September 28th, 2018 – Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The Phillies were in the throes of a nine-game losing streak which culminated in their six-week fall from first to third in the NL Central. Frustrated that some of his teammates were playing the video game Fortnite in the clubhouse during a defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, Carlos Santana took matters into his own hands, smashing the television with a bat.1 The Phillies won their last two games of the season following the eruption but missed the postseason. Seldom demonstrative in his leadership, Santana’s outburst is a rare instance of him showing emotion. Santana is more of a lead by example type whose presence, much like his approach at the plate is calm, patient and consistent.
Santana’s journey to that point was a long one. He was a member of the Tribe for eight years, including an instrumental part of the ’16 and ’17 runs. During that span he averaged nearly 153 games per season, leading Cleveland in many offensive categories. A consummate teammate, he would hit anywhere in the order he was asked. He played first base, catcher, third base, designated hitter and even the outfield – whatever would make the team better. To start the 2018 season, Santana left his only home to join the Phillies, inking a three-year deal worth $20 million per year. He had a value that the Tribe could not meet financially and off he went – a trend which would continue going into 2019. He penned a letter to Tribe fans2 and said he “cried once it sunk in that I would no longer be suiting up for and living in the City of Cleveland”.
He struggled early on in a Philly uniform drawing the ire of many fans. Tribe fans know that an early season struggle is nothing new for him. But as the season went on, he never really got it going and more importantly, never won their praise. He finished with a wRC+ of 109 and just under two WAR but hit only .229 leaving many a fan calling for a trade. The Phillies needed to clear first base for Rhys Hoskins and in true Santana fashion, he was open to the idea of playing third3 – whatever would make the team better. Philly brass thought better of it and on December 3rd he was traded to the Seattle Mariners. In characteristic fashion, he took to Instagram to thank the Phillies organization, but “most importantly, the fans”. Santana was on to his third home in 12 months and an uncertain future on a rebuilding Mariners team. But his stop in Seattle would be a brief one.
“I felt it in my heart that Seattle would trade me,” Santana told Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Thank God it was Cleveland.”4
“I’m excited. Happy, happy, happy to be back home. Right now, I can’t believe it. My family and I are so excited to be back home. I was here for a long time.”5
He is a guy you root for. His love for Cleveland is profound. The world of baseball business has become a cold, calculating mistress lending herself to heartbreak and ultimately cynicism. But occasionally she allows for the sentimental. Such is the case with Carlos Santana being back in a Tribe uniform.
He was home and the all-encompassing term “home” was about to change as well. Santana spent spring training days honing his craft; but at night, he was studying to pass his American Citizenship test.6
Last Friday, it was reported that he had passed the test and he will become an American Citizen on April 19th.
“I’m thankful because I’m coming from the Dominican Republic, very poor,” he told Ryan Lewis at the Beacon Journal. “I’m the guy, and I want to get better every day and live my life like that. I’ve been thinking a lot about that and I was so excited and cried in that moment.”7
Santana’s encore was a game-winning solo homer in the 9th inning of Friday’s defeat of the Blue Jays. A much needed shot in the arm to a team struggling to score runs and stay afloat awaiting the return of veterans Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. There may be some of that in play here. But for a Tribe lineup void of veterans Lindor and Kipnis, full of unproven players and starved for runs, Santana’s presence in the heart of the order has been calming. The Indians have scored 30 runs through nine games. Santana has scored seven and knocked in eight. He has literally accounted for half (nearly) of our run production to date. His homecoming has helped to defeat the narrative that he is a slow starter. Mitchell Krall pointed out some of his change in approach in his piece earlier today, but Santana appears to be on a mission – home at last.
This is a salute to Carlos Santana: ball player, Cleveland Indian, Clevelander, Dominican and now, American Citizen.
Bienvenido a casa Carlos. Welcome home.