The versatile ballplayer is an asset for any team. Few men in the history of the game were as versatile as Cesar Tovar. Cesar could wear so many hats that he once played every single position in a contest–the second player in Baseball history to accomplish the feat. But Tovar was more than just a guy with many gloves–he was a speedy league leader who once topped the AL in hits, doubles and triples.
Tovar came into professional baseball by accident. A native of Venezuela, Reds GM Gabe Paul was scouting Gus Gil when Gil asked Paul to take a look at his buddy Cesar Tovar. Paul signed the duo on the spot. Although Tovar was signed by the Reds, he would make his Major League debut with the Twins. After the 1964 season, the Twins sent Gerry Arrigo to the Reds to obtain Tovar. He only played in 18 games for the Twins in 1965 but by 1966, he was a regular… but a regular under a loose definition of the term.
The Twins employed Tovar as a utilityman in 1966 and he got into 134 games. Although he didn’t have a set position, he nevertheless led the Twins in stolen bases. During the 1967 season, Cesar played in 70 games at third base, 64 in center field and 36 at second base. Granted, he didn’t have an entrenched position, but baseball writers knew his value was outstanding and for the first of what would become five straight years, he was awarded MVP votes.
Near the apex of his game in 1968, Tovar was the only player in the American League to reach 30 doubles and 30 steals. The Twins were becoming a strong team by the late 1960s after their move from Washington. By 1969, they made the postseason. That year Cesar teamed with Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Ted Uhlaender to give the Twins four men with 90+ runs scored. Minnesota took part in the first ever ALCS but were embarrassed by the Orioles.
The Twins suffered much the same fate in 1970 when Baltimore again toppled them in the ALCS, but the regular season was a good one for Tovar. He led the AL in both doubles and triples, finished second in runs scored with 120, hit .300 for the first time and ended the year with a .385 BA against Orioles pitchers. But his best year was just around the corner. In 1971, Tovar led the American League with 204 base hits and finished second in the AL in runs scored. He also matched his career high for on-base percentage and walked more than he struck out.
When Tovar’s numbers fell off in ’72, he was traded to the Phillies for fireman Ken Sanders and slugger Joe Lis. He played one injury-plagued season in Philadelphia before his contract was sold to the Texas Rangers. His last great year was that ’74 season in the Lone Star State. He led American League right fielders with a .292 batting average. He would spend the next two years with three different teams before calling it quits.
G 1,488/R 834/H 1,546/2B 253/3B 55/HR 46/RBI 435/SB 226/BB 413/SO 410/BA .278/SA .368/OBP .335