Bobo Holloman: 1952-53 Santurce Crabbers, and May 6, 1953 AL No-Hitter (Part I)

Bobo Holloman with Santurce in 1952-53

Part I focuses on Bobo Holloman’s splendid 1952-53 pitching efforts for Santurce, in the Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL), preceded by minor-league stints and a winter in Cuba. Part II covers his 1952-53 post-season pitching in Puerto Rico; February 1953 Caribbean Series heroics in Havana, Cuba; plus May 6, 1953 no-hitter for the St. Louis Browns, in his first big-league start, a feat duplicated by Arizona Diamondbacks LHP Tyler Gilbert, in Phoenix, August 14, 2021—68 years, three months, one week and one day, post-Holloman’s gem. (Gilbert’s first  MLB start was against the San Diego Padres; Holloman faced the 1953 Philadelphia A’s.)  Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman was the first big-leaguer, post-1900, to pitch a no-hitter in his first major-league start per his SABR bio by Len Pasculli: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bobo-holloman/

Who was Bobo Holloman?

The RHP was born in Thomaston, Georgia, March 7, 1923, and passed away in Athens, Georgia, at 64, May 1, 1987. (The author earned his 1977 BBA degree at the University of Georgia, but never met Holloman, an Athens resident and businessman, at the time.) Holloman, a World War II veteran, was listed at 6’2” and 207 lb., during his pro seasons. His minor-league career, 1946-to-1954, included stops in Moultrie, Georgia (1946); Macon, Georgia (1947 and 1948); Nashville, Tennessee (1948-1951); Shreveport, Louisiana and Augusta, Georgia (1951); Syracuse, New York (1952); Toronto, Canada (1953 and 1954); and four more 1954 clubs in Columbus, Ohio; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Augusta; and St. Petersburg, Florida. In the minors, he was 118-80, .596 PCT. With 1946 Moultrie Packers, he went 20-5, with a 2.33 ERA, 20 CG and 216 innings. He fanned 184; walked 114; and helped Moultrie win the Class D Georgia-Florida League playoffs. https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=hollom001alv

Holloman pitched 1946-47 winter ball in Cuba, in their Federación Nacional (National Federation) loop, posting a 2-6 record against tough competition. This league competed with the Cuban Winter League. Ray Dandridge, future Cooperstown Hall of Famer, played 3B for Oriente, who narrowly missed the playoffs with an 18-22 record. Fermín Guerra, who later managed 1948-49 Almendares to a 1949 Caribbean Series title, was Holloman’s Oriente skipper.

Coincidentally, back in the States, Holloman was RHP Hiram Bithorn’s teammate with the 1949 Nashville Volunteers, Class B, Southern Association, a Chicago Cubs affiliate. Prior to mid-December 2020, Bithorn was Puerto Rico’s first MLB player, having debuted with the 1942 Chicago Cubs. However, LF/1B Gacho Torres (1896-1963)—who played for the 1926 Newark Stars in the Eastern Colored League (ECL)—is now the first big-leaguer from Puerto Rico, as a result of MLB giving major-league status to various 1920-to-1948 Negro Leagues. The 1926 ECL batting champion was Martín Dihigo (.375 AVG), with Cuban Stars East. https://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/year.php?yearID=1926&lgID=ECL  Holloman, during the February 20-25, 1953 Caribbean Series, in Havana, defeated the Caracas Lions, twice, a team managed by the legendary Dihigo!

Jim “Junior” Gilliam Connection to Holloman

Junior Gilliam, 1952 Montreal Royals 2B, respected Holloman’s pitching ability, in his (Holloman’s) 16-7 season for 1952 Syracuse, Triple-A International League (IL). Gilliam suggested that his rival pitch for the 1952-53 Santurce Crabbers, whose owner, Pedrín Zorrilla, respected Gilliam’s judgment. Gilliam had agreed to play a third straight season with Santurce, and opined the Crabbers could use a starter, to complement Rubén Gómez, PRWL 1951-52 MVP. Gilliam led the 1952 IL with 111 runs and the 1952-53 PRWL in this category, with 55. Other top 1952 IL players who competed against Gilliam and Holloman, in 1952-53, were: Marion Fricano, Ray Jablonski, Don Richmond and Ed Stevens.

Santurce’s Second-Place Finish, 1952-53

San Juan Senators finished the regular season, 45-27; Santurce, 42-30. This was an intense rivalry, similar to New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants; and Caribbean ones—much like Almendares Scorpions-Havana Reds (Cuban Winter League) and Licey Tigers-Escogido Lions (Dominican Republic).

On paper, the Crabbers looked strong with the awesome Willard Brown-Bob Thurman duo, still considered the “Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig” of the PRWL. (Brown still holds the league’s single-season record of 27 HR, hit in 1947-48; Thurman hit 120 career HR in Puerto Rico, most of any player.) Player-manager James “Buster” Clarkson was a highly regarded shortstop/3B. Gilliam, a Santurce fan favorite, was called the “Black Sea” because he covered so much ground.  José St. Claire, aka Pepe Lucas, a clutch-hitting 1B from the Dominican Republic, enjoyed being one of Rubén Gómez’s fishing buddies. Valmy Thomas, though born in Santurce, was really from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. (On April 15, 1958, Gómez and Thomas became the first Black/Afro-Caribbean battery with the San Francisco Giants.) Billy Bruton, Milwaukee Braves 1953 day-to-day CF and a 1954 teammate of Hank Aaron, was the Crabbers CF, until the Braves requested he return to the States. Clarkson brought Bruton to Puerto Rico after they were 1952 Milwaukee Brewers minor-league teammates. Johnny “El Gaucho” Davis was signed by Pedrín two weeks before Christmas 1952, to strengthen the Crabbers.

Arch-rival San Juan bested Santurce by three games, with a deeper rotation and better regular season hitting, per Table I. Thurman had an “off-year” at the plate. Willard Brown was inactivated various times. Rookie Roberto Clemente made his pro baseball debut for Santurce.

Table I: Comparison of San Juan and Santurce Players/Pitchers, 1952-53  

San Juan PlayersAB-AVG-HR-RBISanturce PlayersAB-AVG-HR-RBI
Joe Montalvo-C174, .282, 2-32Valmy Thomas-C186, .198, 0-20
Ramón Maldonado-1B164, .185, 0-14Pepe Lucas-1B232, .198, 6-28
Lou Ortiz-2B232, .224, 2-24Junior Gilliam-2B260, .312, 0-31, 55 R
Ray Jablonski-3B185, .276, 3-18Buzz Clarkson-3B94, .277, 4-25
Gene Baker-SS261, .307, 3-30Billy Hunter-SSNA
Cot Deal-LF/P251, .271, 5-49Willard Brown-LF114, .342, 3-20
Nino Escalera-CF/1B287, .268, 2-22Billy Bruton-CFNA (15 SB)
Canena Márquez-RF288, .306, 3-34Bob Thurman-RF/P251, .258, 7-36
Leon Brinkopf-3B/1B120, .242, 4-20Johnny Davis-OF/P100, .240, 3-19
Walt Judnich-1B/OF77, .221, 3-11Roberto Clemente77, .234, 0-5
Available totals2,039, .266, 27-254Available totals1,314, .256, 23-184
San Juan PitchersW-L-IP-ERA-KSanturce PitchersW-L-IP-ERA-K
Ellis “Cot” Deal11-7, 164.2, 1.85, 70Bobo Holloman15-5, 180#,  NA, 80
Guayubín Olivo9-4, 113, 2.07, 49Rubén Gómez##13-9, 196.2, 1.79, 123
Don Liddle7-3, 92, 3.33, 56Bob Thurman6-3, Other data NA
Harvey Haddix6-2, 74, 1.09, 52Dick HooverNA
José “Larú”Velázquez5-3, 73.2, 2.87, 14Johnny Davis1-3, 64.1, 3,37, 10
Marota Salgado3-1, 46, 2.93, 18Luis Rafael Cabrera0-1, 5 strikeouts
Others4-7, 88,  3.68, 36Others7-9
Available totals45-27, 651, 1, 2.47, 295Available totals42-30

#Holloman pitched an estimated 180 innings, based on The Sporting News and other sources. His ERA: NA. Gómez pinch-hit, played the OF and pinch-ran, when not pitching. Sources: Libro de Records, Senadores de San Juan, Roberto Inclán, San Juan Baseball Club, October 12, 1983; El Béisbol Profesional Boricua, José A. Crescioni Benítez, First Book Publishing of P.R., October 1997; https://beisbol101.com/indice-de-jugadores/

San Juan Trio Remembers City Championship Series

The 1952-53 season was the 14th one with a San Juan-Santurce “City Championship” Series, a concept developed by Heriberto Ramírez de Arellano, aka “Don Guindo,” prior to Santurce’s maiden 1939-40 season. The series winner received a special trophy at season’s end. Don Guindo first met Pedrín in 1931 when he played for the All-Santurce amateur baseball team, same one Hiram Bithorn played for in the early 1930s. Bithorn was born in Santurce.

Santurce prevailed in 11 of 18 contests versus San Juan. Don Liddle, mentioned in Table I, along with Cot Deal and Harvey Haddix, experienced a “once in a lifetime” situation following his (Liddle’s) win versus Santurce at Sixto Escobar Stadium, shared by both teams. Liddle had just defeated Rubén Gómez—who bested San Juan seven times, 1952-53. Because of the excitement generated by this rivalry, Liddle received a police escort to his apartment. “As I was leaving Escobar Stadium someone jerked my pants and the policeman hit the fellow with a billy club,” said Liddle. “When I got to my apartment, there was $300 stuffed into the back pocket of my uniform.” Liddle was the beneficiary of a “take” from gamblers who bet a large sum of money on the game’s outcome. The author remembers betting at PRWL games took place in the 1960s.

Harvey Haddix served in the U.S. Army from 1950-1952 and the St. Louis Cardinals wanted him to work out the rust in Puerto Rico. Cardinals coach Johnny Riddle managed 1952-53 San Juan with instructions that Haddix must return to the States by December 1, 1952. Haddix bested Santurce several times prior to his 20-win season for the 1953 Cardinals. “Puerto Rico helped me get the feeling back for pro ball. I remember a hitter by the name of [Willard] Brown…” He did not recall facing an 18-year old Clemente in Puerto Rico but they shared stories and nice moments as Pittsburgh Pirates teammates, including their 1960 championship season.

Cot Deal was the first Import (Stateside or Cuban player) in the PRWL to receive the flag of Puerto Rico; a brand new car (1953 DeSoto sedan) and have his uniform #8 retired, January 2, 1953. After earning 1952-53 PRWL MVP laurels, and doing his utmost to help San Juan advance to the Caribbean Series, Deal was asked by Pedrín Zorrilla and his brain trust, including Guigo Otero Suro, to reinforce Santurce in the 1953 Caribbean Series. “It was an honor representing Puerto Rico in that Caribbean Series,” recalled Deal. “My brother and his wife flew to San Juan, from Oklahoma, and babysat our two children at the San Juan apartment, so that my wife and I could travel to Havana, Cuba, for the [1953] Caribbean Series. The 1953 DeSoto sedan was later shipped to New York.”

Holloman’s PRWL 1952-53 Regular Season

  • Bested Mayagüez, 5-2, October 17, 1952, after learning the St. Louis Browns acquired him from Syracuse for $35,000 and RHP Duke Markell
  • Defeated Mayagüez, 5-4, October 23, a CG, despite a ninth-inning HR to Johnny Blatnik
  • Lost to San Juan, 9-4, October 29, with Liddle the winning pitcher
  • Had 4-2 W-L mark through November 9; Santurce is 7-9
  • Got first save, November 13, getting out of an 8th inning, bases-loaded jam, 4-2 win over Mayagüez
  • Prevailed over Mayagüez, 6-1, on November 19, for win #6 (6-2 record)
  • Was 7-2 through late November
  • Lost to San Juan, December 5 by 7-2 score gives him 8-3 record
  • San Juan won, 8-3, on December 18, putting Holloman at 8-4
  • Ninth win in Game Two, December 21 Day-Night twin-bill versus Caguas—a 3-0 SHO; walked eight Criollos; Johnny Davis won first game, 1-0, when Gilliam drove in Bruton
  • Won PRWL All-Star Game, December 23, for the Imports, 3-1, with three scoreless innings; Carlos Bernier scored only run for Natives, in fifth; Don Richmond had two RBI
  • Earned 10th win, in relief, versus Ponce, on December 30, an 8-5 victory
  • Was 10-5 after January 2, 1953 loss to Mayagüez
  • On January 3, 1953, netted save #2, preserving Bob Thurman’s 6-2 win over Ponce
  • Blanked Ponce, 5-0, January 7, on three hits, to up record to 11-5
  • Whitewashed San Juan, 4-0, January 10—so, he was 12-5
  • Called Browns owner Bill Veeck (long distance), stating he “would like to be St. Louis Browns #1 starter in 1953
  • Defeated Mayagüez, 5-3, on January 18 (another CG); Bernier got two RBI
  • Claimed 4-2 CG victory against Caguas, January 22, followed by a 13-inning CG win, January 27, versus Caguas. He scattered 11 hits in the extra-inning game, a 6-5 win.

Holloman’s 15 wins led the 1952-53 PRWL, followed by Gómez’s 13. And Holloman deprived Gómez of the pitching Triple Crown, with 15 wins. Holloman (15-5) and RHP Billy Byrd—15-10, 1939-40 Crabbers—are the only 15-game winners in franchise history. Only six Santurce pitchers won 14 or 15 regular season games, per Table II. Sam Jones won the 1954-55 pitching Triple Crown and was league MVP. Rubén Gómez was 1951-52 League MVP.

Table II: Santurce Single-Season 14-and-15-Game Winners

PitcherSeasonW-L     PCTERAIPK
Bobo Holloman1952-5315-5      .750NA180#80
Billy Byrd1939-4015-10    .6002.29197158
Rogelio Moret1971-7214-1      .9331.81129.189
Steve Ridzik1955-5614-3      .8242.6114589
Sam Jones1954-5514-4      .7781.77158171
Rubén Gómez1951-5214-7      .6672.78175.1107
Rubén Gómez1949-5014-8      .6363.4914763

#Holloman pitched an estimated 180 innings, based on The Sporting News and other sources.

Sources: El Béisbol Profesional Boricua, José A. Crescioni Benítez, First Book Publishing of P.R., October 1997; https://beisbol101.com/indice-de-jugadores/; The Santurce Crabbers, Thomas E. Van Hyning, McFarland Publishers: Jefferson, North Carolina, 1999.

Special thanks to Rubén Gómez for his thoughts. Billy Hunter, Holloman’s Santurce and St. Louis Browns teammate, furnished interesting perspectives. Ellis “Cot” Deal, Harvey Haddix and Don Liddle provided key insights on the 1952-53 San Juan-Santurce rivalry. Deal recalled the 1953 Caribbean Series, when he and Holloman had 2-0 records. Joe Buzas, Ponce’s 1952-53 skipper; Joe Montalvo—who caught Holloman in the 1953 Caribbean Series—and Vic Power (Víctor Pellot) deserve thanks, too. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball league, facilitated photos-player stats. Gary Ashwill’s seamheads.com Negro Leagues Database was helpful. Heriberto Ramírez de Arellano shared insights on Pedrín Zorrilla and City Championship Series.

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