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Andres Galarraga
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Andres Galarraga

Andres Galarraga (June 18, 1961), born Andrés José Padovani Galarraga (gal-lar-RAH-ga), is a Major League Baseball first baseman and right-handed batter who has played for the Montreal Expos, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants. In 2004 he was not in the major leagues, but had not yet formally retired.

Galarraga was born in Caracas, Venezuela. At six-foot-three and 235 pounds, he began his professional career in Venezuela at 16 and has played baseball ever since. He was nicknamed "The Big Cat" (El Gran Gato) for his extraordinary quickness at first base in spite of his big frame. Also, he is a very popular player both for his achievements on the field, and for his big and bright smile smile that is used to charm, greet, guard, and convince. Several injuries plagued Galarraga throughout his career, and, in 2004, he has beaten cancer for a second time and is hoping to get back to the major leagues.

Table of contents
1 Career
2 Statistics
3 Highlights
4 Miscellaneous notes
5 Big Cat quotations
6 News
7 External links
8 See also

Career

Venezuelan Winter League

Galarraga was signed by the Leones del Caracas club as a catcher and third baseman. He made his debut in the 1978-79 season. Some of the players he had as teammates were the bigleaguers Tony Armas, Bo Diaz, Manny Trillo, Gonzalo Marquez and Leo Hernandez. Galarraga started as an utility and three seasons later he was the regular first baseman. At the recommendation of team manager Felipe Alou, he was signed by the Expos in 1979. At that time, some MLB scouts thought this 17-year-old power-hitting prodigy was too fat to play professionally.

In the 1985-86 season Galarraga played a full 65-games schedule, leading the league in homeruns (14) and runs (47); batting .297, and was second in runs batted in (37) and doubles (10). In 13 overall seasons he hit .271 with 61 homers and 282 RBI in 555 games. Beside this, the stockily-built young player showed good instincts for streching singles, taking the extra base, compiling a significant number of triples and stolen bases.

Minor leagues

In the minors, Galarraga played for West Palm Beach (1979, 1982-83), Calgary (1979-80), Jamestown (1981), Jacksonville (1984) and Indianapolis (1985).

Galarraga earned Montreal job by being named Double-A Southern League MVP for Jacksonville in 1984, with .289 BA, 27 homeruns and 87 RBI. Also, he led the league in total bases (271), slugging percentage (.508), intentional base on balls (10), hit by pitches (9), and in double plays (130) and total chances (1428) on first base. Prior to his majors promotion, he hit .269, 25, 85 with Indianapolis in 121 games, being named Rookie of the Year in the Triple-A International League.

Expos 1985-1991

The Big Cat made his debut with Montreal on August 23, 1985. He struggled on the way in, hitting .187 (14-for-75) with two homers and four RBI in 24 games. His promising start in 1986 was halted with a knee injury. Galarraga had eight homeruns and was leading all NL rookies in runs batted in (25) when he suffered a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery on July 10. He was activated one month later, only for to be re-disabled the following day after pulling muscles in his rib cage. He returned to action on September, ending with .271, 10, 42 in 105 games.

Overshadowed by some teammates, Galarraga survived tough rookie year and, quietly, he had a consistently 1987 season. He hit .305, 13, 90, finishing second in the league in doubles (40). Despite his size he displayed solid defense, being adept to scoop throws out of the dirt and excellent quickness turning the 3-6-3 double play. Cardinals' manager Whitey Herzog called him "the best-fielding right-handed first baseman I've seen since Gil Hodges."

In 1988 Galarraga emerged from the shadows to become the best player on the Expos. He had MVP-type season with a .302 of batting average, 99 runs, 92 RBI and 29 homeruns; led league in hits (184) and doubles (42), and earned an All-Star berth for the first time. In 1989, Galarraga became target of Montreal fans' frustration when he tailed off after All-Star game. That year he led the league in strikeouts (158), dropping his production to .257, 23, 85. He fell five RBI short of becoming first Expo to string together three straight seasons with 90 or more runs batted in. In the mid-season, he blasted his first grand slam and also stole home for first time in his career. Beside this, his stellar play in first base was rewarded with a Gold Glove award.

Galarraga's 1990 season had Expos mumbling that the team should lower its expectations for the slick-fielding first baseman. For the second consecutive season, the Big Cat failed to repeat the standards he set in his first two full seasons. He hit .256 with 20 homeruns and 87 RBI, almost a mirror image of his previous season. For third consecutive year he led the league in strikeouts. Smart pitchers exploited his impatience at the plate and didn't give him good pitches to hit. Even without any improvement with the bat, Galarraga makes a tremendous contribution on the field, sccoping up infielder's errant throws, starting 3-6-3 double play, and going either to his right or his left. He won his second Gold Glove. In that season he had a six-RBI game, two four-RBI games, and hit his first career inside-the-park homer.

Slowed by injuries, Galarraga struggled through worst offensive season of his career in 1991. Disabled with strained left hamstring between May and July, later he had a new arthroscopic surgery to repair damage to undersurface of his left kneecap. Montreal missed his glove as much as his bat, committing 43 infield errors in 53 games without him. In that season Galarraga hit .219, 9, 33 in 107 games. He stole home for second time in his career and hit his 100th career homerun. At the end of the season he was traded to the Cardinals.

Cardinals: 1992

Galarraga had a second chance with St. Louis. But early in the year a pitch broke his wrist and he didn't recover until July. He batted .296 after the All-Star break and hit all ten of his homers after July 1st for a .497 second-half slugging percentage. He finished with a .243 BA and 39 RBI, but made a good impression on Cardinals batting coach Don Baylor. When Baylor became the first Rockies manager in off-season, he recommended that Colorado take a chance on Galarraga and sign him as a free agent. And The Big Cat got a new life in his career.

Rockies: 1993-1997

In a 1993 season full of remarkable individual achievements, Galarraga flirted with the .400 mark for a while. His final .370 BA was an amazing 127-point increase over his previous year mark, leading the National League batters, and was the highest average by a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio batted .381 in 1939.

Despite missing 42 games with assorted injuries, The Big Cat compiled 56 multi-hit games to lead the league. He added 22 homers, 98 RBI, 71 runs, 35 doubles, four triples, a .403 on base percentage, and his .602 slugging percentage was second in the league. His .370 mark also is highest average ever by a Hispanic American player, while becoming the first player on an expansion team as well as the first Venezuelan to win a batting title. Tony Gwynn hit .358 to finish as runner-up in the title race.

Galarraga's improvement began when Baylor drastically opened up his stance to make him quicker on inside pitches. The new stance also helped Galarraga generate more power to the opposite field. At the same time, facing the pitcher with two eyes gave him a better view at pitches, lowering his strikeout rate and making him much more consistent at the plate with a better contact. Galarraga finished 10th in the MVP selection, but won The Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year Award. After the season, and for third time, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.

In the strike shortened 1994 season, Galarraga set a new National League record in April by driving in 30 runs in a month. He seemed to be on his way to a terrific year again, when he fractured his right hand on July 28. At this time, Colorado had climbed to within a half-game of first place Dodgers. Without him, the Rockies went 3-10 the rest of the way. Galarraga paced club with 31 homers (fifth in the league), and batted .319 with 85 RBI.

On June 25, 1995, Galarraga hit three homeruns in three consecutive innings to tie a MLB record. He finished with .280, 31 homers and 106 RBI. Numbers were helped by fact he stayed healthy for first time in four years. In that season the Rockies had four players with 30 or more homeruns, matching the 1977 Dodgers. Over the next seasons, Galarraga developed into one of the best RBI men in baseball, driving in a combined 396 runs between 1996 and 1998 (106, 150, 140). In the same period he batted .279, .303 and .318, with 31, 47, and 41 HRs. Some critics argued that his achievements were possible thanks to the thin-air, mile-high, hitter-friendly Coors Field. But Galarraga belted many homers on the road that travelled over 450-foot. In the '97 season he hit a mammoth homerun off Kevin Brown; a grand slam that landed 20 rows deep in the upper deck at Marlins' Pro Player Stadium and was alternately measured at 573 and 529 feet. Previously, he smashed two homers in two games that traveled 455-foot and 451-foot respectively, totalizing 1,435 feet, an average of 478 feet each.

A free agent at the end of the season, Galarraga signed a 3-year contract with Atlanta.

Braves: 1998, 2000

In his first season in Atlanta Galarraga silenced his critics. He proved that he could still produce great power numbers in lower altitudes, hitting .305 with 44 homeruns and 121 RBI.

During 1999 spring training, Galarraga developed a sore back. Hydrobaths, massages, muscle relaxers and stretching would not stop the nagging soreness. He was referred to a medical oncologist at Atlanta for a through physical exam and an MRI. When the diagnosis came in, it stopped the famous Galarraga smile. On his second lumbar vertebra in his lower back he had a tumor known as Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of lymphatic cancer. He missed the entire season while undergoing treatment.

Fortunately, slugger Galarraga returned to the field in high spirits and good form after undergoing chemotheraphy and a strict workout routine. In his third at-bat of the Opening Day in the 2000 season, Galarraga knocked the winning run with a homerun and showed his smile again. In April and May, he was tied for first place in home runs in the National League and was batting .300. Galarraga finished his comeback campaign hitting .302 with 28 HRs and 100 RBI, and even played in the All-Star Game in front of the home fans at Turner Field.

A free agent after the season, Galarraga signed with the Rangers.

Rangers, Giants and Expos: 2001-2003

The change of scenery affected the hot-hitting Galarraga. At 40, he found himself lost in a new league, facing different pitchers, and specially, with star Rafael Palmeiro as the incumbent first baseman for the Rangers. Galarraga was used basically as DH, pinch-hitter and occasional starter against left-handed pitchers. After his disappointed .235, 10 homers, 34 RBI numbers in 72 games, he was traded to the Giants in the mid-season. Then, Galarraga signed with Montreal in 2002 and returned to the Giants in 2003, when he signed a minor league contract before the season. As a part-time player with San Francisco, he batted .301 (82-272) with 12 HRs and 42 RBI.

Statistics

In 18 seasons, Galarraga compiled a .288 BA with 398 homeruns, 1423 RBI, 1194 runs, 2330 hits, 444 doubles, 32 triples, and 128 stolen bases in 2250 games.

Highlights

Miscellaneous notes

Big Cat quotations

News

Wednesday, May 26, 2004 (AP)
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Andres Galarraga has beaten cancer for a second time and is hoping to get back to the major leagues. 

Galarraga said Tuesday that he recently underwent two three-week periods of chemotherapy and was hospitalized for 23 days for additional treatment for the same non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that sidelined him in 1999 when he was with the Atlanta Braves.

"It was very difficult. I had a lot of nausea," he said. "But I always was optimistic. ... Thank God it worked, and I feel better than ever."

He said he was pronounced fit last week after a checkup at a Chicago medical facility.

"The news was excellent," he said.

Beaming and looking healthy at a news conference, the 42-year-old Galarraga said wants to get back to the majors so he can reach 400 home runs. In 18 seasons, Galarraga has 398 homers. The first baseman known as "The Big Cat" hit .301 last season with 12 home runs and 42 RBI for the San Francisco Giants. He also played for Montreal, St. Louis, Colorado, Atlanta and Texas during his career.

"I will play for anyone to get the home runs I need to reach 400," he said.

External links

See also