Gold Gloves—Part V: MLB 3B in Puerto Rico Winter Ball (Frank Malzone—First MLB Gold Glove Winner at 3B)

Frank Malzone

This is Part V in a series on Gold Gloves (GG) earned by MLB players who played winter ball in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League. Six MLB 3B who played or managed in Puerto Rico have 21 Rawlings Gold Gloves (GG) between them: five American League (AL) and 16 National League (NL). This covers 1957-to-2018. In 1957, GG were awarded to nine total MLB players by position. From 1958-on, separate AL-NL recipients received this award. Frank Malzone—1957 Boston Red Sox—won the first GG at 3B.

The most GG won by a 3B is 16 by Brooks Robinson (1960-to-1975), followed by Mike Schmidt (10), Scott Rolen (eight) and four players with six apiece—Nolan Arenado, Buddy Bell, Eric Chavez and Robin Ventura. Frank Malzone is in a group with three GG, with the 1957-59 Red Sox. He played for the 1954-55 Ponce Lions and 1956-57 San Juan Senators in Puerto Rico. Malzone’s three GG at 3B preceded 16 earned by Brooks Robinson. Other 3B with GG and a Puerto Rico League connection were: Ken Boyer (1958-1961 and 1963 St. Louis Cardinals), Mike Schmidt ( 1976-1984 and 1986 Philadelphia Phillies), Terry Pendleton (1987 and 1989 Cardinals, plus 1992 Atlanta Braves), Wade Boggs (1994-95 New York Yankees) and Ken Caminiti (1996-98 San Diego Padres). Mike Lowell—with a 2005 GG for the Florida Marlins—was born in Puerto Rico, but never played winter ball there.

Frank Malzone, born in the Bronx on February 28, 1930, grew up a rabid New York Yankee fan, keeping up with performances by Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and other Bronx Bombers. He admired Rizzuto, a small (5’6”) but talented shortstop. Malzone was signed by Boston in 1947, and in the minors from 1948-1951 and 1954-56, but played two games in 1950 due to a dislocated ankle. He was a 1949 All-Star at 3B in the Class C Canadian-American League. Two years later, he helped the Class A Scranton Red Sox win the Eastern League title with a four-game sweep of Elmira. Malzone recalled that league’s best pitcher was José “Pantalones” Santiago, with the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Indians, a Cleveland farm club. Malzone and Santiago would become teammates in Puerto Rico with the 1954-55 Ponce Lions.

The bow-legged Malzone served in the U.S. Army during 1952-53, primarily, Hawaii. Malzone stated, in his SABR bio by Bill Nowlin, that he had “Paget’s disease, a type of arthritis.” Paget’s is bones growing abnormal; they get bigger than usual, and brittle. Malzone impressed the great Ted Williams based on Williams’s comments to Joe Cronin—“I stopped in Hawaii on my way back to the States and that’s all I heard. Everybody was talking about Malzone. Must be a pretty good ballplayer,” said Ted Williams. An April 7, 1954 article in The Sporting News described Malzone as a “short, bow-legged fellow…a cat-like third baseman who got the ball away quickly.” He also played shortstop in the Army, since he thought versatility would be an asset.

Malzone was a reliable 3B for the Class AAA 1954 Louisville Colonels, winners of the American Association after defeating the Syracuse Chiefs in the post-season. He hit .270 in a competitive league with the likes of pitchers Herb Score and Sam Jones with the Indianapolis Indians, before traveling to Puerto Rico to play in the five-team, 72-game Puerto Rico Winter League, a tougher league featuring top MLB prospects from the States and Puerto Rico, e.g., Roberto Clemente; talented MLB players including superstar Willie Mays, a teammate of
Clemente with the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers; veteran minor leaguers such as Sam Jones, MVP of the 1954-55 Puerto Rico Winter League; among others. Malzone was one of the imported players for the 1954-55 Ponce Lions, fifth-place team at 26-46, and 21 games behind Santurce.

Luciano Martiniano García, the Ponce owner, hired the colorful Joe Buzas to manage Ponce. Buzas had managed the Mayagüez and Aguadilla franchises, and enjoyed managing in Puerto Rico. Frank Robinson was the team’s best early season prospect until he was beaned by Santurce’s Rubén Gómez, and departed after playing 12 games. Malzone, on the other hand, played in 70 games for Ponce, hitting .276, with 74 hits in 268 AB, 33 runs, 11 doubles, two triples, one HR, 38 RBIs, a 27-to-22 walk-to-strikeout ratio, plus one SB. Malzone roomed with catcher Hobie Landrith—who was a “good cook,” per Malzone. The team’s only “power hitter” was 1B Steve Bilko, .268, 8 HR, 23 RBIs, in 43 games, before Martiniano García’s cost-cutting moves which terminated the contracts of Bilko, Landrith, Erv Joyner, SS Johnny Kline, plus hard-throwing reliever Ryne Duren. Pitchers Bob Kelly and Dave Cole remained with Ponce throughout the 1954-55 season, as did Malzone.

Most importantly, Malzone faced MLB-caliber pitching in Puerto Rico: Sam Jones and Rubén Gómez with Santurce; Arnie Portocarrero and Larry Jackson with San Juan; top-notch minor league lefties such as Tom Lasorda of Mayagüez and Roberto Vargas of Caguas. Malzone told the author that two of his Ponce teammates—José “Pantalones” Santiago and Luis “Tite” Arroyo—had the ability/talent then, to pitch in the majors. Arroyo began his MLB career with the 1955 St. Louis Cardinals, while Santiago pitched one game for the 1954 Cleveland Indians; was optioned to Indianapolis; then, jumped his contract to play in the Dominican Republic, before pitching a few games for Cleveland in 1955 and the 1956 Kansas City A’s.

Malzone’s second winter season in Puerto Rico (1956-57) was with the San Juan Senators. His 1955 season with Louisville was followed by a late-season call-up to Boston; he made the 1956 Boston Red Sox out of spring training before being sent to the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. His 18-game hit streak for the Seals and a .296 BA were some highlights. Ralph Houk, San Juan’s 1956-57 manager, had managed the Denver Bears in the American Association when Malzone played for Louisville in 1955. Houk knew that Malzone had the skill set and quickness to play shortstop in Puerto Rico.

“I think that [second] winter in Puerto Rico really prepared me for a good MLB career,” said Malzone. “We had George Freese at 3B, Germán Rivera at 2B and Nino Escalera at 1B. Luis Arroyo was our best pitcher.” (Tite Arroyo had been traded to San Juan by Ponce.)

San Juan (40-33) had to play an extra [tie-breaker] game with Caguas (39-34) to decide third-place. San Juan prevailed over Caguas, which featured Roberto Clemente, Juan Pizarro and others. Sandy Koufax pitched for Caguas until his release in mid-December 1956. The Mayagüez Indios, managed by Mickey Owen, swept San Juan, three games-to-none, in their semi-final series. Malzone left Puerto Rico in good spirits and ready to prove he could have a solid MLB career at 3B or SS. As it turned out, Malzone was destined to play 3B for Boston.

From 1957-to-1959, Malzone won three straight GG at third base, with the 1957 Award making him the very first MLB 3B to win the GG in both the AL and NL. He made his first AL All-Star team in 1957. George Kell, in his last MLB season with the 1957 Baltimore Orioles, told the media: “I don’t deserve it [start at 3B]; this Red Sox kid (Malzone) is great, really great. He should have gotten it.” Casey Stengel, the AL manager, did replace Kell at 3B with Malzone during this All-Star contest. Pinky Higgins, the Boston manager, was full of praise for Malzone in 1957: “He’s played the best 3B of any Red Sox player ever! He’s no flash in the pan.” On July 4, 1957, Malzone was the first AL player to reach 100 hits.

Frank Malzone was an 8x AL All-Star, including seasons with two All-Star games. In 1961, and 1962 he had more RBIs than Carl Yastrzemski: 87-to-80 in 1961; and 94-to-93 in 1962. On June 26, 1962, he saved Earl Wilson’s no-hitter for Boston with a backhand grab at the top of the Angels’ dugout. Malzone was an unselfish teammate who helped Dalton Jones become a better 3B for Boston in 1965, knowing he (Malzone) was at the end of his Boston playing career. Dalton Jones confirmed this when I visited with him at his home in Liberty, Mississippi. Jones became a valuable role player for the 1967 Boston Red Sox, in their “miracle season.”

Malzone finished his MLB career with the 1966 California Angels, before embarking on a 28-year “second career” as a Boston Red Sox scout, 1967-to-1995. This include advance scouting on Boston’s opponents en route to winning the 1967 AL crown and facing St. Louis in the World Series. His Boston scouting career included assisting managers’ Dick Williams, Eddie Kasko, Ralph Houk (his ex-San Juan manager), and Don Zimmer— who he played against in Puerto Rico, when Zimmer was with Mayagüez and also Santurce; John McNamara and Joe Morgan. His Boston scouting assignments ended when Kevin Kennedy was the Red Sox skipper.

Frank Malzone was one of the inaugural class of inductees into the Red Sox Hall of Fame, in November 1995, per Bill Nowlin’s SABR bio. Malzone’s Puerto Rico batting totals: .277 BA (151 hits in 545 AB), with 11 HR and 78 RBIs. His MLB slash line: .274/.315/.399/.714, with 133 HR and 728 RBIs. His Puerto Rico BA (.277) was slightly higher than his .274 AL BA. He had one RBI in Puerto Rico every 6.99 AB, compared to one AL RBI every 7.46 AB. Frank Malzone passed away on December 29, 2015, at age 85, in Needham, Massachusetts. The last time we spoke by phone was in 2011 when I was working on Jerry Moses’ SABR bio.

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