Rufino Linares (by JonathanF)

Six hundred forty-two MLB players were born in the Dominican Republic1. Of these, 91 are from the town of San Pedro de Macoris. Of those, 57 are position players2. On this list there are great players (Sammy Sosa, Tony Fernandez) and players you never heard of (Elvio Jiminez). Rufino Linares is in the lower-middle-third of the list.

He made the 1981 Braves as a 30-year-old rookie, having started in the organization as a 23-year-old in Kingsport in the Appalachia league. After his first two seasons, he never OPSed below .788 in the minors. He accumulated almost 3000 plate appearances in the minor leagues before being called up.

As one might expect, given the fact Rufino could hit, he wasn’t much of a fielder. Oddly, it’s a little hard to discern his bad fielding reputation in his BRef stats. He had above-average range (for a left fielder, 1st in the league in 1981) and Total Zone ranks him very slightly above average and his dWAR was a solid 0.0. He had speed. In the strike-shortened season of 1981 he started about half the Braves games in left field, with Eddie Miller and Brett Butler taking the other starts. Throw in another 25 pinch hitting appearances and he was a Braves regular in 1981.

By 1982, the Braves decided this Butler guy was pretty good, so he took 55 starts in center, which meant Murphy started 47 games in left field. This reduced Rufino to 37 games started in left, the remainder being taken by a grab-bag of Terry Harper, Jerry Royster, Larry Whisenton and a few Joe Torre-inspired outliers like Bob Watson for one game.

And his minor league hitting credential never quite held up in the bigs. His OPS+ in his two years as a left field starter were 86 and 93. He didn’t make the team in 1983, got traded to the Angels, got a cup of coffee in 1984 and was done. He died in 1998 at the age of 47 in a car crash in Santo Domingo. He was a cog in a bad Braves team and a cog in a good Braves team. Nothing special, right?

Oh, but he was, because he uttered my favorite sports quote of all time. It was in this game, April 14, 1982.

It was the 8th game of the winning streak that started the 1982 season, the second game Rufino played in (he pinch-ran and stayed in to play left the night before) and the first game he started. In the top of the 9th, trailing 2-1, Bruce Benedict hit a double that scored Rufino, tying up the game. Rick Camp is pitching the bottom of the 9th. He gets Wayne Krenchicki but Larry Biitner doubles… not only that, his name has two consecutive “i’€™s” in it. Next up, Paul Householder, hits a sinking liner to left field. After a brilliant diving catch, Linares then doubles off the pinch runner at second to end the 9th. The Braves would go on to score 2 in the 10th and hold on for their 8th consecutive win to start the season.

Naturally, all the reporters wanted to hear about the great game-saving catch that extended the streak. Quoth Rufino3: “I see ball. I run for ball. I dive for ball. I look in front of me. No ball. I look behind me. No ball. I look in glove. Ball. I say: Rufino, you one lucky guy.”

Pure gold. Chico Escuela had nothing on Linares. RIP, Rufi.

[1] All stats taken from analysis of http://www.baseball-reference.com/bio/Dominican-Republic_born.shtml

[2] Manny Alexander pitched 2/3 of an inning that I will ignore.

[3] There are numerous sources of this quote on line, all of which vary slightly. I’m telling it the way I remember it.

77 thoughts on “Rufino Linares (by JonathanF)”

  1. Another one of my favorite interviews with Rufino was when he was asked what his secret to success was for hitting left handed and right handed pitchers. His reply was “It doesn’t matter to me, left hander, right hander, I just heeet the ball”. The interviewer then asked him in a round about way what he thought the Braves chances were for the rest of the season. I don’t think he fully understood the question and answered, “It doesn’t matter to me, left hander, right hander, I just heeet the ball”.

    One final story is when an actual wounded bat (the mammal) flew onto the field and landed somewhere in the shallow outfield. Rufino ran from the dugout with a towel and picked it up. He then offered the bat to several screaming fans near the 3rd base dugout. How could anyone not like the guy?

  2. I seem to recall our announcers settling on the blatantly incorrect pronunciation “luh-NEER-us”. Am I imagining that?

    He was a BABIP monster in ’82. His final game that season brought his average below .300 for the first time all year — he was around .330 for much of the season. He’s also a “double unique” — the only Rufino and the only Linares in MLB history.

  3. I remember the spring training when he made the team. I must have seen nearly every game in West Palm that year. He was incredible. He did nothing but hit screaming line drives and was the talk of the camp. He made it so that Torre could not leave him off the team, which if he had only hit .350, he would have been. What a wonderful player to root for.

    In my team of all-time favorites, he starts in LF. RIP Rufino.

  4. @2 – I only remember the announcers calling him Rufy. He was the quintessential “bad ball” hitter. His batting stance was also a lot of fun.

  5. Quick quiz: Rufino Linares is one of five Atlanta Braves “double uniques”, as defined above. Can you name any others?

  6. Nah, there’s definitely another “Kerry” and “Preston”. There was a CF for the Marlins named Preston.

    Kenshin Kawakami and Biff would be my guess.

  7. I get (quick search of Lahman Database) Jung Bong, Francisley Bueno, Octavio Dotel, Derrin Ebert, Bernard Gilkey, Remy Hermoso, Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, Rufi, Kameron Loe, and Rowland Office

    Hard to believe Gilkey is the only Bernard in MLB history.

  8. Jung Ho Kang, Octavio “Tony” Fernandez, several Bernard “Bernie”s, and Kameron Mickolio knock out four of those, and I chose not to count first names used as last names and vice versa, knocking out Remy Hermoso and Rowland Office. I somehow omitted Jurrjens, which, duh. Bueno, Ebert, Kawakami are correct, but you’re missing one. (Database searches within the first hour of trivia questions are discouraged. :p)

  9. Four other Biffs played in MLB. Schaller, Schlitzer, Sheehan and Wysong. None played a game after 1932.

  10. I’m not entirely sure what your rules are here, but Sandy Valdespino was actually named Hilario. (PS: Sandy Valdespino was the only Atlanta Cracker I remember seeing play.)

  11. Terrell Wade had some crazy first name and I don’t know of any other Wades out there, so maybe it’s him?

  12. Didn’t see Hilario on the list, but I would say that counts. Hawatha Terrell Wade is the only Hawatha, but there have been other Wades. There may be other such Hispanic players who went by nicknames that I’ve missed. The remaining player on my list is a technicality of sorts — BBRef can call Merritt Patrick Cain “Sugar” all they want, but that doesn’t make it his name, unlike the recently departed Sugar Marimon!

  13. Thanks, sansho1. I was using the last available Lahman database, which is how Kang and Marimon were omitted. That said, many references give Kangs first name Jung-ho, and the hyphenation means that Bong is smoking again. Mickolio I’ll give you, though Lahman has him as Kam. But Rowland Office? Rowland’s his unique first name… not getting your objection there. Remy’s first name was Angel, but I don’t think anybody called him that. What’s Babe Ruth’s name? Babe or George? Lawrence Berra?

  14. Jonathan, I arbitrarily decided not to include names previously used as either first or last names (i.e. Rich Rowland, Jerry Remy). It turns out to be quite a thicket, this “double unique” idea. The nicknames of various certainty, the cultural naming traditions and our misapprehension of them. The homonyms also bug me a little, like Derrin (Ebert). Maybe a more strict approach is best — to be a true “double unique”, the player must 1) be overwhelmingly commonly known by their given first and last names, 2) have both first and last names which are unmistakably, in both written and spoken senses, their own, and 3) not have had their given names used as nicknames by any other player. This, to the best of my knowledge, leaves us with:

    Rufino Linares
    Jair Jurrjens
    Kenshin Kawakami
    Francisley Bueno

  15. Chipper hired as special assistant to baseball operations. Will be a ST instructor, and assist hitters during season and with scouting prior to the draft.

    “After a few years of decompressing, I came to the undeniable conclusion that I want to be around the game again and, more particularly, around the Atlanta Braves,” Jones said. “Because of what we are in the process of building for this city and our fan base, I am extremely excited to be dipping my toe back into the water that is Braves baseball. I look forward to working with our players, as my passion for the art of hitting is something I hold near and dear to my heart. My hope is that I can be an ‘extra set of eyes’ on our players and help supplement an already strong baseball operations department and coaching staff. I am honored to be back working with the Braves.”

  16. ““Because of what we are in the process of building for this city and our fan base, I am extremely excited to be dipping my toe back into the water that is Braves baseball.””

    Translation: the Braves called, offer me money, said they really needed a face-of-the-franchise to stop the bleeding of the last 18 months; I was bored; Twitter gets me in trouble; new wife quickly approaching the “she bores me now” phase; so what the hell, right?

  17. @33

    I did kinda think the first alterior motive was definitely a component. “We could use some good press, and these marketing dollars are as good as any.”

  18. Chipper Jones earned at least $168m during his career. I doubt the Braves, in their current payroll state, offered him enough money to effect the decision one iota.

  19. It looks like Brandon Phillips might be on his way to Washington. Checking him out on BBREF kind of made me wonder… Does anyone have an explanation for how the Reds got so bad?

    2013: Reds 90-72 Braves 96-66 (Both teams made the post-season)
    2014: Reds 76-86 Braves 79-83
    2015: Reds 64-98 Braves 67-95

    I don’t remember them having a fire-sale like the Braves did. I know Votto was hurt in there for awhile. Did they just lose guys to FA and not replace them? Did they make a bunch of bad trades? Because it seems like right NOW is the beginning of their rebuilding process. How did they get worse than the Braves to begin with?

  20. @37 I’m no Reds expert, but my understanding is basically that they lost certain pieces they were unable to replace: Shin-Soo Choo to free agency after ’13, who was replaced by the bad hitting Billy Hamilton in ’14, who become downright awful in ’15. Jay Bruce also suddenly went from consistently good to below average after ’13, so their entire outfield has basically sucked. Also after ’13, Homer Bailey signed a big contract, declined and then got hurt.

    There’s probably more, but those likely account for much of it.

    Edit: Oh, Mesoraco also got hurt early last season, so they lost a very good offensive catcher for most of last year.

  21. They’re a small-market team that spends their money poorly, as evidenced by the pre-free agency extensions to Joey Votto and Homer Bailey that cost them a lot more than it would have cost them to bring those guys back once they hit free agency.

  22. Greetings from Ft. Lauderdale…

    Nice work, Jon F. Rufino was a peach.

    My main memory of Rufino was his very first game. I was watching it with a friend & when the starting lineups were announced, this was his response: “Rufino Linares? Are they serious? Who the f*** is Rufino Linares? Where do they find these people? Oh, my God…”

    Of course, in the pre-internet days, the first time I saw Leo Mazzone saunter out to the mound to have a discussion with a pitcher, I’m pretty sure I said: “Leo Mazzone? I need to see that man’s credentials!”

    On another note… today, a Marlins fan (reformed Met fan/the only genuine Marlins fan I know) asked me: “So how are the Braves going to do this year?”

    Without any explanation, I just said, “We’re gonna suck.”

    I hate knowing it, but I really have having to say it.

  23. *Hate, of course, as in hate.

    My Marlins friend did tell me something interesting, though. Did you know that every Thursday night at the Marlins home games is Senior Citizens night?

    That means that every fan over 55 gets a free ticket.

  24. @39

    Right. It’s hard to fault them for extending Votto, who is still a top-5 player in the game in my opinion, but what a rate to do it!

  25. There will be a constant call for Chipper to manage the Braves this season. I think it is a terrible idea. However, I wouldn’t be against canning Fredi halfway through the season and let Chipper fly the ship on an interim basis.

  26. On Votto,

    Disagree on the sentiment that this was a bad extension. He is barely above Freeman’s pay over the remaining years, but his OBP sets him into the stratosphere of players. No way anybody could sign him for that now.

  27. @43, the thing is, they paid a market rate years before he hit the market. (Remember, when he signed the deal, he was already signed for the next two years; he wouldn’t have hit the market until after that.) And, of course, the second of those two years was 2014, when he was injured and honestly not very good.

    If he hit the free agent market in 2014, a 30-year-old first baseman with significant concerns about whether his power was dropping, he would not have cost $225 million over 10 years. That’s a mistake that a small-market team just can’t afford to make.

    Also, I don’t think I buy that he’s top-5. He was 5th in fWAR this year, but that’s only the second time in his career that he’s ever done that: he was 11th in 2013, 14th in 2012, 10th in 2011, and fourth in 2010. I love him: he’s a truly wonderful hitter. But he isn’t Paul Goldschmidt, the actual first baseman I’d put in the MLB top five. He isn’t Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, or Bryce Harper. He’s somewhere in the top 10-15, I have no doubt. But like the Twins did with Joe Mauer, they gave an albatross contract to one of the best players in team history, and surrounded him with a bad team because they couldn’t really afford to tie up that much payroll in one player. Twins fans have already started turning on Mauer, which is just awful. In 2014, that started happening to Votto. I entirely blame management.

  28. “And, of course, the second of those two years was 2014, when he was injured and honestly not very good.”

    Alex, what are you talking about? Votto was injured in 2014 and still put up a 127 WRC+ with a .390 on-base percentage.

    And he’s a better hitter than Goldschmidt. Right now AND over the last few years. Goldscmidt’s a better player because he does everything else well–but not by that much.

  29. I agree the problem with Votto’s contract is that they paid market rate for him when they didn’t have to. The advantage to buying out arb years is that you save money on the back end. What advantage was there in giving a Pujols contract to Votto that would obligate you to pay him big bucks in his age 36-40 seasons?

    Freeman’s contract pays him through his age 31 season, so even though he’s not nearly as good as Votto on the front end, he has a good chance to be a lot better on the back end of his deal.

  30. #Braves GM Coppolella on Inciarte: “We have been contacted by more teams with interest in Inciarte than there were with Shelby Miller…

    …”Similar to Miller we aren’t looking to move Inciarte, but we will listen on any player not named Freddie Freeman and see if a club …

    …offers us something compelling that we feel makes us better.”

  31. Here come some damaged-goods minor league pitchers.

    Teams smell blood because we undervalue defense like nobody’s business.

  32. Response to Edward from the last thread:

    In 2014, Votto played 62 games and hit .255/.390/.409. His power was almost gone, his defense wasn’t very good, and he got 1.0 fWAR for the season. If you prorate that out — multiply by 2.5 or so to get a full season’s worth of stats — he’s basically league-average.

    Fine, that’s not “bad,” but it isn’t all that good.

  33. I also agree that I don’t think Chipper is the type to be interested in managing. And yes, I could see him being a hitting coach. It seems his personality would not be geared towards leading an entire small organization, but I do think he would do well with hitters.

  34. Whether he’s the hitting coach or the manager, better that we don’t have to fire Chipper eventually. The Orioles are facing this dilemma with Cal Ripken, Jr. right now.

  35. @56, But we didn’t get damaged goods pitching prospects for Simmons or for Miller. We did get “damaged goods” in the Upton and Heyward deals, getting back Tyrell Jenkins and Max Fried, but neither was the majority of the return.

    I’m not trying to defend the front office, but I’m not sure the “damaged goods” narrative really holds. But I will completely agree that they seem to undervalue defense…

  36. @58,

    Well how well did your own top-5 candidate Bryce Harper play in HIS injury-shortened 2014 campaign? A little better according to Fangraphs; not as well according to BBref.

    It doesn’t matter. It was a blip; same as Votto. They’re annihilators. And they’re both top-5.

  37. 56—I get that you think the return for Simmons was insufficient, but the team did sign him for pretty big bucks in the first place due to his defensive value, right? And they did just trade for Inciarte and sign Tyler Flowers. It could be that they properly value defense, generally, but just don’t think Simmons, specifically, is as valuable as you do — or as valuable as they think the Newcomb-Ellis combo is.

    If they do trade Inciarte for meh, I’ll probably believe you’re onto something.

  38. Even if they do undervalue Inciarte, the fact that 15 other teams (or so) want him should encourage them to hold out for the top offer. Even a fool knows when other people covet his polished turd.

    Looks like we finalized the Bonifacio deal. Maybe we can trade him for a single-A catcher with a plus hit tool.

  39. Votto has had 6 big seasons; Harper has had 1, and he was far from the top-5 from 2012-2014.

    Votto’s wRC+ since 2009, and major league rank in that category:

    2009:155, 5th
    2010: 172, 2nd
    2011: 157, 7th
    2012: 178, 1st
    2013: 155, 7th
    2014: 127, ~55th because I had to play with the minimum AB feature. This is literally just behind Josh Donaldson, by the way
    2015: 172, T-2nd (with Trout)

    Votto isn’t anything less than a consistently transcendent hitter, and there isn’t any indication that his bat isn’t still in its prime. He led the NL in on-base percentage from 2010-2013, then posted a .390 line that would have ranked 4th if he qualified, then lost this past year’s title to Lil’ Brycie by .001 points.

    If you’re going to overpay for somebody, that’s the guy you overpay for. He’s incredible, and there are, at most, 5 players in baseball who are better than him right now, or a better bet to have a huge season next year–but probably only 3 or 4.

  40. He’s 32, and there were significant concerns that his power was dropping. His OBP skills are elite, and he hits for high average, and he’s a wonderful player, and certainly in the top 15 and probably in the top 10, but again: Bryce Harper is 23, and he’s 32. Harper is a lot more likely to repeat his 2015 success than Votto is.

    You’re welcome to give Joey Votto all the money in the world, but that doesn’t mean the Reds should have done so two years before he would have become eligible for free agency.

  41. I agree with both. I think the case that Votto is a top 5 player is compelling. I also think it’s true that the Reds bid against themselves. Locking him up was smart. Giving him a Pujols deal when they didn’t have to was silly.

  42. @71 — The Braves. They started earlier and are further along in the rebuild. (In theory, they also have more money, but we’ll see if they actually spend it when the time comes.) Trading Frazier and Phillips and Chapman is the start of Cincinnati’s rebuild, not the end. The Reds have essentially no young talent to speak of and a lot of dead money, and their best player will probably not be in a position to contribute by the time they’re good again.

  43. What Tanto said.

    The only annoying thing about the money aspect is that it does seem like it’s being pumped into player payroll, just not the on-field product. Putting money into the international, ridiculously young players is great for long-term health, but I selfish want those dollars spent on 2016-18 talent.

  44. I don’t know what the Reds got for Cueto. Was it Good? Apparently they didn’t do great for Frazier. We should definitely have a head start on them, and it doesn’t appear picking ahead of us is a huge advantage this year.

  45. Kyle Davies is off to Japan.

    He’s 32 now. I can’t decide whether I want to say that he’s “already 32” or “only 32.”

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