Former Giants shortstop Jose Uribe passed away Friday after a car crash in the Dominican Republic. Uribe was on the Giants from 1985-1992, and one of my favorite players throughout his San Francisco career, both for sparkling glove work and his silly-sounding name. Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with how to pronounce Spanish vowel sounds, but "Jose Uribe" ranked up there with "Renaldo Nehemiah" and "Manu Tuiasosopo" among the greatest names of mid-80s Bay Area athletes.
The Giants acquired Uribe after the 1984 season, in exchange for the team's best player, Jack Clark. The trade was a historically bad one for the Giants. Besides Uribe, they got pitcher Dave LaPoint, who went 7-17 in his one year with the team, Gary Rajsich, who hit .165 and was released by July, and David Green, who hit five home runs in 100 games while playing first base. Jack Clark led the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series, while the Giants lost 100 games. Meanwhile, Uribe took over the shortstop job and changed his name from Jose Gonzalez, which made him literally a player to be named later.
The 1985 Giants were a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad baseball team, and also the first baseball team that I remember clearly. Perhaps this has something to do with the low expectations I feel for my favorite baseball squads. I watched the 1984 World Series, but the old scorecards I have indicated I feel asleep by the fifth inning most games. (Said scorecards are primarily notable for the different ways in which five-year-old Sean attempted to spell "Kurt Bevacqua".) While 1985 was a bad year, a few developments indicated that better years were ahead for the team.
Most notably, the Giants selected Will Clark in the amateur draft. Later that month, the team released Duane Kuiper, and Mike Krukow took over his post-game show radio duties, which would have implications for their TV broadcasts for years to follow. In September, they hired Al Rosen and Roger Craig as GM and manager, who immediately transformed the team. And in the first week of the season, Jose Uribe took over as the starting shortstop.
The real significance of Uribe's arrival was that he displaced incumbent starter Johnnie LeMaster, AKA "Johnnie Disaster". LeMaster was so hated, he once took the field with "BOO" on the back of his jersey in place of his name. Though I was only six years old in 1985, grown men openly cursed in my presence if the subject of LeMaster's inept hitting or fielding came up. It was as if Neifi Perez fielded like Edgardo Alfonzo. Playing Uribe sent a message - This team might suck, but at least they were going to suck differently.
I think I might have been drawn to Uribe because his baseball skills paralleled my own. He couldn't hit the ball out of the infield, and neither could I. Uribe always knew where to throw the ball, he snagged difficult ground balls, and he turned a ton of double plays. This made me a valuable Little Leaguer at age six, though much less when I got older and other kids figured out how a force play worked. The 1985 Giants weren't much better than a Little League team. Just like my own Sun Valley Urgent Care-sponsored team, the Giants needed, more than anything, a guy who could at least be counted on throw to the right base.
Uribe was part of a great young infield in 1986, with Will Clark, Robby Thompson, and Chris Brown (who once missed a game because he "slept on his eye funny"). Brown was replaced by Kevin Mitchell the next year, and eventually Matt Williams, but the other three guys played together through the 1992 season. It was a remarkably stable infield, and one with excellent defense. Some people might argue that Williams would have been more valuable if he'd never moved from shortstop to third base, but it was Uribe's defense that made that shift defensible.
Ultimately, Uribe will be remembered for his his name, and the chant that went along with it. When he came to the plate, or turned a difficult defensive play, fans would chant "Oooh! Ree-bay! Oooh! Ree-bay!", a call-and-response chant akin to UC berkeley's "Go! Bears!" cheer. It was a fun way to handle what for some fans was probably a challenging Spanish name, and to distract fans from Uribe's inevitable rally-killing strikeouts.
This chant was also responsible for the dumbest fan cheer I have ever heard. It was 1989, and I was at a Giants game with my dad. Uribe came to the plate, batting in his customary #8 spot. The guys behind us seemed particularly enthused to join in the "Oooh! Ree-bay!" chant. After Uribe miraculously reached base, pitcher Bob Knepper came up, and the fans behind us were still psyched. Here was their cheer:
"Oooh! Knepper! Oooh! Knepper!"
Rest in peace, Jose Uribe. Here's hoping the angels are chanting your name at the pearly gates, and that they don't switch to, "Oooh! St. Peter!" after you enter.