Henry Cotto: Caguas Criollos, Cubs, Yankees, Mariners, Marlins, and Yomiuri Giants (Part II)

Henry Cotto Fleer Baseball Card #205. Photo credit: www.ebay.com.

Henry Cotto was born in the Bronx on January 5, 1961, but his family moved back to Puerto Rico (PR) when he was three months old. Pedrín Zorrilla, legendary Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) owner of the Santurce Crabbers, 1939-1956, signed Cotto and Carmelo Martínez to contracts with the Chicago Cubs. Part II focuses on his time with the 1985-87 New York Yankees, his 1986-87 PRWL campaign, and the February 1987 Caribbean Series (CS) for Caguas in Hermosillo, Mexico. Part III concludes with the 1988-1993 Seattle Mariners, 1993 Florida Marlins, 1994 Yomiuri Giants, five final PRWL seasons (1987-1991 and 1994-95) with Caguas, and the 1995 Nashville Sounds.

The 1985-87 Bronx Bombers and Columbus Clippers

Part I mentioned Cotto’s December 4, 1984 trade to the New York Yankees. He attended 1985 spring training after reinforcing the San Juan Metros—managed by Mako Oliveras—in the 1985 CS. Rickey Henderson—acquired via trade with Oakland, with Bert Bradley, for Stan Javier, Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, Eric Plunk, and Tim Birtsas—injured his ankle in spring training. It opened a roster spot for Cotto, optioned to Columbus on July 5, before a September 1985 call-up. Yogi Berra managed the Yankees to a 6-10 record. George Steinbrenner replaced him with Billy Martin (91-54). Cotto went 8-for-26 in the first half of 1985 and 9-for-30 in September to finish with a .304 BA (17-for-56). On October 6, he went 2-for-4 versus first-place Toronto (99-62) in the season finale, cracking his first big-league homer off Bill Caudill, ex-1979-80 Santurce Crabbers hurler, then managed by Frank Robinson. The 1985 Yankees finished 97-64, two games behind Toronto in the AL East. Babe Ruth’s 1920 Yankees (95-59) and the 1954 Yankees (103-51) also didn’t make the postseason. Table I has 1985 Yankees hitting stats. Don Mattingly, 1985 AL MVP, was Cotto’s 1983-84 Caguas teammate. Don Baylor played for Santurce; Ken Griffey Sr., Bayamón Cowboys; and Henderson, Ponce, in PRWL. The Yankees scored a league-leading 839 runs (5.2/game) and led the AL with 155 steals, with Henderson’s 80 SB.

Table I: New York Yankees 1985 Hitting Stats

PlayerPOSGABRH2B3BHRRBISBBAOBPSLGOPS
Butch WynegarC10230927691505320.223.356.320.676
Don Mattingly1B159652107211483351452.324.371.567.939
Willie Randolph2B1434977513721254016.276.382.356.738
Mike Pagliarulo3B138380559116219620.239.324.442.786
Bob MeachamSS1564817010516214725.218.302.266.568
Ken Griffey Sr.LF1274386812028410697.274.331.425.755
Rickey HendersonCF143547146172285247280.314.419.516.934
Dave WinfieldRF1556331051743462611419.275.328.471.799
Don BaylorDH1424777011024123910.231.330.430.760
Ron HasseyC92267317916113420.296.369.509.878
Andre RobertsonIF501251641502171.328.358.416.774
Dale BerraIF4810982551181.229.276.321.597
Dan PasquaOF601481731319250.209.289.426.715
Billy SampleOF591391840501152.288.336.345.681
Omar MorenoOF3466121341141.197.209.333.542
Henry CottoOF345641710161.304.339.375.714
Others (6)  134102332040.172.183.224.407
Totals 1615458839145827231176793155.267.344.425.769

Source: Baseball-Reference.

Cotto’s .348 BA in 1986 spring training placed him on the opening-day roster. He was primarily a late-inning defensive replacement in LF and CF before being optioned to Columbus on May 18. He played 97 games with Columbus and was International League Player of the Week for June 2-8. Cotto was recalled by the Yankees on September 1 and played in 17 games, with eight starts in center. He went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the regular season finale on October 5 at Boston, including a two-run homer off Jeff Sellers. In 1987, he played 34 games (129 AB) with Columbus, managed by Bucky Dent, and 68 contests (149 AB) with the Yankees. https://yankeesyearbookfan.blogspot.com/2016/05/1987-profile-henry-cotto.html#google_vignette                        

The 1986-87 Caguas Criollos                                                                                                        

Cotto, in center, was flanked by Ellis Burks in LF, and Van Snider in RF. Burks was a Boston Red Sox prospect; Snider played in the Cincinnati Reds system. It was the PRWL’s best outfield. Burks and Snider left after the finals and replaced by Mayagüez’s Bobby Bonilla and Arecibo’s Candy Maldonado for the 1987 CS. Tim Foli was Caguas’s skipper; Félix Millán, the GM; Eduardo Figueroa, the pitching coach; Ramón Avilés, the third-base coach; and, first-base coach Jerry Morales. Cotto, .281 BA, seven HR, 34 RBIs, and 13 SB, was complemented by Burks’s .291 BA, seven HR, and 30 RBIs. Snider slugged nine HR—second to Ponce’s Iván Calderón (10)—and drove in 39, second to Santurce’s Tracy Woodson (41). Burks swiped 18, second to Ponce’s Joey Cora (20). Cotto’s 13 SBs were third. Burks drilled six triples to top Santurce’s Jerome Browne’s five, for league honors. “It was fun—everyone would compliment each other and have a positive attitude, remarked Burks. “Tim Foli was a very aggressive manager. Ramón Avilés and Jerry Morales were coaches who helped a lot. So did Félix Millán. I opted to go home and relax after the finals. The CS would have been a good experience.”

Caguas (31-23) won the four-team round-robin (8-4), one game up on Ponce (7-5), the regular season champions (34-19). Then, in the finals, Caguas upended the Lions, four games to two. Here are January 24-29, 1987 highlights:

  • January 24—Caguas (4) Ponce (2). Francisco Oliveras won it. Scott Anderson got a four-inning save. David Cone took the loss. Roberto Alomar and Carmelo Martínez went 2-for-4.
  • January 25—Ponce (5) Caguas (1). Jon Perlman and Doug Jones held the Criollos in check. Cotto went 2-for-4. Ponce’s Cheo Cruz drilled two doubles and a single.
  • January 26—Ponce (9) Caguas (2). Kevin Hagen won over Jack Lazorko. Iván Calderón drove in three. Alomar went 3-for-4 for Caguas.
  • January 27—Caguas (7) Ponce (6). Carmelo Martínez, Germán Rivera, and Van Snider homered. Snider went 3-for-4.
  • January 28—Caguas (13) Ponce (1). Cotto led off with a homer. Oliveras won his second game. Five Criollos—Jim Steels (5), Alomar (3), Burks (3), Cotto (2), and Orlando Mercado (2) combined for 15 hits.
  • January 29—Caguas (9) Ponce (3). Cotto singled in Adalberto Peña in the home fourth; stole second; scored on Alomar’s hit; and, Ponce skipper Art Howe removed David Cone.

The 1987 CS: February 3-8, 1987, Hermosillo, MX

Caguas won their third CS crown, following 1954 and 1974 titles, by besting the Águilas Cibaeñas (AC) 13-2, in the February 8 tie-breaker. Caguas (5-2 W-L) edged the Dominican (4-3 W-L) squad, with the Caracas Lions and Mazatlán Deer each posting 2-4 records. Francisco J. Oliveras won the opener, 5-4, over the host Deer. Caguas lost their next two: 7-4 to Caracas and 14-13 to AC. David Cone, versus Caracas, allowed a three-run homer to Andrés Galarraga in the fifth, followed by Tony Armas’s solo shot. Cotto’s sixth-inning homer and Candy Maldonado’s solo blast in the eighth made it closer, but Ubaldo Heredia won. In Caguas’s 14-13 loss to AC on February 5, the Criollos slammed eight homers—two apiece by Candy Maldonado and Hedi Vargas, plus round-trippers by Bobby Bonilla, Cotto, Candy Maldonado, and Germán Rivera. Eight Caguas miscues infuriated GM Félix Millán, who called an 11 a.m. meeting on Friday, February 6. Millán fired skipper Tim Foli and replaced him with coach Ramón Avilés. Candy Maldonado was relaxing at the hotel swimming pool when Foli and Millán threw punches at each other.

“I felt for Tim Foli because he could manage in the majors,” stated Avilés. “In PR, he displayed a temper, and I tried to help him. During the regular season, when I took the lineup card to the plate, there were times the umpires would ask me what inning would I like to manage the team because they planned to send him to the showers. I defended Foli and told the umps this wasn’t right; they shouldn’t think this way.”

Caguas won four straight. Candy Maldonado slugged four of their 18 homers. Carmelo Martínez (.556 BA and 11 RBIs) was the MVP. Cotto stole six, including a record four versus Mazatlán on February 6. He became the only player in CS history to swipe second base, third, and home in the same inning, the ninth. His steal of home was a double steal with Roberto Alomar on base. Juan Nieves, a reinforcement from the San Juan Metros, blanked AC through six on February 8, to set up the tie-breaker. Cone preserved Nieves’s win. “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 night spots and discos, talk about our big-league aspirations. But when we played, it was serious business.” Tables II and III highlight Caguas’s 1987 CS hitting-pitching stats. The Criollos 17 SB tied a CS mark held by Cuba’s 1949 Almendares Scorpions. Caguas became the Island’s first CS champion using an All-Native line-up, excluding three imported hurlers: Cone, Mike Kinnunen, and Jim Siwy.

Table II: Caguas Criollos Hitting Stats, 1987 CS

PlayerPOSGABRH2B3BHRRBISBBASLG
Orlando MercadoC7293701230.241.517
Carmelo Martínez1B718610003110.5561.055
Roberto Alomar2B6233510015.217.261
Germán Rivera3B6204700370.350.800
Edgar DíazSS5154511112.333.733
Adalberto PeñaUT4122200010.167.167
Bobby BonillaLF6222510120.227.409
Henry CottoCF6266700246.269.500
Candy MaldonadoRF73391010473.303.697
Hediberto VargasDH7233500260.217.478
Bernie WilliamsOF220000000.000.000
Incomplete Data   8     1  
Totals> 722351634218#4317!.283.561

>Some AB and H may not be included. #All-Time CS HR mark. !Tied for CS most team SB.

Source: Alfonso Araujo Bohórquez, Series del Caribe: Narraciones y Estadísticas, 1949-2001.

Table III: Caguas Criollos Pitching Stats, 1987 CS

PitcherGW-LIPSVHERKBBERAWHIP
Francisco Oliveras22-016 123881.691.25
Jim Siwy21-09.1 93632.891.29
David Cone30-17.11641334.911.23
Juan Nieves11-06 10750.001.00
Mambo de León30-06 52323.001.17
Mike Kinnunen21-05.1 41511.690.94
Omar Olivares30-04 20230.001.25
Héctor Stewart40-12.11542115.432.57
Luis Aquino30-02.1 532111.572.57
José Calderón10-01 00010.001.00
Ricardo Torres10-01 20110.003.00
Totals>75-260.22512051292.971.32

>Some pitching stats might be incomplete. Source: Alfonso Araujo Bohórquez, 2002.

Mythical Caguas Criollos All-Star Team (1980s)

Héctor Barea published a 1997 history booklet on the Criollos. He listed Caguas All-Star teams, from the 1940s to the 1980s. The author inserted some players that Barea omitted, as shown in Table IV.

Table IV: Mythical 1980s Caguas Criollos All-Star Team (14 POS players, eight pitchers)

PlayerPOSSeasonHighlights
Orlando MercadoC1986-87.283 BA, 26 RBIs; two HR in 1987 CS.
Adalberto “Junior” OrtizC1980-81.271 BA. Caguas won PRWL title.
Don Mattingly1B1983-84.368 BA—PRWL batting champ.
Carmelo Martínez1B1985-86.304 BA, 4 HR, 24 RBIs. MVP: 1987 CS.
Roberto Alomar2B1987-88.302 BA, 31 runs, and 14 SB.
Cal Ripken Jr.3B1981-82.314 BA, 10 HR, league-leading 50 RBIs.
Germán “Deportivo” Rivera3B1985-86.294 BA, seven HR, 24 RBIs.
Mario RamírezSS1983-84Seven HR.
Ellis BurksLF1986-87.291 BA, seven HR, 30 RBIs.
Henry CottoCF1984-85.308 BA, four HR, 21, RBIs, 22 SB, MVP.
José “Cheo” CruzRF1981-82.303 BA, 12 HR, 40 RBIs.
Héctor CruzOF1981-82.324 BA, 44 RBIs.
Van SniderOF1986-87Nine HR, 39 RBIs.
Iván CalderónDH1983-84.320 BA, five triples.
Dennis MartínezRHP1980-816-1, league-leading 1.39 ERA.
Steve LuebberLHP1980-81Seven wins.
Randy BockusRHP1985-867-2, 2.07 ERA.
Franciso Javier OliverasRHP1984-858-0, 2.44 ERA.
Mike Kinnunen-long reliefLHP1987-882.22 ERA, 54 K’s. A 1.67 ERA: 1988-89.
José “Flauta” de JesúsRHP1988-89Seven wins, 1.78 ERA.
Rob DibbleCloser1987-8810 saves (plus six saves in 1988-89).
Nate SnellRelief1981-8210 saves, eight wins, 2.81 ERA.

Sources: Héctor Barea and Tom Van Hyning.

Postscript

The author wrote a feature article for the Spring 2018 SABR Baseball Research Journal: Caguas Criollos: Five Caribbean Series Crowns and Cooperstown Connections, at https://sabr.org/journal/article/caguas-criollos-five-caribbean-series-crowns-and-cooperstown-connections/ It includes Caguas’s back-to-back CS crowns in 2017 and 2018. More CS history will be in the author’s upcoming CS book, covering 1949 to 2024 events.

Special thanks to Henry Cotto. Thanks to Ramón Avilés, Héctor Barea, Ellis Burks, Candy Maldonado, Juan Nieves, and Van Snider. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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