You all know that I'm in favor of adding the designated hitter to the National League.
If only the N.L. had the DH in the early 1990s, Hector Villanueva could have been a Cubs folk hero, if not a star hitter. As you can see in the photo above, Hector was a very large man. He is generously listed in his baseball-reference profile as 6-1, 220... uh, I doubt it. He could play first base... sort of. And he could catch... if you didn't mind passed balls and wild pitches (in 1991, four of the former, 13 of the latter, in only 55 games behind the plate). He was much bigger than Dioner Navarro, even. Think of him as Dan Vogelbach, only catching.
But man, could he hit. He used to put on shows in batting practice, and in 1991, playing some first base and playing a little behind the plate, he hit .276/.346/.542 in 214 at-bats, with 13 home runs, not too dissimilar to Navarro's year in 2013.
The Cubs had struggled in and around .500 in 1991, and entered this mid-September game with the Montreal Expos at 69-72. Shawn Boskie and Danny Jackson, two names I'm sure you'd rather forget, had given the Expos a 5-0 lead entering the bottom of the sixth. But Andre Dawson hit a three-run shot off Brian Barnes to make it 5-3, and Chico Walker's ninth-inning single tied it, with Ryne Sandberg and Dawson coming to bat. Ryno was intentionally walked to get to Andre, which seemed odd until Dawson hit into an inning-ending double play.
Sun-Times writer Toni Ginnetti tells how it ended:
Villanueva turned the drama around in the 10th after Doug Dascenzo had singled. "I was trying to hit it in the gap so Doug could score," said Villanueva, who has a nine-game hitting streak since returning from Class AAA Iowa Aug. 16. "I was upset when I got sent down, but you can't go down and mope and be sad. "Hopefully we'll sit down and after the season and see what their plans are," said Villanueva, one of four Cub catchers. "I'd like to stay here because I like everyone, but if not I'd like to go somewhere where I can play. I'll be 27 next year and hopefully I can get a job somewhere in the big leagues."
The Cubs won the game 7-5 on Hector's two-run walkoff homer.
Villanueva made the Cubs out of spring training in 1992, but inexplicably stopped hitting. Maybe it was the burden of catching that stopped his bat or maybe he just wasn't that good after all. He bounced around the minor leagues and the Mexican League until 2001, never again doing as well as he did in 1991, except in 2000 for Atlantic City in the Atlantic League, where at age 35 he hit .309/.397/.605 with 38 home runs in 124 games.
If only they'd had the DH in the N.L. in 1991.