Born on January 21, 1959, in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, José Uribe found a path from the pockmarked, rock-and-dirt baseball fields of the Dominican Republic to international baseball success. Named the All-Decade Shortstop of the 1980s for the San Francisco Giants,1 he played well in an unforgettable World Series with the team in 1989. In 2006, though, he died tragically in an automobile accident in his native country.
José Altagracia Gonzalez’s father, Eligio Gonzalez, was a career member of Rafael Trujillo’s army, and his mother, Luz Maria, kept home and tended to the array of domestic responsibilities attendant to supporting a military family lifestyle.2 After a youth spent partially in school, but mostly playing baseball on the empty fields around San Cristobal, José Uribe signed his first professional baseball contract with the New York Yankees organization as an amateur free agent, at the age of 18,3 on February 18, 1977, on the recommendation of Epy Guerrero.4 He signed that contract as José Gonzalez, but after spending parts of the next four months on the disabled list, he was released on July 5. Three years later, the 20-year-old signed with the St Louis Cardinals, and at age 22 made his professional debut in 1981 with their Class-A minor-league club in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The following season, 1982, Gonzalez hit .247 for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, and then .357 in an eight-game stint with Triple-A Louisville at the end of the season. He was assigned to the Louisville out of 1983 spring training, where he hit .284 with 26 stolen bases in 122 games. A late-season call-up to the Cardinals in 1984 after making the International League All-Star team that season, he made his major-league debut against the Philadelphia Phillies on September 13, 1984, starting at shortstop and going 0-for-4 in a loss to Philadelphia.
On February 15, 1985, Uribe was traded, along with David Green, Dave LaPoint, and Gary Rajsich, to the San Francisco Giants for slugger Jack Clark. He had signed his contracts and played in the minor leagues as José Gonzalez, since Gonzalez was his father’s surname. At some point in 1985, he changed his professional name from José Gonzalez Uribe to José Uribe. This meant he was using his mother’s maiden name, instead of his father’s, because “There are too many Gonzalezes in baseball.” Rocky Bridges later joked that Uribe was “the ultimate player to be named later.”5
Just after the 1985 season began, Uribe’s defensive prowess and offensive aptitude forced incumbent San Francisco Johnnie LeMaster to the bench.6 After a winter playing for Licey, in the Dominican winter league, Uribe with his defense and his ability to switch-hit eventually afforded new manager Roger Craig the latitude to consider moving the young player to second base. “Although veteran Brad Wellman and rookie Mike Woodard are the prime candidates for the San Francisco Giants second base job,” The Sporting News reported, “Manager Roger Craig said he was not averse to shifting José Uribe from shortstop if newcomer Dave Owen looks good at that position.”7 Uribe remained at short, though, and in 1986 posted then-career highs of 43 runs batted in, 22 stolen bases, and 61 walks.
Given a raise from $133,000 to $195,000 for the 1987 season,8 Uribe posted his best year in professional baseball, batting .291 for the year and going 7-for-26 in the National League Championship Series. Nick Peters, writing in The Sporting News, observed, “The San Francisco Giants’ front office took a lot of heat when slugger Jack Clark was traded to St. Louis for Dave LaPoint, David Green, Gary Rajsich, and José Gonzalez. While Clark powered St Louis to a pennant in 1985, the Giants lost a franchise-record 100 games. Two years later, Green is back with the Cardinals, LaPoint is pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Rajsich is playing in Japan, and Gonzalez is Uribe. … San Francisco wouldn’t have been on the verge of the National League West title without Uribe. A slick fielder obscured by Ozzie Smith in St Louis, Uribe has been San Francisco’s most consistent shortstop since Chris Speier. ‘You’re not going to find a better double-play combination than Uribe and (Robby) Thompson,’ said Speier. … Manager Roger Craig said, ‘They’re as good a double-play combination as I’ve seen. They make routine (plays) on balls that would be hits against other clubs.’”9
The following February, Uribe signed a one-year deal for $535,000,10 which was, presumably, a harbinger of good things to come. It was not.
In 1983 Uribe had married, Sara Reyes,11 also from San Cristobol, and she gave birth to their daughters Luz Adriana in 1984 and Jacqueline in 1985. On June 1, 1988, Sara suffered a heart attack, due to chronic pulmonary hypertension and not the rigor of childbirth, and died while prematurely delivering their son, Rique José.”12
Uribe was a fan favorite, and when he would come to bat at home in Candlestick Park, would be greeted by the “U-Reebee” cheer, in which one side of the stadium chanted “OOH,” and the other “REEBAY” immediately after. After the 1988 season he won the Giants’ Willie Mac Award, a prestigious honor named for Giants star Willie McCovey that is voted on by peers and fans and which recognizes the cumulative value of a player not only on the field but in the community as well. But Uribe was in perpetual agony. “This season was like 20 years for me,” he said. “It sometimes seemed like it would never end. My body was sore and my mind was so tired. There were times when I felt like I didn’t want to play.”13
Uribe returned home to the Dominican Republic for the winter, but the team was not sure how he would respond in the future. “Second baseman Robby Thompson, who is probably closer to Uribe than any other player, said his double-play partner’s mind sometimes wandered, said an article in The Sporting News. “ ‘At times, José wasn’t himself out there. … There was a game when he started running off the field when there were only two outs. Another time I flipped to him at second base for the third out and he threw to first. I’m sure he was distracted at times, but that’s understandable.’”14
The 1989 season began with more turmoil. Uribe was arrested on a rape charge in the Dominican Republic, and was forbidden to depart the island until after the trial. According to The Sporting News, a local woman accused Uribe of “threatening her with a gun and raping her.” The woman alleged that Uribe “drugged her beer while she was at a discotheque he owned, and then took her to a hotel and raped her. Uribe denied the charge, but spent three days in jail before being released on his own recognizance.”15 Less than four weeks later, the charges were dismissed after a blood test performed on the complainant “indicated that there was no foundation for the charge.”16
Despite another raise, this time to $687,500, Uribe’s performance understandably declined in 1989, when he batted .221 and slugged at a paltry .280 clip. The Giants won the National League pennant for the first time since 1962, and faced the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. That Series is remembered for two primary reasons: The Series was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake that devastated the Bay Area; and when it resumed, the A’s swept the Giants.
After another winter in the Dominican Republic, Uribe returned to San Francisco and performed at a higher level than he had in 1989. Unfortunately for the shortstop, though, his personal struggles persisted. In December 1990, he was arrested and charged with assaulting two women with a baseball bat. Santo Domingo newspapers said he denied the charged and was released after posting $26,000 bail.17 Again, the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.18
The 1991 and 1992 campaigns proved to be the beginning of the end of Uribe’s major-league career. His batting average fell to .241 in 1992, and with the rise of young shortstop Royce Clayton in San Francisco, the Giants released him. He spent the winter in the Dominican Republic again, this time delivering shoes and donated equipment for young ballplayers on the island.19 When he returned to the United States, he did so as a Houston Astro, having signed with the club on January 5, 1993. Houston had a young hopeful of their own, in Andújar Cedeño, but envisioned Uribe as an experienced hand and willing to accept a role as a backup infielder with major-league experience. According to Houston general manager Bill Wood, “We didn’t want someone who was a backup and only a backup. We wanted someone who could handle the everyday job if Andújar doesn’t get the job done.”20
Uribe played only 45 games in 1993, with his final appearance on October 3 against the Cincinnati Reds. He got two hits in four at-bats. On October 29 the Astros released him. At 34, Uribe was through as a major-league player. For his career, Uribe posted a lifetime batting average of .241, with 74 stolen bases and 307 runs scored. He was never more than a weak power hitter, but his glove work and speed had allowed him to succeed in the big leagues for a decade.
Out of baseball, Uribe – known as “Uvita,” or “the black grape” in San Cristobal21 — returned to his neighborhood in the Juan Baron section of Sabana Grande de Palenque, about 30 miles west of Santo Domingo. He had remarried, this time to Wendy Guerrero, with whom he had four more children, and he managed a pawn shop/hardware store while operating the José Uribe Youth League for young Dominican players. On December 8, 2006, it all came to an abrupt end.
According to the Associated Press, the 47-year-old was driving a sport-utility vehicle on a highway 30 miles west of Santo Domingo, and wasn’t wearing a seatbelt when his SUV crashed on a mountainous road. An unidentified passenger with him was reportedly not injured. Uribe’s death was confirmed by Glovis Reyes, a longtime friend of the ballplayer and a former member of the Dominican Congress. “Uribe was a very loved person in Juan Baron. He was like the lord of the town,” Reyes said.22
The outpouring was immediate and sincere. Hall of Fame outfielder Vladimir Guerrero led mourners through the streets of Juan Baron, a group that included Uribe’s second cousin Juan Uribe. “I was very saddened to hear the news of José’s passing this morning,” Giants owner Peter Magowan said. “He meant so much to the Giants during his playing days. He was such an important part of the team’s success in the late 1980s. When you saw José on the field, he exuded happiness and pure joy for the game and life. Personally, I was really looking forward to catching up with him this season during the 20th reunion of the 1987 NL West championship team.”23
1 Tom Schott and Nick Peters, eds., The Giants Encyclopedia (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, LLC, 2003), 247-248.
2 Email exchange with Luz Uribe, Jose’s eldest child, on August 31 and September 2, 2017.
3 Steve Wulf, “Standing Tall at Short,” Sports Illustrated, February 9, 1987.
5 Associated Press, Gettysburg Times, April 8, 1985: 7.
6 Nick Peters, “Top Notch Pitching Wasted by the Giants,” The Sporting News, May 13, 1985: 20.
7 The Sporting News, March 10, 1986: 41.
9 Nick Peters, “Uribe May Give Giants Last Laugh,” The Sporting News, October 5, 1987: 18.
10 The Sporting News, February 15, 1988: 40.
12 “Uribe’s Wife Dies of Heart Attack,” New York Times, June 2, 1988: nytimes.com/1988/06/02/sports/uribe-s-wife-dies-of-heart-attack.html.
13 The Sporting News, November 28, 1988: 52.
14. The Sporting News, November 28, 1988: 52.
15 The Sporting News, February 20, 1989: 31.
16 The Sporting News, February 27, 1989: 34.
17 The Sporting News, December 10, 1990: 38.
18 The Sporting News, December 31, 1990: 33.
19 The Sporting News, October 5, 1992: 19.
20 The Sporting News, January 18, 1993: 26.
21 “Standing Tall at Short.”
22 Jonathan Katz, Associated Press, “Jose Uribe Killed in Car Crash,” Colorado Springs Gazette, December 9, 2006: Sports 3.