Blaine Crim and Luke Easter: from Mississippi to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico

Luke Easter

How are two pro baseball players born 82 years apart connected to Mississippi and Mayagüez, Puerto Rico? Twenty-four-year-old Blaine Crim—who played four collegiate (Division II) seasons at Mississippi College (2016-2019)—duplicated an exceptional hitting record, in Puerto Rico, by Luke Easter, dating to the 1948-49 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) season. Crim, 2021-22 season, became the first Stateside player since Easter to lead the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League with a batting average (BA) over .400. Easter and Clemente were January 1957 teammates with the Caguas-Rio Piedras Criollos ballclub. This blog focuses on two remarkable ballplayers—present-day Texas Rangers prospect Crim;  and Easter, who hit some of the longest homers in baseball history for the Homestead Grays, Cleveland Indians, Mayagüez Indians, Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Red Wings, etc. Easter was born in Jonestown, Mississippi, on August 4, 1915; Crim: Mobile, Alabama, June 17, 1997.

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League

The former PRWL was renamed after Roberto Clemente before the 2012-13 season. It has been in existence since 1938-39, except for 2007-08 when operations ceased that winter season. During its first decade-and-a-half (through the mid-1950s), the league featured many stars from the Negro Leagues, ranging from Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige—who both played there, 1939-40—to Willard Brown (1941-42 debut) and Bob Thurman (starting in 1947-48), to Hank Aaron (1953-54) and Willie Mays (1954-55). Stateside, Cuban and Venezuelan players who plied their trade in Puerto Rico were “Imports” known as “Refuerzos.”

League winners played in a Caribbean Series. The 1948-49 Mayagüez Indians did so, in Havana, Cuba, February 1949—first event in the 12-year (1949-1960) Phase I, between Cuba, Panamá, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Caribbean Series Phase II comprises 1970 to the present. The February 2022 event in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, will include Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panamá, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Easter, the 1948-49 Puerto Rico League MVP, had ten hits in 25 at-bats during the 1949 event in Cuba for a .400 BA.

Tables I and II reflect regular-season standings in Puerto Rico for 1948-49 and 2021-22, when Easter and Crim, respectively, starred for first-place Mayagüez.

Table I: PRWL Regular Season Standings, 1948-49

TeamW-L PCTGB
Mayagüez Indians51-29.637
Ponce Lions47-33.5874
Santurce Crabbers47-33.5874
Caguas Criollos41-39.51210
Aguadilla Sharks32-48.40019
San Juan Senators22-58.27529

Source: José A. Crescioni Benítez.

Table II: PRWL Regular Season Standings, 2021-22

TeamW-L PCTGB
Mayagüez Indians21-11.656
Caguas Criollos20-12.6251
Santurce Crabbers17-15.5314
Caguas Criollos14-18.4387
RA128-24.25013

Source: www.flashscore.com/baseball/puerto-rico/lbprc/standings/?t=6L3GXQa3&ts=rTCsf7t8

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League .400 Club 

Table III features those who surpassed .400 single-season BA. Table IV does so for players with .377-.396 BA, many of whom won league batting titles. Willard Brown (2B-OF) and Perucho Cepeda (SS-1B) are the only players in Tables III-IV who hit over .400 playing two different positions, per Historian Jorge Colón Delgado. As noted in the opening paragraph, Crim’s 2021-22 batting title is the first one in 73 years won by an Import, with a .400 plus BA.

Table III: Regular Season .400 Plus BA, Puerto Rico, 1938-39 –  2021-22

PLAYERPOSTEAMSEASONABHBA
Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda#SSGuayama1938-3917079.465
Juan E. “Tetelo” VargasCFGuayama1938-3916468.415
Roy Partlow#P-RFSan Juan1940-4112254.443
Thomas Jefferson YoungCGuayama1940-4114863.426
Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda1BGuayama1940-4117875.421
Clarence PalmCSanturce1940-4115965.409
Francisco “Pancho” CoimbreRFPonce1940-4116767.401
Joshua Gibson#CSanturce1941-4212359.480
Willard Brown2BHumacao-Arecibo1941-4212250.410
Juan E. “Tetelo” Vargas#CFSanturce1943-4413455.410
Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre#RFPonce1944-4510645.425
Willard Brown#CFSanturce1947-48234101,432
Bob ThurmanRF-PSanturce1947-48248102.411
Artie WilsonSSMayagüez1947-48252102.405
Luscious “Luke” Easter#1BMayagüez1948-49249100.402
Orlando Cepeda (1)1BSanturce1960-6110644.415
José M. Morales (1)CSan Juan1968-6911245.402
Edgar Martínez#3BSan Juan1989-9012456.424
José Vidro#2BPonce1998-9914460.417
Luis Daniel Figueroa#3B-2BCarolina2003-0412854.422
Jesús “Motorita” Feliciano#LFManatí-Santurce2004-0512249.402
Luis A. “Wicho” Figueroa#2B-SSMayagüez2005-0616368.417
Aldemar Burgos# (2)OFCarolina20186225.403
Blaine Crim#1B-DHMayagüez2021-2210141.406

#Won league batting crown. 1) Did not have required plate appearances. 2) Had required plate appearances post-Hurricane María season.

Source: Jorge Colón Delgado, .400 Plus BA Table, January 8, 2022. https://www.beisbol101.com/lideres-de-todos-los-tiempos/

Table IV: Regular Season .376 to .396 BA Range, Puerto Rico, 1939-40 –  2020-21

PLAYERPOSTEAMSEASONABHBA
Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda#SSGuayama1939-4021482.383
Joshua GibsonCSanturce1939-4015057.380
Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda1BGuayama1941-4215157.377
Willard Brown#CFSanturce1946-4725499.390
Monte IrvinOFSan Juan1946-4714253.387
Tetelo VargasCFGuayama1946-4725196.382
Dixie HowellCAguadilla1948-4919073.384
Willie Mays#CFSanturce1954-5517268.395
Roberto Clemente#CFSanturce-Caguas1956-5722589.396
Ron Leflore#CFMayagüez1977-7818774.396
Art Howe3BBayamón1977-7816063.394
Brian Harper#LF-DHBayamón1982-8323087.378
Víctor M. Rodríguez#3BPonce1986-8716261.377
Rey Sánchez#SSSan Juan1994-9517769.390
Miguel “Mickey” Negrón#OFCaguas2006-07NANA.381
Andy González#OFPonce2008-0913753.387
José Padilla#OFCaguas2011-1212850.391
Kennys Vargas#1B-DHMayagüez2018-199335.376
Jonathan Morales# (1)C-!BCaguas2020-213313,394

#Won league batting crown. 1) Morales’ 49 plate appearances in an 18-game season were 2.7/game, the required number, per league statistician Carlos Valero Viruet. Sources: Multiple ones.

Table V:  Luke Easter 1948-49 Stats and Blaine Crim’s 2021-22 Stats

PlayerABRH2B3BHRRBIsSBBASLG
Easter24981100279148015.402.751
Crim1011441813250.406.594

Sources:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=crim–000bla

A more comprehensive look at Easter’s pro baseball career in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, minors, with Cleveland and the Homestead Grays are in the author’s two-part series at: https://www.beisbol101.com/tag/lucious-easter/ and https://www.beisbol101.com/luke-easter-larger-than-life-figure-mexico-puerto-rico-and-minors-part-ii/ Part II noted that Easter hit 20 homers in 224 at-bats with Culiacán (and mostly) Hermosillo, his 1954-55 MVP season, Mexican Pacific (Winter) League, power numbers similar to Reggie Jackson’s 20 homers, in 221 at-bats, for 1970-71 Santurce. Easter nearly won the 1954-55 Triple Crown with a .371 BA and 60 RBIs. Mickey Owen managed Easter, 1955-56, with Puerto Rico’s Ponce Lions, and recalled: “Easter was our oldest player [40] but our best hitter…”

Blaine Crim (photo LBPRC Media)

Modern Day Metrics for Crim

Crim’s OBP (on-base percentage) with Mayagüez was .452. Thus, his OPS (OBP plus SLG) was 1.046. A key part of hitters’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is wOBA (weighted on-base average). His 2021-22 Mayagüez wOBA was .423, identical to Shoeless Joe Jackson’s .423 wOBA for 1916 Chicago White Sox. Math formula for wOBA is: (.69 x BB + .722 x HBP + .888 x singles + 1.271 x doubles + 1.616 x triples + 2.101 x HR)/(AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP). A .400 wOBA is Excellent; a .300wOBA is poor. Per Jorge Colón Delgado, wOBA is the “best hitting indicator, superior to OBP (on-base percentage), batting average (AVG), slugging percentage (SLG), etc.” Crim just hit into one double-play, 2021-22, another positive indicator.

Crim’s Collegiate, Summer, Minor-League and Winter League Career

From 2016-2019, Crim had a stellar collegiate career with the Mississippi College Choctaws, in Clinton. The Choctaws were in the 12-team Gulf South League, Division II, NCAA. Crim pitched in 10 games his freshman season, posting a 3-4 record for the 17-30 Choctaws. He was Conference MVP in 2019, a factor in his 19th round selection, #565 overall, by the Texas Rangers. He produced good numbers in two Summer League (2017-2018) and minor-league (2019 and 2021) seasons. Summer and minor-league “slash lines” reflect BA, OBP, and SLG, plus OPS (OBP plus SLG).

There was no minor-league baseball in 2020 due to COVID-19. Crim’s 29 HR in 409 minor-league AB in 2021 impressed officials in the Texas Rangers organization. Seth Carlson wrote this in his January 4, 2022 blog on Crim: https://nolanwritin.com/2022/01/04/texas-rangers-prospects-crim-hitting/

“All Crim has done in his pro career to this point is hit, hit, and hit some more. It’s about time people started respecting his name because he’s that good. In the minors last [2021] season, Crim posted a .906 OPS and 121 hits in 409 at-bats between High A Hickory and Double-A Frisco. For his [minor-league] career, Crim is a .314 hitter with a .923 OPS.”

Carlson mentioned Crim’s Winter League success: “Still, though, winning a batting title in winter ball after another outstanding season in the minors should get people’s attention. It’s possible we could see Crim get called up to the big leagues sometime during the 2022 season, particularly if he continues to hit at the ridiculous clip he did in Puerto Rico, or even at the level he did last season in the minors. Contact hitters of his ilk are becoming an increasingly rare commodity in today’s game, and those skills could be a real asset to the Texas Rangers as an elite bat off the bench, or perhaps even as a DH.” Table VI highlights Crim’s hitting prowess.

Table VI: Blaine Crim Stats, College, Summer and Pro Ball

TeamSeasonsLevelHighlights
Mississippi College2016NCAA-II3-4 W-L, .300 BA, 3 HR, 33 RBI.
Mississippi College2017NCAA-II.335 BA, 8 HR, 41 RBI, .933 OPS.
Mississippi College2018NCAA-II.383 BA, 13 HR, 66 RBI, 1.100 OPS.
Mississippi College2019NCAA-II.373 BA, 11 HR, 56 RBI, Conference MVP.
Collegiate Level(4) .350 BA, 35 HR, 196 RBI, .990 OPS.
Southern Ohio2017Summer.359/.389/.557 slash line and .946 OPS.
Southern Ohio2018Summer.404/.419/680 slash line and 1.099 OPS.
Wood Bat League(2) .383/404/.620 slash line and 1.025 OPS.
Rangers (AZL)2019RookieSix hits in nine AB.
Spokane (N West)2019Class A-.335/.398/.528 slash line and .927 OPS.
Hickory Crawdads2021High-A E.300/.372/.559 slash line and .931 OPS.
Frisco Rough Riders2021Class AA.288/.331/525 slash line and .856 OPS.
Minors(2) .314/377/.546 slash line and .923 OPS.
Mayagüez Indians2021-22WinterLeague-leading .406 BA and .423 wOBA.

Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=crim–000bla

Mississippi College Baseball Legacy (Don Sutton, Ben Ingram, and Harry Craft)

Don Sutton, the only Cooperstown Inductee (1998) who attended Mississippi College (the mid-1960s), took business courses there, during off-seasons, pre-1966 rookie season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sutton pitched one collegiate season (1964) at Gulf Coast Community College, Panama City, Florida, and later took classes at Southern Cal, in Los Angeles, before completing degree requirements at Whittier College, in California.

Ben Ingram, a talented radio broadcaster, took over as the “primary voice of Atlanta Braves baseball” for their 2021 title season, per  https://barrettsportsmedia.com/2021/03/15/ben-ingram-to-take-over-as-voice-of-atlanta-braves/, after a decade (2011-2020), doing other functions, e.g., pre-game and post-game shows. Ingram spent “quality time” with Sutton during a 2009 rain delay in Atlanta, after he (Ingram) completed his duties as a play-by-play announcer for the Mississippi Braves, Atlanta’s Double-AA farm team, based in Pearl, Mississippi. Ingram said:

“I got lucky—got a break—named [2009] Southern League broadcaster of the year…asked if I could go to Atlanta and watch and listen to the Braves regular crew. I mentioned that I was from Clinton, and Don Sutton spun around and said, ‘Were you a Mississippi College Choctaw? And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he [Sutton] says, ‘Well, I was a Choctaw,’ and then he just kind of took me under his wing after that.”  https://msfame.com/ingram-made-move-so-many-m-braves-have/     (Atlanta has the largest radio network in all of MLB, with about 150 stations in 10 states and Puerto Rico.)

From Ellisville, Mississippi, and Mississippi College Class of 1935, Harry Craft participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track at his alma mater before being signed by the Cincinnati Reds, whom he played for 1937-1942. Craft, a superb center-fielder, helped the Reds reach the 1939 World Series (versus Yankees) and win the 1940 Fall Classic against Detroit. He managed Mickey Mantle in 1949 to a league post-season title with Class D Independence Yankees and regular season pennant with 1950 Class C Joplin Miners. Under Craft’s tutelage, Mantle won the 1950 Western Association batting crown with a .383 BA at shortstop. (Casey Stengel moved Mantle to CF.) Craft managed San Juan Senators (1953-55); Kansas City A’s (1957-59); Chicago Cubs (1961); and Houston Colt 45s (1962-64). He was inducted in four Hall of Fames: Cincinnati Reds, 1963; Mississippi College Athletics, 1973 https://www.gochoctaws.com/honors/mississippi-college-athletics-hall-of-fame/harry-francis-craft/6; Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, 1975; Texas Baseball Hall of Fame, 1985. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/harry-craft/     

Post-Script

Friday night, January 7, 2022, the author—via Fox Sports 2 (FS2)—watched Crim play his first post-season game for Mayagüez, a 12-4 win over fourth-place Carolina, in the semi-finals. Crim went 1-for-4 with 3 RBIs as DH. Mayagüez’s corporate sponsor was Medalla Beer. Umpires had uniforms sponsored by Mayagüez Ford. Attendance at Isidoro García Stadium was limited to 1,200 fans. Earlier that evening, Crim—via satellite—was interviewed on WJTV, CBS local network affiliate, Jackson, Mississippi. On Saturday, January 8, Crim played his next game at Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium, Carolina, Puerto Rico, a 7-3 Mayagüez win, credited to Dereck Rodríguez, son of Cooperstown Hall of Fame catcher, Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez. https://www.primerahora.com/deportes/beisbol/notas/mayaguez-ponen-serie-semifinal-de-la-lbprc-a-su-favor/

Thanks and appreciation to Seth Carlson, Blaine Crim, Ben Ingram, and Mickey Owen. Jorge Colón Delgado edited the blog and did photo placements. Luke Easter colorization by Joe Towers.

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