Uribe was, of course, one of the fan favorites on the late ’80s/early ’90s Giants. He’d changed his last name in the mid-’80s. He was Jose Gonzales in 1981, but around the time the St. Louis Cardinals traded him and three other players (pitcher Dave LaPoint and infielders David Green and Gary Rajsich) to the Giants for Jack Clark, he became Jose Uribe.
Uribe said in 1987: “There are a lot of Jose Gonzalez’s in the Dominican. The name Gonzalez down there, it’s like Smith in the United States.
“Two or three guys playing with me on the same team had the same name. All the time, someone would yell, ‘Hey, Gonzalez ‘ and everybody’s turning around.
“The other three guys played outfield. I was the only one playing shortstop. After the games, the people, they’d be shouting at me, ‘Hey, Gonzalez, you play outfield great.’ Sometimes it was, ‘Gonzalez, you play outfield lousy.’ I was always yelling, ‘I don’t play outfield, I play shortstop “‘
“I talked to my daddy and my momma and they said I could pick whatever I want. If I wanted Uribe – that’s my father’s last name – that was fine.
“I said to them, ‘I’m going to go with Uribe. It’s shorter. People will understand it better.’ But it’s funny. For the American people, it’s hard to pronounce my last name. Some people call me ‘Yer-bee,’ some people call me ‘Oh, baby”‘
The St. Petersburg Times reported that by 1987, Uribe had “become a cult figure of sorts. The Giants’ fans know how to say it. They chant it every time he comes to bat.
“For the three playoff games in Candlestick Park, three huge signs were plastered to the wall behind the top row of the upper deck in almost straightaway centerfield.
“They read: OOOOOO REEEEE BAAAAY”
In May 1988, Uribe’s wife, Sara, died at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City two days after prematurely delivering a boy. It was her and Jose’s third child; Sara died from a heart attack linked to her pulmonary hypertension. In spring 1989, when he left the Dominican Republic for spring training in Arizona, his three children and two sisters were left behind. Uribe said: “Spring training is a time to get in shape for the season. I hope to bring my two sisters to the country to help take care of my children, and I’m confident they will be able to get their visas.”
He added: “The most important thing is to try. If you try, you can do anything. I know Roger (Craig) and Mr. (Al) Rosen and the team are behind me.”
When Jose died in the Dominican Republic early in the morning of December 8, 2006, in a car crash, he left behind a new wife, Wendy, with whom he’d had four children. Giants president Peter Magowan said: “I was very saddened to hear the news of Jose’s passing this morning. 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 Jose on the field, he exuded happiness and pure joy for the game and life.”
Will Clark said: “He was always happy and had a smile on his face — he found a way to make you laugh. That was a great ballclub and Jose was right in the middle of it. On a baseball team, you’re only as good as the middle, and he and Robby [Thompson] were the two rocks out there.
“He had some of the best hands you’ll ever see. He’d pick the ball and make hard plays look easy, which at Candlestick Park wasn’t easy to do. As a hitter, I think the whole time he was with the Giants, he always improved in some capacity.”
When I talked with Ray Ratto about the ’89 Giants, he said of Uribe: “He and Thompson were very close, both on and off the field, and he was one of the players who didn’t need to be noticed. He was an efficient shortstop and a better than average eight-hitter, and was open enough with the media if you could speak Spanish or had an interpreter handy. He was not an effusive story-teller, though, in a room that had a lot of them, so he didn’t get as much attention as he might have.”