Oquendo with the St. Louis Cardinals
|Born: July 4, 1963|
Río Piedras, Puerto Rico
|May 2, 1983, for the New York Mets|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 29, 1995, for the St. Louis Cardinals|
|Runs batted in||254|
|Career highlights and awards|
José Manuel Roberto Guillermo Oquendo Contreras (born July 4, 1963), nicknamed The Secret Weapon, is a Puerto Rican former infielder and current coach in Major League Baseball (MLB). He currently serves as special assistant to the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, an organization with whom he has been affiliated since 1985. He managed the Puerto Rico national team in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. During his playing career, Oquendo proved highly versatile defensively: he played primarily second base and shortstop, but also frequently in the outfield, and made at least one appearance at every position during his MLB playing career. José Oquendo retired with the highest all-time career fielding percentage for second basemen at 99.19% which appears to be second overall today behind Plácido Polanco (99.27%).
From Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, the New York Mets signed Oquendo as an amateur free agent in 1979 at age 15. He made his MLB debut with the Mets in 1983 and was traded to the Cardinals in 1985. In 1988, he made his catching debut, giving him an appearance at every position. From 1989-1991, he was the Cardinals' regular second baseman alongside shortstop Ozzie Smith. Oquendo's best season offensively came in 1989, when he batted .291, 28 doubles, .747 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and a major-league leading 163 games played. In 1990, he produced his best season defensively, recording the fewest errors (three) for a second baseman in a season with at least 150 games played.
Following his playing career, Oquendo coached and managed in the Cardinals' Minor League Baseball system in 1997 and 1998, and became their bench coach at the major league level the following year. In 2000, he became the Cardinals' third base coach, remaining in that role until 2015, while helping lead the club to 11 playoff appearances, including World Series championships in 2006 and 2011 and four National League pennants. He missed the 2016 season after sustaining a knee injury that required surgery and rehabilitation; at the time, he was the longest-tenured coach in MLB. In 2017, he began serving as a special assistant to Cardinals general manager Mike Girsch, instructing at the Cardinals training facility in Jupiter, Florida. For the 2018 season, he returned to the Cardinals major league team to serve as third base coach once again.
Oquendo was born in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, and signed with the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1979 at only fifteen years old. When he made his major league debut with the Mets in 1983, he became the first player in franchise history to be younger than the franchise (the Mets began play in 1962; Oquendo was born in 1963). A switch hitter, Oquendo threw right-handed and stood 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall and weighed 160 pounds (73 kg) during his playing career. After two seasons bouncing back and forth between the Mets and their triple A affiliate the Tidewater Tides, Oquendo was traded with Mark J. Davis to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ángel Salazar and John Young.
Oquendo spent all of 1985 with the Cardinals' triple A affiliate the Louisville Redbirds. With the Mets, Oquendo had only ever played shortstop; with perennial All-star Ozzie Smith firmly entrenched there, the Cards experimented with Oquendo at other positions when they brought him up for the 1986 season. Along with short, Oquendo played second base, third and in the outfield.
In 1987, Oquendo played every position, except catcher, and was nicknamed "The Secret Weapon" by manager Whitey Herzog. His one emergency appearance on the mound came on August 7. Already down 12-4 to the Philadelphia Phillies, Oquendo pitched the eighth inning and gave up three earned runs. Oquendo reached the postseason for the only time in his career in 1987. He batted .222, including a three run home run in the second inning of the seventh game of the 1987 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants; the Cardinals would appear in the 1987 World Series, falling to the Minnesota Twins in seven games.
In 1988, Oquendo became one of only a handful of players to have played every position on the diamond when he made his debut behind the plate. He also took the mound again, this time it was in a nineteen inning marathon against the Atlanta Braves on May 14. After pitching three scoreless innings, Oquendo was tagged for a two-run double by Ken Griffey in the nineteenth, and took the loss.
With Luis Alicea back in the minors in 1989, Oquendo emerged as the Cardinals' regular second baseman. He responded by committing only five errors in 851 chances and a .994 fielding percentage. He also enjoyed his best season with the bat, batting .291, and was in the top ten in hits, triples, walks and on-base percentage. He also played in a league leading 163 games that season.
His best season with the glove was the following season, when he set a major league record for the fewest errors (three) by a second baseman in a 150+ game season. However, perennial Gold Glover and future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg won the Gold Glove Award that year.
In the first game of the 1992 season, Oquendo suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of the season. Oquendo spent three more seasons with the Cardinals as a utility infielder. He retired after failing to make the Cardinal roster out of spring training in 1996.
Oquendo was 0-1 with a 12.00 earned run average over six innings in three games pitched. His career fielding percentage as a second baseman is .992.
Oquendo accepted a minor league coaching position with the Cardinals in 1997, and became manager of the New Jersey Cardinals of the New York-Penn League in 1998. He became bench coach for St. Louis in 1999, and a year later, he moved to third base coach, where he has remained ever since.
Oquendo was thrown out of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 13, 2008 for arguing. Earlier in the game, already a blowout loss for the Cardinals, Cardinals pitcher Russ Springer threw an inside pitch that grazed the hip of Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Springer was thrown out without warning, which caused Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to argue with umpire Larry Vanover. La Russa was subsequently thrown out of the game, and bench coach Joe Petini assumed the role of manager. Later in the game, Phillies pitcher Rudy Seánez threw a pitch that went behind Cardinals batter Brendan Ryan and was not ejected or warned. Oquendo began arguing from his position in the coaching box behind third and was tossed by Vanover.
On April 4, 2009, Oquendo appeared as a Cardinals pinch hitter in a preseason exhibition game against the Cardinals' triple A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds. Oquendo fouled off several pitches before being walked. He was advanced to 3rd base on a hit and walk before an inning-ending groundout.
Over the past few years Oquendo has interviewed for managerial positions with San Diego, Seattle, and the New York Mets. Also during the 2011 offseason he was interviewed for the managing position with the Cardinals. The spot would later go to Mike Matheny.
On August 17, 2012, Oquendo was again ejected from a game for arguing balls and strikes. After a called strike to Jon Jay from Pittsburgh Pirates starter James McDonald, Oquendo came down the third base line to argue with home plate umpire Lance Barrett. He was immediately ejected from the game. Manager Mike Matheny came out to try to prevent further argument while Oquendo kicked dirt across the plate.
Oquendo developed "speed-feed" drills for the infielders. Besides lobbing the standard ground balls, Oquendo had third basemen Matt Carpenter and catching prospect Carson Kelly standing in foul territory about three paces away, bowling baseballs at a rapid pace until they grew tired and increased their endurance and improved footwork and positioning.
On March 27, 2016, he was placed on medical leave of absence due to his injured right knee. He rehabilitated in Florida for the next few months.
In 2017, Oquendo joined the Cardinals front office as a Special Assistant to the General Manager and as an instructor out of the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, Florida. He will work with minor league players in the Florida State and Gulf Coast Leagues as well as players in extended spring training and medical rehab.
He rejoined the Cardinals at his third base coaching position on October 23, 2017.
In 2004, a comical one-hour special aired on ESPN and was produced by MLB Productions about José Oquendo. It featured Randy and Jason Sklar of Cheap Seats going on a trip all the way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on a campaign to get José "The Utilityman" Oquendo inducted for his versatility to play any position on the baseball field. The special included the Sklars receiving Oquendo's blessing to lobby for his spot in Cooperstown, collecting signatures for the petition, and giving a lackluster presentation to the Hall of Fame's committee. At the end of the television special, a plaque bearing his name was placed on a utility closet in the Hall of Fame.