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Oquendo Finally Gets Steady Job

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United Press International

Mention Jose Oquendo and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog will say he is the best ever at his trade. And soon, Herzog will reward his versatile performer for those efforts.

Oquendo, who has played the role of utility man to perfection for the Cardinals over the last few years, has finally entrenched himself at second base.

However, Oquendo, who left Busch Stadium before the game with Philadelphia Aug. 1 when his wife, Zeneida, went to a local hospital to have twins (Marilyn and Carolyn were born early on Aug. 3), says he wants to perform the baseball ultimate before the season ends.

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“I’ve always wanted to play every position in one game,” said the 25-year-old performer who has played every position except catcher--starting at six--for the Cardinals this season. “Whitey said he might let me do it near the end of the season if we play a team that is out of contention.”

Several major leaguers have performed the multiple-position feat during one game, the latest being Cesar Tovar with the Minnesota Twins.

Meanwhile, Oquendo’s role has never been more evident than in 1988. The Cardinals, defending champions of the N.L. East, have been riddled by injury and the versatile Puerto Rican has been there to help ease the burden.

When Jim Lindeman was injured, Oquendo could be found at first base. When Terry Pendleton went down, Oquendo moved to third. When Vince Coleman slumped, Oquendo played the outfield.

Oquendo even pitched four innings of relief in May during a 19-inning game against Atlanta, giving up four hits and two runs, while suffering the loss.

Since coming to the major leagues in 1983 as a shortstop with the New York Mets, the most Oquendo has played in one season is 120 games. He’s already played in 93 of the Cardinals’ first 104 games.

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“I didn’t expect to play this much,” he said. “I figured I would be a utility player again and worked hard at the different positions. When the injuries hit, I was ready.”

Herzog said Oquendo has been a savior this season because of his unique ability.

“Overall, he’s the best I’ve ever seen doing what he does,” Herzog said. “The position he played least was third base, but when Terry went out, Jose turned into one helluva third baseman, too.”

Oquendo also has been one of the most consistent players on offense for the disappointing Cardinals this season. His average has hovered around the .280 mark and he has hit a career-high three home runs.

And since rookie Luis Alicea, who was called up to play second after Tom Herr was traded, has been returned to the minor leagues, Oquendo has taken over at second base. But he thinks that will only be temporary.

“Probably just through the remainder of this season or maybe just until the roster opens up,” he said. “Alicea is our second baseman for years to come.”

And Oquendo, according to Herzog, is the Cardinals’ heir apparent at shortstop.

“He was probably the second best shortstop in the National League behind Ozzie (Smith),” Herzog said. “He hasn’t had the opportunity to play short much for us, but he’d still be starting at most places.”

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And if Oquendo had his way, he’d be a full-time shorstop.

“But as long as I’m in the game, I’m happy,” Oquedno said.

With his versatility, he can expect to be a player almost every day.

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