JULIO CRUZ BECAME FIRST TERRIER MAJOR LEAGUER

I met Julio Cruz exactly three times – once in the clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium when he was a member of the Seattle Mariners.

The other times came years later. He had long since retired. His onetime home city, which had been Redlands, was near Seattle. Someone had convinced him to come back for an off-season baseball clinic at Community Field.

A few years later, Julio was inducted into the newly-formed Redlands High School Terrier Hall of Fame.

Brooklyn-born. Moved to Redlands. Graduated. Headed for San Bernardino Valley College. Signed as a free agent. California Angels. That was just the beginning.

Julio hit .237 over nine seasons in the major league. He is, indeed, a Hall of Famer. In Redlands. The guy has taken part in some of baseball’s greatest moments.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, a Redlands High product, became the first Terrier to ever play in the major leagues (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Sports Editor Jeff Lane, my predecessor at the Redlands newspaper, had done plenty on Julio during his five-year stint. Julio was a popular product. To that point, no Redlands player had ever drifted their way from that city into the major leagues.

Ed Vande Berg, a southpaw pitcher, would be next. In fact, the two would eventually be teammates in Seattle.

Julio, a 1972 Redlands High graduate, played at nearby San Bernardino Valley. Though undrafted, he was signed by the California Angels on May 7, 1974 as a free agent.

The Angels sent him into their minor league system. As a 19-year-old, he batted .241 for Idaho Falls of the Rookie League in 1974. On he went, right up the Angels’ chain – .261 for Quad Cities, .307 for Salinas, .327 for El Paso and .246 for Salt Lake City at age 22.

EXPANSION — A REAL BREAK FOR CRUZ

The American League, about to expand from 10 teams to 12 teams by 1977, had to make players available in a draft pool. Julio, left unprotected by the Angels, who had ex-Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy at the MLB level. No room for Julio.

While Julio batted .366 for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League – stashed with the Padres’ chain while Seattle organized its minor league system – it wouldn’t be long before he got his shot at the major leagues.

On Nov. 5, 1976, Julio had been the 52nd player taken in the American League expansion draft when two new franchises appeared in the American League – Seattle and Toronto.

Suddenly, he was suddenly a Mariner.

In a curious draft footnote, pitcher Butch Edge was taken by Toronto out of Milwaukee’s chain. Edge would eventually wind up in Redlands years later as the University of Redlands’ men’s golf coach.

Other players taken in the draft included Pete Vuckovich being plucked away from the White Sox by Toronto. Vuckovich would eventually wind up with the Brewers, winning the 1982 Cy Young Award.

As for Julio, he quickly turned into a Seattle stalwart. Longing for star players, Julio’s base-stealing skills turned him into a popular Mariner.

He stole 59 bases in 1978, then swiped 49, 45, 43 and 46 bags over the next four seasons. What’s lost in those numbers is that he stole 49 in just 107 games in 1979. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he stole 43 times in 94 games.

If there was a weakness to his game, Julio’s on-base-percentage was awfully low – his highest at .363 in ’79 – but he put a lot of bunts in play to try and get on base.

There were some decent hitters in Seattle – Al Cowens, Richie Zisk, Dave Henderson, Willie Horton, Bruce Bochte, Ruppert Jones, among others – with pitchers like future White Sox teammate Floyd Bannister and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry playing in Seattle with Julio.

Gaylord Perry
Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry notched his 300th career victory in a Seattle uniform. In fact, teammate Julio Cruz made the final out when he fielded Willie Randolph’s grounder (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In fact, Julio was on the field on May 6, 1982 when Perry (10-12 that season) won his 300th game. He beat the Yankees in the Kingdome to notch this milestone victory.

In fact, it was Cruz who fielded the grounder off Willie Randolph for the final out.

TRADED TO THE CHISOX

On June 30, 1983 — MLB’s trading deadline — Cruz was swapped to the Chicago White Sox for second baseman Tony Bernazard. The results of that trade might’ve been the impetus for the ChiSox vaulting to an American League Western Division title by 20 games over Kansas City.

“Let’s Do It Again” was the theme for 1984.  What the ChiSox did was fall back to fifth place, 14 games under .500.

General Manager Roland Hemond, who leveraged the Bernazard-for-Cruz swap, brought in pitcher Ron Reed and practically stole future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver from the Mets.

Roland_Hemond_at_SABR_Convention_2014
Chicago White Sox General Manager Roland Hemond was responsible for landing Julio Cruz in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1983 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Their contributions weren’t enough to offset poor showings, perhaps reflected by 1983 ace pitchers Lamarr Hoyt (13-18) and Rich Dotson (14-15) one season later.

There were 54,032 fans at Yankee Stadium when Seaver beat the Yankees for his 300th career win. Cruz, in the dugout batting less than .180, wasn’t part of that ChiSox 4-1 triumph.

On the field, though, were Hall of Famers like Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, MVP Don Mattingly and, of course, Seaver. Managers Tony La Russa and Billy Martin squared off against each other.

One night later, Cruz was back in the lineup, going 2-for-2 off Ron Guidry — caught stealing by Yankee catcher Butch Wynegar.

The ’85 White Sox club bounced back to win 85 games and actually led the division in June.

By 1986, the club was in disarray with new general manager Ken Harrelson, who had replaced Hemond, and manager Jim Fregosi. It would be four more seasons before the Chicago White Sox finished over .500.

Julio was living off an impressive free agent contract that was signed in December 1984, a six-year deal between $3.6 and $4.8 million. He never finished out his contract.

Julio played in 1,156 games; swiped 343 bases; don’t forget impressive .982 defense at second base.

Released by the White Sox in July 1987, Cruz signed as a free agent with Los Angeles. But the 1987 Dodgers already had a second baseman. Steve Sax would go on to lead his team to a World Series title a year later. Julio never actually played in L.A.

A TERRIER HALL OF FAME RETURN

He was part of the second class of Hall of Fame inductees at his former high school. In fact, Julio unwittingly opened the door to a humorous line given by fellow inductee Brian Billick, of Super Bowl fame.

Julio had spoken emotionally about his Terrier days. The memories. Boy, he had fun. The teams he’d played on. There was some success. The Terriers, with Cruz in the lineup, won the first Citrus Belt League title in 1971 — 44 years after their previous championship from 1927.

At the Redlands Hall of Fame podium, Cruz shared a memory.

“Just being in the showers with guys like Brian Billick was a thrill. Those were highlights for me. I’ll never get over that.”

Billick, the Terrier great defensive back/QB who was head coach of the Baltimore Ravens when they won the Super Bowl, was being inducted the same night.

In fact, Billick broke the crowd up when he said, “Julio, it’s amazing to me that you felt like the highlight of your high school career was taking a shower with me.”

A few years before that Hall of Fame moment, Cruz, along with ex-major leaguer Rudy Law and Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins took part in a baseball clinic at Community Field. Former Pirates and Yankees pitcher Dock Ellis, I was told, showed up late.

Hundreds of youth had shown up for that historic event at the corner of Church and San Bernardino. This was a rare moment for local youth.

Dads let their kids know who this guy was. Julio Cruz, of Redlands. Former major leaguer. Little guy. Second baseman. Switch hitter. Lots of speed. Wanna be a big leaguer? Listen. Watch.

Jenkins and Law couldn’t have been more classy.

Julio, the ex-Terrier, knew he was at home.

They gave tips. They shared stories. They shook hands. Smiled. They signed autographs.

Julio became a coach. Broadcasting games for the Mariners, Julio Cruz took his Brooklyn-to-Redlands-to-Seattle-to-Chicago travels really well.

Why not a Terrier Hall of Famer? He fit the mold. While playing with, or against, all those MBL Hall of Famers, he played for one Cooperstown-bound manager, La Russa.

It was a diamond-style Redlands Connection.

JULIO CRUZ PART OF CHICAGO WHITE SOX’ TOP TRADE DEADLINE MOVES

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It was June 15, 1983. In those days, that was Major League Baseball’s trade deadline.

Think of the great deals — Seattle traded Randy Johnson to Houston in 1998 (by then, the deadline had been moved to July 31); C.C. Sabathia had been traded by Cleveland to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008; that same season, it was Manny Ramirez traded to the Dodgers by Boston; when the Mets got Yeonis Cespedes in 2015, the slugging outfielder led New York to the World Series; Philadelphia dealt Curt Schilling to Arizona in 2000.

All of those deals probably outweigh the swap of second basemen in that 1983 trade between Seattle and the Chicago White Sox.

Julio Cruz, the undrafted free agent out of Redlands High/San Bernardino Valley College, had been such a solid player for the Seattle Mariners — a base-stealing dynamo, not to mention a flashy fielding second baseman.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, who built a steady and sturdy career at second base with the Seattle Mariners, was eventually swapped to the Chicago White Sox in the heat of the 1983 American League Western Division chase (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A guy named Roland Hemond noticed.

In 1983, Seattle took its sure-handed infielder and all-time leading base-stealer and dealt him to the ChiSox. That deal plucked second baseman Tony Bernazard for the Mariners.

At the time of that mid-season trade, the ChiSox were five games under .500, fifth in the American League Western Division. Hemond pulled off the Bernazard-for-Cruz trade, the only real adjustment he made to an already-strong roster.

Hemond made a trade that everyone would later credit with turning the season around.  Looking to give his team a spark, Hemond traded Bernazard to Seattle for his second base counterpart, Cruz.  The effect was immediate.

I tracked down Hemond for comments on the trade. These were, of course, the days before cell-phone usage, so getting hold of him seemed like a major achievement.

Hemond was back east. That’s three hours’ difference than the west coast. I remember trying for a few days before I connected with him.

Why would I try? Local readership, no doubt. Every local reader might want to hear about their guy. Right? A little insight on those inner workings never hurt.

INTERVIEW WITH WHITE SOX GM

Hemond must’ve been in his office at Comiskey Park., home of the White Sox.

My standard intro … “Hi, Obrey Brown here from Redlands, hometown newspaper of Julio Cruz … wondering if I could pick your brain a little about the trade you made for Julio.”

Hemond, a friendly guy, needed no further prodding.

Roland_Hemond_at_SABR_Convention_2014
In 1983, Chicago White Sox General Manager made a trade for Seattle second baseman Julio Cruz, thus helping lift the ChiSox out of fifth place and onto winning the division by 20 games over the Kansas City Royals (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Oh, hi,” he said. There were some pleasant formalities between the two of us. Like this one: “Think you’ll make it out here to see him play?”

Oh, yeah, I lied to him. The tiny budget the Redlands newspaper had barely allowed me to cover a Terrier game in Rialto or Fontana. Send me to Chicago? Said Hemond: “When you get here, look me up.”

If only, I thought.

“I think it’ll turn out to be a real great acquisition for this club,” said Hemond, whose East-coast accent was a nice touch to our conversation. “In fact, it’s already helped us.”

“How long have you had your eye on Julio?”

“Oh … no … wow. I’ve known about Julio for a few years. How can you not notice a guy with his glove and his ability to steal bases? No, he just didn’t jump off the page at us. We need this guy. We’ve known about him.”

Hemond said, “Our clubhouse needed a jolt. Tony (Bernazard) wasn’t all that great of an influence in there. I’ve heard a lot about Julio being a good guy.”

This baseball lifer, Hemond, was very gracious with his time. He asked, “Did you cover him while he was playing in high school out there?”

“No. I got here a few years after he left.”

I tried to stump him, though. “Julio’s coach out here was Joe DeMaggio.”

Hemond either didn’t hear me, or thought I was kidding. No, it wasn’t THE Joe DiMaggio (note the spelling difference).

COVERING THE ‘REDLANDS’ CHISOX

Those summer-time sports pages, though, got a big plug. Cruz, standing on second base, darted for home plate on Harold Baines’ sharp single to right field. Tenth inning. It was against the Angels. Game-winner. Division-clinching run. Celebration. Photos.

Huge splash in the Redlands newspaper.

Cruz was picked up from Seattle when the ChiSox were 28-32, fifth in the American League West. They went 71-31 with Cruz, batting ninth in the lineup with Rudy Law atop a strong White Sox attack.

That year’s White Sox were filled with superb batsmen. Baines, Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, combined to hit 123 home runs. Law stole nearly 80 bases.

The pitching was topped by LaMarr Hoyt and Rich Dotson, who won 24 and 22 games, compiling the greatest number of wins in the entire league by two pitchers. Southpaw Floyd Bannister was nearly unbeatable, finishing off the season with a 13-1 streak.

Second place belonged to Kansas City, which finished a staggering 20 games behind Chicago.

The Daily Facts kept a close watch on the “Redlands” White Sox. Remember, this was A Redlands Connection.

By the All-Star break the Sox had climbed to three games over .500.  Then things really got hot. The Sox climbed into first place on July 18 and never looked back.  Their second half record was 59-26, a .694 winning percentage.

Not everyone was impressed.  One out-of-town writer dismissed the team as no better than fifth best in the A.L. East. Texas manager Doug Rader theorized that the Sox’s bubble had to burst. “They’re not playing that well. They’re winning ugly.”

On September 17 at Comiskey Park, the White Sox clinched Chicago’s first championship in twenty years. Baines’ single brought home Cruz with the winning run.

BIRDS TOOK OUT CHICAGO IN PLAYOFFS

Chicago’s opponents in the playoffs would be Baltimore, the only team to take the season series against the ChiSox, seven games to five. In the playoffs, the Orioles won three out of four.

Even with Julio, that group of White Sox couldn’t shake the Baltimore Orioles in the American League championship series. Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray and a strong corps of pitchers ousted Chicago in the playoffs and ended up beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

The ex-Terrier hit .333 in four games, the White Sox winning game one, 2-1, before the Orioles came streaking back to win 4-0, 11-1 and 3-0 behind strong pitching from Mike Boddicker, Tippy Martinez and Mike Flanagan.

As for Hemond, that slick transaction for Julio may have gone a long way in snagging his second Sporting News Executive of the Year honors.

Years later, ’83 White Sox manager Tony La Russa and I were eyeball to eyeball in spring training Arizona. By this point, he had moved on to manage the Oakland A’s. I couldn’t help but try and snag him for some comments – even though it was years later – on Cruz.

Tony La Russa
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa called Julio Cruz an “igniter” when asked about the former Redlands ballplayer (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

La Russa didn’t have much time. Calling Cruz “an igniter,” La Russa wasn’t in a mood to chat. He said, “The thing I remember from that team was the power we had … Julio and Rudy Law gave us another dimension to score runs with their speed.”

One final, quick comment: “He played a great second base for us.”

Footnote: Seattle lost 102 games in 1983.

Sabathia, Johnson, Ramirez and all the other more famous MLB trade deadline might draw more attention in baseball’s history book. For the Chicago White Sox, however, that deal might be No. 1.