This fifth installment of the Giant of the Week centers around the World Series short stop for the San Francisco Giants, Jose Uribe. Now there are likely some people who read that title and the previous sentence before saying to themselves “Wally, that’s not correct, his name is Juan, and that typo may relay a greater racially insensitivity that I was unaware of in your writing. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable reading this blog anymore.” Well hear me out, dear, misguided reader. Jose Uribe was the Giants primary short stop for the better part of eight seasons, from 1985 to 1992, and played in the 1989 Battle of the Bay Series which was infamously interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
Interestingly enough, Juan and Jose are related and Jose actually thought Juan to play baseball on a field named after Jose in their native Dominican Republic. While Juan often calls Jose his uncle, the two are actually second cousins.
While Uribe was the first Giants short stop that I was alive to witness, I sadly have no fluid memories of him or his play—those honors go to Royce Clayton—but I’m sure that all of those days at Candlestick as an infant helped form my then impressionable opinion of what a short stop should be on a sub or unconscious level. Uribe was one of those hustle guys that everyone loves, even if his offensive numbers aren’t outstanding. Remember, dear reader, this was another era in baseball, it was the calm before the storm when all of a sudden every position players was expected to hit .300 with 20 home runs. Nowadays, Giants fans want Brandon Belt to be removed from first base because he’s hitting .450/.500/.625 in the month of August—poor guy.
Jose Altagracia Gonzalez Uribe was born in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic on January 21, 1959—20 years, two months, and a day before Juan was born in the same town. When the elder Uribe was 18, he signed with the New York Yankees but was released before he played in a single minor league game. Three years later, Jose signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and spent the better part of five seasons in their farm system before making his Major League debut on September 13, 1984 as a September call-up at the ripe age of 25—which I just turned yesterday, dear reader. In the eight games he played with the Cardinals in 1984, Uribe received 19 at bats and scored four runs on four hits and a walk. He also recorded three RBIs and stole a base, hitting .211/.211/.211. If you’re not familiar with batting slash stats just know that the above basically means that he only hit singles and didn’t draw any walks.
In February of 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals traded for San Francisco’s first baseman, Jack Clark—who once said “I have two goals. The first is to play in the World Series and the second is to hit .400. And I think I’ll do both—someday.” Although he hit .320 with the Giants in 1985, Clark never hit the .400 mark in the Majors but who knows what he’s done in adult, fast pitch leagues since then. The deal included four Cardinals, David Green, Dave LaPoint, Gary Rajsich, and a player to be named at later date. This player turned out to be Jose Gonzalez Uribe. Spanish naming customs include a given name followed by two family names, generally the father’s surname followed by the mother’s surname—who’s culturally and/or racially insensitive now, dear reader? While he was with the Cardinals, Jose had gone by his full name but sports writers suggested that he shorten it to make it easier for everyone involved. It was during the period before joining the Giants that he dropped Gonzalez and became Jose Uribe. As Jose said, “there are too many Gonzalezes in baseball.” This lead to a fun nickname, “The Ultimate Player to be Named Later” which has been attributed to Rocky Bridges who coached third base for the Giants in 1985.
Out of that deal, only two players saw regular duty in 1985 and only Uribe remained with the Giants after the 1985 season. LaPoint started 31 games but posted a disappointed 7-17 record. Uribe, on the other hand, became the regular short stop and would hold that title exclusively for the next six seasons. The Dominican ballplayer quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco which spawned the creation of the “Uuuuuuu-Ribe!” chant. When first performed at Candlestick, the cheer was of the “call and response” variety, similar to “What’s the matter with so-and-so? He’s a bum!” or “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!” where one fan or section would call out “Uuuuuuuu!” and the rest of the section or a neighboring section would reply “Ribe!” as the short stop entered the batters box.
That cheer returned to AT&T Park, 18 years after Jose had played his last game as a Giant and four years after his death. When Juan Uribe joined the Giants, the chant was reborn which deeply moved the younger Uribe. As I had written earlier, Jose had taught Juan how to play baseball and had been a very important part of his early life, serving as a mentor and as a shining example of hard work’s rewards.
Although Uribe only twice hit better than .250 as a Giant—.291 in 1987 and .252 in 1988—he played a crucial defensive role when the Giants won the pennant in 1987 and 1988. In 1988, he was honored with the Willie Mac Award, named after former Giant of the Week, Willie McCovey. The 1991 campaign was difficult for Jose who was injured for most of the season and eventually lost the starting short stop role to Royce Clayton in 1992. Jose left the Giants after 1992 and played a season with the Houston Astros primarily off the bench, before retiring the following year.
In 2005 Juan Uribe, then with the Chicago White Sox flew his second cousin out to watch him play and eventually win the World Series. Only a year later, Jose would die in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic at the age of 46. His early death mirrored that of Mel Ott. I miss the Uribe chants and I can only hope that Juan has a second cousin playing on Jose Gonzalez Uribe Field in San Cristobal on his long and arduous way to the Giants right now.