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Card of the Week: 1974 Topps Jorge Orta


[Ed. Note: Yes, it’s another new feature here at South Side Sox, Card of the Week, which intends to provide a fun glimpse into a career of a former White Sox player. Kicking things off is multifaceted athlete Jorge Orta.]

Rising Star: Orta’s 1974 card was issued in the summer of his greatest (4.2 WAR) season.

Jorge Orta was a mainstay in the Chicago White Sox infield from 1972-79, playing in 990 games on the South Side and totaling 11.6 WAR. He was the only position player to bridge the success of the Dick Allen White Sox and that of the South Side Hit Men.

Likewise, Orta is a fixture on Chicago’s extended, top-30 batting leaderboards:

  • 21st in offensive WAR (20.9)
  • Tied for 23rd in triples (44)
  • 25th in total bases (1,489)
  • 26th in RBI (456) and extra-base hits (285)
  • 27th in hits (1,002)
  • Tied for 27th in doubles (162)
  • 30th in games (990)

Orta also slides into the White Sox top 15 in a couple of dynamic categories. He is tied for ninth in White Sox history (with Robin Ventura) in Win Probability Added (10.5). And his power-speed number (a Bill James metric basically combining homers and steals) of 71.9 ties him for 14th all-time—with Luke Appling.

Before the Getting Got Good: Orta, on the verge of his greatest season in baseball.

But today is not a time for an extended discussion of Orta’s importance to the 1970s White Sox.

It is, however, a time to acknowledge something else Orta could have been doing in the 1970s: Winning NCAA basketball titles with the UCLA Bruins.

Did you catch it up there? OK, take a closer look.

Huh? ”And now ... a 5’10” guard from Sinaloa, Jorge “Hor-Hay” Orta!”

It’s hard to imagine that Topps, then a baseball card monopoly sauntering through the sexy Seventies, was doing a lot of fact-checking. But: seriously?

Now, Orta has sports excellence in his veins. His father, Pedro Orta, was a famous speedster from Cuba who played professionally in Mexico. It’s certainly possible, somehow, rather than boxing, or soccer, or his father’s own sport of fame, baseball, that the slight, younger Orta had somehow become a baloncesto star worthy of John Wooden’s attention.

You know, that Wooden guy, smack in the middle of winning seven straight titles from 1967 to 1973, taking time out from the 88-game winning streak his Bruins were embroiled in to recruit a 5’10” guard from Mexico.

Suspend disbelief fully, and imagine that rather than idolizing his own baseball star father, Jorge was all about Lew Alcindor and Pauley Pavilion. Let’s say that John Wooden himself sought out Jorge to help UCLA stay vital in the post-Alcindor era.

But then, Orta turns Wooden down. That is beyond delightful.

<<Lo siento, Coach, pero yo necesito jugar al beisbol para Fresnillo, por, mas o menos, 68 ABs.>>

Jorge, at least according to the fast-and-loose back of his 1974 Topps card, made his professional debut in Mexico at 17, struggling for the Fresnillo club. The next year, he didn’t play at all, perhaps taking time off to be wined and dined by Wooden and countless other top NCAA programs.

But where Michael Jordan and Danny Ainge failed, Orta prospered.

After leaving Wooden at the altar, Orta tore up the Mexican League. There isn’t now, and wasn’t then, a hearty Mexico-to-U.S. pipeline of baseball talent, but when a kid who could otherwise be running the UCLA Bruins offense is annihilating opponents with a .423 average and heaps of power, the bigs might take notice.

The White Sox sure did.

I cannot find anything to cite at this very second, but Minnie Miñoso was playing in Mexico at the same time as Orta. Could he have tipped his former club off about the young bopper?

No matter how he got to Chicago, Orta did, and remained a South Side linchpin for seven years.

Pauley Pavilion’s loss was Comiskey Park’s gain.