- C, LF, OF, RF, 1B, DH
- March 21, 1944
- 193 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 7-23-1967 with PIT
Manny Sanguillen had the unfortunate honor of catching in the National League during the heyday of Johnny Bench, perhaps the greatest backstop in the senior circuit’s history. As such, Sanguillen never won a gold glove or a starting slot on an All-Star Team, but was a gold glove caliber catcher during his prime and a .300 hitter.
Sanguillen, though, did win the hearts of Pirate fans. In addition to his fielding and linedrive hitting, he was the fastest running catcher of his time and his broad smile advertised his friendly manner. He was a tough out even though he seldom walked and a tough man to steal against. In fact, Lou Brock, the game’s top theft artist of his time, said that Sanguillen was the hardest catcher to steal against, even more difficult than Bench, due to his quick release. His batterymate, Steve Blass, stated, “Other than the homeruns and rbi’s, Sangi was as good a catcher as Bench.”Four times Sanguillen topped .300 and he was added to the Mid-Summer Classic three times as a backup to Bench. “Sangi” was a close friend of Roberto Clemente and those fans old enough to remember will recall images of him diving into shark infested waters in an effort to recover his friend’s body following the plane crash which claimed Clemente’s life. They might also remember that Sanguillen had also considered going on that fatal plane trip to take relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims, but elected not to go.
With his days as a regular behind him, Sanguillen returned to the Pirates after being the first player in Major League history to be traded for a non-playing manager to contribute a game winning pinchhit in Game 2 of the 1979 World Series, further cementing his popularity with Pittsburgh fans.
Manny first came to the Bucs in 1967. He had been signed by Howie Haak after considering a pro career in boxing as he played several sports in high school, but not baseball. In his second professional season, the young catcher hit .328 in A ball earning a promotion to AAA. Injuries to the Pirate catchers led to his promotion in 1967 when regular catchers Jim Pagliaroni and Jerry May were sidelined. Sanguillen showed offensive promise with a .271 average in 96 at bats, but broke a finger in winterball which cost him a chance to make the team in 1968. The injury greatly effected his hitting early that year, but he hit .387 over his final 87 games for Columbus and with the Pirates in a youth movement, went to spring training with a solid chance at being the number one catcher. He was by the end of 1969, appearing in 113 games behind the plate. He hit .303 and improved his defense. Sangi’s .325 was third in the NL in 1970 and he was a key member on the team which won the Eastern Division, but, like most of his teammates, Manny had a tough NLCS against the Reds, going just two for 12.
With the NL’s defending MVP, Bench, having an off-season in 1971, Sanguillen was generally considered the best all-around catcher in the league that season. He hit .319 and drove in a career high 81 runs, second best ever by a Pirate catcher. With the Pirates facing tough Phillie lefty Chris Short in the opener, Sanguillen actually batted cleanup, although he had hit only seven homers the year before, a total he equaled in ’71. Sanguillen drew just six unintentional walks that season, but established a career high in doubles. He was named to the All-Star Team, but did not play as Bench caught the whole game. However, The Sporting News and AP named him the National League All-Star Catcher on their postseason all-star teams as he outhit his rival from Cinci by 81 points.
Manny was steady, but unspectacular against the Giants in the playoffs, but enjoyed a fine World Series, finishing behind only Clemente with a .379 average and nine hits.
The native of Panama just missed becoming the sixth catcher in National League history to post four strait.300 seasons when he hit .298 in 1972. His average, however, was good enough for 12th in the NL and he was again named to the All-Star Team. In an effort to lighten the burden on Sanguillen’s speedy legs and to get young catcher Milt May, a powerhitter in the minor leagues more playing time, the Pirates began experimenting by playing Sanguillen in the outfield a few times that season. He made a great, diving catch his first game as an outfielder.
With the playoffs being no time to experiment, Manny was behind the plate for the NLCS. He enjoyed a good series until its last pitch. In fact, he was the hero of Game 3, knocking in the game winner in the eighth after homering earlier in the game. However, Sangi was unable to block Bob Moose’s title ending wild pitch which gave the Reds the pennant.
After Clemente’s death, the Pirates decided to accelerate Sanguillen’s experince in the outfield in spiring training and he opened 1973 as the club’s rightfielder. He had more difficulty adjusting to rightfield than anticipated and with the team off to a terrible start and both Sanguillen and May not living up to expectations, Manny was moved back to his familiar catcher’s position on June 15. Still, Sanguillen set personal highs in games played (149), homeruns (12) and extrabase hits (45). His average, however, finished at .282, the lowest since he became a major league regular and his defense was not as crisp after playing 59 games as an outfielder.
If Sanguillen had gotten something of a rest by playing the outfield early in 1973, he must have been exhausted by the end of 1974. With May traded to the Astros, the Pirates were unable to supply their number one catcher with an adequate backup and he caught a career high 151 games, including the final 53 and started 90 of the final 93. His defense improved and as the Pirates were in a tight pennant race with St. Louis, Danny Murtaugh could not afford to rest him. In a scoreless game against the Cardinals late in the season, Sanguillen threw out Brock, who was on his way to a record 118 stolen bases that season, trying to take thirdbase late in the game. The following hitter singled, but the hit had been made meaningless by Manny’s strong throw. “The throw was right on the money,” pitcher Jim Rooker commented at the time. “Anywhere else and Brock would have been safe.” The Pirates won the game in extra innings, a big victory in the pennant chase. Manny also provided the hit which clinched the division championship with a chopper which scored Al Oliver in the tenth inning of the final game of the season. One inning earlier, Sanguillen had scored the tying run after Steve Swisher’s throw had hit Bob Robertson in the back following Robertson’s strikeout. His ironman season might have cost Sangi a chance at .300, but is .287 was not far off and his durability was a major factor in the team’s victorious season.
After hitting .250 in the Pirates four game loss to Los Angeles in the playoffs, Sanguillen received some good news for 1975. The Pirates had traded for another catcher, Duffy Dyer, a proven defensive player who would afford the Pirates the luxury of giving Sanguillen some time off. Sanguillen responded with a career high .328 average and another trip to the All-Star Game, although once again he watched from the bench. Surprisingly, Sanguillen also became more patient at the plate that summer, walking 48 times. The playoffs, however, were a low point. Although Sanguillen had continued to have a caught stealing percentage above the league average, the Cincinnati Reds ran wild against him and Pirate pitchers, setting a record with 11 stolen bases in three games. As they had in ’70, the Reds’ pitchers held Manny to a two for 12 mark at the plate.
Sanguillen played well behind the plate in 1976 when injuries did not keep him out of the lineup. He hit .290, but played in only 114 games, batting 389 times, the least action he had seen since his minor league days.
Officially going on 33 years old, with some rumors stating he was actually older, and with the Pirates having converted a strong armed outfielder, Ed Ott, to catcher, General Manager Harding Peterson traded Sanguillen to the Oakland A’s when their owner, Charles O. Finley insisted on him as payment for A’s Manager Chuck Tanner. The deal was controversial, a catcher one year removed from a .328 All-Star season for a manager, but it became a moot point when Sanguillen, after hitting .275 for Oakland in 1977, was reobtained late the following spring training for three players who did not figure in the Pirates’ plans.
However, during Sangi’s one year on The Bay, Ott had shown promise and Dyer continued to build hisreputation as an excellent handler of pitchers and had hit surprisingly well. Although he joked that the Pirates had “made a good trade twice,” Tanner made it clear Ott and Dyer would do the bulk of the catching and Manny would see occasional duty behind the plate, spell Willie Stargell and first and pinchhit. Sanguillen hit .264 in this role, catching only 18 games all year.
In 1979, Sanguillen saw even less playing time. 42 of his 74 at bats were as a pinchhitter. Manny’s biggest hit of the year was a gamewinning pinch triple against the Phillies on September 19. Still, Sangi had only four rbi’s all year and batted just .224. His statistics made him a surprise choice to some when Tanner called on him to bat against Oriole reliever Don Stanhouse in the ninth inning of the second game of the World Series with the score tied and Ott on at second with two outs. Sanguillen lined a hit to rightfield and Ott scored the winning run. Tanner had wisely figured the badball hitting Sanguillen would be a good matchup against Stanhouse who’s pitches tended to tailoff the plate. Afterwards, Manny dedicated his hit to Clemente and when the Series returned to Pittsburgh for Game 3, he was given a standing ovation by Pirate fans. The hero responded by jumping up on the Pirates dugout to acknowledge the applause.
Sanguillen continued to pinchhit in 1980. Following the season, he was included in a trade with Bert Blyleven to the Indians, but was released in spring training and retired.
Sanguillen remained a well-liked and visible figure in Pittsburgh, appearing at Pirate functions and oldtimer games over the years and maintaining a local residence. In 2002, he went to spring training as a guest catching instructor and came back a PNC Park star as he agreed to host a barbeque stand behind the centerfield wall at the Pirate’s home. He can be seen there regularly, still smiling and helping fans recall the glory days of the 1970’s and their memories of one of Pittsburgh’s All-Time Greats.
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- Manny Sanguillen