg. 371
  27. 2006 Baseball Almanac, pg. 363
  28. World Baseball Classic site; Article on Polonia replacing Guerrero
  29. MLB.com
  30. Dominican League leaders
  31. 2007 Caribbean Series site
  32. 2007 Pan-American Games website
  33. MLB.com
  34. 2008 Caribbean Series stats
  35. MLB.com
  36. Dominican League career leaders
  37. Latinobaseball.com for Caribbean Series leaders
  38. Story on Polonia's involvement with training Dominican prospects and keeping them off steroids
  39. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

[edit] Related Sites

The website www.halosheaven.com named him the #65 top Angel player of all time in 2008.

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