Obscure Former Phillies Hour, Vol. 2: Willie Montanez
Hello and welcome! It’s Obscure Former Phillies Hour!
Today’s lucky contestant comes courtesy of reader @jcamaratta, who submitted a favorite player from his childhood. We’ve chosen him because out of the list (and I do have a list) of suggestions after the first OFPH, most of them were from those terrible Phillies teams around the turn of the century–which, if I’m honest, is kind of what I had in mind–but it’s good to acknowledge that there was Phillies baseball even before the 1990s.
So step on down…Willie Montanez! This is your career in twenty points.
- Willie Montanez was born April 1, 1948, in Catano, Puerto Rico, home of what is actually a pretty awesome municipal flag for a small town:
- Willie Montanez was originally property of the St. Louis Cardinals, but he was selected out of rookie ball in the Rule V draft by the California Angels at the age of 18.
- Montanez’s cameo with the Angels went about as well as you might think: eight games, two plate appearances (both strikeouts), two runs and a stolen base. He was back with the Cardinals by May.
- Among first-year position players to debut in the 1960s, age 18 and under, Tony LaRussa played in the fifth-most games. Dave Duncan played in the seventh-most. Dave Duncan went on to win three World Series with the A’s and had a long and successful career as a pitching coach. Tony LaRussa went on to drink a lot of wine and fall asleep behind the wheel of his car.
- You know how Curt Flood was supposed to be traded to the Phillies in 1969 and refused, retired, then sued MLB for free agency and lost, serving as kind of a spiritual martyr for the Messersmith Case? Willie Montanez was the guy the Cardinals sent to Philly instead.
- Montanez had a cup of coffee with the Phillies in 1970, but it was in 1971 that he broke out, hitting 30 home runs, posting a 124 OPS+ and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
- In 1972, Montanez led the major leagues in doubles with 39.
- In his first three full seasons, Montanez hit a combined .255/.324/.417, good for a 107 OPS+ and a total of 1.8 bWAR.
- Something changed for him in 1974, though, because for some reason, his batting average shot up about 50 points from his career average, and over the next three seasons, he hit .308/.350/.415, but thanks to the changing run environment, his OPS+ only went up to 111. Still not great for a first baseman, but serviceable.
- On May 4, 1975, the Phillies traded Willie Montanez to the San Francisco Giants for Garry Maddox. Candlestick Park flooded the next day…get it? Because 2/3 of the world is covered by water and the rest is covered by Garry Maddoooooh forget it.
- Montanez was a horrific basestealer: 32-for-74 in his career. That’s the 12th-worst percentage in history, minimum 25 stolen bases.
- Montanez got traded a lot: eight times in 14 major league seasons.
- Montanez was traded for two Hall of Fame pitchers in his career. He was traded from Atlanta to the Mets on December 8, 1977 in a four-team, ten-player trade that kind of reads like this: “Willie Montanez…mumblemumblemumblemumble…BERT BLYLEVEN…mumblemumblemumblemumble…Al Oliver.”
The other sent him from the Rangers to the Padres on February 15, 1980 for a package of three players that included Gaylord Perry. I mean, yeah, Perry was 41 and pretty well cooked by that point, but I can’t say that I was traded for a Hall of Famer…and two other guys.
- The third-most similar player to Montanez, according to Baseball Reference, was Vic Power, another athletic first baseman from Puerto Rico with a reputation for a slick glove. Vic Power, according to Bill James in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, was widely regarded as a flashy, hot-doggin’ player, and as such, was a rather polarizing figure. Remember this.
- The first sentence of Willie Montanez’s Wikipedia page says, essentially: “Willie Montanez is a retired ballplayer.” The rest of the first paragraph is more or less all about how he was a show-off and everyone hated him.
- I didn’t have to look that stuff about Vic Power up, because my copy of the New Historical Baseball Abstract spent my last two years of college next to my toilet. As a result, I’ve pretty much got James’ 998-page volume memorized.
- Vic Power, by the way, was actually named Victor Pellot, in case you were wondering (as I was) how a Puerto Rican got the last name “Power.”
- Montanez was traded again on August 31, 1980, from the Padres to the Montreal Expos for minor leaguer Tony Phillips. Tony Phillips might be the most underrated player of my lifetime. During his career, he started at every position except for pitcher and catcher, and in an 18-year major league career, he posted a .345 wOBA and accumulated 51.5 fWAR. He was like the Ben Zobrist of my dad’s generation: a guy who was massively valuable, but no one noticed because of his relatively low batting average and because he played a bunch of different positions for a (bunch of, in Phillips’ case) relatively unheralded team(s). I’m not saying he’s a Hall of Famer, but let’s give the guy some respect.
- Montanez wore three different numbers with the Phillies, and eight different numbers overall. I’m not sure why that was necessary, but he did. Chuck Klein wore seven different numbers with the Phillies, so whatever, I guess.
- In an act of adorable bookendishness, the only time Montanez changed teams via free agency was his last–after being released in mid-1982 by the Pirates, Montanez signed with the Phillies on August 10, 1982. He played in 18 games, collecting a single and a walk in 17 plate appearances, and was released on November 4 at the age of 34. He never played in the major leagues again.
A sincere thanks to Joe Camaratta for suggesting such an interesting Obscure Former Phillie, and a sincere thanks y’all for taking the time to read about Willie Montanez.