Sunday, April 27, 2014

Card #26: Jorge Orta


Who Can It Be Now?
Jorge Orta Nuñez was born in Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa in Mexico on November 26, 1950.  Orta began playing in his native Mexico at the age of 17 for Fresnillo, or at least we assume he did because there are no statistics available for him at that club.  

Orta's father Pedro was a Cuban baseball player.  One source calls Pedro "The Babe Ruth of Cuban baseball," but another site --the Baseball-Reference bullpen, which is one that I trust somewhat more than the first -- notes that Pedro's nickname in Spanish was Charolito, which they say means "patent leather" but which I think means "Little leather" or "little tray" since charol translates either as patent leather or tray.  In fact, it could be that he was a self-promoter because when "charol" is used with the reflexive verb darse (giving oneself something), it means that someone is bragging or boasting.

That Spanish lesson aside, Jorge Orta was born while Pedro was playing baseball in Mexico. Jorge loved baseball and purportedly chose to play baseball in the Mexican League in 1968 over going to UCLA on a basketball scholarship.  Now, this may be true, but the doubt I have comes from the fact that UCLA in that time won its fifth NCAA title in six seasons with the great Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center.  It's certainly possible that Orta received the scholarship offer and turned it down; it's just one of those claims that sounds like something to take with a grain of salt -- like, for example, the idea that Alabama offered someone a football scholarship and it was turned down.  I mean, you have to be a good football player to get "offered", but literally dozens -- well over 100 -- are made each year to get to the 25 to 30 players that Saban signs each year.  And, in the 1960s, there were fewer constraints on scholarships.

All that is not to disparage Orta.  He was an excellent baseball player at a very young age, and the White Sox were impressed enough by his play in the Mexican League to purchase his contract from Mexicali in the Mexican Northern League in November of 1971.  Orta jumped directly to the major leagues and struggled with the bat.  So, in mid-July, he was sent down to AA Knoxville.  There, he crushed the ball to the tune of .316/.397/.526 and got a call-up back to the majors in September, never to play in the minor leagues again.  

Orta had good speed but pretty bad base stealing instincts.  Over his 16-year major league career, Orta had 63 triples and 79 stolen bases -- 40 of those steals came in 1975 and 1976 -- but he was caught stealing 60 times.  That success rate certainly cost his team more runs than it created, as we know now.  That said, Orta was an above-average hitter who had a good batting eye -- he took walks and had a contact percentage above the league average as well.

Orta today is remembered for a play in the 1986 World Series -- a play which some thought would lead to the adoption of instant replay in baseball.  It only took 28 years, but we have that instant replay now.  The play, of course, is the Don Denkinger "blown call" at first base. Orta tapped a slow roller to first base, where Jack Clark fielded the ball.  He tossed the ball to Cardinals closer Todd Worrell.  From one angle, it looked like the ball arrived in Worrell's glove while Worrell still had his toe on first base.  Worrell's foot came off the base around the same time as Orta arrived at first.  Denkinger undoubtedly was out of position -- as you can see in the video, rather than being in fair territory to get a view of when the ball went in the glove and when Orta hit the base, he was behind the play nearly in the first-base coaching box.  That would have been the Series-clinching game for the Cardinals.

Another famous game for Orta came on June 15, 1980.  In a Cleveland Indians 14-5 drubbing of the Minnesota Twins, Orta went 6-for-6 with five singles and a double.  That tied an American League record for most hits in a 9-inning game.

Outside of those two games, Orta had a solid career.  He was a two-time All-Star, in 1975 with the White Sox and in 1980 in his first season with the Indians.  He was not a great defensive player over his career -- especially when playing second base.  He ended his career as a designated hitter, so once his hitting abilities started failing after the age of 34, the Royals released him to end his major league career midway through the 1987 season.  

Orta has stayed in the game as a coach and manager.  His most recent coaching position was in the Arizona League in 2013 with the Texas Rangers organization.  Before that, he spent five seasons coaching rookie league ball for the Cincinnati Reds.

Everybody Wants You
Orta was traded after the 1981 season by the Cleveland Indians to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers traded away second base prospect Jack Perconte -- who was already 26 years old at that point -- and former Rookie of the Year Rick Sutcliffe to get Orta and two minor leaguers (catcher Jack Fimple and pitcher Larry White).  Orta's time with the Dodgers lasted only for the 1982 season -- he was traded twice in the offseason between the 1982 and 1983 seasons.

Trivial Pursuit
When the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game in the old Exhibition Stadium, their opponents were the Chicago White Sox.  In 32-degree temperatures and snow flurries on April 7, 1977,  the White Sox faced off against Bill Singer.  The game started with a walk to Ralph Garr.  Later in the inning, Jorge Orta drove in the first run in Exhibition Stadium history on a sacrifice fly.  Despite the good start in the first inning, the White Sox lost the game 9-5.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Jorge Orta was a tough out generally, and he hit right around his career statistics against my Milwaukee Brewers.  I remember him most as the lefty-hitting half of a DH platoon paired with Hal McRae for the Royals in the mid-1980.  Certainly, I believe that my memory is most likely influenced by the success that the Royals had in that time.

Overall, Orta did have a successful career.  Clearly, one must be successful to last for 16 seasons in the major leagues.  About 7 years ago, the Royals Review on SB Nation rated Orta as the #95 Greatest Royal of All-Time for his years in Kansas City.  Certainly a part of that ranking came from the Denkinger play and the afterglow from that series win, but it does show that Orta's role in Kansas City earned him a measure of respect from Royals fans. 

Orta also was inducted into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.  When he retired, Orta was the all-time leader in home runs in the Major Leagues for players born in Mexico. He has since been passed only by Vinny Castilla.  Being one of the best players that your country has ever had is certainly a feat worth noting.

2 comments:

  1. For Fresnillo in 1968, Orta was 18-68, with 6 doubles, 3 walks, and 15 strikeouts. He had a slash line of .265/.296/.353. Also, my guess is that part of his baserunning numbers were affected by teams that used the hit-and-run alot, much like a Buddy Bell or Duane Kuiper.

    And as a frequent contributor to the Bullpen, thanks for the plug.

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    Replies
    1. Jeff -- thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. As someone who reads the entries on the Bullpen but has not contributed, my thanks to you for your work there.

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