White Sox

White Sox

Wilson Álvarez, the first player born in the 1970s to reach the majors (and play for the White Sox), turns 50 today.

He had almost the worst MLB debut possible, and his next game was most likely the greatest of his career. Those two games were over two years apart. Baseball is a funny game.

Álvarez was born March 24, 1970 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. He was a young phenom, once striking out 21 in a Little League game and tossing 12 no-hitters from 1981-86, according to the 1992 White Sox media guide. This certainly caught the attention of the Rangers, who signed the lefty on Sept. 23, 1986.

After finding his footing in 1987 (5.75 ERA over two levels), he reached Triple-A as an 18-year-old in 1988, with a 3.07 ERA combined between Single- and Triple-A. Álvarez continued his dominance in 1989 until getting the call to the big leagues.

Álvarez made his MLB debut on July 24 against the Blue Jays, and it was not ideal. Junior Felix singled, Tony Fernandez homered, Kelly Gruber homered, George Bell walked, Fred McGriff walked. And that was it. Five batters, 26 pitches and an infinity ERA later, Álvarez was pulled.

Five days later he was traded, with Scott Fletcher (remember him?) and Sammy Sosa, to the White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique (how about him?).

Álvarez pitched the rest of 1989 and all of 1990 in the minors. Entering 1990, he was 26th on the Baseball America top 100 prospects list. In 1991, he dominated Double-A with a 10-6 record and a 1.83 ERA in 23 starts at Birmingham and was ready to return to the show. More ready than anyone could have anticipated.

 

On Aug. 11, 1991 at Baltimore, his first start with the White Sox and the second MLB appearance of his career (and first in over two years), Álvarez no-hit the Orioles. He walked five and struck out seven in his 128-pitch masterpiece. He was (and still is) the third youngest pitcher in American League history to throw a no-hitter, behind Earl Hamilton of the 1912 St. Louis Browns and Vida Blue of the 1970 Oakland A’s.

He was also the first lefty in White Sox history to toss a no-hitter. Since then, only Mark Buehrle has joined him. In addition, Álvarez was the first Venezuelan to throw a no-hitter. Aníbal Sánchez, Carlos Zambrano, Johan Santana, Félix Hernández and Henderson Alvarez have since joined him. He added one more complete game on Sept. 1, finishing the year 3-2 with a 3.51 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) for the White Sox.  

Álvarez split 1992 in the starting rotation and bullpen, earning his first career save with three perfect innings on Opening Day. He rejoined the rotation for good in September and finished the season with a 5.20 ERA. 1993 was his finest MLB season, going 15-8 with a 2.95 ERA (2nd in AL), topping 200 innings for the first time (207.2 IP), though leading the Majors with 122 walks. He was named AL pitcher of the month that September (5-0, 0.93 ERA).

The Venezuelan lefty made his postseason debut starting Game 3 of the ALCS in Toronto, responding with a complete game 6-1 win. At the time, Álvarez, 23, was the youngest pitcher in White Sox history to win a postseason start (since topped by about a month by John Danks in 2008). Álvarez earned his lone career All-Star nod in 1994, tossing a 1-2-3 eighth inning by retiring Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Ken Caminiti at Three Rivers Stadium.

He finished 1994 12-8 with a 3.45 ERA. Over an 18-start stretch from Aug. 24, 1993 to May 27, 1994, Álvarez went 15-0 with a 2.00 ERA. Unfortunately, the Sox southpaw didn’t get a chance to build on his postseason success due to the 1994 strike.

Álvarez kept doing his thing as a valuable mid-rotation arm, topping 200 innings in 1996 and 1997. But that was split between the White Sox and the Giants, as the Sox packaged Álvarez with Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernández in the infamous “White Flag Trade” in exchange for infielder Mike Caruso, outfielder Brian Manning and pitchers Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, Bob Howry and Ken Vining.

The lefty earned a start in Game 3 of the 1997 NLDS for the Giants against the Marlins, but took a loss after allowing four runs in six innings.

Álvarez hit free agency and signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays for 1998, and ended up starting the inaugural game in franchise history, throwing the first pitch in Tropicana Field history. In an 11-6 losing effort to the Tigers, Wilson lasted 2 1/3 innings and allowed nine hits and six runs. It was that kind of year, as he finished 6-14 with a 4.73 ERA.

 

He finished 9-9 (on a 69-93 team) with a 4.22 ERA in 1999, and on June 25 became the first Venezuelan-born pitcher to reach 1,000 career strikeouts 

Álvarez underwent rotator cuff surgery in 2000 and missed the entire 2000 and 2001 seasons. He returned to the mound on April 6, 2002, but only made three appearances before June. By August, he had settled in the bullpen and finished his season with a 5.28 ERA in 23 games (10 starts) struggling to return to form.

Wilson joined the Dodgers in 2003 after going 5-1 with a 1.34 ERA in eight starts with Las Vegas (AAA). He seemed rejuvenated, posting a 2.37 ERA as a swingman between 12 starts and nine relief appearances. He pitched more in relief from 2004-05, posting a 4.29 ERA. On July 29, 2004 at Colorado, he earned his 100th career win, becoming the first Venezuelan-born pitcher to hit the milestone. He called it quits after the 2005 season.

Álvarez retired 102-92 with a 3.96 ERA in 14 MLB seasons. He is currently sixth in MLB history among Venezuelan-born pitchers with 102 career wins; he’s one of seven with at least 100 wins. He was elected to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame the following year. Álvarez served as pitching coach for the Gulf Coast League Orioles from 2013-18.

Big Venezuelan lefty Wilson Álvarez. Remember that guy?

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