Candy Maldonado: Caribbean Series Hall of Famer and Arecibo Wolves Legend

Cándido “Candy” Maldonado was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on September 5, 1960, but his family moved to Arecibo, when he was five.  All his schooling was in Arecibo, 50 miles west of San Juan, in north-central Puerto Rico.  He rooted for his beloved Arecibo Wolves from 1967-68—when the team had Sal Bando and Paul Lindblad—through a remarkable 1977-78 season, when the team was competitive, finishing at 36-24, .600 PCT, one game behind the regular-season champion Caguas Criollos (37-23, .617).  Arecibo, however, lost to the Bayamón Cowboys, in the semi-finals.  Arecibo’s “big bopper” in 1977-78 was Jim Breazeale, with 13 HR and 49 RBIs. Arecibo was a 1961-62 league expansion team; it no longer exists as a franchise.

“I went to [games at] Luis Rodríguez Olmo Stadium as a child,” noted Candy.  (Rodríguez Olmo, an Arecibo native, was the Wolves manager, 1961-63, when Candy was age one and two.) “And I saw big-leaguers play there, and later played against Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr., but the highlight of my Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) career was the 1978-79 Arecibo debut, a “dream come true.” Maldonado expressed emotion when he told the author: “My biggest PRWL moment was when [Arecibo manager] Jack McKeon told me, ‘You’re playing left and batting seventh.” Maldonado played in 48 of Arecibo’s 60 games, batting .245 with four homers and 35 RBIs, for the last-place (27-33) Wolves.  The 6’0´outfielder played at 185 pounds in his pro career.  His SABR bio is at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/candy-maldonado/

Jack McKeon’s Role with Arecibo: Early and Late 1970s

McKeon first managed Arecibo, 1971-72 and 1972-73, prior to 1977-79, and Santurce, 1976-77. Paul Hartzell, who pitched for McKeon, with the 1976-77 Crabbers, felt that this skipper “used the proper approach and balance with playing Imports (Stateside players) and the Natives.” In a phone interview with the author, McKeon mentioned that “being competitive and giving young native players a chance to prove themselves” were “key ingredients in the PRWL.” McKeon’s outgoing personality was a plus in managing Candy Maldonado, age 18 and 19.

Per McKeon, “I had a lot of good rapport with the fans and the Puerto Rican players.  “They remember me as a manager who always gave the kids—Candy Maldonado, Carlos Lezcano, Mario Ramírez—a chance to play.  I was trying to give these kids enough playing time to build up experience and not have to worry about imported players.  It was time to begin infiltrating them [Natives] and build some tradition and depth of Arecibo’s native players.”

Table I: Candy Maldonado PRWL regular season stats, 1978-1997

YearTeamGABRH2B3BHRRBIKBBSBAVGSLG
78-79Are.48163214011143137191.245.374
79-80Are.2241582005160.195.244
80-81Are.602153263111103236171.293.493
81-82Bay.612222865101112341191.293.495
82-83Are.6021235521111039383113.245.448
83-84Are.60214437491154432393.346.607
84-85Are.60213285713273245176.268.446
85-86Are.5119016489373029133.253.442
86-87Are.52201296013283512183.299.502
87-88Are.3914024288152319230.200.379
88-89Are.3411224331162016230.295.482
89-90DNP             
90-91DNP             
91-92DNP             
92-93DNP             
93-94Are.1756719301714130.339.446
94-95Are.45158304412142133404.278.443
95-96SJ48154193711121739331.240.364
96-97Are.3912512287021528241.224.328
Total156962,416353656131169237442033536.272.453

Sources: https://www.beisbol101.com/candido-maldonado/

Additional PRWL experience came via round-robin, semi-final and final series contests.

U.S. Minor Leagues (1978-1983) and MLB (1981-1995)

Maldonado was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers, on June 17, 1978.  He posted a .291/.349/.581 slash line, with a .930 OPS, 12 homers and 48 RBIs, for the 1978 Lethbridge Dodgers, Pioneer League.  Candy labored in the minors for six seasons, plus 15 MLB seasons, with seven different big-league teams.  https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=maldon001can He was promoted from Class A Lodi in 1980 to Triple-A Albuquerque in 1981, after hitting .305 with 25 homers and 102 RBIs at Class A.  In 1981, his .335/.398/.598 slash line; .996 OPS, 21 homers and 104 RBIs, preceded his September 1981 call-up to the parent Dodgers, who bested Montreal in the NLCS, and defeated the New York Yankees, four games-to-two, 1981 Fall Classic.

1989 Fall Classic and 1992 ALCS plus 1992 World Series Drama

Candy’s 1989 San Francisco Giants faced off against the Oakland A’s, in the “Battle of the Bay” and “Earthquake Series.” Before Game 3, October 17, 1989, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the Bay Area.  Candlestick Park (San Francisco) suffered damage to its upper deck, with concrete falling from the top of the stadium and power knocked out.  Candy noted: “Don Robinson was getting ready.  I never heard anything [but] ran to the bullpen…heard ‘Bay Bridge went down.’ We were living in Waverly Shores, and it was a very tough moment (“momento muy fuerte”) with many lives at stake.” Candy emphasized that he and his teammates’ thoughts “were with the people; not on Game 3, which took place 10 days later…”

In Game 4, played at Candlestick Park, October 28, 1989, Candy’s pinch-hit triple in the seventh, off Rick Honeycutt, ignited a rally, but the Giants’ comeback fell short, in a 9-6 loss, Oakland’s fourth-straight win.  The A’s outscored the Giants, 32-14, in a four-game sweep.  https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN198910280.shtml “Give credit to Dave Stewart, McGwire, Canseco, Rickey Henderson,” said Candy.  “I wanted to do more; my [Series] numbers were not that good.”

Three years later, Candy’s Toronto Blue Jays became the first team to play in, and win, a World Series, outside of U.S. soil.  “I wanted to do more and in this [1992] one, I’m going to enjoy it,” affirmed Candy.  Prior to the 1992 Fall Classic, he hit an essential HR off Mike Moore in the ALCS, Game 6, home third, October 14, 1992, a three-run blast to deep CF, scoring John Olerud and Dave Winfield.  https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TOR/TOR199210140.shtml This was Candy’s second HR of the ALCS, one where he went 6-for-22 with six RBIs.

Toronto won the 1992 World Series in six games over Atlanta.  Game 3, on October 20, was the first Fall Classic contest played in Canada.  Candy’s bases-loaded single off Jeff Reardon in the home ninth scored Roberto Alomar with the winning tally in the Jays’ 3-2 victory.  Coincidentally, Candy and Reardon were teammates with the 1980-81 Arecibo Wolves!  On October 24, Candy’s fourth-inning homer off Steve Avery gave Toronto a 2-1 lead before a 4-3, 11-inning series-clinching win at Fulton County Stadium.  Blue Jays’ starter David Cone was Candy’s 1985-86 Arecibo teammate.

Candy’s best offensive MLB season came with 1990 Cleveland: .273/.330/.446 slash line and .776 OPS, 22 HR and 95 RBIs. MLB career-wise, it was .254/.322/.424 slash line and .746 OPS.  He cracked 146 homers and drove in 618, in 4,106 career MLB AB.  He batted .304 with 93 HR and 429 RBIs in the minors in 2,203 AB.

WHAT IF Scenario

IF Candy Maldonado had played in Arecibo’s 199 games during his “inactive” 1989-1993 PRWL seasons, THEN he might have hit 30 homers in 695 at-bats.  His first 11 PRWL seasons included 547 games, 1,923 at-bats, and 83 homers, for one HR every 23.17 AB.  It is mathematically conceivable that Candy’s 30 additional homers would give him a total of 122, two more than Bob Thurman’s 120, and three more than José “Cheo” Cruz 119.  Table II lists the top 13 PRWL career HR hitters and Table III has the highest 11 career SLG leaders.

Table II: Most PRWL HR

PlayerHR
Robert “Bob” Thurman120
José “Cheo” Cruz119
Elrod Hendricks105
Héctor Villanueva105
Willard Brown101
James “Buster” Clarkson98
Luis “Canena” Márquez97
Candy Maldonado92
Orlando Cepeda89
Carmelo Martínez88
Guillermo Montañez86
Ismael Oquendo85
José A. Pagán85

Source: https://www.beisbol101.com/lideres-de-todos-los-tiempos/

Table III: Highest PRWL SLG (1,500 + AB)

PlayerABTBSLG
Willard Brown1,9401,171.604
Orlando Cepeda1,8491,006.544
Bob Thurman2,9781,562.525
Buster Clarkson2,0631,054.511
Atanasio “Tony” Pérez1,757866.493
Cheo Cruz3,0951,478.478
Canena Márquez4,0181,864.464
Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre1,915887.463
Omar García1,905871.457
Roberto Clemente1,917876.457
Candy Maldonado2,4161,095.453

Source: https://www.beisbol101.com/lideres-de-todos-los-tiempos/   

Candy’s 15 HR for Arecibo, 1983-84, is the all-time, single-season franchise record.  The 44 RBIs that season places him sixth, all-time, with Arecibo, per Table IV.

Table IV: Most Single-Season HR and RBI, Arecibo Franchise History

PlayerSeasonHRPlayerSeasonRBI
Candy Maldonado1983-8415Tommie Aaron1961-6253
Tommie Aaron1961-6214Jim Breazeale1978-7950
Lee Maye1961-6214Jim Breazeale1977-7849
John Hernstein1962-6314Lee Maye1961-6248
Degold Francis1967-6814Benigno Ayala1973-7446
Benigno Ayala1973-7414Candy Maldonado1983-8444
Danny Walton1974-7514Danny Walton1974-7543
Benigno Ayala1975-7614Samarito Vega1979-8042
Jim Breazeale1977-7813Frank Ortenzio1972-7342
Jim Breazeale1978-7913John Hernstein1962-6341
Jesús “Samarito” Vega1983-8413Samarito Vega1983-8441

Source: José Crescioni Benítez, El Béisbol Profesional Boricua, First Book Publishing, 1997.

PRWL All-Star Game Heroics

Only five PRWL All-Star Game history players hit two HR in a game.  The select list includes:

  • Santurce’s Joshua Gibson, Northeast (Caguas-Humacao-San Juan-Santurce) Team, Second All-Star Game, January 1, 1942.
  • Caguas’ Hank Aaron, Imports, December 26, 1953.
  • Santurce’s Roberto Clemente, North (San Juan-Santurce) Team, December 12, 1954.
  • Bayamón’s Ismael Oquendo, Metro (Bayamón-Caguas-Santurce) Team, January 6, 1980.
  • Arecibo’s Candy Maldonado, Isla (Arecibo-Mayagüez-Ponce) Team, January 6, 1981.

Three Caribbean Series Events

Candy reinforced the Ponce Lions in the 1982 Caribbean Series and Caguas Criollos five years later. His Arecibo team represented Puerto Rico in the 1983 event hosted by Caracas, Venezuela.

February 4-9, 1982, Hermosillo, MX

Three Lions—Caracas, Ponce and Escogido—participated with host Hermosillo Orange Growers, at Héctor Espino Stadium. Candy joined Ponce, after his 1981-82 season with the Bayamón Cowboys, a team that drafted him, with Arecibo out of the PRWL that winter.  Opening night (February 4) featured Fernando Valenzuela blanking Ponce, 14-0, on a two-hitter.  “Fernando and I were 1981 spring training roommates,” recalled Candy.  “I made phone calls on his behalf since he didn’t speak much English.  And I broke his Game One [Caribbean Series] no-hitter, with a line-drive single to the right…can’t tell you what Fernando said.” Caracas (5-1) clinched the title with a 2-1 win over Ponce (3-3), February 9, with a HR by Series MVP Baudilio Díaz.  In the nightcap, Escogido, managed by Felipe Alou, bested Hermosillo, 7-2, with a homer by another catcher, Tony Peña.  Candy enjoyed playing the OF with Charles “Chili” Davis and José “Cheo” Cruz.

February 4-9, 1983, Caracas, VZA

In the opener, Arecibo (5-1) won five straight after being crushed, 17-2, by the Licey Tigers (3-3).  “We had visa and passport-related issues in Puerto Rico [a U.S. Territory], and our plane left the Island at 11 p.m.,” noted Candy.  “But what a storybook ending—we won it, and returned to Puerto Rico on a cruise ship.  It was quite emotional seeing the El Morro [Spanish] fortress and arriving in Old San Juan.” Import Gary Lance, who had a cup of coffee with the 1977 Kansas City Royals, called it “his biggest thrill in baseball,” adding: I had a no-hitter in AA and was later called up to the big leagues.  But [this] was a Disneyland-type thing.”

Ozzie Virgil Sr. managed Venezuela’s LaGuaira Sharks (4-2) to a second-place finish.  Their 7-6 loss to Arecibo, on February 5, an 11-inning thriller, was the difference, with Gary Lance winning it in relief.  Candy, selected to the Series All-Star Team (Table ), homered in Arecibo’s final game versus Mexico’s Culiacán Tomato Growers, to help clinch the title.

Table V: 1983 Caribbean Series All-Stars

PlayerCountryPOS
Luis PujolsDRC
Ron JacksonVZA1B
Derrel ThomasVZA2B
Howard JohnsonDR3B
Dickie ThonPRSS
Glenn WalkerPRLF
Candy MaldonadoPRCF
Tony ArmasVZARF
César GerónimoDRDH
Rick AndersonVZARHP
Bryan ClarkVZALHP
Ron ClarkPRMGR

Source: 1983 Caribbean Series summary.

February 3-8, 1987, Hermosillo, MX

Candy vividly recalled his two homers versus the Águilas Cibaeñas (Dominican Republic), in Caguas’ third game, a 14-13 loss, with the Criollos blasting eight homers committing eight errors.  “The next morning, we were relaxing at the hotel swimming pool when our manager, Tim Foli, and GM Félix Millán fought; punches were thrown,” said Candy.  Coach Ramón Avilés—who was Candy’s 1982-83 Arecibo teammate—took over managing duties, and led Caguas to a 4-0 record, including a 13-2 defeat of the Águilas Cibaeñas, in the series tie-breaker.

Thus, Caguas (5-2 W-L) edged the Dominican (4-3 W-L) squad, with Caracas and Mazatlán Deer each posting 2-4 records. Candy slugged four of Caguas’s series-leading 18 homers. First baseman Carmelo Martínez (.556 batting average and 11 RBIs) was Series MVP. Roberto Alomar contributed, as did pitchers David Cone, Juan Nieves and Franciso Javier Oliveras. “On the field, there is so much pride in terms of representing your country,” noted Nieves.  “Puerto Rico was in our heart.  Off the field, we would share moments with opposing players and hear music at the nightspots and discos, talk about our big-league aspirations.  But when we played, it was serious business.”

Caribbean Series Hall of Fame Honors

In 2011, Candy was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Luis “Mambo” de León.  https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Caribbean_Baseball_Hall_of_Fame In three Phase II (1970-2022) Caribbean Series events, Candy posted the seventh-best batting average (.333) and fifth-best SLG (.573), based on at least 75 AB.

Table VI: Highest AVG and SLG, Caribbean Series Phase II (1970-2022) 

PlayerCountryABHAVGPlayerCountryABTBSLG
Tony PérezPR8534.400Armando RíosPR/MX9763.649
Armando RíosPR/MX9737.381Carmelo MartínezPR11266.589
Manny MotaDR10538.362David OrtizDR12170.579
David OrtizDR12143.355Tony PérezPR8549.576
Juan GonzálezPR7526.347Candy MaldonadoPR7543.573
Neifi PérezDR9432.340Juan GonzálezPR7542.560
Candy MaldonadoPR7525.333Miguel TejadaDR270151.559
Darryl BrinkleyMX11839.331Miguel FloresMX8446.548
Alfonso H. JiménezDR10033.330Héctor VillanuevaPR12467.540
José OffermanDR8628.326Jesús AlfaroVZA8043.538
Jesús AlfaroVZA8026.325     

Source: Tony Piña Campora, Historia de la Confederación, 2014.

Post-Script

Candy, one of four PRWL players to hit 10+ HR in at least four straight league seasons, with Willard Brown, Bob Thurman and Danny Walton, had his best PRWL season in 1983-84: third in batting average, behind Caguas’ Don Mattingly (.368) and Mayagüez’s Randy Ready (.361); second in homers and RBIs, to Santurce’s Jerry Willard (18 and 48).  Willard’s .338 batting average was fourth-best, ahead of San Juan’s Tony Gwynn (.327).  Luis “Torito” Meléndez managed Candy, in 1996-97, the outfielder’s PRWL swan song. Mike García—an avid Arecibo Wolves fan of a bygone era—attended Arecibo’s Colegio Evangélico Capitán Correa. “Sometimes we would ask him [Candy]—in what would be his private life—for an autograph, baseball experiences, or just a small chat, and he never said no to us,” per García.  “He is a very respectful person.”

Special thanks to Candy Maldonado for insights in our December 15, 2021 phone conversation.  Tony Piña Campora, posted Candy’s Caribbean Series stats. Mike García provided a “fan’s perspective.” Thanks to Jack McKeon, Candy’s first PRWL skipper, 1978-79 Arecibo Wolves.  Paul Hartzell provided thoughts on McKeon’s use of Natives and Imports.  Gary Lance mentioned Arecibo’s magical 1982-83 championship season.  Juan Nieves did so regarding Caguas’ 1987 Caribbean Series magic.  Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing-photo layout.

Photo by Mauricio Pascual. Colorization by Joe Towers.

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