On the latest episode of Fish Stripes Jeopardy, I admitted that I did not know who Benito Santiago was. It was a humbling moment as somebody who wants to provide you with high-quality Marlins coverage.
Today, I hope to redeem myself with this article, showing you what I have learned from researching the original Marlins catcher.
The Start of Benito Santiago
Benito Santiago was born on March 9, 1965 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Santiago began his major league career with the San Diego Padres and won National League Rookie of the Year for them in 1987 ( .300 BA, .324 OBP, .467 SLG, .791 OPS, 18 HR, 164 H). Santiago won 3 Gold Gloves, went to 4 All-Star games, and even received down-ballot NL MVP votes during his time with the Padres. For those 7 seasons, he was one of the best all-around catchers in the game.
Benito Arrives in Miami
Santiago signed a two-year, $7.2 million contract with the Florida Marlins on December 16, 1992. It was by far the biggest free agent signing made by the Marlins that winter leading into their inaugural season.
Santiago is known for hitting the first home run in Marlins franchise history. It was a two-run shot against the San Francisco Giants on April 12, 1993.
Santiago homered 13 times during the 1993 season, which was the 2nd-highest total on the team. That was similar to his Padres days, but he did have a dip in most other offensive stats (.230 BA, .291 OBP, .380 SLG, .671 OPS, 108 H, 50 RBI).
The expansion Marlins finished with a 64-98 record (.395 winning percentage) in 1993. They were more competitive in games started by Santiago (53-72, .424 winning percentage).
The second and final Marlins season for Santiago was definitely a better one. He bumped up his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and his OPS was his highest since his rookie campaign (.746 OPS). After allowing 23 passed balls in 1993, he allowed only 6 in ‘94. He also threw out nearly half of the baserunners who attempted to steal that year (47.1%).
Benito wasn’t an All-Star selection or Gold Glove winner, but was arguably one of the top players on the team. At least in Florida, he was respected as a great veteran presence. The Marlins went 51-64.
Benito Santiago Leaves the Marlins
Santiago’s contract expired after the 1994 season. Despite the good production, the Marlins had former top draft pick Charles Johnson ready to step in as their catcher. It proved to be the right time for a transition—Johnson was a success, becoming an All-Star, Gold Glove winner and a World Series champ in 1997.
As for Santiago, he played for 11 more seasons with the Reds, Giants, Phillies, Blue Jays, Cubs, Royals, and a short stint in Pittsburgh. He made it back to the All-Star Game in 2002 and nearly won a championship of his own that year (the Giants fell to the Angels in 7 games).
Benito Santiago continues to be remembered and appreciated for how he helped the Florida Marlins franchise from the very beginning. He was one of their founding fathers on the field.
Hopefully, I can be forgiven for my ignorance about him.