This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Colombia has been sending more men than ever to the majors in the 21st century. But when shortstop Jackie Gutierrez made his debut with the Boston Red Sox in 1983, he was just the second man who learned the game in that nation to make it to the top level. Way back in 1902, Colombian-born Lou Castro had played in 42 games, but he came to baseball after moving to the U.S. as a boy. It wasn’t until 1974 that Orlando Ramirez came along.
Unfortunately, after a promising first full season in 1984, the flashy-fielding Gutierrez regressed. He was out of the majors after 1988.
Gutierrez, like the vast majority of Colombian big-leaguers, was born in the city of Cartagena.1 Joaquín Fernando Gutierrez Hernandez came from a family of athletes. Two were Olympians — his father Campo Elias Gutierrez (“Campo”) threw the javelin at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He worked as a traffic supervisor in Cartagena, but unfortunately died of a heart attack when Jackie was just 4 years old. There is a track and field stadium in Cartagena named in his honor.
In 1964, Jackie’s brother Francisco (known as “Freddy”) was a sprinter who ran the 100 and 200 meters at the Olympics in Tokyo. Another brother threw the javelin in the Pan-American Games. Several Colombians of his day were competing as boxers, but Gutierrez said, “I didn’t want to make a living having someone punch me in the face. All I ever wanted to be was a baseball player.”2
Jackie’s mother, Rosa Hernandez, was a homemaker who gave birth to 11 children, eight boys and three girls. Two died when they were young, reported her grandson Freddy Gutierrez, including a sister Nora, “but nine were alive when my grandfather passed. The older children were adults at the time of his death. Their second oldest child, Hernando, helped support the family after my grandfather died. My grandmother died in December of 2006.”3 Jackie was the baby of the family. His sister, Alma Rosa Gutierrez, was married to none other than Orlando Ramirez.
Gutierrez was signed out of Liceo de Bolivar High School at age 17 on January 14, 1978, by Red Sox scout Willie Paffen.4 Paffen’s territory included Venezuela; he crossed the border into Colombia to catch a couple of tournaments and spotted Gutierrez.5
Gutierrez had become adept at infield defense in part because of games he played as a child. He “used to play with a stick, a plastic ball and six infielders, and batters were allowed to hit only ground balls.”6
The young infielder was assigned to the Elmira Pioneers, Boston’s short-season Single-A club in the New York-Penn League. He played there both in 1978 and 1979 under manager Dick Berardino, the first of six seasons in the minors before he got his first shot with the big-league team. The nickname Jackie apparently arose because of the difficulty many Americans had with the name Joaquin, pronouncing it “Jack-een” and eventually “Jackie.”
In both years, Gutierrez played in 63 games. He was a raw talent in 1978 and struggled both at bat (.194, with a .278 on-base percentage) and in the field (a .943 fielding percentage in 348 chances at shortstop.) In 1979, Gutierrez improved at the plate, hitting .251 (.332 OBP), and with the glove. He played about a third of his games at second base.
Two more years of Single-A ball followed, with Winter Haven in 1980 (Florida State League) and Winston-Salem in 1981 (Carolina League.) Both his offense and defense remained more or less about the same as in ’79. With Winter Haven he played outfield in 22 games, the only time he played outfield in his professional career, handling 49 chances without an error. In October 1981, he was added to the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster
Gutierrez joined the major-league team for spring training. A brief observation in the Boston Globe was nearly the first mention of him in Boston: “Red Sox training camp has been so routine that most exciting topics are 145-pound shortstop Jackie Gutierrez’ rifle arm and the 100 dozen oysters brought in for the Winter Haven barbecue this week.”7 Red Sox coach Johnny Pesky, who hit any number of fungos to him, knew he hadn’t established himself as a hitter — but said his arm was “nearly as good as [Rick] Burleson’s, and with a quicker release.”8
He’d already been penciled in for Double-A Bristol in the Eastern League, but manager Ralph Houk saw Gutierrez as a “bright prospect.”9 He was starting to draw attention and Red Sox farm director Ed Kenney said that he was “almost always brought up by other teams in trade talks.”10
A year later, the Boston Globe’s Larry Whiteside wrote that Gutierrez “may be the best prospect of all.”12 He hadn’t shown a lot of power — he had three career home runs, one each in 1980, 1981, and 1982. He was two weeks late to spring training because Colombian authorities “held up his visa for reasons known only to them.”13 When he arrived, he was optioned to the New Britain Red Sox (the Double-A club had moved about 10 miles east in Connecticut).
Gutierrez more or less evenly split the season between New Britain (67 games) and the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox (66 games). His option was transferred to Pawtucket on July 1. “He’s got major league written all over him,” said his manager at New Britain, Rac Slider.14 He hit .278 with four homers under Slider, and then .266 with one homer at the higher level. He was a little shakier on defense in Triple A, with 20 errors as compared to 13.
The 1983 Red Sox had started off well. They were tied for first place in the A.L. East as late as June 5 but then began a steady decline. By the time Jackie Gutierrez was called up to Boston and got into his first major-league game on September 6, they were in sixth place, 15 games out of first. A Boston Globe writer declared, ‘[T]hey’re not only bad but they’re frightfully boring…Ralph Houk has made fewer moves this season than the Statue of Liberty.” He added a hope that Houk had plans to move Glenn Hoffman to third, Wade Boggs to first, and Jackie Gutierrez to short.15
Gutierrez’s debut was in a Tuesday night game in Baltimore. The Orioles were leading, 8-1, when he entered the game in the bottom of the eighth, playing shortstop. He saw no action, but had played his first inning on a big-league diamond.
He didn’t get into another game for 19 days. There was a pennant race on, and even though the Red Sox were by no means in it, they still had a responsibility to field a strong team against any contenders, and not try out rookies. His second game was as a pinch-runner on September 25 in Detroit. There were two outs in the top of the ninth, with the Tigers up, 3-1. A two-base error put a runner on second base. A single by Dwight Evans made it 3-2. Gutierrez ran for Evans but was forced out at second base and the game was over.
He played the last three games of the season and got his first at-bat on September 30. All three games were at Fenway Park against the Cleveland Indians. He was 3-for-10 — .300 — in the majors when the season ended. He’d committed one error in 16 chances.
Apparently he enjoyed himself once he had made it to the majors. The Herald’s Charles Pierce said he was “loose…standing in the locker room and singing Donna Summer songs in Spanish.”16
He had impressed, “with his speed, range, and arm…if he can hit even a little in the big leagues, he may be the shortstop of the future,” wrote a Boston Herald writer.17
Indeed, in 1984, a Globe columnist called Gutierrez, aside from Roger Clemens, “the best prospect in this camp.”18 He made the team as backup shortstop, despite having just the half-year of Triple-A experience. The Sox needed depth because Glenn Hoffman was working his way back from left knee surgery.
The news that Gutierrez had made the major leagues out of spring training was big news in Colombia. It was broadcast over El Caracol Radio in Cartagena by co-hosts Eugenio Baena Calvo (“This is a historic day for my country”) and Jorge Sierra, the latter telling a Boston newspaperman, “As soon as we went on the air, everybody in Cartagena came out of their offices and houses and stores and started dancing in the street. It’s a holiday all over my country.”19
The season got off to a truly bad start for Gutierrez. On Opening Day the Sox were winning, 1-0, heading into the bottom of the ninth inning at Anaheim Stadium. He had come into the game for defensive purposes in the eighth, but with two outs and the bases loaded, he threw away a groundball hit to him for a two-run error that cost the game.20
But it got better. His first starting assignment in ’84 came on April 7 in Oakland. He singled and walked, and scored two of the three runs in a 3-0 win over the Athletics. He collected his first runs batted in on April 22 at Fenway, driving in one run on a fourth-inning single and then another on a solo home run in the fifth. The homer was just the second one hit by a Colombian in the major leagues.21
Meanwhile, Hoffman struggled to play with a brace, playing in pain all year long. In mid-May, he lost the starting shortstop job to Gutierrez.22 Around then, Peter Gammons wrote, “Jackie Gutierrez has blossomed into the league’s best rookie infielder.”23 Marty Barrett had settled in at second base, and the Red Sox suddenly had a good middle infield combination. Gutierrez even pulled off the hidden ball trick on Tim Teufel in the seventh inning of the August 17 game against the Twins.24
The rookie wound up playing in 151 games and acquitted himself very well. Over the course of the season, he drove in 29 runs and scored 55. He hit .263, very respectable for a shortstop at the time. He stole 12 bases. And he earned rave reviews for a number of his fielding plays.25
Gutierrez became something of a fan favorite in 1984 — he played with verve. Tony Torchia had said of him, “In all my years in this organization [dating back to the mid-’60s], I’ve never seen a guy who liked to play or brought as much life to his team as Jackie, and I’m not sure I’ve seen many who ever played harder.”26 Author Leigh Grossman called him “Flashy” and said he was “best known for his habit of whistling loudly during games…fans loved him.”27 Larry Whiteside once dubbed him “The Whistler.”28 Grossman had mixed comments on his fielding, though: “He had spectacular defensive tools, including speed and a fine arm, but often botched routine plays.”29
After the season, Topps named him to their All-Rookie team. The Boston Baseball Writers voted him Red Sox rookie of the year.
However, the weight of all the adulation — in the U.S. but especially at home — may have put extra pressure on the young shortstop’s shoulders when he returned home after the season. In addition, Gutierrez was aware that there might be challenges facing him. In April 1985, he told Peter Gammons, “The instruction in Colombia isn’t what it is some other places. Before I got to the big leagues, I could get by on some physical skills. Now….”30
John McNamara became Red Sox manager in 1985, and Hoffman and Gutierrez shared shortstop duties. By the end of April, Gutierrez was only batting .211. He raised it 30 points by the end of May, but suffered a strained tendon behind his knee, and Hoffman filled in. By June, Hoffman had pretty much won back the starting role, though when he was injured in late July, it was Gutierrez back at the position for most of August, only to yield it to Hoffman once again in early September. Gutierrez never got a hit in September; he was 0-for-24 from August 31 until October 3.
There was one game Gutierrez won for the Red Sox without a base hit. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a 5-5 game on July 24 against the Athletics, and runners on second and third, Oakland’s Jay Howell intentionally walked Rich Gedman, preferring to pitch to Gutierrez. He stepped into the box, and took three pitches for balls. He took a called strike, then took another ball for a game-ending walk.
By season’s end, Hoffman had played in 96 games with 321 plate appearances. Gutierrez got into a few more games (103) but came to the plate less often (297). Hoffman hit for a much higher average, .276 to .218 for Gutierrez (.343 to .250 in on-base percentage). He drove in 34 runs to Gutierrez’s 21. Hoffman committed fewer errors — 11 in 400 chances compared to 23 in 404 chances for Gutierrez (20 of them in his last 48 games).31
There had been trade rumors throughout the year. They came to fruition on December 17, 1985, when Boston traded Gutierrez to the Baltimore Orioles for right-handed relief pitcher Sammy Stewart. The Sox had acquired Ed Romero at the winter meetings as their utility infielder.
During winter ball in both the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, Gutierrez had exhibited some “erratic behavior” that “led some to suspect he may have had a nervous breakdown. He had been released by two different clubs during the winter, reported the Associated Press. “There have also been reports of altercations between Gutierrez and teammates and of erratic behavior off the field.” The Orioles asked that the American League look into his condition and place the trade on hold until resolved.32 His agent, Jim Turner, said that Gutierrez had endured a bad season in 1985, due to his leg injury, and then a bad winter. Jackie acknowledged that “his family had some concerns about him,” but that he had gotten some rest and was ready to play.33
When he showed up in camp, he said he felt fine. “I’m just happy to be here and I hope to help the team.” He underwent a reported nine days of tests in Baltimore.34 League president Bobby Brown declined to void the trade. Gutierrez acknowledged, “I was depressed. Anybody in the world can be depressed. A lot of things were wrong.”35
Some observers mused that the Orioles would move Cal Ripken Jr. to third base and go with Gutierrez at short, but that turned out not to be the case. Ripken — in the fourth year of his ironman streak — played every game all season long. Gutierrez spent lengthy stints on the disabled list and at Triple-A Rochester. He appeared in 61 games for Baltimore over the course of the season, 53 at second base but none at short.
After going 0-for-10 to start the season, he doubled, but then came down with chicken pox and had to go on the 15-day DL. He was placed with Rochester until July 27, when he was recalled after hitting .303 in 54 games. By year’s end, he was batting .186 in the big leagues. When the Orioles played in Boston at the end of the season, he popped into the Red Sox clubhouse to congratulate his former teammates on making the playoffs — wearing an Afro wig, which soon was worn by Sox pitcher Oil Can Boyd, who wore it and started taking ground balls at shortstop.37
That offseason, Gutierrez played winter ball again, this time in Puerto Rico. On December 20, he lost a friend, Ponce teammate Joe DeSa, killed in an automobile accident. Gutierrez was the last to see him alive.38 Barry Bloom wrote in the San Diego Tribune, “The accident sent Jackie Gutierrez into a prolonged funk. Gutierrez, the Baltimore infielder who has suffered spells of mental anguish, disappeared from his team. For 10 days nobody knew of his whereabouts.”39
In 1987, he appeared in just three early-season games for Baltimore, each time as a pinch-runner. He stayed in one of the games and grounded out in his only at-bat of the season. In early May, he was outrighted to Rochester. He spent the rest of the season there, batting .255 in 92 games.
Gutierrez was brought to 1988 spring training as a reserve infielder, but Baltimore said “Adios” on March 23, giving him his release.
After a couple of months without work, on May 29 he signed with the Maine Phillies (Triple-A International League). He played in 40 games, batting .236. In mid-July, three things combined to create an opening for him with Philadelphia. The team traded infielder Luis Aguayo, then found that both Bob Dernier and Von Hayes needed to go on the disabled list.40 Philadelphia acquired his contract from Maine and he spent the rest of the season with the big-league club, appearing in 33 games, batting .247. At the end of the first week of October, the Phillies released him.
Within days, the Boston Red Sox reached out to Gutierrez with an invitation to spring training in 1989. He was assigned to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox and played an even 100 games for them, with a .228 batting average and 21 runs batted in. In October, he was released.
In 1990, Gutierrez played for the Miami Miracle, an unaffiliated team in the Single-A Florida State League. It was quite a drop from Triple A. He played in 121 games under manager Mike Easler, a former Red Sox teammate. Easler stated his belief that the pressure of being a national hero in his native Colombia may have played a major role in his regression as a player (the article reiterated that it was front-page news when he first made the Red Sox).41
His hitting remained about the same — .220, with 35 RBIs. Gutierrez even pitched briefly in three games, for a total of two innings, allowing one earned run.
In 1992, Gutierrez played baseball in Italy, and in 1993, he played in Taiwan for the China Times Eagles in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Appearing in 27 games, he had four RBIs and hit for a .210 average.
He returned to Colombia, played for two or three more seasons, and retired from play. “I became a coach,” he said in a July 2020 interview. “I managed for a little while, but then after that I became a coach most of the time.”42
About three years before the interview, he retired from coaching. “I just practice my son, practice with kids.” His son Joaquin Fernando had turned 14 and was becoming interested in playing baseball, so Jackie began to work with “Jackie Junior.” He and his wife Julia have another child, Ana Gabriel, three years younger than Jackie Jr. He also has an older child, in his 30s, Joaquin Gabriel, from a previous relationship.
During the interview, Gutierrez added, “Boston. Great city and great memories. I would like to ask you to say hello to the Boston baseball fans.”
Last revised: September 3, 2020
Thanks to Jackie Gutierrez for his input (interview with the author on July 14, 2020). Thanks also to Freddy Gutierrez for assistance in providing information regarding his uncle, Jackie Gutierrez.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Bill Lamb.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org. Thanks also to Rod Nelson and the Boston Red Sox.
1 Rory Costello’s biography of Orlando Ramirez offers solid information on Cartagena and how it became the baseball capital of Colombia.
2 UPI, “Gutierrez Follows Different Path.” Other brothers found careers as an executive with Avianca and in chemistry. See Michael Madden, “Outsider Looks In,” Boston Globe, March 17, 1984: 27.
3 Email to author from Freddy Gutierrez on July 11, 2020.
4 UPI, “Gutierrez Follows Different Path,” St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), September 18, 1983: 5. The April 5, 1985 Boston Globe offered a few articles that discussed Latin American scouting by the Red Sox. See, in particular, Peter Gammons, “For Starters, Two Latin American Red Sox,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1985: 47, and Larry Whiteside, “Learning American Ways,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1985: 46.
5 “For Starters, Two Latin American Red Sox;”
6 Peter Gammons, “Taking A Show Of Hands On Fielding Styles,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1985: 47.
7 Ernie Roberts, “King Husy Savors Birthday Gift,” Boston Globe, March 6, 1982: 26. Gutierrez is listed as 6-foot-1 with a playing weight of 180 pounds on his Sporting News contract card, available through the sabr.org website.
8 Steve Harris, “A New, Improved Hoffman,” Boston Herald, March 4, 1982: 11.
9 Larry Whiteside, “Lansford Hitting, Ready to Take Field,” Boston Globe, March 24, 1982: 60.
10 “Millers Return Home After Loss,” Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), May 18, 1982: 5.
11 Tom Shea, “Digging the Minors,” Springfield Union, May 30, 1982: 35.
12 Larry Whiteside, “He’s No Heavyweight,” Boston Globe, March 3, 1983: 59.
13 Tim Horgan, “Talen at Short Bring Tall Dilemma,” Boston Herald, March 15, 1983: 53.
14 Larry Babich, “A Newark Bearfest,” Jersey Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), August 15, 1983: 26.
15 Michael Madden, “Trading Tips on the Course,” Boston Globe, September 10, 1983: 25.
16 Charles Pierce, “Stape Awaits Finish of His Worst Season,” Boston Herald, September 30, 1983: 7.
17 Joe Gordon, “Houk Optimistic About ’84,” Boston Herald, October 5, 1983: 65.
18 Michael Madden, “Outsider Looks In.”
19 Tim Horgan, “History in the Making in Cartagena,” Boston Herald, March 27, 1984: 45. Horgan said he was being treated as “a national hero on a par with Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong and Babe Ruth, combined.”
20 Leigh Montville, “A Nightmare to Remember,” Boston Globe, April 4, 1984: 29, 32. A couple of days later, Dave Stapleton said he had looked at video and that he should have caught the ball at first base. Tom Shea, “Gutierrez Bounces Back from The Throw,” Springfield Union, April 8, 1984: 11.
21 Lou Castro had homered once in 1920.
23 Peter Gammons, “Sox Touching Off A Spark by Touching Up the Lineup,” Boston Globe, May 10, 1984: 58. A couple of weeks later, Larry Whiteside called him “the most pleasant surprise in the league.” Larry Whiteside, “Buckner Nails Hit No. 2000,” Boston Globe, June 28, 1984: 47.
24 Joe Giuliotti, “The ‘Wave’ Crashed Down on Fenway,” Boston Herald, August 18, 1984: 49.
25 See, for instance, Mike Shalin: “Gutierrez had a spectacular day in the field, making five slick plays to help Hurst to his sixth win. This was a day on which the shortstop showed us why he cam here with all those rave notices.” Shalin, “In Short, He’s Good,” Boston Herald, May 28, 1984: 11.
26 Peter Gammons, “Murray Gets MVP Vote in Tight Race,” Boston Globe, October 2, 1993: 50.
27 Leigh Grossman, The Red Sox Fan Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts; Rounder Books, 2005), 149.
28 Larry Whiteside, “Short Notice,” Boston Globe, March 13, 1984: 30. Hoffman was hampered all year in 1984; he hit .189 in just 80 plate appearances.
29 Grossman, 150.
30 Peter Gammons, “For Starters, Two Latin American Red Sox,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1985: 47.
31 Thomas Boswell, “Gutierrez Whistles While He Works,” Washington Post, April 9, 1986: D3.
32 Associated Press, “Birds’ Infielder Investigated,” The New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico), February 6, 1986: 8. See also Peter Gammons, “Gutierrez’ Health at Issue,” Boston Globe, February 4, 1986: 26.
33 Richard Justice, “Orioles Ask League to Check Gutierrez,” Washington Post, February 4, 1986: B1.
34 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, May 10, 1986: 34.
35 Richard Justice, “Brown Refuses Orioles’ Request to Rescind Trade for Gutierrez,” Washington Post, March 12, 1986: D6.
36 Thomas Boswell, “Gutierrez Whistles While He Works.” He made it clear there was never any question of substance abuse. For an even more complete look at Gutierrez and his bouts with depression, see Ian Thomsen, “After A Series of Ups and Downs in His Life, Gutierrez is Hoping…He’s Back in Tune,” Boston Globe, August 4, 1989: 59.
37 Larry Whiteside, “Seaver Sees Progress,” Boston Globe, October 1, 1986: 82.
39 Barry Bloom, “Baseball Players Don’t Hibernate for the Winter Down Here,” San Diego Tribune, January 14, 1987: E1.
40 Paul Hagen, “Bottom Falls Out for Phils: Hayes Surgery News Dwarfs Aguayo Trade,” Philadelphia Daily News, July 16, 1988: 44.
41 Ed Giuliotti, “Scouts Could Warm to New Nicaragua,” Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), May 6, 1990: C6.
42 Author interview with Jackie Gutierrez on July 14, 2020.