1993

IVAN CALDERONE   OF

Ivan Calderone  was known as a flamboyant and flashy player, a big man with big gold chains and big smile. He wore thousands of dollarsí worth of jewelry both on and off the field in a time when such a thing was frowned upon by much of baseballís old-school establishment. Eventually, he became known as one of the best left fielders of his time, a clutch hitter with gap-to-gap power and a keen eye for the strike zone. 

He was born on March 19, 1962, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. He excelled in both baseball and volleyball at Mediana Alta Intermediate School in nearby Loiza, before dropping out at the age of 14 play baseball full time. He saw the players from Puerto Rico like Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda all leave the island to play baseball in America.

The 16-year-old was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seattle Mariners in July 1979. Ivan began his professional career in 1980, with the Bellingham Mariners in the Northwest League. The 18-year-old quickly proved he belonged, batting a whopping .370 in his first 31 games and finishing with a .318 batting average.

His success continued the following season with the Wausau Timbers. It was the first of two seasons in Wausau for him and he followed up his 1981 season with an even better 1982, slamming 24 home runs, and batting .286. A promotion to the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in 1983 did little to slow his progress. He finished the season tied for the lead in hits and leading the league in triples, and in the top 10 in nearly every other offensive category including a .311 batting average.

By 1984, Ivan was one of the Marinersí top prospects and among a young corps of players. The 22-year-old opened that season with the Marinersí Triple-A Salt Lake City Gulls, and quickly established himself as one of the best hitters in the Pacific Coast League. He was batting .365 when Seattle came calling, promoting him to the big leagues in August. He struggled at the plate over the next two weeks, however, before a wrist injury shut him down for the remainder of the season.

For Ivan, 1985 was a microcosm of things to come. He made the opening day roster for the first time in his career, but the residual effects of his wrist injury limited him to mostly pinch-hitting duties. He began getting regular playing time in mid-May, and by the middle of the summer, he was one of Seattleís top hitters and a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. That all ended during the two-day playersí strike in early August.

After the season, his wrist had improved enough to allow him to return to the Puerto Rican winter league where he was among the leagueís best performers. His strong play continued into spring training in 1986, earning him the starting job in right field. 

The team struggled, and the fiery manager, Dick Williams and his young right fielder clashed almost from the start. Things came to a head in mid-May when the relationship between the club and its young right fielder soured. In May, he was sent down to Triple A, ending his career in Seattle.

The trade came in June of 1986, when the Mariners dealt Calderon to the Chicago White Sox. He played briefly for the Sox in July, August, and September before returning home for another season in the Puerto Rican winter league. He led the league in home runs and was named MVP of the all-star game.

For the first time in his big-league career, he was receiving some very public positive reinforcement from his employers the White Sox, and he rewarded them with what would be the best season of his big-league career. By mid-May, he was one of the most productive hitters in the White Sox lineup before a severe ankle-sprain forced him onto the disabled list. He returned from the DL in a big fashion, belting two home runs against the Red Sox. By seasonís end, he wound up leading the White Sox in nearly every offensive category.

One thing that wasnít widely reported at the time was the fact that he had been playing with a nagging left shoulder injury for the past few seasons, an injury he had suffered while making a diving catch several years earlier. The injury prompted countless cortisone shots and several surgeries, the first of which was performed in August of 1988. 

Things turned around for him in 1989, although he was never the power threat heíd once been. However, once again, he led the team in virtually every offensive category. Still, after the 1990 season, the White Sox dealt him to the Expos.

in 1991, Ivan gave the fans plenty to cheer about once games got underway, earning the teamís player of the month honors in April and May. He was named to the All-Star team in July and wound up starting in place of the injured Darryl Strawberry. By seasonís end, he was again one of the more productive left fielders in baseball, hitting .300 with 19 homers, and 31 stolen bases.

Ivan was limited to pinch-hitting duties for the final month because of his nagging left shoulder and underwent surgery on the shoulder in September, to repair what was described as a well-defined labrum tear and a partially torn bicep tendon.

The Expos had high hopes that his shoulder would rebound in 1992, but it wasnít to be. In mid-June, he was placed on the disabled list for the third time that season. He had surgery on the shoulder again and was able to return to the field in September.

His numbers were good enough to prompt the Red Sox to trade for him in the offseason. The aging, injured slugger played regularly for the Red Sox over the first few months of the season, but batted in the low .200ís with almost no power and the Red Sox released him in mid-August. 

The White Sox signed him for the final month of the season, hoping he would help them down the stretch. Chicago did win the division, but Ivan didnít contribute much in the nine games he played, and was not included on the teamís postseason roster. 

Ivan did DH for Santurce in the Puerto Rico winter league after the season, and even made the all-star team. In Puerto Rico, he began raising roosters for cock-fighting.

Ivan Calderone was also said to have worked as an informal bondsman, lending money to friends and acquaintances, which may have contributed to his death. He was shot and killed execution-style in a bar near his home in Loiza, Puerto Rico, on December 27, 2003, at the age of 41.