- Bats Right, Throws Right
Valentín Gonzaléz was a superstar in Cuba in the 1890s and 1900s, leading his league five times apiece in runs, four times in hits and triples, twice in home runs and average and once in doubles. He played both infield and outfield during his career.
Gonzaléz debuted in 1890-1891 with Habana, hitting .258 and slugging .318; he was 5th in the Cuban Winter League in average. In 1892, he hit .284/?/.330, finishing 4th in average as Habana won the title. During 1892-1893, he hit .367, third-best in the circuit. He broke league records for hits (36) and triples (5), topping the old marks by two and one respectively. In 1893-1894, he batted .292/?/.381 for Habana. He tied for second in the CWL with three triples, was third with 33 hits and 5th in average. In the winter of 1894-1895, he hit .390/?/.585 to help lead Habana to the pennant. He led the league in hits (32, one ahead of Alfredo Arcaño), home runs (3) and tied for the lead with three doubles. He was second to Arcaño in slugging and third in average. The league was then shut down for two years in his prime due to the Cuban war for independence.
When the league returned in 1897-1898, Valentín did not miss a beat, batting .394/?/.424. He was leading the league in average (by .063) and hits when it was shut down again, due to the Spanish-American War. In 1899, he hit .414/?/.655 to help Habana to another championship. He won the batting title by .005 over Antonio María Garcia, led in hits (12), led in slugging and led in triples (3). For the 1900 campaign, he had an off-season, hitting .247 with no extra-base hits in 24 games. He still placed sixth in average.
"Sirique" rebounded in 1901, batting .294/?/.423 with a league-best three triples as Habana won the title. He was third in average behind Julián Castillo and Carlos Morán. 1902 was another strong season; he hit .322/?/.352 with a league-high 24 hits (one ahead of Regino García) as Habana won all 17 games they played. He was third in average, behind Luis Padrón and Regino García. He hit only .231/.285/.264 in 1903 (this is the first season in the Seamheads Cuban database as of 7/16/2017, making more complete statistics and leaderboard info available), but in the Deadball Era, he still placed among numerous leaderboards: tied Francisco Morán for first in runs (28 in 30 games), tied Carlos Morán for 4th in hits (28), second with 16 RBI (9 behind Castillo) and tied with Armando Cabañas for 5th with 15 steals. Habana won it all again.
The veteran scored 25 runs in 20 games in 1904, producing at a .277/.326/.398 clip as Habana won it all. He easily led in runs (8 ahead of Castillo and Rogelio Valdés), tied Castillo and Esteban Prats for second in hits (23), led with two homers, tied Castillo and Regino García for the RBI lead (14), was 5th in average, ranked 8th in OBP and was third in both slugging and OPS (behind Castillo and Regino García). In 1905, he batted .259/.353/.274. He tied for 8th in runs (15, even with Regino García and future major leaguers Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans), tied Al Cabrera for second with 30 hits, was hit by a league-high (7 pitches; no one else had more than two) and was 4th in OBP (between Cabrera and Marsans).
In the summer of 1905, he got a look at the US minor leagues, one of the first Cubans to get that opportunity. He hit .292 in 32 games for the Jacksonville Jays. Had he qualified, he would have been third in the South Atlantic League in average behind Ty Cobb's .326 and Paul Sentell's .315, .007 ahead of Mike Mowrey, who did finish third. Not bad for a guy who was now on the downhill path of a career that had begun 15 years prior.
By 1906, he was a shadow of his former self. He hit .198/.253/.222 for Habana and .080 in 47 games for Jacksonville. He bounced back in 1907, though, batting .289/.308/.333 for Habana; his 33 hits were second in the CWL, two shy of Regino García. He tied Emilio Palomino for 5th with 11 RBI and was second in average, .024 behind Regino García. He managed a 135 OPS+ in 1908, 18 years after his debut; the batting line was .261/.320/.365. He tied for second with three triples (2 behind Pete Hill), tied Hill for third in RBI (20, two behind Castillo and Palomino), tied for 7th with 11 steals and was third in slugging (trailing Hill and Palomino).
Gonzaléz helped Habana return to their old dominant spot atop the standings in 1909. He had a 101 OPS+ as a part-timer in center field despite his age; his batting line of .204/.261/.282 is less impressive when not adjusted for context. Despite his part-time role and his age, he tied Gervasio González for the lead with four triples. In 1910, he was 1 for 39 with 9 walks, 5 steals and 5 runs, followed by a .150/.327/.175 campaign in 1910-1911. His last game came against the Philadelphia A's when they visited Cuba in 1912-1913; he was retired in his lone appearance.
He then became an umpire in the CWL, drawing news in 1919-1920 when he was attacked by Dolf Luque, who disputed a call that Gonzaléz had made. In 1939, he was part of the inaugural class of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.