There is officially nothing to discuss regarding the Phillies, which means it’s time to pay a visit to some ex-Phils, including Jose Santiago (pictured), fulfilling the dream outside our borders.
Martin Smith / Beerleaguer senior correspondent
Two years ago, we spanned the globe seeking former Phillies, guys who are still earning a pay check playing ball in all corners of the planet. As always, there are a few scattered bodies we’ve been able to trace. Today, we visit Europe and Mexico in part one of Beerleaguer's international season in review.
Italy. The giant boot established a professional league many years ago. By the time you arrive here as an American or Caribbean player, you’re usually at the end of your career. The rare exception is Cardinals pitcher Jason Simontacchi, who returned to the majors after a stint in Italy.
It’s a comfortable living for Italian players. Paychecks are decent, games are on weekends and a car and apartment usually come with the package.
Former Reading standout Rusty McNamara must enjoy it. McNamara (1997-2001) finished second in batting this season (.348) playing for Nettuno, which uses Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo as their logo. Nothing says Italy quite like a Native American. A quick search also finds pitcher Brian Looney, another ex-farmhand, who went 2-2 with a 0.75 ERA for the Telemarketers of Rimini.
Holland. Known for their wooden cleats ... okay, not really. With the terrific-sounding Dutch name "Honkbal Hoofdklasse," this is another pro weekend league with a unique demographic. While Italy tends to recruit Dominican players, Holland’s rosters are filled with native-born players, or players from the former Dutch colonies of Aruba and Curacao.
So, Aruba-native Gene Kingsdale, who played parts of seven season in the majors, now gets his paycheck here. There are currently no Phils to be found, though Randall Simon from Curacao seems like a good candidate down the road. Maybe he could join up with beleaguered starter Sidney Ponson, also of Aruba.
Mexico. The Mexican League has a long, proud history, and many North Americans have played here over the years. Like Italy, most of these players are near the end of their careers, but quite a few have made it back to the bigs. Old-timers like Satchel Paige and Sal "The Barber" Maglie made it back, and more recently, guys like Julio Franco, Randall Simon and Adam Hyzdu.
Which ex-Phils did we uncover? Manny Martinez (1991) hit .348 with Puebla. Our old buddy Randall tore the cover off the ball, hitting .348 with 18 homers in 63 games with Tijuana before his US return. Who can forget the Jose Santiago era, eh? The ex-reliever, who pitched for the Phils in 2001-02, went 7-7 4.55 ERA with Tabasco. Delaware-native Pedro Swann started the year in Mexico, and finished the season in Double-A Reading and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, hitting well at all stops.
Currently, a quick check of the Mexican Pacific League finds outfielder Chris Roberson making his second off-season visit. The 26-year-old hit well there in '05, but has struggled in his return.
I’m uncertain why, but the Phils have had very few successful ball players who were born in Mexico, unless you count Fernando Valenzuela’s eight starts in 1994. Other than Ruben Amaro Sr. and pitcher Sid Monge, there has been little else. Perhaps the Phils should pursue Tampa Bay infielder Jorge Cantu, having reportedly passed on Japan’s Ankinori Iwamura.
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we try to locate Lou Collier in the Far East.