Arturo López’s success in Winter Ball: Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Venezuela

Arturo López

Outfielder Arturo, aka Arturito or Art, López was the first-Puerto Rico born baseball player who signed with the New York Yankees (in 1961) and actually played for them (1965). LHP Luis “Tite” Arroyo joined the Yankees in 1960, but first signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, before making his major league debut for the 1955 Cardinals. Luis “Canena” Márquez signed with the Yankees in 1949, but never wore their flannels. Víctor Pellot (Vic Power) played for three seasons (1951-53) in the Yankees minor-league system, but was traded to the Philadelphia A’s.

Until December 16, 2020, Art was the first big-leaguer born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, but now,  at least three Mayagüez-born players precede Art in this category: José Antonio “El Olímpico” Figueroa (1940 New York Cubans), Luis Enrique “Tite” Figueroa (1946 Baltimore Elite Giants) and Carlos Manuel Santiago (1946 New York Cubans). This is a result of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement raising 1920-1948 Negro Leagues to Major League Status. Art once preceded José Vidro, Wilfredo Cordero and other big leaguers who were born in Mayagüez.

So, who is Art López and why should he get more recognition from media and sportswriters in the Caribbean, namely, Puerto Rico? His teams won pro baseball titles in six different countries or territories—1962 Ft. Lauderdale Yankees; 1963-64 Cinco Estrellas team in Nicaragua (1964 Inter-American Series); 1964-65 Águilas Cibaeñas in the Dominican Republic and their February 1965 Inter-American Series in Caracas, Venezuela; 1967-68 Caguas Criollos, Puerto Rico; and, 1970 Pacific League regular season title with Japan’s Lotte Orions. Two of these titles were with the same team (Águilas Cibaeñas). He played as a Native in Puerto Rico; and as a refuerzo (reinforcement) or Import, elsewhere in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The author is currently working on Art’s SABR bio, with other particulars about his life and career.

Arturito Lived in Mayagüez Until Age 12

.Arturo López Rodríguez, born on May 8, 1937, as the oldest of five children, had a fun and lively childhood in his beloved Mayagüez until the summer of 1949 when he and a sister relocated to the South Bronx to rejoin their parents and another sister. (Art’s dad was born in Las Marías; his mom, in Cabo Rojo.)  He has fond memories of Mayagüez, founded in 1760 and derived from the Indian word yaguex. Art followed Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) teams, namely his beloved Mayagüez Indios, and loved swimming in the Caribbean Sea, climbing coconut and mango trees, playing volleyball, and hitchhiking on the back of car fenders. Art idolized Negro Leaguers from the States who reinforced Mayagüez, namely the 1948-49 squad which captured the league title and played in the first (February 20-25, 1949) Caribbean Series, a four-team regional event in Havana, Cuba, between the host country, Panamá, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Mayagüez’s five regular season reinforcements were special to López. They were Johnny Davis, Luke Easter, Wilmer Fields, Alonzo Perry, and player-manager Artie Wilson.

These [five] players were instrumental in my career as a major league player. I once played hooky from school for at least two weeks to wait for the team’s 10 a.m. practices and sit in the stands [alone]; then follow them upon completion to a local restaurant which they frequented to have breakfast (or lunch) while I stood outside gawking at them and dreaming that someday, I, too, would become a player for the Indios de Mayagüez.

Willard Brown

López was impressed by their versatility, in playing different positions. He knew their mannerisms, too. “As a former player who participated in many countries, I finally understood the economics and relevance of being able to play many positions.” (He later read Fields’s autobiography.) From October 1946 to January 1949, López never purchased a ticket to see Mayagüez home games at Liga Paris, but attended many behind the left-field fence, with other fans, watching and hoping to fetch a home run ball. In 1946, at age nine, his dad introduced him to Tetelo Vargas (El Gamo Dominicano—the Dominican Deer), when Vargas starred for Caguas-Guayama. López was impressed with Santurce’s  Willard “Ese Brown,” who was “our Babe Ruth.” (Brown hit 27 HR in the 60-game 1947-48 Puerto Rico Season.) “Even the great Willie Mays [later] did not reach the same plateau or heights with the [Puerto Rico] fans as Mr. Brown,” per Art. Bob Thurman, a Santurce teammate of Brown, impressed López with his size, exuberance and talent to hit, play the outfield and pitch. Puerto Rico stats of these players are at https://beisbol101.com/indice-de-jugadores/

The left-handed hitting and throwing López was signed by the Yankees at age 24, in 1961, after serving in the U.S. Navy for four years and playing in an amateur league at New York’s Central Park. Coincidentally, he ran into Tetelo Vargas at Central Park in 1961, fifteen years after meeting him in Mayagüez. Art had good speed and a quick bat, but a weak throwing arm, due to injuries. In his view, it short-circuited his playing career.

Arecibo Wolves, 1961-64

Luis Rodriguez Olmo was Art’s manager with Arecibo, 1961-63. The 1961-62 Wolves were an expansion team and could sign 12 Imports, two more than the other five clubs. Art, in limited action, went nine-for-27, a .333 AVG. In one game versus the San Juan Senators, the bases were loaded when Napoleón Reyes, San Juan skipper, brought in lefty Tite Arroyo to face Art. Then, Olmo made signs for a pinch-hitter, 18-year old rookie Santos (Sandy) Alomar Sr. “I was a Navy veteran, said Art. “What are you (Olmo and coach Carlos Manuel Santiago) doing? Like hell, I don’t give a ____; I’ve faced better pitchers in the minors.”  So, Art convinced Olmo and coach Santiago to let him hit versus Arroyo. “I hit a double over Roberto Clemente’s head. Tite was so pissed—rookie from D ball had faced better pitchers. That’s how I became a regular (for Arecibo). We—Tite and I—became good friends.” Art remembered Carlos Manuel Santiago as Mayagüez’s 2B, late 1940s. “He (Carlos Manuel) never knew that I, too, am a Korean War veteran (I was a member of the Armed Forces in 1955 and we were technically still at war with North Korea).”

Some of Arecibo’s Imports included Bob Uecker, Moe Drabowsky, Lee Maye, Phil Niekro, Ed Charles, Claude Raymond, Jack Hamilton and Tommie Aaron—who became Art’s friend. The Wolves bested San Juan in a tie-breaker for fourth-place, at Sixto Escobar Stadium, featuring a disputed call at 1B on a Clemente double-play grounder. The net result was the expulsion of Napoleón Reyes, who argued vehemently with 1B ump Mel Steiner. The rotund Reyes bumped Steiner with his tummy. Clemente and teammate Nino Escalera were fined for their part in the incident. Doug Harvey, the 1962-1992 NL umpire—later inducted in Cooperstown—was behind the plate for this tie-breaker contest, when Arecibo (42-39) prevailed over San Juan (41-40). Art called this “David beating Goliath.” He also felt that Nino Escalera, his future (1967-68) Caguas manager, “was earning brownie points” for arguing the Clemente double-play call.

Mayagüez defeated Arecibo, four games-to-one, in their January 24-28, 1962 Semi-Final Series. Arecibo took the second game, 5-4, in 14 innings, but was outscored, 37-8, by the Indios, in Mayagüez’s four wins. The Santurce Crabbers defeated Caguas (semis) and swept Mayagüez in four straight to win the league crown. Santurce (8-1) won the four-team Inter-American Series at Escobar Stadium, February 6-14, 1962, over the Caracas Lions (5-4), Mayagüez (4-5), and Marlboro Smokers (1-8), representing Nicaragua/Panamá.

Art returned to play for Olmo in 1962-63 when the Wolves (35-35) again finished fourth. He showed some pop with four HR in 126 AB, and finished with a .278 AVG. The team’s power hitters were 1B John Herrnstein (14 HR) and catcher John Orsino (11 HR). “I remember the game when Herrnstein hit two long home runs, and so did Boog Powell, for Mayagüez,” said Art. Octavio “Cookie” Rojas was Arecibo’s best hitter—he had reinforced Santurce in the February 1962 Inter-American Series. Mayagüez again sent Arecibo home, by winning four of their five semi-final series contests. The best was yet to come for Art, with 1963-64 Arecibo.

Tony Oliva joined Arecibo in 1963-64 and batted clean-up, behind Art. They were two of the four best hitters in the league—Oliva won the batting crown with a .365 AVG; Art came in fourth at .337, behind Ponce’s Walter Bond (.349) and San Juan’s Roberto Clemente (.345). “I was ahead of Clemente until the last week,” said Art. “Then, he [Clemente] passed me. We hardly knew each other—said hi and bye.” Art conversed more frequently with Santurce’s Orlando Cepeda, an extrovert, who was much more outgoing than Clemente. Jorge Colón Delgado reminded the author that Clemente tended to be quite “selective with those he associated with,” and that he (Clemente) sought out certain political leaders, entertainers, and others, unlike Cepeda, who was more carefree and lived a different lifestyle.

Table I: Top Five Hitters for AVG, PRWL, 1963-64

PlayerTeamABHitsAVG
Tony OlivaArecibo20876.365
Walter BondPonce14651.349
Roberto ClementeSan Juan17761.345
Arturito LópezArecibo19365.337
Jerry McNertneySan Juan18361.333

The author never met Art, but saw him play a few 1963-64 games for Arecibo, televised on Saturdays. Art impressed the author with his “quick swing” and “hustle.” At 5’9” and 170 lbs., he was one of the smaller players in the league. Coincidentally, the author was age nine when he saw Art play for Arecibo on TV, the same age Art was when he met Tetelo Vargas in 1946. The Arecibo line-up featured Sandy Alomar Sr, (SS), Rojas (2B), Art (RF), Oliva (CF), Lou Klimchock (3B), Tommie Aaron (1B), etc. “Tony and I accounted for most of our runs,” stated Art, who hit eight triples, second to Oliva’s nine. Art also had a .518 SLG for Arecibo. “Miguel Cuéllar, born the same day (May 8, 1937) I was, came to our Arecibo house,” recalled Art. “He was a [1963-64] teammate with Arecibo.” Several regular-season highlights were hitting for the cycle in a game, along with a grand slam versus Caguas’s Julio Navarro, in Arecibo, to tie that game, 12-12. “Fans started leaving early when we were behind, 12-0,” said Art. “Then they started coming back when we rallied. Julio and I [later] became friends.”

Cinco Estrellas Tigers in Nicaragua, January-February 1964

Late in the 1963-64 season, Art met with a Colonel (Col.) Jennie from Nicaragua’s Army. The Colonel had traveled to San Juan to specifically “recruit Art to play for the Cinco Estrellas team in Nicaragua,” the one administered by Five-Star General Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza DeBayle, then-head of the country’s National Guard (Army). After he became Nicaragua’s President (in 1967), Somoza supposedly said: “I don’t want an educated workforce; I want oxen.” Arecibo (31-39) finished last and some of their best players earned extra cash elsewhere for the post-season. Among them, were Cookie Rojas—Águilas Cibaeñas, Santiago, Dominican Republic; Oliva, who joined the Licey Tigers in Santo Domingo; and, Art—who traveled to Managua.

Wilfredo Calviño, who had managed Arecibo, alerted General Somoza and his staff to Art’s playing ability. “We (Col. Jennie, a flight attendant, pilot, and co-pilot) flew from Miami, Florida, to Managua, Nicaragua, with a refueling stop in San Salvador.” (Managua is about a one-hour flight from San Salvador.) Art joined Cinco Estrellas, then managed by Calviño, for the end of the regular season. He recalled his friendship with RHP Ferguson Jenkins, with Boer, in the four-team circuit. Cinco Estrellas won the league title and hosted the February 1964 Inter-American Series, known as Phase II, 1961-64, with four different hosts: Caracas, Venezuela (1961); San Juan, Puerto Rico (1962); Panamá City (1963) and Managua, Nicaragua (1964).

While in Nicaragua, Art found out—through a cousin in Puerto Rico—that he was NOT selected to the PRWL All-Star Team, as voted by the sportswriters, after the regular season ended. This annoyed him and provided motivation to do well, against San Juan, in the February 1964 Inter-American Series. “We made all the plays and got the job done,” said Art. “San Juan was a big-league club, but we did the little things to win.” Art was proud of his Puerto Rico roots, but felt the Island sportswriters opined he (Art) was “not one of them.” In other words, the writers labeled Art as a “New York Puerto Rican” or a more common term—“Nuyorican.”

Edgard Tijerino summarized the Cinco Estrellas Tigers exploits, versus San Juan, in Aquí cayó un fiero trabuco https://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/deportes/67570-aqui-cayo-fiero-trabuco/ San Juan featured Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, SS-3B José Pagán, 2B Wito Conde (who replaced Don Buford), 1B Deacon Jones, catcher McNertney, plus pitchers Juan “Terín” Pizarro, José “Palillo” Santiago, Warren Hacker et al. Oriente—second team from Nicaragua—and Panamá’s Marlboro Smokers, rounded out the field. (Venezuela sent their best teams to Santo Domingo, to play Águilas Cibaeñas and Licey, in Phase III, Inter-American Series, instead of to Managua.)

Cinco Estrellas defeated San Juan twice—first, by a 9-8 score, when manager Calviño called for a successful squeeze play; and, then, a 4-3 final game, come-from-behind squeaker. Cepeda’s three-run homer off Willie Hooker, gave San Juan an early 3-0 lead in the finals. Rigoberto Mena drove in Leo Posada in the second frame, for Cinco Estrellas first tally. Runs in the third and fifth innings tied it, 3-3. Art scored the winning run in the seventh after he tripled and Leo Posada—uncle of future New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada—hit a sac fly. RHP Evelio Hernández, from Guanabacoa, Cuba, won it, in relief, capped by striking out Cepeda and Conde with the tying and winning runs on base in the ninth. (Hernández was 1-1 overall in 1956 and 1957 with the Washington Senators.) Art did not speak to any San Juan players, with the exception of Horace Clarke—who he conversed with at second, after hitting a double in the series. Clarke, who could play 2B-SS-3B, played for Ponce in the regular season, so he may have reinforced San Juan, a club with Cocó Laboy and Eddie Olivares, at 3B. Reinforcements were a common practice in these events. Bert Campaneris reinforced Nicaragua’s Oriente ballclub. The “bottom line” was Cinco Estrellas played superb baseball; turned double plays; avoided miscues.

Caguas Criollos, 1964-65

Ferguson Jenkins

Campaneris and Ferguson Jenkins (8-6) were two Caguas reinforcements for 1964-65. Art was traded to the Caguas Criollos, managed by Vic Power. “I was not too happy with Power,” noted Art. He was playing younger players…we didn’t make the playoffs.” Caguas (32-37), was fifth, 1.5 games behind fourth-place San Juan (34-36), led by player-manager Clemente. The Criollos had a strong OF with LF Alex Johnson, CF José Cardenal and Art in RF. Alex Johnson led the league with 47 RBIs and was fifth with a .301 AVG, behind Santurce’s Lou Johnson (.345), Mayagüez’s Jim Northrup (.332), San Juan’s Don Buford (.319), and Mayagüez’s Willie Horton (.306). “Willie was a friend, in Puerto Rico,” said Art. “Alex was fiery and anti-social—the Mike Tyson of baseball. Luckily, the only time he showed tenderness was whenever my five-year-old son, Arturo René, would visit me during our practice sessions. He truly cared for my son.” Art posted a .270 AVG for Caguas, with 70 hits in 259 AB. He scored 36 runs.

LIDOM Title with 1964-65 Águilas Cibaeñas (AC)

Per Art, “When the [Puerto Rico] season was almost over, someone contacted me from the Dominican Republic to play [there]. I was apprehensive—had grown up in Puerto Rico, until moving to the South Bronx at age 12. I went anyway.” The third-place AC “Mamey Team” disposed of Licey in three straight (1964-65) semi-final games. Art scored the winning run in Game One after running through manager Al Widmar’s stop sign in the 3B coaching box. “That night, AC fans came to the hotel and mentioned they would pay the fine for me,” recalled Art. Against Licey, he went  four-for-eight, with a double, triple, walk and a run scored.

Julio Navarro also accepted AC’s offer to reinforce them. Navarro made a relief appearance against Licey, in the semi-finals. Julián Javier went six-for-10 at the plate; and, Willie Smith chipped in with five hits in 13 AB for a .385 AVG. Navarro was a true gentleman, and according to Art, a “Yankee killer,” for his effective relief work against them (with Los Angeles Angels).

First-place Escogido was favored over AC in the finals, with starters Juan Marichal and Caguas reinforcement Ferguson Jenkins, and a line-up with the three Alou brothers and reinforcements such as SS Bert Campaneris and fellow Cuban (2B) Tito Fuentes.  Marichal and Jenkins were ineffective. Larry Miller, Danilo Rivas, Thad Tillotson and Pedro Reynoso did their best for Escogido, but could not match the superb AC pitching of: Dan Osinski (2-0, 0.50 ERA), Julio Navarro (1-0, 1.00), Morrie Stevens (1-0, 2.08) and Rudy Hernández (1-0, 0.00). In 46 innings, AC hurlers posted a 1.57 ERA and 0.83 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched). Escogido got 34 hits, and just one HR. AC pitchers had 26 strikeouts to four walks. Ed Kirkpatrick, AC OF, was the MVP with a .529 AVG (nine-for-17).

There was some Game One controversy when AC 2B Julián Javier confronted and punched home plate umpire Emmett “Pataditas” Ashford due to a disputed strike. (Javier was suspended for Games Two-Three-Four.) Here is a summary of each AC win over favored Escogido (ESC):

  • Game One: AC 7 ESC 3; Osinski CG; one earned run allowed
  • Game Two: AC 3 ESC 1; Navarro CG; Kirkpatrick and McFarlane, two hits apiece
  • Game Three: AC 8 ESC 6; Stevens win; Marichal takes the loss; SS Peña—four hits
  • Game Four: AC 8 ESC 3; Rudy Hernández win; Kirkpatrick goes three-for-four
  • Game Five: AC 3 ESC 1; Osinski CG; Willie Smith, three-for-five with an HR.

February 4-9, 1965 Inter-American Series (Phase III) Title

AC took an improved 25-player roster to Caracas, with ex-Santurce CF Lou Johnson replacing Willie Smith, who returned to the States. LHP Miguel Cuéllar reinforced AC, as did Navarro, Art López, Kirkpatrick, et al. Ozzie Virgil Sr., Rico Carty and Silvano Quezada were Natives who played for AC in Caracas, along with the ever-reliable Winston “Chilote” Llenas, Roberto Peña and Julián Javier. They won four of six games, against Escogido, the Caracas Lions, and LaGuaira Sharks—winners of the Venezuelan League. Pete Rose, a switch-hitting 2B, was one of Caracas’s top hitters. Table II is AC’s 25-player roster for this six-game, round-robin series.

Table II: AC 25-Player Roster for Caracas, Venezuela

PlayersPositionPitchers
Orlando McFarlane#CatcherOctavio Acosta
Francisco Herrera#1BMiguel Cuéllar#
Julián Javier2BGeorge Culver# (L)
Winston Llenas3BRudy Hernández
Roberto PeñaSSJulio C. Imbert (L)
Juan Reyes SabaterIFGerardo Martínez
Félix SantanaIFJulio Navarro#
Ozzie Virgil Sr.IFDan Osinski#
Rico Carty##LFSilvano Quezada##
Lou Johnson#CF 
Arturo López#RF 
Ed Kirkpatrick#RF-C 
Edmundo BorroméOF 
Alfonso MartínezOF 
Víctor RamírezOF 
Manuel Oscar UreñaOF 

# Import;  ## Reinforcement from another LIDOM team.

 A series synopsis follows.

  • February 4—AC 9 LaGuaira (LGA) 2; Navarro scattered eight hits in his CG; Art López, Series MVP, is the hitting star with a triple and two singles; scores three, including AC’s first tally, on a Rico Carty hit; Art drives in three;
    • ESC 3 Caracas (CAR) 0; Marcelino López hurls the SHO.
  • February 5—CAR 11 AC 1 and LGA 4 ESC 2
  • February 6—AC 8 ESC 6; other game NA
  • February 7—AC 6 LAG 3; Lou Johnson’s HR is the key blow; Quezada wins it
    • ESC 4 CAR 2; Pete Rose’s line drive hits pitcher Pedro Reynoso and fractures his left forearm.
  • February 8—AC shuts out CAR, behind Navarro’s six-hitter (score NA)
    • ESC 7 LGA 1; Felipe Alou drives in four with a HR and a single.
  • February 9—ESC 3 AC 2, resulting in both teams with 4-2 W-L records.

Reynaldo “Pappy” Bisonó, AC president, and Ramón “Moncho” Imbert, ESC executive, requested that a tie-breaker contest be played, but the Venezuelan League declined this. General Run Average math formula gave AC the series win. In head-to-head play, AC outscored ESC, 10 to 9. AC prevailed when multiplying their runs scored by 100, divided by total runs allowed.

Caguas Criollos, 1967-68

Art, at age 30, concluded his Winter League career for league champion Caguas (43-27), who bested San Juan in the semis, four games-to-one; and, upset first-place Santurce (47-22), managed by Earl Weaver, in a six-game final series. His playing time was limited, due to a Caguas OF with Cleon Jones, Johnny Briggs, Ted Savage, Joe Christopher, and Jerry Morales. In 50 AB, Art produced seven hits, a .140 AVG. His lifetime PRWL AVG was .284, with 186 hits in 655 AB, 25 doubles, 14 triples, nine HR, 79 RBI, 95 runs, with a .406 SLG.

Caguas owner Dr. Emigdio Buonomo had offered the 1967-68 managing job to Art, but he declined it. Nino Escalera then accepted Dr. Buonomo’s managing offer. Art also recalled Vic Power’s egregious public behavior against a lady who yelled at him near the dugout that “he was too old to manage.” The lady’s dad, an Island Senator, filed a complaint with the league. Power was a terrific player for Caguas for two decades; he retired after a few AB, 1967-68 season.

During the 1967-68 season, Art, in Caguas, got a phone call from Pedrín Zorrilla, who had scouted for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants and—according to Art—was doing some scouting for the New York Yankees. Zorrilla found out the Yankees had received an offer for Art’s services from a team in Japan and would he (Art) “permit them (the Yankees) to negotiate on his behalf?”  Art told the author: “I asked the Yankees organization to kindly release me, in order to allow me to negotiate my own contract. I did.”

Roberto Clemente

On a separate, but related matter, Art also received a surprise visit in the Caguas visitor’s clubhouse at Bithorn Stadium, prior to a game against San Juan. Art opined that “Clemente must have put in a good word for me because Joe Brown, the Pittsburgh Pirates GM, made a surprise visit [to see me] in our clubhouse.” Art was “shocked” when Brown introduced himself. Brown stated: “If you (Art) have a good (1968) year at Columbus [the Pirates Class AAA farm team], we will split the Rule 5 Draft amount—half of $25,000 or $50,000—if you are selected by another [big-league] team.” Art told Mr. Brown “I appreciate you and Roberto [Clemente], but I’m going to Japan. Brown shook my hand and left.”

Art and his wife (Antonia) attended Ferguson Jenkins’s 1991 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown. “We were 70 yards from the [players’] bus when I yelled ‘Fergie,’” said Art. Fergie left the bus and ran to me.”  Art López also had the drive and determination to run with it.

Grateful acknowledgment to Art López for March 2021 phone interviews plus responses to questions via e-mails, March 2021. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, furnished Art’s Arecibo and Caguas hitting stats. Ike Futch, a friend from their days in the Yankees organization, provided his contact information.

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