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

Santiago Llorens, Puerto Rico correspondent for The Sporting News, began his Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) February 25, 1953 write-up: “With Bobo Holloman, St. Louis Browns’ rookie, gaining the lion’s share of the credit, the Santurce Crabs captured the Puerto Rican League playoff Championship, February 15, when they defeated pennant-winning San Juan, 7-to-5, in 13 innings for their fourth victory in six games. San Juan 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).

Part II covers Holloman’s splendid 1952-53 post-season pitching for Santurce, plus his 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.) RHP Holloman was born in Thomaston, Georgia, March 7, 1923, and passed away in Athens, Georgia, at 64, May 1, 1987. His fine SABR bio by Len Pasculli is at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bobo-holloman/

Holloman’s PRWL 1952-53 Post-Season

Santurce swept third-place Ponce (36-36) in three semi-final games, February 6-8, 1953. Ponce’s best hitter was Bob Boyd (.417 AVG, semi-finals), from Potts Camp, Mississippi, whose first big-league at-bats were with the 1947 and 1948 Memphis Red Sox. He played for the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City A’s and Milwaukee Braves, too. Holloman’s Game Two CG ended 12-4. Losing pitcher José “Pantalones” Santiago was embarrassed and asked Ponce manager, Joe Buzas, for a Game Three start, won by Dick Hoover, 2-1. Rubén Gómez won the opener, 1-0, an 11-inning thriller. “Santurce was the better team,” affirmed Buzas. “Gómez, Holloman, Hoover and Thurman gave them two excellent RHP and two good lefties…I managed other teams in Puerto Rico—Mayagüez, Aguadilla and San Juan. The fans called me a real Puerto Rican…had a temper like them.” Buzas used the “Ted Williams shift” against certain left-handed hitters like Thurman. In bunt situations he might bring in an outfielder to play the infield. Buzas recruited Negro Leaguers, summers of 1946-47-48, to play in the PRWL. He also received a car from appreciative Mayagüez fans during the 1947-48 finals.

Holloman lost his first two starts against San Juan in the finals: a 4-3 cliff-hanger in 14 innings, on February 10, when Canena Márquez doubled (14th frame) and scored on Nino Escalera’s walk-off single; then, a resounding 12-7 loss to the Senators, February 13, when Cot Deal prevailed. Canena singled, doubled and homered off Holloman. Jackie Robinson attended Game Five at Escobar Stadium, a 15-5 win by Gómez over Liddle. Thurman singled, doubled and hit a grand-slam! Thirty-three year old Jackie Robinson visited with Junior Gilliam, before the game.

On Friday night, February 15, 1953, Holloman allowed nine hits in 13 frames, as Santurce took a 7-5 victory. The Senators nearly won it in the home 10th, on a Deal double followed by an intentional walk to Canena, but Holloman retired Jablonski, Montalvo and Lou Ortiz to end the threat. Valmy Thomas’s two-run triple in the visitor’s 13th inning was the difference. Willard

Brown and Canena each went 13-for-30, in the finals, for a .433 AVG. Thurman (.423), Clarkson (.381) and Montalvo (.375) hit superbly.

1953 Caribbean Series: Havana, Cuba, February 20-25, 1953

The Crabbers swept all six contests in Havana with a .367 AVG, .575 team SLG, and 50 runs! Thurman went nine-for-19 for a .474 BA! Willard Brown stole the headlines with four HR, 13 RBIs, and .417 AVG (10-for-24). Brown was named series MVP. Gilliam batted .545 (12-for-22) and scored seven times. Clarkson hit a robust .467 (six-for-15), and Vic Power—a Caguas reinforcement—scored six runs and batted .385. “I replaced Roberto Clemente for that series,” recalled Power. “I was ready for the majors [but stuck] in the New York Yankees farm system. Roberto was just a kid, then.”

Holloman (2-0), Deal (2-0), Gómez (1-0) and Roberto Vargas (1-0) accounted for Santurce’s six wins. Havana (3-3), Chesterfield Smokers from Panamá (2-4) and the Caracas Lions (1-5) were overwhelmed by Santurce. Martín Dihigo, legendary ex-player from Cuba, managed Caracas.

Series attendees included Branch Rickey, Vice-President/GM, Pittsburgh Pirates; George Sisler, Chief Scout, Pittsburgh Pirates; Cincinnati Reds executive Gabe Paul; and Rogers Hornsby, then-Cincinnati Reds manager. Hornsby managed the 1950-51 Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico, and thought highly of José “Pantalones” Santiago, Ponce hurler who reinforced Santurce; and catcher Joe Montalvo, also reinforcing the Crabbers. (Hornsby managed Montalvo with the 1951 first-place Seattle Rainiers (99-68), Pacific Coast League (PCL); and Santiago, with Ponce.) He opined that the New York Yankees made a mistake in giving Rubén Gómez his [1952] release, prior to Gómez receiving his $10,000 bonus to sign with the 1953 New York Giants. Hornsby appreciated the fine play of Bob Thurman, initially signed by the New York Yankees in 1949, who played for the 1951 and 1952 San Francisco Seals in the PCL, as their first Black player.

Gómez homered in Game One, versus Panamá, in a seven-inning contest, February 20, a 15-6 Crabbers win. Holloman was victorious versus Caracas, February 21, with relief help from Deal, the last two innings. Brown and Gilliam homered for Santurce, to help give Holloman a 7-2 lead, through seven. Dalmiro Filol hit a two-run HR off Deal in the eighth. After listening to the game on radio, Eloy Alberto Meza, a Maracaibo petroleum worker, rushed to his room and hung himself with a rope from his hammock.

February 22, 1953 featured the key series match-up against host Havana—winners of 11 straight Caribbean Series games (four-1951, five-1952 with a tie and two-1953).  Pantalones pitched well until Havana scored three in the eighth to take a 4-3 lead. LHP Roberto Vargas relieved him; then, Deal, aka “Mr. Refuerzo” relieved Vargas to squelch Havana’s rally. Santurce look an early 2-1 lead when Willard Brown homered in the home second, followed by singles from Clarkson,  Thurman and Pepe Lucas, to go up 2-1. Santurce scored once in the third, but it evaporated in the eighth. Deal gave up a run in the ninth, so Santurce trailed, 5-3, when most of the 16,700 fans anticipated a win as Carlos Pascual retired Santurce’s first two hitters before Deal stepped up.

Deal doubled and scored on a Canena Márquez base hit, to make it 5-4. Junior Gilliam singled, and Mike González—Havana’s manager—brought in Mario Picone to face Vic Power. And Power singled to tie the contest. Rubén Gómez, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-runner for Willard Brown, came up. Cot deal takes it from here.

“The [Cuban] fans got all over him [Gómez] listed as a starter on our roster,” said Deal. “When Gómez drove in Gilliam with the winning run on a base hit, they [the Cuban fans] got quiet all of a sudden.”

Rubén Gómez told the author [1992] that his game-winning hit versus Havana was his most special memory in 28 seasons wearing Santurce’s uniform. “Nothing can top that one,” said Gómez. “It was the only time a [pro] team from Puerto Rico won the Caribbean Series in Cuba.”

On February 24 [Game Five], after Deal bested Chesterfield, 6-3, on February 23, Holloman went the route in a 9-2 triumph over Caracas and drove in two. Montalvo and Willard Brown homered. Later that evening, Chesterfield upended Havana, 5-3, as LHP Pat Scantlebury got out of a bases-loaded jam. This clinched the series for Santurce. February 25, 1953 saw Chesterfield edge Caracas, 3-2, and Santurce finish undefeated with a 7-3 victory over Havana. Clarkson gave the ball to LHP Roberto Vargas, and brought in Rubén Gómez to preserve the win. Back then, there were no closers. Gómez and Deal started and relieved to help their club.

Table I: Santurce’s 1953 Caribbean Series Hitting and Pitching Stats

 PitcherW-LIPHKBBERAWHIP
Bobo Holloman2-01616582.251.500
Cot Deal2-012.119154.381.622
Rubén Gómez1-088466.751.750
Roberto Vargas1-088203.381.000
Pantalones Santiago0-07.28434.701.435
Pitching totals6-0525916223.981.558
PlayerABRHHRRBIAVGSLG
Alfonso Gerard52302.6001.000
Rubén Gómez51313.6001.200
Junior Gilliam2271223.545.864
Félix Andrade40200.500.500
Bob Thurman195905.474.684
Buzz Clarkson156703.467.600
Willard Brown24810413.4171.042
William Figueroa51200.400.800
Miguel Traboux50200.400.600
Vic Power2661013.385.500
Joe Montalvo164614.375.563
Pedro Arroyo30100.333.333
Canena Márquez295605.207.276
Cot Deal61100.167.333
Pepe Lucas213301.143.143
Valmy Thomas30000.000.000
Three other pitchers#131403.308.385
Hitting totals2215081945.367.575

#Holloman, Pantalones and Roberto Vargas. Holloman may have gone three-for-seven, with three RBI, assuming he had one RBI versus Caracas, February 21, 1953. Source: Cuban Baseball, Jorge S. Figueredo, McFarland Publishers: Jefferson, North Carolina, 2003.

Santurce placed five on the 10-player All-Star squad: catcher Montalvo, 2B Gilliam, SS Clarkson, LF (and MVP) Willard Brown and Holloman. Havana’s RF Pedro Formental, whose 14 hits in 25 AB resulted in a series-leading .560 AVG, was the All-Star RF. Those 14 hits were (and remain) a series record. Only Randy Ready—Mayagüez, 1986 Caribbean Series—and San Juan’s Roberto Alomar, Puerto Rico Dream Team, 1995 Caribbean Series, had 14 hits. Other All-Stars were: Bert Haas (1B) and Lou Klein (3B), with Havana; CF Nat Peeples and LHP Pat Scantlebury, with Panamá. Clarkson was named manager, the first time someone earned series honors as BOTH a player and manager. Montalvo and the author conversed prior to a May 1970 arch-rivalry Robinson School versus St. Johns baseball game, at Barbosa Park, Santurce. The author, a ninth-grader, started (and won) that game, 8-5. Montalvo, home plate umpire, was quite imposing at 6’3” tall. He was a “Nuyorican” (New York City-raised, of Puerto Rico descent.) Montalvo smiled when the author mentioned he was an avid Crabbers fan; he had fond memories of Santurce winning the 1953 Caribbean Series.

Deal was 15-5 for Santurce, 1952-53 regular season; he won the December 23, 1953 League All-Star Game; was 2-2 in Puerto Rico’s post-season; plus 2-0, 1953 Caribbean Series. That = 20 total wins!

Holloman’s Unlikely No-Hitter for the 1953 St. Louis Browns

Bobo Holloman with the St. Louis Browns.

Holloman pitched in relief the first few weeks of 1953 for Marty Marion, Browns skipper, allowing five earned runs in 5.1 innings, an 8.44 ERA, in four games. May 6, 1953, in St. Louis, was a rainy night. (It was Willie Mays’s 22nd birthday.) Paid attendance was 2,473; box score:   

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA195305060.shtml   Nan Holloman (spouse) and Gary (son) were at the game. Bill Veeck was quoted in Holloman’s SABR bio:

Everything he threw up was belted. And everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it. It was such a hot and humid and heavy night that long fly balls which seemed to be heading out of the park would die and be caught against the fence. Just when Bobo looked as if he was tiring, a shower would sweep across the field, delaying the game long enough for him to get a rest. Allie Clark hit one into the left-field stands that curved foul at the last second. A bunt just rolled foul on the last spin. Our fielding was superb. The game went into the final innings and nobody had got a base hit off Big Bobo. On the final out of the eighth inning, Billy Hunter made an impossible diving stop on a ground ball behind second base and an even more impossible throw. With two out in the ninth, a ground ball was rifled down the first base line — right at our first baseman, Vic Wertz. Big Bobo had pitched the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game.

https://www.mlb.com/news/bobo-holloman-threw-the-most-unlikely-no-hitter

Holloman no-hit the Philadelphia A’s, 6-0, fanning three; walking five. He drove in three with two hits. Vic Wertz preserved the no-hitter, catching Eddie Robinson’s shot to RF for the final out. Wertz became more famous, September 29, 1954, for his long fly at the Polo Grounds, Game One, 1954 World Series. Playing for Cleveland, he hit it off New York Giants LHP Don Liddle, but Willie Mays make the unbelievable catch. Liddle, per Part I, pitched for San Juan, 1952-53.

Two initial big-league no-hitters preceded Holloman’s masterpiece pre-1893, when the pitching mound was moved back to its 60-feet, six-inches location, from home plate: Theodore Breitenstein, St. Louis Browns, American Association, no-hitter, 8-0 win over the Louisville (Kentucky) Colonels, October 4, 1891, and Charley “Bumpus” Jones’s debut no-hitter, October 15, 1892, in his 7-1 win for Cincinnati Reds versus Pittsburgh Pirates. Details on Holloman’s no-hitter are found via the SABR Games Project at: https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/may-6-1953-bobo-holloman-throws-a-no-hitter-in-his-first-major-league-start/

Holloman won just two more AL games, to finish with a 3-7 career MLB record. Satchel Paige saved Holloman’s final Browns win, June 21, 1953, a 2-0 victory over Boston. His final major-league game came July 19, 1953, and 1953 Browns pitching line was: 22 appearances, 10 starts, 65.1 innings, 25 strikeouts, 50 walks, 5.23 ERA…with one complete-game shutout, the no-hitter.

Tyler Gilbert’s Gem, August 14, 2021

LHP Tyler Gilbert. Photo credit: https://usctrojans.com/news/2021/8/4/usc-baseball-alum-tyler-gilbert-makes-mlb-debut-with-arizona-diamondbacks

Twenty-seven year old LHP Tyler Gilbert, selected by Arizona (from Los Angeles Dodgers) in the Triple-A phase of the 2020 Rule V draft, no-hit the San Diego Padres at Chase Field, August 14, 2021, 11 days after his MLB debut, when he pitched the eighth inning versus San Francisco. Bryan Goldberg, the author’s first cousin, recalled Gilbert once pitched for his beloved 12-time National Champion University of Southern California (USC) Trojans, in 2015. Gilbert was 5-2 for the Trojans, 2.79 ERA, 66 strikeouts, 67.2 innings; 118th Trojan to play in the big leagues.

Nick Piecoro wrote a thorough piece on Gilbert’s August 14, 2021 gem, for the Arizona Republic. The 7-0 no-hitter at Phoenix’s Chase Field did not come easy, much like Holloman’s 1953 no-hitter. The Padres hit 10 balls at 95 mph or harder, including six at 100 mph plus. Eric Hosmer hit a fifth-inning liner up the middle—at 96 mph—snared by Gilbert. “That almost took my head off,” said Gilbert. “When I caught that, I was like, ‘OK, these balls are getting hit hard, but there are people right there to make the play.’ “

With two out in the ninth, Tommy Pham’s line drive to CF was caught by Ketel Marte. Per Gilbert: “I saw it [line drive] hang in the air and I was like ‘OK, this is it. It’s happening.’ It was cool.” https://aws.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ARI/ARI202108140.shtml

Gilbert fanned five Giants and walked three—the opposite of Holloman, who struck out three A’s and walked five. For further details, see: https://www.nonohitters.com/2021/08/14/d-backs-gilbert-tosses-no-no-in-first-mlb-start/

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. 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. Thanks to Bryan Goldberg, who resides in Los Angeles.

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