- C, DH
- October 24, 1959
- 5' 11"
- 174 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-20-1982 with PIT
Rickey Henderson broke the career stolen base record when Ortiz was catching. Asked about whether it bothered him, Ortiz said "No, he's stolen lots of bases on good catchers, too"
Adalberto "Junior" Ortiz Colón (born October 24, 1959 in Humacao, Puerto Rico), is a former Major League Baseball catcher. He played all or part of thirteen seasons in the majors from 1982-94. He was a member of the 1991 World Champion Minnesota Twins.
Popular with fans and teammates, Junior Ortiz’s most important contributions to the success of the Pirates in the late 1980’s may have come off the field as the humorous catcher kept the club lose with his wit and colorful antics. He also had periods where he seemed to have hits fall in almost by magic and his on-field play and off-field capers led the Pittsburgh faithful to sometime shake their heads and say, “You never know what he might do.”
Ortiz worked his way up through the Pirate system, following Tony Pena at just about every stop. Although he first gained attention with his defense, Ortiz led the Eastern League with a .346 average while playing with Buffalo in 1980. While Buffalo offered batters a tremendous park to hit in, Ortiz’s average was almost 30 points better than the runner up that year. Two years later, after hitting .292 for Portland in the Pacific Coast League, Ortiz earned his first call up to the Bucs.
As Junior, whose first name is Adalberto, was out of options in 1983, the Pirates kept him on the roster despite being heavily stocked with catchers. Ironman Tony Pena seldom needed rest. In case he did, the Pirates had veteran Steve Nicosia with former World Series hero Gene Tenace available for pinch-hitting and emergency duty. This made Ortiz likely trade bait and when Lee Mazzilli and Lee Lacy were found inadequate in centerfield, the young catcher was traded to the Mets on June 14 for centerfield prospect Marvell Wynne.
Ortiz platooned for the Mets that season, and hit well late to boost his average to .249. He did not repeat the performance as Gary Carter’s backup in 1985 and the Mets demoted him to AAA, making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft. With only Pena remaining on the club as an experienced catcher, Peter Peterson picked Ortiz to serve as the Bucs’ second stringer.
Junior did a good job in limited play the next two years, hitting .292 and .336, although he batted only 182 times in the two seasons combined. His improvement as a hitter and his development working with pitchers gave Syd Thrift and Jim Leyland confidence Ortiz could do a good job as a platoon player to the extent they traded Pena, in the process acquiring left-handed hitting catcher Mike LaValliere in addition to Andy Van Slyke and Mike Dunne.
Playing more in 1987 than he had the two previous years combined, Ortiz hit .271. He was batting .280 and providing key hits in 1988 when he suffered a broken collarbone on July 27. While not one of the team’s stars, Ortiz’s loss was felt. Reds Manager Pete Rose told Leyland at the time that the Bucs would miss Ortiz as Junior “always seemed to be in the middle of a rally.” Sure enough, the Bucs went 19-24 until Junior’s next appearance on September 15, a stretch that saw the Pirates fall from seriously challenging the Mets for first place to becoming resigned to finishing second.
In 1989, it was LaValliere’s turn to suffer a serious injury. Oritz was pushed into regular duty for much of the season and he struggled at the plate. Never a power hitter, Junior’s average fell to .217 as he finished the year on a 0-for-23 streak. Following the season, the Pirates traded for Don Slaught and Ortiz was dealt the following spring to the Minnesota Twins. The Pirates also included Jose Lind’s brother, Orlando in the move, which brought the club a left-handed minor league pitcher, Mike Pomeranz.
Some of Ortiz’s statements were so outlandish one could not be offended by them or take them seriously. He once compared himself favorably to baseball legend Johnny Bench and when the Pirates won the Eastern Division in 1990, he cracked, “How could they win after they traded their best player?”
Ortiz actually helped the Twins to the World Series in 1991. After hitting .335 in a back up role for another former Pirate, Brian Harper, in 1990, Ortiz fell to .209 and went one for five in the Twins triumph over Atlanta. Junior moved to Cleveland in 1992 and played more often as the Tribe’s number one catcher, Sandy Alomar, Jr., battled injuries. The Puerto Rican native’s last season was in 1994 for Texas when he hit .276 in 76 at bats. He attempted to continue his career by going to spring training in 1995 as a replacement player, but was let go when the owner’s ended their lockout.
Nine Other Players Who Debuted in 1982
1991 American League Championship Series
1991 World Series
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1982-1983)
* New York Mets (1983-1984)
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1985-1989)
* Minnesota Twins (1990-1991)
* Cleveland Indians (1992-1993)
* Texas Rangers (1994)
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