Major League Managers with 27 World Series Titles connected to Puerto Rico’s Winter League (Part IV)

Earl Weaver

Major League Managers with 27 World Series Titles Connected to Puerto Rico’s Winter League (Part iv)

Nineteen Major League managers who once played or managed in the Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) or barnstormed in Puerto Rico, led their big league teams to a combined 27 World Series crowns,  from José Méndez, who led the 1924 Kansas City Monarchs to the first Negro World Series (aka 1924 Colored World Series) title, to Bruce Bochy, who managed the San Francisco Giants to 2010, 2012, and 2014 titles, plus the 2023 Texas Rangers to their first World Series title. Part III transitioned to Rogers Hornsby, who won the 1926 World Series as player-manager and managed the 1950-51 Ponce Lions in the PRWL. Part IV highlights the exploits of Ralph Houk and Earl Weaver, who won three World Series between them and also experienced success as PRWL skippers.

Ralph Houk

Houk (August 9, 1919-July 21, 2010) was born in Lawrence, Kansas. He was a talented high school quarterback who received 1938 scholarship offers from the Universities of Oklahoma and Kansas but opted to play pro baseball. His detailed SABR bio by John Vorperian noted that Houk was the first major league manager to win World Series crowns in his first two seasons managing at that level. He played in the low minors (1939-1941). On August 7, 1941, catching for the Binghamton Triplets (Class B Southern Association), he caught Joe Page’s no-hitter. before becoming a World War II hero. In the [1944] Battle of the Bulge, Houk and his troops experienced a German counterattack. Per his SABR bio, Houk said: “Suddenly all hell broke loose. They opened the attack with a furious barrage followed by wave after wave of Hitler’s battle-tested troopers…Panzer divisions were turned loose on us.” Houk became the senior officer when two other lieutenants were killed. He would receive the Silver Star; be promoted to first lieutenant and captain; awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was promoted to major just before being discharged and became known as “the Major” throughout his post-World War II playing and managing career.

Spring Training in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Cuba (1947)

The Serrallés Distillery, headquartered in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and known for their Don Q rum, sponsored the first segment of the New York Yankees 1947 spring training. The Bronx Bombers spent several weeks training at Sixto Escobar Stadium, a picturesque San Juan ballpark off the Atlantic Ocean. (Joe DiMaggio made the trip but was unable to play due to a heel injury. He did visit hospitals and watched the games.) Houk caught each of the five games in San Juan. Aaron Robinson, Sherm Lollar, and Yogi Berra also saw action behind the plate. New York won three games at Escobar, versus San Juan Senators (16-3), on February 22; against Caguas-Guayama (6-4), on February 23; and, an 8-6 victory over an All-Star Team, on February 26. (The February 27 contest versus Santurce was rained out.) The Ponce Lions, with Raymond Brown and José “Pantalones” Santiago on the mound, defeated New York, 12-8, on Monday, February 24. Houk was behind the plate when Joe Page gave up a three-run homer to Fernando Díaz Pedroso in the home sixth. All pandemonium broke loose and Ponce’s mayor came on the field, as did other fanatics, to congratulate Pedroso, who received at least $70 in cash from the fans’ collection. “I was a Ponce rookie that [1946-47] PRWL season,” affirmed Pantalones Santiago. “George Scales, my Ponce manager, brought me in the eighth inning, and I preserved the win for Raymond Brown, our coach.” New York’s other loss, 7-6, came the next day versus a PRWL All-Star Team. Houk did not catch any Yankees games in Caracas or Havana.

New York Yankees Playing and Managing Career

Houk was the third-string catcher in 1947, playing 41 games with a .272 BA. Sherm Lollar and Yogi Berra did the brunt of the catching with the latter also playing left field. Houk’s only World Series at-bat resulted in a hit, as the Yankees edged Brooklyn four games to three. Pinch-hitter deluxe Bobby Brown, Berra’s roommate that season, recalled that Houk was a hard-working, intelligent, and intense player—a “student of the game at age 28.” (Brown became a cardiologist after going to medical school during off-seasons.) From 1949 to 1954 Houk played 36 games for the Yankees. He managed their Triple-A affiliate Denver Bears, 1955-1957, before joining the parent club as a 1958-1960 coach. Houk became the first and only manager in big-league history to win back-to-back World Series in his first two years as a major league skipper: 1961 and 1962. New York defeated Cincinnati, four games to one, in the 1961 Fall Classic, and San Francisco, four games to three in, the 1962 World Series. Jack Reed, from Silver City, Mississippi, was Mickey Mantle’s backup, 1961-1963, in Houk’s first “tour of duty” managing the Yankees. “Ralph was my only big-league manager since those were the three seasons I played in the majors,” said Reed. “He encouraged me to manage in the Yankees system, 1965-67, but I returned home to Mississippi, in 1968, to run the family farm after my died passed away.” Houk also managed the Yankees from 1966-1973, when the franchise experienced some tough seasons, before managing Detroit and Boston.

San Juan Senators (1956-57)

Lee MacPhail, Yankees Farm Director, 1949-1958, coordinated Houk’s 1956-57 San Juan Senators managing experience with José “Pepe” Seda, Yankees Caribbean scout, and San Juan GM. Catcher Johnny Blanchard was the top Yankees prospect with San Juan, posting a .244 BA with seven homers and 37 RBIs. Houk’s infield include Nino Escalera (1B), Germán Rivera (2B), George Freese (3B), and Frank Malzone (SS). “That winter at shortstop was helpful to my big-league career with the Boston Red Sox,” stated Malzone. “I became the Red Sox regular third baseman in 1957 and appreciated Ralph Houk…I also played for Ponce, 1954-55.” San Juan (40-33) earned a playoff spot by defeating Caguas-Rio Piedras, in a third-place tie-breaker. Luis “Tite” Arroyo started and won it on one day’s rest. In 1950-51, Arroyo, with Ponce, pitched to Yankees prospect Clint Courtney. Six years later, it was Blanchard behind the plate with San Juan. Arroyo endeared himself to Houk by defeating Caguas in that tie-breaker. Houk said in 1961: “That man [Arroyo] showed me five years ago he could pitch and I’m not taking credit for Arroyo being with this [Yankees] ballclub, but this man shows me he wants to pitch and that’s why he’s having some success in the big leagues.” Arroyo’s 29 saves for the 1961 Yankees were a single-season team record until Lindy McDaniel tied it in 1970. Sparky Lyle saved 35 for New York in 1972. The franchise record is 53, set by Mariano Rivera in 2004. Arroyo, in his tie-breaker win over Caguas, deprived Roberto Clemente of a .400 BA. Clemente needed to go 2-for-4 but got one hit in four at-bats to finish at .396 (89-for-225).

Earl Weaver in the Caribbean

Weaver managed the 1962-63 Lara Cardinals in Venezuela, prior to managing the 1966-67 and 1967-68 Santurce Crabbers. His PRWL nickname was Mickey Rooney. Island fans loved his challenging umpire decisions and his feisty intensity. Weaver alerted the author that he appreciated Santurce owner Hiram Cuevas for providing first-class accommodations and hospitality. Weaver had also played, at second base, for the 1955-56 Águilas Cibaeñas (AC) in the Dominican Winter League (LIDOM). Weaver’s double-play partner was 19-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Bill Mazeroski! The Pirates were the first big-league team to establish a formal, long-term agreement with a LIDOM ballclub from 1955 to early 1980s. This resulted in Mazeroski, Steve Blass, Willie Stargell, Dock Ellis, Rennie Stennett, Omar Moreno, Dave Parker, Kent Tekulve, Bob Robertson, Tony Peña, and many others playing for AC. Weaver’s 1955-56 AC stats were: 37 games, 130 AB, 20 runs, 32 hits, nine doubles, 10 RBIs, 26 walks, two SB, and a .246/.371/.315 slash line, and .686 OPS.

The 1966-67 Santurce Crabbers

It was a different era. Orlando Cepeda was Dick Hughes’s 1966 St. Louis Cardinals teammate after the 29-year-old Hughes was promoted to the parent team that September. Cepeda encouraged Hughes to pitch for Santurce, and the Arkansan did so. Hughes and lefty Juan “Terín” Pizarro were the aces of Santurce’s 1966-67 pitching staff. Coincidentally, Tony Pérez, 24-year-old Cincinnati Reds third baseman, suggested that teammate Ted Davidson, lefty Reds reliever, reinforce Santurce for 1966-67. This was eight-plus years prior to free agency when the minimum big-league salary was $6,000 per season or $1,000 per month! A PRWL import, then, could earn over $1,000 per month, perhaps $1,200-to-$1,700 monthly. Davidson recalled that Hiram [Cuevas] was “making his annual swing to the States and was going to be in Cincinnati the day after Tony Pérez asked me if I wanted to go down there [Santurce] and I told him, yeah, I’d love to play. Hiram signed me the next day.” Table I includes Santurce’s 1966-67 pitching stats, including those of Davidson, who had been Pete Rose’s 1964-65 teammate with the Caracas Lions. Davidson, with the 1963-64 Licey Tigers, drew a start versus Escogido’s Juan Marichal.

Table I: Santurce Crabbers 1966-67 Pitching Records

Terín Pizarro25178112-3129.295342.08
Dick Hughes18178311-212679251.79
Darrell Osteen2015415-7113.173381.83
Rubén Gómez1515516-711165122.11
Ted Davidson31   7-352.12891.72
William de Jesús145112-45116121.76
José M. Geigel92102-0225102.45
Israel Torres2   0-02010.00

Source: Paloviejo en los Deportes, Barceló Marqués & Company, Camuy, PR, October 1967.

Santurce lost a one-game playoff to Ponce (46-25) but bested the Lions, four games to two, in the finals. During the season, Anne Hughes, spouse of Dick Hughes, would drive her husband, Paul Blair, and Dave May to Hiram Bithorn Stadium, in Hato Rey, in a rented Volkswagen (VW). “It cost $300 per month to rent this VW,” recalled Anne Hughes. “Paul, Dave, and my husband chipped in with $100 apiece per month.” While Anne did the driving, Dick held their infant. (Dick Hughes also pitched in the 1963-64 LIDOM for the Licey Tigers, managed by Vern Benson.) Santurce traveled to away games, by bus, to Arecibo, Mayagüez, and Ponce. Dick Hughes enjoyed the rivalry with Ponce since those Lions had two St. Louis Cardinals teams—Nelson Briles and Steve Carlton—his 1967 teammates with the World Champions. Hughes liked playing card games with Earl Weaver and several other players on the long bus trips. On Weaver: “He was a pepper pot, a demanding type manager…different from anyone I played ball with before or after—a banty rooster.” Nick Acosta, Santurce’s long-time trainer, impressed Weaver, and was later offered a job as Baltimore’s “second trainer.” But he opted to continue his year-round work in Puerto Rico. “I later [1968-69] put Jim Palmer’s right arm back in shape,” recalled Acosta. “Baltimore had a close [working] agreement with Santurce from 1966 through the early 1970s when the Orioles sent their best prospects, and two future managers—Earl Weaver and Frank Robinson—to manage the Crabbers.”

Rubén Gómez Remembers Earl Weaver

Rubén Gómez

Weaver allowed Gómez to drive to away games in the pitcher’s sports car since Rubén tended to get car sick on long bus trips. Gómez was a part-time race car driver who once challenged and defeated Argentinian Formula I driver Juan Manuel Fangio in a brief race at an Island speedway. Gómez also was a superb mechanic. One night, he repaired the vehicle of a stranded motorist (Hu Barton) in Rio Piedras. Barton was a co-worker of the author’s father at FOMENTO, the Island’s Economic Development agency. (Barton and Sam Van Hying Jr. were World War II spies with the OSS—Office of Strategic Services.) Gómez and Barton then consumed a case of India Beer! According to Gómez, Weaver considered bringing down one of Baltimore’s pitching prospects for the post-season, since he was concerned about Gómez’s age (39) at the time. Weaver phoned Gómez at home the day of Game Three of the finals after Ponce had won the first two games. A confident Gómez was told he would start Game Three.

An overflow crowd of 20,001 at Bithorn, on January 29, 1967, witnessed Gómez’s five-hit shutout. Gómez’s screwball was so effective that Roy White, Ponce’s switch-hitting second baseman, batted right-handed against Gómez instead of left-handed. “That was a pivotal game,” said Ponce manager Tite Arroyo. “Rubén was masterful with that screwball, a pitch that I perfected before pitching for the [1960-1963] Yankees.” Arroyo’s connections to the Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals resulted in players from those organizations reinforcing Ponce.

Games Four-to-Six, 1967 Finals

Dick Hughes evened the series, two games apiece, with a one-hitter before 18,269 fans. Horace Clarke got Ponce’s only hit. Dooley Womack took the loss. Darrell Osteen bested Steve Carlton in Game Five, with 18,947 fans at Bithorn. A wild pickoff throw by Carlton opened the floodgates in Santurce’s 5-2 win. Paul Blair did not want to overnight in Ponce after Game Six, on February 1, 1967. He and his teammates did not pack their suitcases for the road trip, assuming a Game Six win and return trip home on the team bus for a victory celebration. “We did not bring our dress clothes to Ponce for Game Six,” said Blair. “We expected to win.” According to some Santurce players, Ponce team owner Yuyo González promised Briles $1,000 if he would defeat Santurce and force a final game. It was not held, thanks to homers by Dave May and Blair. Blair’s game-winning three-run homer came in the visitor’s ninth, off reliever John Boozer. “I hit the dry side of Boozer’s spitball,” claimed Blair. Ted Davidson, who preserved Pizarro’s win by pitching a scoreless ninth, noted: “The Ponce fans were upset. Our fans had a motorcade in front of us.”

Final Thoughts

Larry Haney, Santurce’s catcher, played for Weaver in Elmira (1965) and Rochester (1966), two Baltimore farm clubs. Haney: “This was Earl’s first chance to manage good big league ballplayers…he wasn’t intimidated. He managed his type of ballgame and gained the respect of Pizarro, Gómez, and [Tony] Pérez, [Orlando] Cepeda… Earl was a quality manager wherever he managed and the players had to adjust to his style of play.” Haney also caught for the North American All-Star Team, managed by Weaver, versus the Latin American All-Stars, managed by Tite Arroyo, at Bithorn Stadium, on January 1, 1967. The 5-1 Latin American victory included Orlando Cepeda’s homer. Pizarro won it; Darrell Osteen took the loss. Rubén Gómez pitched a scoreless ninth for the winners. Boozer, Grant Jackson, Briles, and Ted Davidson pitched in relief for the North Americans. Tony Pérez won two-thirds of the PRWL Triple Crown with a .333 BA and 63 RBIs. His nine homers were fourth, behind Ponce’s Dick Simpson (12), San Juan’s Reggie Smith (11), and Ponce’s Roger Repoz (10).

Weaver’s 1967-68 Crabbers were 47-22 but fell to Caguas, four games to two, in the finals. Davey Johnson played second base for Weaver. Blair and Dave May returned. Weaver was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1996, 25 years after leading Baltimore to their third straight World Series. Per Weaver’s 1996 written reply to the author, “The [1966-67] PRWL championship was just like winning any other championship including the 1970 World Series. Puerto Rico’s baseball fans were outstanding and similar to those who follow the Yankees or Mets.” 


With gratitude to Nick Acosta, Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Paul Blair, Dr. Bobby Brown, Ted Davidson, Rubén Gómez, Larry Haney, Ralph Houk, Anne and Dick Hughes, Lee MacPhail, Frank Malzone, Jack Reed, José “Pantalones” Santiago, and Earl Weaver. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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