At home in Florida last winter, Expos bench coach Luis Pujols
received a call from Jose Vidro. Vidro, calling from Puerto Rico,
had just heard that Montreal had signed veteran Mickey Morandini
to compete for the second base job in spring training--a job Vidro
thought that, despite his defensive deficiencies, he had locked
up last year by hitting .304 and finishing tied for second-most
doubles in the National League (45). "He told me then," says
Pujols, "that no matter whom they brought into camp, he was going
to win the job."
"I was upset," says the 25-year-old Vidro. "Very mad and upset.
What hurt the most was that I'd played winter ball in Puerto
Rico. I didn't go home to sit. I worked on my game."
The work paid off. Vidro won the job from Morandini, who was
dealt to the Phillies on March 28, and through Sunday, Vidro, a
switch-hitter who sprays the ball, was leading the league in hits
(71), was tied for third in doubles (17) and was fourth in
average (.376). As gaudy as those numbers are, the most
impressive digit on his stat sheet was one of the smallest: He
had made only one error in 212 chances at second base. "We knew
he was going to hit," says Pujols. "The question was, Could he
play second base every day? He's made tremendous progress. He's
an All-Star second baseman."
For now, Vidro is happy just to be a full-time second baseman,
the position he played when the Expos drafted him in the sixth
round in 1992. Vidro played second and outfield in the lower
minors. By the time he got to Triple A Ottawa in 1997, where he
hit .323 in 79 games while being called up twice to the Expos, he
was being used at third base as well. Over the next two seasons
manager Felipe Alou, determined to shoehorn Vidro's potent bat
into the lineup, shuffled him around the diamond like a chess
piece, giving him starts at first, second and third. "Last year
was his first full year in the big leagues and the first year he
played most of his time at second," says Alou. "To me, it was his
job at the end of last year."
The rest of the Montreal brass, which still felt Vidro was prone
to defensive lapses, disagreed. (Vidro made nine errors at second
in 1999.) With Morandini lurking, Vidro spent spring training
working with new fielding coach Perry Hill, who was brought in to
improve the Expos' woeful infield defense and league-worst
fielding percentage of a year ago. Hill drilled Vidro on
positioning for different hitters and on his pivot. "I heard
before I got here that Jose didn't have range," says Hill, "but
I've seen him make plays from shallow rightfield to behind the
Vidro fended off Morandini by hitting .344 and making only one
error in 24 spring training games, and then started the season
with a 17-for-33 tear. His lone error came on May 19. "We're
turning double plays that we didn't turn last year," says Alou,
who likens Vidro's offensive abilities to those of Craig Biggio.
"He's a natural-born second baseman. Now it's time to leave him
alone, and he'll be a superstar."
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE