Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1976 Topps #121 - Tony Solaita

  • Tony Solaita is the only major league baseball player to have come from American Samoa. He was known for big power numbers in the minor leagues, but he wasn't able to do as much in the majors.
  • Tony started in the Yankees farm system in 1965. In 1968 he hit 49 home runs for class A High Point-Thomasville. Soliata was voted Topps Minor League Player of the Year. He struck out in his only major league at bat in 1968. Tony did impress some people by winning a home run hitting contest at Yankee Stadium against Mickey Mantle, Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, Ken Harrelson, and Rocky Colavito.
  • In 1969 Soliata struggled at AAA. He played for the Yankees AAA team (Syracuse) and then played for the White Sox' AAA team (Tucson). He then played well for the White Sox' AA team (Columbus), hitting 19 HR in 191 at bats. He was on loan th the White Sox for much of the season.
  • Tony played in the Yankee chain through the 1972 season then was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirate organization. He spent 1973 in AAA Charleston, where he batted .288 with 23 HR.
  • After the 1973 season Soliata was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the Rule 5 draft. He finally made it back to the majors in 1974. Tony played in 96 games as a 1B/DH and batted .268 with 7 HR.
  • Soliata had his best season in 1975. He played in 93 games and batted .260 (very similar to '74), but he also hit 16 HR (more than double the number hit in '74). Tony got off to a slow start in 1976 (.235 in 68 AB with 0 HR) and was waived in July. The California Angels claimed him and Tony performed better (.270, 9 HR in 215 AB).
  • Tony had his only season of over 100 games played in 1977. He played in 110 games and batted .241 with 14 HR in 324 AB. Soliata's playing time decreased in 1978 and he batted .223 in 94 at bats. He was purchased by the Montreal Expos after the season, but didn't get much playing time in Montreal in 1979. Tony batted .286 in 42 at bats and was traded to Toronto in the middle of the season for Dyar Miller. He batted .265 in 102 at bats for the Blue Jays and then was granted free agency.
  • Soliata signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters and played there for four years. He averaged almost 40 HR a year in Japan and retired after the 1983 season.
  • Tony was shot and killed in a dispute over a land transaction in American Samoa on 10 February 1990. Here is a link to a good SABR biography.

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