Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Oscar Azocar, Free-Swinger - 688

Originally published June 17, 2010
Oscar Azocar earned a reputation in his three years in the majors of swinging at almost everything, as evidenced by the 129 plate major league plate appearances it took him to earn his first walk.

It was a reputation already earned in the minors, shortly after the one-time pitcher left the mound behind for the outfield.

"He doesn't get cheated," Azocar's AA manager at Albany-Colonie Tommy Jones told the Schenectady Gazette in 1988. "The only thing is his strike zone goes from his shoes to his hat."

That Azocar was a free-swinger followed him throughout his career. It also followed him in 2010 to his obituary after he passed away in his native Venezuela.

Azocar's professional career began in 1983, when he was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent. He got as high as short-season Oneonta in 1985 and 1986 before his pitching career fizzled.

Speaking to The Gazette, Jones recalled that Azocar was going to be outright released, until a coach suggested the outfield. Azocar, the coach recalled, was the best he'd seen at chasing fly balls.

Azocar soon took to his new position, connected enough at the plate to resurrect his career. Hitting .359 at single-A Fort Lauderdale in 1987, Azocar earned the promotion to AA Albany in 1988 then AAA Columbus in 1989.

Azocar returned to Columbus for 1990, earning the big call-up that July. In New York, he kept swinging, and he connected.

In his first at bat, as a pinch hitter, Azocar got a hit. The next day, as a starter, he went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run. The home run came off Tom Gordon.

Speaking after the game to the New York Times, Azocar said he was not awed by his first trip to the Yankees.

''There's no difference,'' he told the paper. ''In the minor leagues, there's tough pitching, too, just like here. There's absolutely no difference. The only difference is the people in the stands.''

The next month, Azocar relayed his philosophy to The Times: "Going all the way."

Azocar spoke after helping manufacture and score the game-winning run to stop a six-game Yankees slide. He scored after an error.

''It was the same routine for me," Azocar told The Times. "I play hard.''

Despite his early success, Azocar hit only .248 in 68 games. Azocar also had more home runs, five, than walks, two. The Yankees traded him away that off-season. Azocar landed with the Padres, playing in 38 games in 1991 and 99 in 1992, ending his major league career.

Azocar continued to play, his last reported games in 2001 in the Mexican League. During the Caribbean Series in February, MLB.com reported, Azocar was inducted into the Venezuelan Hall of Fame.

The cause of Azocar's death has been reported as a heart attack.

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