RIP to Ramón Aviles, a middle infielder and member of the 1980 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. He died in his hometown of Manati, Puerto Rico on January 27 at the age of 68. According to reports, Aviles was suffering from complications of diabetes and high blood pressure and was going to start dialysis treatment in a week. Aviles played for the Boston Red Sox (1977) and Phillies (1979-81). His nephew, Mike Aviles, had a 10-year career in the major leagues as well.
Ramón Aviles was born in Manati on January 22, 1952. He wanted to be a doctor, but the required education was more than his father, a policeman, could afford. Aviles could play baseball, though, and he signed with the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1969 after graduating from high school. Juan Beniquez, then in the Red Sox system, was a friend of his and convinced him to go to a Red Sox tryout. Aviles made his debut with the Class-A Greenville Red Sox in 1970 and, as an 18-year-old, hit .296 in 94 games. He was primarily a shortstop. Over the offseason, the Red Sox had Aviles and several other highly regarded infielder prospects learn all the infield positions besides first base. The idea was that the versatility would help improve their chances, as well as the club’s. The training must have paid off, because Aviles would go on to play all over the diamond in his career.
Aviles’ rise through the Red Sox system was a slow one. He spent three seasons at the AA level, gradually raising his batting average from .183 in 1973 to .247 in 1974. He also kept working on his fielding, improving at every position on the infield and even playing the occasional inning in the outfield. He was promoted to AAA Pawtucket in 1975. Though he hit just .220, he slammed his first professional home run, a 3-run shot against Rochester.
After a decent 1976 campaign in AAA, Aviles was on track to make the 1977 Red Sox Opening Day roster. In fact, he had been told that he’d made the team. “Then two days after they told me, I got hurt on a collision with Jim Rice and separated my shoulder,” he said.
Aviles missed time with the injury and never got on track once he started playing. However, the Red Sox needed a infielder and brought him to the majors on June 24. Then, for the most part, manager Don Zimmer apparently forgot he was on the roster. He made his one and only appearance in a Red Sox uniform on July 10 in an 11-inning 8-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. He pinch-hit for Bernie Carbo in the top of the seventh inning and laid down a sacrifice bunt against Bob McClure. He played two innings at second base without touching the ball and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning.
That was it for his Red Sox career. He stayed in the majors for another couple of weeks but never got into another game. Despite the lack of playing time, Aviles was happy to be in the majors. “We are in the pennant race and the manager has to go with the regular guys. I’m not disappointed. I’m glad to be here,” he said. “I don’t feel bad being the backup to the best shortstop in the American League [Rick Burleson]. As a matter of fact, I’m proud of it.”
The Red Sox brought Aviles back from AAA in September, but he never got into another game. The next time he played in the majors, he was wearing a Phillies uniform. The Red Sox sold his contract to Philadelphia after the 1977 season, and he spent all of 1978 with the Phillies AAA team in Oklahoma City. He did well when he played (.270 average and 3 home runs), but he was frequently benched in favor of prospects like Jim Morrison and Todd Cruz.
Aviles’ big break came on May 2, when Phillies second baseman Manny Trillo broke his forearm after being hit by a pitch. A day later, Aviles was in the majors, and the day after that, he hit a 2-run single off the Dodgers’ Charlie Hough for his first major-league hit. And then Aviles just kept hitting. Through May 18, Aviles had at least one hit in every game where he came to bat and was hitting a scorching .480 with 8 RBIs. He was even intentionally walked once, which is something that had never happened to him.
“This is my big chance and I do not want to blow it,” he said. “I’m not kidding myself, I know that Manny will be back soon and will be the second baseman. Right now, it is an honor to fill in for him.”
Pitchers eventually adjusted to Aviles, and he was sent back to the minors in mid-June. Still, he batted .279 in 27 games with 12 RBIs and played very well in the field.
It happened again, in almost the exact same way, in 1980. Aviles started the season in AAA, Manny Trillo went on the disabled list (sprained ankle), and Aviles went to Philadelphia and hit well. This time, however, he wasn’t sent back to the minors when Trillo got healthy. Instead, Aviles became a valuable utility infielder who stayed with the Phillies through the end of the season, as well as their postseason run that culminated with a World Series win over the Royals.
Aviles hit his first MLB home run off Mario Soto of the Reds on May 21, 1980. Whenever Trillo or shortstop Larry Bowa needed a day off, Aviles was there, playing steady defense and hitting well. He played in a total of 51 games and had 28 hits in 101 at-bats for a .277/.336/.396 slash line. Though he didn’t play in the World Series, he was part of a key inning in the NL Championship Series. The Houston Astros were beating the Phillies 5-2 in the top of the 8th inning of Game Five, with Nolan Ryan on the mound. Ryan allowed three singles and a bases-loaded walk before giving way to the bullpen. Aviles pinch-ran for Keith Moreland after Moreland grounded into a force play. He advanced to second on a Del Unser single and scored on a triple by Trillo. By the time the inning was over, the Fightin’ Phils had turned a 5-2 deficit into a 7-5 lead. The Astros came back to tie the game but eventually lost 8-7.
Aviles didn’t have the same kind of luck in 1981. He started the season with the Phillies, but he struggled badly at the bat and was sent to the minors with a .133 batting average. He was brought back up two months later and raised his average to .214, playing mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement. He had one plate appearance against the Expos in the ’81 NL Division Series against the Expos and drew a walk.
After the 1981 season, Aviles was traded to Texas for pitcher Dave Rajsich. He didn’t make the team in spring training and barely played in the minors. He asked if the team would move him, and he was sent back to the Phillies’ organization. He played in AAA through 1983 (as a player-coach), never again making the big leagues.
In parts of 4 major-league seasons, Aviles slashed .268/.341/.347, with 9 doubles and 2 home runs among his 51 hits. He had 25 RBIs and scored 21 times.
The Phillies liked Aviles and kept him in the organization. He managed the team’s Rookie League team in Bend, Ore., in 1985 and was named the first manager of the Clearwater Phillies of the Florida State League for 1985. Every year, he would be a part of the Phillies minor-league organization. Sometimes he was a coach, and sometimes he was a manager, but he was an integral part of the development of young players throughout the 1980s and ’90s. He was described as an easy-going skipper who cared deeply about his players. He did demand 110% effort, and it wasn’t unheard of him to chide players who didn’t seem like they wanted to play. But if a player was willing to put in the work, Aviles did his part to mold him into a major-league-ready player. Unsurprisingly, he really liked working in the low minors.
“You can teach kids on this level,” he said in 1992, when he was managing in the New York-Penn League. “They haven’t gotten to that stage where they think they know it all.”
“We want Ramon Aviles in our organization in any capacity that’s available,” said Bill Giles, Phillies president in 1996. “Aviles has done a great job. We’re very high on him.”
That year, he really showed his value by moving from roving infielder instructor to interim manager for the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Aviles was pressed into service when manager Butch Hobson was fired after he was arrested for cocaine possession. Though Aviles had never managed higher than AA, he kept the Red Barons in the playoff race for most of the season, despite a shifting roster as players moved up and down to the majors. Aviles returned to his instructional coaching after the season.
Throughout his tenure with the Phillies, Aviles also worked as a manager and general manager in the Puerto Rican winter league, becoming somewhat of a Caribbean legend in the process. He became the first (and may be the only) Puerto Rican to win a Caribbean World Series as a player, manager and general manager, according to a 2006 profile in Florida Today. He won a total of 25 championships in professional baseball as a coach and player.
He acknowledged that he had dreams of being the first Puerto Rican to manage in the major leagues. That dream didn’t come true, but Aviles influenced several generations of young Phillies as they made their way through the minor leagues. That included the likes of Chase Utley, Scott Rolen and Jimmy Rollins.
Aviles moved to the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005, just in time to manage a young Ryan Braun. His last managerial assignment was in 2008 with the Burlington Lake Monsters in the Washington Nationals organization, and his final coaching role appears to have been in 2009, when he was the hitting instructor for the Hagerstown Suns.