When it comes time to consider the 1966 N.L. Rookie of the Year, the Giants’ Tito Fuentes has to be high on the list. He has classic company, stern challengers for the annual freshman trophy, in such National League eligibles as shortstop Sonny Jackson of the Astros, pitchers Don Sutton of the Dodgers and Larry Jaster of the Cardinals and infielder Tommy Helms of the Reds.
Because Sutton and Jaster are pitcher, uninvolved n the daily pressures of winning, Giant partisans are disinclined to include them in the category with everyday toilers such as the Giants’ bouncy shortstop and Astros’ speedy Jackson. And because he has stood up remarkably well under the intense, nerve-banging pressures of a season-long battle for the pennant, many will go with Rigberto (Tito) Fuentes when casting their ballot. Tito, 22 years old, 5-11, 175 pounds, a native of Havana, Cuba, and almost a victim of isolation and confinement brought on by the 1961 Bay of Pigs incident.
Fuentes, who finished the 1965 campaign with the varsity and appeared in 26 games and hit .183, began finding holes in the defenses with hits. He is currently batting .273 with 9 home runs and 44 RBI and, although his error column showed 23 transgressions as the Giants headed into the final 30 games, he still has given the club its greatest range at shortstop since Jose Pagan in the pennant campaign of 1962.
Tito plays with a flair and lives with a flair. Some people call him The Golden Boy – a gold filling in a tooth, a gold watch, and wrist band with two gold rings, both worn on the same hand. Some people call him a ‘hot dog’, and he deeply resents it. He yet has much to learn, but a strong will to succeed and the ability to make it so are all there. In two years, he could be the National League’s top shortstop. Right now, he is one of its better, if not actually its best, rookie.