Friday, July 18, 2014

Card #77: Miguel Dilone

Who Can It Be Now?
Miguel Angel (Reyes) Dilone was born on November 1, 1954 in Santiago in the Dominican Republic.  According to the Baseball Reference Bullpen, Dilone was something of a baseball prodigy in the Dominican, playing for the national team as a 16-year-old in 1971 and stealing three bases in the 1971 Pan American Games.  

The Pirates signed him the next year as a 17-year-old in 1972 and assigned him to Niagara Falls in the New York Penn League.  There, his hitting was not great, but his batting eye was excellent -- with a .224 AVG, he still put up an OBP of .338.  He only slugged .251, though, so it took him a while to grow into his talents.  He spent three years in Single-A ball, culminating with his outstanding 1974 season in Salem in the Carolina League: .333/.414/.424, 85 SB (23 CS), 73 BB, 52 K.  

That year earned Dilone his first cup of coffee in the major leagues with the Pirates for the 1974 stretch run.  During his 12-game stint, Dilone served three times as a pinch hitter (walking once), once as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning of a blowout game, and 9 times as a pinch runner.  After the 1972 season, the Pirates decided to have Dilone skip Double-A entirely.  As a result, he spent all of 1975 and 1976 in the minor leagues -- getting a brief call-up to the big leagues each year.

Dilone's problem in Pittsburgh, however, was the fact that Pittsburgh had plenty of outfield talent ahead of him -- Richie Zisk, Al Oliver, and Dave Parker all featured for the front-running Pirates in 1974, 1975, and 1976.  Then, in 1977, the Pirates chose to employ Omar Moreno over Dilone as the outfield speedster between Oliver and Parker.  Dilone struggled for playing time for the first two months of the year and, when he did play, he struggled to hit -- needing a 1 for 2 performance in his final at-bats for 1977 to pull his average up to .136 after it had reach as low as .105.  Despite this, he stole 12 bases without being caught, which was then a National League record.

Finally, on April 4, 1978, the Pirates decided to break their logjam in their outfield and sent Dilone to the Oakland A's with pitcher Elias Sosa in exchange for catcher Manny Sanguillen and infielder Mike Edwards.  Dilone received more regular playing time in Oakland, but managers Bobby Winkles and Jack McKeon in total used 13 different players in the outfield that season -- 8 of which had at least 40 appearances. Dilone also made 47 pinch-running appearances himself that year.  Given that playing time, however, Dilone did not perform all that well -- .229/.294/.271, 50 SB but 23 CS (leading the league), and no pop whatsoever in his bat.  

In 1979, Dilone again ran into an outfield starting to take shape that did not need or include him as one of its components.  That was the season that Rickey Henderson made his debut with the A's as a 20-year-old, making Dilone excess to requirements.  So, the Oakland A's sold Dilone's contract to the Chicago Cubs on July 4, 1979.  In Chicago, Dilone actually performed reasonably well (.306 AVG, .342 OBP), even if his power numbers were pathetic (zero extra-base hits for a .306 SLG and a .000 ISO).  

The Cubs of that era preferred Dave Kingman, Jerry Martin, Mike Vail, and Scot Thompson to Dilone in the outfield and had Ivan de Jesus as their leadoff hitter, so Dilone was sent down to Triple-A Wichita at the start of 1980.  Then, the Cubs gave up on Dilone and sold his contract to Cleveland.  There, he turned in his finest season as a major leaguer, hitting .341/.375/.432 with 30 doubles, 9 triples, and 61 stolen bases in 79 attempts.  His surprise year helped lead a surprise Indians team to a nearly respectable finish in the AL East -- 79-81, good for sixth place.

1981 was another good year for both Dilone and the Indians.  Dilone finished with 29 steals and a slash line of .290/.334/.346, and the Indians finished the year one game above .500 overall.  The problem for the Indians in both 1980 and 1981, however, was that the AL East was absolutely loaded.  The Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Brewers, and Tigers all finished above .500.  That left the Indians in sixth place for 1981 at 52-51.  Only the Blue Jays -- which were terrible at 37-69 -- were under .500.  

Yet, all was not well.  In September of 1981, Dilone went public with his request to be traded, saying that team officials "have not been supportive of his efforts." As the story stated further, "[q]uestions were first raised about Dilone's attitude when, in Tuesday night's Orioles game, Dilone did not run out a ground ball."  The story mentioned that Dilone had injured his thumbs and was not playing regularly, then finished by quoting him saying that, "These things have been bothering me for a long time, but I have kept everything inside me until now." 

The Indians did not accommodate Dilone's request, however, and Dilone stayed with the Indians through 1983 -- even re-signing with the team after the 1982 season.  In 1983, though, the team finally did trade Dilone after a train-wreck of a season which found Dilone getting sent back to Triple-A after 78 plate appearances in which Dilone reached base 23 times on 13 hits and 10 walks (.183/.284/.254).  On August 25, 1983, the Indians obtained pitcher Rich Barnes from the White Sox.  The White Sox apparently did not want to have Dilone available for any postseason series, so Dilone did not go back to Chicago until September 1.  

His stay with the White Sox was exactly one week.  On September 7, 1983, Miguel Dilone went back to where his career began, as the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Randy Niemann to the Sox for Dilone.  Dilone's second stint in the Steel City stretched to seven substitute September showings (as my alliteration mercifully comes to an end).  The Pirates, seemingly reminded that Dilone was not the answer to any of the club's questions, allowed Dilone to become a free agent that fall.

Dilone then signed with the Montreal Expos for 1984.  At the age of 29, he stole 27 bases in 29 attempts, hit .278/.346/.367, and appeared in 88 games.  That decent year convinced the Expos eventually to re-sign him (an event which took place on March 4, 1985), and Dilone turned in a disappointing 51 games.  When the Expos tried to send him outright to Triple-A to make room for pitcher Bert Roberge, Dilone refused the assignment.  As a result, the Expos gave Dilone his unconditional release.  

But he was not done with major league baseball yet.  Dilone was signed by the San Diego Padres.  After a month in Triple-A, the Padres called Dilone up on August 8.  Dilone again failed to impress, and after the season, he became a free agent that no one signed.

Mustache Check: Miguel's wispy seven hairs on his upper lip -- though barely visible -- certainly qualify as a mustache.  

Family Ties
Miguel Dilone's son, Miguel Dilone Jr., is a 20-year-old middle infielder in the Rockies system.  Junior appears to have similar abilities to his father -- not a ton of power, pretty good speed, and a decent batting eye.  Junior's problem looks to be that his fielding is suspect.  He's a long way away from making an impact, and his struggles in Low-A ball this year make that impact even less likely.

Trivial Pursuit
According to the book Big League Trivia: Facts, Figures, Oddities, and Coincidence from Our National Pastime by Madison McEntire from 2006 :
Miguel Dilone is the only player to steal 50 or more bases without hitting a triple. Dilone appeared in 135 games for Oakland in 1978 but batted just 258 times, collecting 58 hits and stealing 50 bases.  He scored just 34 runs, also the fewest by a player with at least 50 steals.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
My recollection of Miguel Dilone was that he was a poor man's Omar Moreno.  You knew that Dilone would try to steal if he got on base -- with that last clause being the most tentative part of the statement since getting on base was always the problem.  The Brewers always seemed to have success against him -- he hit .250/.301/.319 against the Crew versus career numbers of .265/.315/.333 -- and Dilone's lack of power meant that his coming up to the plate was never a "scary" time.

While Dilone was never a star in the major leagues, he has long been revered in his home country, the Dominican Republic.  He played 22 seasons for the Cibao Eagles in the Dominican Winter League, and he is the all-time leader in stolen bases in that league, totaling 395 in his 22 season and leading the league 11 times.  As a funny aside, I do enjoy the fact that the Google Translation for his stealing of bases in the Major Leagues refers to him having "defrauded"50 in 1978 and 61 in 1980.  To be fair, this biography has been aided somewhat by my ability to at least work out what various websites in Spanish mean rather than relying on those translations -- but the translations help.

Dilone has had a pretty tough time over the past five or so years.  On March 16, 2009, Dilone was working with a teenager on his hitting (one of his sons teammates at the time, it appears) near a batting cage in Cibao. A foul ball hit one of the pipes on the screen behind the plate and hit Dilone in his left eye and nose.  Dilone's nose was broken.  Even worse, the hit to his eye was so devastating that the surgeon had to remove Dilone's left eye and fit it with a prosthetic eye.

As if that wasn't bad enough, something even worse happened to Dilone and his family in September of 2012. Dilone's mother Estela was found dead in her residence in Santiago.  She had been tied up and gagged (amarrado y amordazado).  As it turned out, the men who killed her had entered her residence in La Joya -- an industrial part of town where she had lived for forty years -- intending to steal from her to get money for drugs.  Three of the killers were sentenced to 30 years each in prison in May of 2014 for the murder.  

At least some justice was done, though Mr. Dilone will never get his mother back.

1 comment:

  1. I was 14 years old and the batboy for the 1972 Niagara Falls Pirates that featured both Miguel Dilone and Omar Moreno. During the last few weeks of that season, Miguel came and stayed with my parents and I, with permission of course from manager Chuck Cottier. We lived a stones throw away from Hyde Park Stadium where that Pirates played home games, so it was within walking distance for Miguel. I would love to contact Miguel, so if anyone reading this can help, I would greatly appreciate your kind efforts....Nick..I can reached at: