At home in Florida last winter, Expos bench coach Luis Pujols received a call from Jose Vidro. Vidro, calling from Puerto Rico, had just heard that Montreal had signed veteran Mickey Morandini to compete for the second base job in spring training—a job Vidro thought that, despite his defensive deficiencies, he had locked up last year by hitting .304 and finishing tied for second-most doubles in the National League (45). "He told me then," says Pujols, "that no matter whom they brought into camp, he was going to win the job."
"I was upset," says the 25-year-old Vidro. "Very mad and upset. What hurt the most was that I'd played winter ball in Puerto Rico. I didn't go home to sit. I worked on my game."
The work paid off. Vidro won the job from Morandini, who was dealt to the Phillies on March 28, and through Sunday, Vidro, a switch-hitter who sprays the ball, was leading the league in hits (71), was tied for third in doubles (17) and was fourth in average (.376). As gaudy as those numbers are, the most impressive digit on his stat sheet was one of the smallest: He had made only one error in 212 chances at second base. "We knew he was going to hit," says Pujols. "The question was, Could he play second base every day? He's made tremendous progress. He's an All-Star second baseman."
For now, Vidro is happy just to be a full-time second baseman, the position he played when the Expos drafted him in the sixth round in 1992. Vidro played second and outfield in the lower minors. By the time he got to Triple A Ottawa in 1997, where he hit .323 in 79 games while being called up twice to the Expos, he was being used at third base as well. Over the next two seasons manager Felipe Alou, determined to shoehorn Vidro's potent bat into the lineup, shuffled him around the diamond like a chess piece, giving him starts at first, second and third. "Last year was his first full year in the big leagues and the first year he played most of his time at second," says Alou. "To me, it was his job at the end of last year."
The rest of the Montreal brass, which still felt Vidro was prone to defensive lapses, disagreed. (Vidro made nine errors at second in 1999.) With Morandini lurking, Vidro spent spring training working with new fielding coach Perry Hill, who was brought in to improve the Expos' woeful infield defense and league-worst fielding percentage of a year ago. Hill drilled Vidro on positioning for different hitters and on his pivot. "I heard before I got here that Jose didn't have range," says Hill, "but I've seen him make plays from shallow rightfield to behind the bag."
Vidro fended off Morandini by hitting .344 and making only one error in 24 spring training games, and then started the season with a 17-for-33 tear. His lone error came on May 19. "We're turning double plays that we didn't turn last year," says Alou, who likens Vidro's offensive abilities to those of Craig Biggio. "He's a natural-born second baseman. Now it's time to leave him alone, and he'll be a superstar."