The "BIG CAT" on
his Career & Future
Every time Andres Galarraga takes the field it's a blessing - and he
knows it. It's been two and a half years since the 41 year old made his return to the majors following a bout with Non-Hodgkins
Lymphoma (a form of cancer), which cost him the entire 1999 season. He hasn't taken one moment for granted.
me come back to play baseball and win the Comeback Player of the Year in 2000 - it was really amazing to me," the 17 year
veteran said. "I am proud to help a lot of people who are fighting for their lives - they look at me I fought and made it
- I am very proud of that too."
Galarraga is no stranger to comebacks, after a miserable season in 1992 (.243 10HR
39 RBI in 95 games), his only in St. Louis, the Venezuelan signed with the expansion Colorado Rockies and won the NL batting
crown with a gaudy .370 average. He remains the only person to achieve such an honor with a first year team.
I was traded (from Montreal to St. Louis) and was injured on the second day of the season (broken wrist), when I came back
I really struggled," Galarraga explained. "My dad also died that year, so many things happened that year, but I thank God,
things happen for a reason - it made me stronger in '93."
Galarraga, who was discovered by Felipe Alou as a 17 year
old in Venezuela, is thrilled to be back in Montreal during the twilight of his career. "It's something special to me - I
started my career here, and to be back now is very special," he commented.
He also sympathizes with the plight of
the Montreal fans. "I love it here. We don't have the fans sometimes - like 30,000 or 40,000 - but I have no complaints,"
he explained. "The fans are angry because they've traded away so many good players and (lost) free agents, but I love it here."
He hopes a solution can be reached that would allow the team to stay in Montreal for years to come. "I have a lot
of memories here - it's the organization that helped make my dream come true, so I would be really sad (to see the Expos be
contracted or move)," the five time All Star said.
When the Expos signed Galarraga on March 7th, they envisioned him
platooning with incumbent Lee Stevens at first base. But after Stevens was dealt to Cleveland in the Bartolo Colon trade on
June 27th, Galarraga became teams' everyday first baseman.
"When they traded Lee (Stevens) I was the only first baseman," the two
time Gold Glover winner explained. "Wil Cordero and (Brad) Wilkerson have played there, but I have the most experience."
superstar Vladimir Guerrero appreciates Galarraga's presence in the lineup. "He's doing his job of protecting me," Guerrero
said through an interpreter.
Galarraga, who lists Nelson Santovenia, Junior Naboa, and Tim Raines as his best friends
in baseball, has played with numerous great players in his career, and believes Guerrero belongs high on that list. "He's
something special," the "Big Cat" said. "He's number one or two in the league, an unbelievable player."
In his 16+
seasons in the big leagues Galarraga has had a front row seat at many historical events, including Barry Bonds' assault on
the single season home run record in 2001. "Hitting behind him and seeing the pressure he had at home plate - it's unbelievable,"
he commented. "To be there, be a part of that moment when he broke the record is something I'll never forget."
there has been speculation that the 2002 season will be his last, Galarraga remains noncommittal at this point. "I don't know
for sure, it's possible, but I still have to think about it," he said.
"I am only 14 home runs from 400 (as of 9/9)
- so yes, I am thinking about it (coming back)," he later commented.
Expos manager Frank Robinson believes Galarraga
still has some quality baseball left in him. "No one here has talked about him retiring. I had read where he was saying this
might be his last time around, but I think that's a little premature, myself," the Hall of Famer explained. "I think he has
to sit down at the end of the year or early in the winter and decide what he wants to do. If he feels like he wants to continue
his career, I think he's very capable of being a productive player for another year or two."
He does have plans in
place for when he does call it quits, however. "Right now I am thinking about starting a school in Venezuela," Galarraga explained,
"not only to help kids with fielding and hitting, but to prepare them for life."
While his future in the game, as
well as the fate of the franchise he plays for, remain up in the air, Andres Galarraga quietly plays on - enjoying every minute
- photos by Michael Vicklund
Galarraga's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com
Simply Baseball Notebook