- Born: January 4, 1944 in Havana, Cuba.
- Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 23, 1977
- Height: 5′ 11″ Weight: 175 lb.
- Seasons in Detroit: 1 (1977)
- Uniform Number: 3, 44
- Stats: .309 avg., 5 HR, 51 RBI, .745 OPS
When the Tigers sought a player to oversee second base until Lou Whitaker was ready, they could have done a lot worse than Rigoberto “Tito” Fuentes.
Offensively, that is.
The switch-hitting 33 year old trailed only Ron LeFlore‘s team-leading .325 average that season but was brutal in the field. He led all American League second baseman with 26 errors, and posted a .970 fielding percentage. Fans that remember Fuentes’ brief stop in Detroit are more likely to recall his signature bat flip when he approached the plate, tapping the bat handle on the plate, flip it up and catch the handle. This was a move widely imitated during Wiffle Ball games in my neighborhood, and probably others around Detroit, too.
After his one season with the Tigers, his contract was purchased by the Expos, who promptly released him in Spring Training in 1978. The Tigers were ready to hand second base to Whitaker but picked up infielder Steve Dillard just in case. Upon Fuentes’ departure, Jim Campbell had some interesting things to say in the Associated Press story:
“I’m not going to knock Tito,” said Tigers General Manager Jim Campbell. “He did a good job for us, especially offensively. (snip) “Dillard does some things better than Tito,” Campbell said. “He’s a better fielding second baseman than Tito, he covers more ground. And he runs better than Tito did.”
Good thing Campbell didn’t want to knock him.
Of course, the truth about Fuentes’ brief tenure in Detroit is probably somewhere in this paragraph from the AP story:
There also had been reports that he was haggling with Campbell over a new contract. Fuentes’ salary demands were reported to be in the $200,000 range.
And there you go.
Just ask Rusty Staub or Steve Kemp how receptive Campbell was to salary “demands.”
Fuentes spent the 1978 season, his last in the majors, with the A’s.
Oh, and if you were curious whether Dillard’s range and fielding were better: they weren’t. His fielding percentage of .958 was 12 points worse. But at least he was a better runner.