Puerto Rico has competed in 60 Caribbean Series since February 20-25, 1949, winning 16, for a 26.7 win percentage. The first phase of this event was 1949-1960, followed by phase II: 1970-present. The 1981 series was cancelled due to a players’ strike in Venezuela. Puerto Rico did not participate in the 2008 series due to suspension of its own 2007-08 season for financial reasons.
The February 2019 series in Panama had six teams for the first time: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panamá, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Recent events included five teams, although most series feature four teams. The February 5-10, 1970 series in Caracas, Venezuela, had just three teams for the only time: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
The 16 Caribbean Series titles won by Puerto Rico include: Caguas Criollos (5), Santurce Crabbers (5), Mayagüez Indios (2), Arecibo Wolves (1), Bayamón Cowboys (1), Ponce Lions (1) and San Juan Senators (1). This article compares the 1994-95 San Juan “Dream Team” in the February 4-9, 1995 event, to the 1999-2000 Santurce club in the February 2-8, 2000 series.
Both teams reinforced themselves with the best players from rival teams. San Juan added Doug Brocail from Mayagüez and Ponce’s Eric Gunderson, seven-game winners in a 54-game regular season, the equivalent of two 21-game winners in a 162-game MLB season. Mayagüez closer Roberto Hernández (15 saves) and José Alberro from Arecibo (8 saves) were added to the San Juan bullpen. Ponce starter Ricky Bones was a valuable addition. The Dream Team got a new OF: LF Juan González (Caguas), CF Bernie Williams (Arecibo) and RF Rubén Sierra (Santurce). Cooperstown Hall of Famers Edgar Martínez (DH) and Roberto Alomar (2B) along with catcher Carlos Delgado (league HR leader-12), 1B Carmelo Martínez, 3B Carlos Baerga and SS Rey Sánchez—league batting champ at .390—were already on the San Juan regular season roster.
Santurce surprised the experts to win the 1999-2000 Puerto Rico title. Santurce CF José Cruz Jr. and 1B Eduardo Pérez were sons of legendary league players, José Cruz Sr. and Tany Pérez. But the Crabbers solidified their 2000 Caribbean Series line-up with RF Armando Ríos, middle IF José Vidro and Tony Valentín, pitchers Ricky Bones, Joel Piñeiro, Saúl “Monaguillo” Rivera and Julio Valera. Willie Adams, Stevenson Agosto and J.C. Romero were on the Santurce roster.
Luis “Torito” Meléndez managed San Juan, 1994-95, whereas Mako Oliveras replaced Ken Griffey Sr., as Santurce’s skipper, late in the 1999-2000 season. Oliveras and Meléndez were 1971-72 Ponce Lions teammates when Ponce captured the February 1972 Caribbean Series in Santo Domingo. Oliveras was on a second Caribbean Series champ as a player, when host Bayamón won the February 1975 event under José Pagán at the helm. Oliveras who has managed two Caribbean Series champs from Puerto Rico: Santurce in 1993 and 2000. Caguas’s Luis Matos managed Caguas to back-to-back series titles in 2017 and 2018.
The February 1995 Dream Team outscored their opponents, 55-to-15, in going 6-0. The first two games were close wins—6-5 over Mexico and 3-2 versus Venezuela, in 10 innings. Their bats came alive on February 6, 1995, in a 16-0 blowout of the Azucareros del Este of the Dominican Republic, propelled by Carmelo Martínez’s 11th homer in his Caribbean Series career, a long blast off starter Pedro Martínez in the home 3rd. Three nights later, the Dream Team knocked José Rijo out of the box, in a 9-3, series-clinching win. Bernie Williams clubbed two home runs, one from each side of the plate, off righty Mel Rojas and lefty Yorkis Pérez.
This was the first Caribbean Series when team Puerto Rico actually had Puerto Rico on their uniforms. Prior to 1995, they wore uniforms of the pennant-winning club. The 1995 Series MVP was Roberto Alomar—14 hits/25 AB, .560 BA, nine runs, two HR, 10 RBIs, .633 OBP, .840 SLG, 1.473 OPS! Bernie Williams, .417 BA, three HR, four RBIs; Juan González, .375 BA, two homers, six RBIs; Edgar Martínez, .370 BA, nine RBIs, propelled the Dream Team to a .346 BA, 55 runs, 10 HR, 48 RBIs, .426 OBP, .533 SLG, .959 OPS. Just as impressive was their pitching: 55 innings, 43 hits/14 earned runs allowed, 38 strikeouts-14 walks, a 2.29 ERA. Twenty-four players saw action for the Dream Team, including 10 pitchers (three imports among them).
Final standings: Puerto Rico (6-0), Dominican Republic (4-2), Mexico and Venezuela, both 1-5.
Five years later, in Santo Domingo, Santurce finished 6-0, ahead of Aguilas Cibaeñas (4-2), Mayos de Navojoa (Mexico) and Aguilas de Zulia (Venezuela), each 1-5. Tony Peña managed the host team. Art Howe was the Azucareros manager five years earlier. Twenty-four players saw action for Santurce, including 11 pitchers. Santurce outscored their opponents, 58-27, averaging almost 10 runs/game. Their plus 31-run margin was below plus 40 of the 1995 Dream Team, but Santurce’s 58 runs scored were three more than the Dream Team’s 55. Santurce’s .368 team BA—all-time Caribbean Series record—was higher than .346; record 24 Santurce doubles versus eight by the Dream Team. Santurce’s six HR were four less than the Dream Team’s 10.
Here is where it gets interesting (“esto se pone bueno”): Santurce .427 OBP to Dream Team .426 OBP; Santurce .573 SLG, Dream Team .533 SLG; Santurce 1.00 OPS to Dream Team .959 OPS.
Santurce’s 2000 Caribbean Series hitting was more than equal to the 1995 Dream Team, just comparing series games, but not comparing the MLB careers of the respective players. Catchers Robinson Cancel (.417 BA) and Raúl Casanova (.313 BA, six RBIs); 1B Eduardo Pérez (.385 BA, .538 SLG); 2B José Vidro (.448 BA, 13 hits/29 AB, five doubles, seven RBIs, .621 SLG); SS Tony Valentín (.308 BA, .387 OBP, .692 SLG, 1.079 OPS); DH Alonzo Powell (.412 BA, .474 OBP, .765 SLG, 1.239 OPS); DH Héctor Villanueva (.667 BA, 1.000 SLG, 1.667 OPS, six AB); RF Armando Ríos (.471 BA, .625 OBP, .824 SLG, 1.449 OPS); CF José Cruz Jr. (.385 BA, .452 OBP, .692 SLG, 1.144 OPS, five doubles, one HR, 10 RBIs).
The Dream Team’s 2.29 team ERA was 1.50 under Santurce’s 3.79 ERA, thanks to better starters, for example, Chris Haney, Brocail, Gunderson. Ricky Bones was the only player on BOTH the 1995 Dream Team and 2000 Santurce Caribbean Series club. Bones was 1-0, 6.23 ERA in 1995 (in 8.2 innings); then, 0-0, 5.14 ERA in 2000 (in two starts, 7 Santurce innings).
History has proven that the 1994 MLB players’ strike was a catalyst/key reason for Puerto Rico’s best players participating in the entire 1994-95 winter season. Puerto Rico stars on the 1995 Dream Team did not take payment/salary for the six-day Caribbean Series, a nice gesture. But history also has showed Puerto Rico, the entire Caribbean and the baseball universe, that the February 2000 Caribbean Series team—Santurce/its reinforcements—was close to as dominant in their six games, as were the 1995 Dream Team in their six games, February 4-9, 1995.