A rangy shortstop with a penchant for delivering clutch hits, Renteria was best known for driving home the winning run of the 1997 World Series in dramatic, sudden-death fashion.
The Colombian native was nearly three months shy of legal drinking age when the Florida Marlins called him up from Triple-A Charlotte in May 1996. He finished second to L.A’s Todd Hollandsworth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting after batting .309 with 16 steals and 68 runs scored in 106 games.
In 1997, Renteria’s steady glove and speedy feet helped Florida claim the NL’s wild-card spot. Foreshadowing his Fall Classic heroics, he won Game One of the Division Series by singling off San Francisco stopper Roberto Hernandez with two outs in the ninth inning to plate Marlins’ backstop Charles Johnson.
The stage was much bigger though when Renteria came to the plate in Game Seven of the World Series with the score knotted at 2-2 in the bottom of the 11th inning. Renteria lined a sharp single up the middle off Cleveland’s Charles Nagy, driving home Craig Counsell and making Florida champions of the baseball world.
Renteria survived one more season in Florida as the franchise dismantled its high-priced free-agent core in favor of inexpensive neophytes. “I was a 22-year-old veteran,” he said of playing for the gutted team.
The Marlins dealt Renteria to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 1998 for pitchers Braden Looper, Carlos Almanzar and shortstop Pablo Ozuna. The young shortstop was sorry to leave the heavily Latino-influenced city where he had felt at home. “I’m going to miss Miami,” he said. “The fans in Miami there love me. I think I might have a little problem in St. Louis because I think they don’t have Latin food over there. Colombia is close to Miami.”
In 1999, his first season with the Redbirds, Renteria batted .275 with 92 runs scored and 37 steals. He celebrated his first trip back to Florida by launching two home runs at Pro Player Stadium on May 31, 1999.
The following year he set career highs with 16 home runs, 76 RBIs and 94 runs scored. Batting first or second most of the season, he set the table for the high-powered Cardinals’ offense that won the NL Central and reached the League Championship Series.
After struggling terribly during the first half of 2001, Renteria heated up after the All-Star break, but still finished with career lows in batting average, hits and runs scored while seeing his stolen base totals drop for the fourth straight season.