Part I ended with Juan Pizarro’s memorable 1956 MVP season for the Jacksonville Braves. Part II highlights Jacksonville’s 1957-1968 and 1970 seasons, plus Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) and Caribbean Series items on ex-Jacksonville players. The author will link his three favorite PRWL teams, 1961-62, 1964-65 and 1966-67 Santurce Crabbers to Jacksonville. The latter had three Cooperstown Inductees—Orlando Cepeda, Tony Pérez, and skipper Earl Weaver and a starting rotation with three ex-Jacksonville hurlers: Pizarro (1956), Dick Hughes (1964, 1965), and Rubén Gómez (1962, 1963). Miguel (Mike) Cuéllar, a lefty with the 1963-66 Arecibo Wolves, 1966-67 San Juan (SJ) Senators, and other PRWL teams, also hurled for 1963-1965 Jacksonville. Cuéllar was a 1964 Suns teammate of Héctor Espino, the “Mexican Babe Ruth.” The author will correct an item in a April 19, 2021 Héctor Espino béisbol101.com Part I blog. https://beisbol101.com/hector-espino-gonzalez-baseball-superstar-and-icon-from-mexico-part-i/ Cuéllar, not Rubén Gómez, was Espino’s 1964 Jacksonville Suns teammate.
1956-57 PRWL Season and 1950s Caguas Criollos All-Star Team
Mickey Owen managed Caguas to a February 1954 Caribbean Series title, per Part I, and led the 1956-57 Mayagüez Indios to a PRWL crown, and February 1957 Caribbean Series in Havana, Cuba, won by the host Marianao Tigers. Owen managed the 1957 Jacksonville Braves first part of that season, before his dismissal. The PRWL news was the December 30, 1956 sale of Roberto Clemente, Ronnie Samford, and Juan Pizarro to Caguas, for $30,000, to erase a Santurce Crabs debt incurred by owner Pedrín Zorrilla. Ramón Cuevas became the new Santurce owner.
Wes Covington starred for the 1956 Jacksonville Braves. He reinforced Caguas-Rio Piedras, and led the PRWL with 15 HR, and was second with 53 RBI. Félix Mantilla, a 1953 Jacksonville teammate of Hank Aaron, had a .308 BA for Caguas, with a league-leading 26 SB. Caguas’s 20-year-old LHP Sandy Koufax, was fourth in the loop with 76 strikeouts, despite being released on December 20, 1956, due to PRWL ruling limiting teams to three big-leaguers. Ben Geraghty, Jacksonville’s most successful skipper from the team’s 1904 inception through 1963, managed Caguas for a third-straight season but they lost a tie-breaker to SJ—managed by Ralph Houk—for third-place, despite Clemente’s league-leading .396 BA. Table I highlights a mythical 1950s Caguas Criollos All-Star Team.
Table I: Caguas Criollos Mythical 1950s All-Star Team
|Player||Season||POS||BA or Other|
|George Crowe||1950-61||1B||.375 (tops)|
|Vic Power||1955-56||3B||.358 (tops)|
|Félix Mantilla#||1954-55||SS||11 HR|
|Hank Aaron#||1953-54||RF||.322, 9 HR|
|Wes Covington#||1955-56||LF||53 RBI|
|Luis R. Olmo||1951-52||LF||52 RBI|
|Johnny Powers||1958-59||OF||17 HR|
|Jim Rivera||1950-51||CF||76 R, 51 RBI|
|Bob Buhl||1953-54||P||14-3 W-L|
|Juan “Terín” Pizarro#||1957-58||P||14-5 W-L|
|Roberto Vargas||1950-51||P||10-1 W-L|
|Mickey Owen#||1953-54||MGR||46-34 W-L^|
#Played for Jacksonville Braves. Owen was a Jacksonville player-manager. ^Caguas won their first Caribbean Series title, February 1954. Source: Héctor Barea, Historia de los Criollos, 1997.
Jacksonville Braves (1957-1960) and 1961-62 Arecibo Wolves
Mickey Owen was 41 years old when he put on the shin guards, for the last time, with 1957 Jacksonville. He also managed them before being relieved of his duties. Owen had eight assists behind the plate in 22 games and a .992 fielding PCT. Ed Charles and Lee Maye were two players he managed, and who were teammates in winter ball with the 1961-62 Arecibo Wolves, managed by Luis R. Olmo. Maye was a talented singer who recorded some music. Carlos Manuel Santiago, an Arecibo coach, recalled the time when Maye did an acapella rendition of The Platters’ song—“Only You” on the team bus, after a win. “There was good chemistry on that [1961-62] Arecibo team,” noted Santiago. “We also had Phil Niekro, Moe Drabowsky, Tommy Aaron, Claude Raymond, and Bob Uecker from the Braves organization.”
Uecker’s lone season with Jacksonville was in 1959. Phil Niekro pitched for 1960 Jacksonville en route to Cooperstown. Table II includes Jacksonville pitching stats of hurlers connected to winter ball, including Niekro, and Table III has hitting stats. Coincidentally, Niekro started the PRWL tie-breaker game for fourth-place versus SJ Senators, in the final 1961-62 regular season game played at Sixto Escobar Stadium. He did not factor in the decision as Raymond relieved him and won that contest. With Raymond on the mound, Roberto Clemente hit into a double-play, on a questionable “out” call at 1B by ump Mel Steiner. A long argument ensued with SJ manager Napoleón Reyes “bumping” Steiner, who was injured in the ensuing melee. Future Cooperstown Hall of Fame Umpire Doug Harvey was behind the plate pre-1962 NL “rookie season.” Clemente was exonerated but Reyes and Nino Escalera of the Senators were fined.
Craig Anderson, who pitched for the 1961-62 Santurce Crabbers, attended the above-mentioned game with his wife Judy. The Crabbers finished third and triumphed in the post-season before winning the February 6-14, 1962 Inter-American Series at Escobar Stadium. He later pitched for Santurce at the brand-new Hiram Bithorn Stadium, last month, 1962-63 season. “Escobar had more atmosphere,” stated Anderson. “Bithorn had more seating and better parking.”
Red Murff managed the 1960 Jacksonville Braves, their final season affiliated with Milwaukee. Murff was the 1966-67 Caguas Criollos skipper until Vic Power replaced him on December 18, 1966. Murff, as a NY Mets scout, signed Nolan Ryan—out of Alvin, Texas—for the Mets.
#Inducted in Cooperstown. Sources: Multiple ones.
Table III: Jacksonville Hitting Stats-Players connected to PRWL/other leagues, 1957-1968
|1962||Miguel de la Hoz||80||283||35||78||10||2||7||34||.276||.399|
|1964||José “Coco” Laboy||8||30||4||8||2||2||7||.267||.533|
|1968||Juan “Chito” Ríos||9||33||2||6||1||1||.182||212|
>Cooperstown Ford Frick Award. Sources: Multiple ones.
1961 Jacksonville Jets to 1962-1965 Jacksonville Suns
For the 1961 season, Jacksonville was the Class AAA club of the Houston Colt 45s, who would join the NL in 1962. Rory Costello’s excellent SABR bio of Bobby Maduro is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bobby-maduro/ One of the more interesting paragraphs is:
“Jim Pendleton may be the only guy in baseball history acquired for a franchise. Jim was an original Colt .45’s outfielder who came to Houston in 1962 because of Bobby Maduro. Maduro owned the Jersey City franchise in the International League in 1961 and wanted to purchase the Jacksonville territory and move his team to that city…Colt .45’s owned the rights to the Jacksonville territory…Maduro could not buy the rights since his money was in a Cuban bank account and unobtainable. The silver lining was that Maduro owned Pendleton’s contract, so Houston set up a trade, “Give us Pendleton and we’ll give you our rights to Jacksonville.”
From 1962-1963 the Jacksonville Suns were the Cleveland Indians’ AAA International League team. Advance Fall 1961 ticket sales plus $100,000 in home stadium improvements helped “seal the deal.” Per Costello, Houston received $10,895.72, in addition to OF Pendleton. Maduro was majority owner—in 1962 and 1963—two seasons Jacksonville was a Cleveland Indians affiliate, and a 1964 and 1965 GM when they were a St. Louis Cardinals AAA affiliate. One of Maduro’s best moves was acquiring Rubén Gómez from the Minnesota Twins organization. Gómez went 8-0 for the 1962 Suns, who lost in the finals to the Atlanta Crackers. Gómez was reunited with catcher Harry Chiti since he and Gómez were Santurce batterymates part of the 1954-54 PRWL season and 1955 Caribbean Series. On April 26, 1962, Chiti was sold by Cleveland to the New York Mets but returned to Cleveland, on June 15. The Indians then assigned him to Jacksonville. Chiti, per his SABR bio, claimed that the “Mets owed Cleveland a player to be named later, and he had been returned [to Cleveland] as that player.” So, Chiti was traded for himself!
Venezuelan Vic Davalillo, Luis Tiant (one game), and IF Miguel de la Hoz toiled for 1962 Jacksonville, after their respective 1961-62 PRWL seasons. Tiant hurled for Caguas and reinforced Mayagüez in the February 6-14, 1962 Inter-American Series, while de la Hoz was with the SJ Senators before reinforcing Santurce. It was de la Hoz who hit the final HR at Sixto Escobar Stadium, on the four-team tournament’s final evening. Davalillo (.346 BA and 200 hits) topped the 1962 AAA International League in both categories. Ben Geraghty led the Suns to a 94-60 mark and a semi-final win over Rochester, before losing a seven-game series to Atlanta. Ray Barker, the Suns’ 1962 1B, played for various PRWL, Dominican Winter League and teams in Mexico. He enjoyed the high level of competition, the good food, and the rewards of a job well done in the Caribbean. PRWL fans called the West Virginia native “Buddy Baker.”
Tommy John, Sam McDowell, and Sonny Siebert joined Rubén Gómez in the Suns’ 1963 rotation. John (1963-64 Ponce and 1965-66 SJ), McDowell (1962-63 Santurce) and Siebert (1963-65) pitched effectively in winter ball with (perhaps) Siebert the “prime beneficiary.” Johnny Lipon—Siebert’s Ponce skipper—alerted the author that: “There was one extra-inning game when Siebert came in relief and struck out Clemente with the bases loaded. It was a turning point in his [Siebert’s] career.” Walt Bond went from 1963 Jacksonville to 1963-64 Ponce, where his .349 BA was second to Tony Oliva’s .365, and ahead of Clemente’s .345 BA with SJ.
Miguel Cúellar went from 1963 Jacksonville to the 1963-64 Arecibo Wolves (PRWL). In Jacksonville, Cuéllar learned how to throw the screwball from Rubén Gómez. “Rubén had success with that it [screwball] and felt I could also have big-league success if I mastered it,” said Cuéllar. “We were PRWL rivals and 1973-74 Santurce teammates.”
Maduro was also a St. Louis Cardinals scout, in 1964, when he convinced them to purchase three players from Mexico, notably Mexican home-run king Héctor Espino. Espino hit .300 in 32 late-season games with Jacksonville. He preferred to play in Mexico, where he was a national hero. Arturo López, with the 1964 Richmond Vees, said Espino was a “power hitter who had one good game against us.” López noted, “players didn’t socialize on the field back then—we were doing our jobs.” And López’s .337 BA for 1963-64 Arecibo was fourth-best in the PRWL.
Joe Morgan (not the Hall of Fame 2B), Espino’s Jacksonville teammate, said: “Naturally, they [Jacksonville fans] were disappointed he [Espino] didn’t hit more HR. Besides, the OF fence in Jacksonville was 25 feet high and it was the most difficult park in the league for power hitters.” The author saw Rubén Gómez and this Joe Morgan—who later managed the Boston Red Sox—in person, play for 1964-65 Santurce Crabbers, Puerto Rico Winter League champs, managed by Preston Gómez, skipper, 1964 Richmond Vees.
Espino’s wife (Carmen) told writer Eric Nusbaum: “Bobby Maduro was very helpful, very nice. He put us up in an apartment,” she recalled. Carmen added: “The people of Jacksonville were very good to us. We didn’t have any problems there.”
Craig Anderson Remembers the 1966 Suns and Teammate Tom Seaver
Solly Hemus was Craig Anderson’s first big-league manager with 1961 St. Louis Cardinals, and last skipper—1966 Jacksonville, the New York Mets AAA team. Anderson earned his master’s degree from Southern Illinois University (SIU)-Carbondale in March 1966. The author has a master’s degree from SIU-Carbondale. Anderson/the author were born in Washington, D.C.
Here are excerpts from the author’s January 18, 2023 phone conversation with Anderson:
“I was making $1,300 [per month] and had finished my SIU-C master’s degree in March 1966; not invited to spring training…roomed with Tug McGraw on one or two road trips. A year or two before Tug died on January 5, 2004, he spoke at a Sports Banquet—said some nice things about me. Hank McGraw, Tug’s brother, was with Jacksonville, briefly, in 1966. In spring training in 1965 with Buffalo—wore flip-flops and shorts.
“Bill Virdon was my 1966 Williamsport manager (April 23-mid-May), and [I] was called up to Jacksonville later in May. Tom Seaver was a fine teammate—was good—not sure he would reach Hall of Fame level. On a 2-week road trip—just after he got married—we landed, and a blonde woman (recently married wife, Nancy) ran towards him; he ran towards her—clinched.”
Anderson’s two best friends from baseball are Dick Hughes, from Stephens, Arkansas, and Gordie Richardson, from Colquitt, Georgia, ex-minor-league teammates. “Gordie and I retired at 1966 season’s end after a series versus the Toledo Mud Hens; had beers together. Dick Hughes and I were in the Army together for six months—Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri) and Fort Eustis (Virginia). I went to the big leagues (1961) from Portland, with manager Vern Benson; Dick had to wait years. He tore his rotator cuff in 1968. Enjoyed Jacksonville where we flew on a DC-3. Judy got her Elementary Education degree from SIU-C in 1966. I got my master’s.”
Dick Hughes went 11-2 with a league-leading 1.79 ERA for 1966-67 Santurce, managed by Earl Weaver. They played cards together on road trips. When Santurce had Bithorn Stadium home games, Ann Hughes (Dick’s wife) would drive her spouse, Paul Blair, and Dave May to the ballpark. The three players each paid $100/month to cover the $300 Volkswagen rental fee.
Ken Singleton and Héctor Valle were 1968 Jacksonville Suns teammates. Singleton played for 1970-71 SJ Senators, managed by Roberto Clemente. When Clemente penciled his own name in RF, Game Five, Semi-Finals, versus Santurce, Singleton played 1B. “Puerto Rico was an easy adjustment since I had taken Spanish in school,” said Singleton. “I remember visiting Roberto Clemente’s home, although most of the American players hung out together.” Valle caught Sandy Koufax and other Dodgers, 1965 NL season, as Puerto Rico’s first National League catcher. Eliseo Rodríguez, 1968 NY Yankees, is the first AL catcher, and Luis “King Kong” Villodas—1946 and 1947 Baltimore Elite Giants—Puerto Rico’s first big-league backstop.
Jacksonville didn’t have a 1969 minor-league team. In 1970, the Suns emerged again with “dual allegiance” as a Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Expos AA farm club, in the Southern League. Hank Aaron was a special guest at Jacksonville’s 1970 team banquet and signed autographs.
Thanks to Craig Anderson, Ray Barker, Rory Costello, Miguel Cuéllar, Rubén Gómez, Dick, and Ann Hughes, Johnny Lipon, Joe Morgan, Mickey Owen, Carlos Manuel Santiago, and Ken Singleton. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, did the editing/photo placements.