Paul Doyle comes through for 1969-70 Ponce Lions in the Post-Season

Paul Doyle

Paul Doyle pitched in the minors for a decade before his MLB debut for the Atlanta Braves, May 28, 1969.  He helped Atlanta win the 1969 NL West Division. Doyle’s stellar relief pitching for 1969-70 Ponce Lions was a factor in their Puerto Rico Winter League title.  Doyle won games five and six of Ponce’s final series versus the Santurce Crabbers. Ponce represented Puerto Rico, February 5-10, 1970 Caribbean Series. The 5-foot-11 lefty played at 170-to-175 pounds.

Doyle’s three favorite MLB players, growing up in Huron, Ohio, were Larry Doby of the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians; Mickey Mantle and Warren Spahn.  Paul lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Huron High School, and received All-State Honors in baseball, 1958.  A year later he signed his first pro baseball contract with the Detroit Tigers to pitch for the Erie Sailors in the Class D New York-Penn League.  Paul made $225 a month.

Doyle pitched in the SF Giants’ minor league system, 1961-65, starting with Springfield Giants, 1961 Class A Eastern League.  He started 21 of his 27 games, 12-4, 3.09 ERA for league champions managed by Andy Gilbert.  “Andy was the best manager I ever played for,” Doyle said. “I met up with (teammates) Coco Laboy and Félix Maldonado eight years later in Puerto Rico.” Maldonado made it to AAA; Laboy made it with the 1969 expansion Montreal Expos. 

Doyle’s 1964 season with El Paso was his only one with 200+ innings (207). He started 27 of 30 games; fanned 198, walked 110. Second baseman Joe Morgan was league MVP. “I pitched to Morgan…never had trouble with left-handed hitters; Chris Zachary was the best pitcher,” said Doyle. He recalled long/exhausting bus trips—“El Paso to Tulsa took 18 hours.”   Dave Garcia was El Paso’s 1964 manager and “a very nice man and good manager,” per Doyle.  “Dave spoke Spanish,” recalled Doyle.  “Dave remembered everything-anybody that ever played baseball.” Garcia managed Hoyt Wilhelm, Bill White and Orlando Cepeda in the Giants farm system.

The Giants sent Doyle back to Springfield in 1965. The Houston Astros picked up Doyle (he pitched well against Houston farm teams) and kept him at Class AA Amarillo 1966-67 and Dallas-Ft. Worth (1968).  He had 175 strikeouts in 154 innings (1966); 111 strikeouts-to-127 frames (1967) and 149 strikeouts/154 innings (1968).  Doyle’s walks decreased from 82-to-59-to-47 from 1966 – 1968.  “In those days, they didn’t have speed guns,” per Doyle. “I struck out one batter per inning most of my career.  Probably threw mid-to-upper 90s at times.”

Houston traded Doyle to Atlanta for Cuban outfielder Sandy Valdespino, December 15, 1968.  Paul Richards, Atlanta’s GM, took a special interest in Doyle, spring training, 1969, and taught him how to throw a slider.  Doyle stated:  “Had I learned that pitch when I first started, I would have been a much better pitcher.”  Doyle was optioned to Class AAA Richmond at the end of spring training, and produced two saves, two starts, 28 strikeouts, 14 walks in 30 innings.  Doyle noted: “(Richmond manager) Mickey Vernon was a very nice man—a great hitter in his playing days. He used me as a closer/informed me that I was called up to the big leagues.” 

Doyle’s Atlanta debut was May 28, 1969 at home against defending NL champion St. Louis. He retired Julián Javier, Curt Flood and Joe Torre.  Doyle recalled: “I came in the 8th—looked in the 3B dugout. Who was there? The ST. LOUIS CARDINALS…a long way from pitching high school in Huron, Ohio.”  Doyle retired Tim McCarver and Jim Hicks in the 9th but Mike Shannon singled.  Shannon was picked off first.  Jim Fregosi, Doyle’s 1969-70 Ponce manager and Angels teammate in 1970, said: “Doyle was tough on left-handed hitters and (had) the best move to 1B of any LHP I have ever seen!”

Doyle roomed with Ken Johnson, Gary Neibauer and Phil Niekro. His four saves helped the 93-69 Braves win their Division by three games over SF.  He was 2-0, 25 strikeouts, 16 walks, 2.08 ERA, 36 games and 39 innings. A highlight was a Game of the Week, Pittsburgh at Atlanta, when he met Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek; saw his name/stats on the scoreboard. Doyle was the only pitcher in the Braves bullpen that could get Willie Stargell, Billy Williams and other tough lefty hitters out.  “I was the only lefty in the (Braves) pen,” Doyle noted.  “Cecil Upshaw was the closer but threw sidearm and had trouble with lefties.”  Neibauer and Claude Raymond were others. George Stone started more times (20) than he relieved (16).  Atlanta acquired Hoyt Wilhelm from the Angels for a player to be named later.

Atlanta’s line-up featured Caribbean players including 1B Orlando Cepeda/2B Félix Millán from Puerto Rico; SS Gil Garrido from Panamá; OF Felipe Alou/Rico Carty from the Dominican Republic; OF Tony González from Cuba. Doyle liked this talented group, which helped Atlanta compete in the first National League Championship Series (NLCS) ever held.

Atlanta, led by Hank Aaron, lost the 1969 NLCS to the Miracle Mets.  Doyle relieved Ron Reed in game two, 2nd inning, with the Mets ahead, 4-0.  He struck out Ken Boswell to end the frame; fanned Ed Kranepool in the home 3rd before Jerry Grote reached on a Cepeda error.  Bud Harrelson doubled, to score Grote. Jerry Koosman struck out; Tommie Agee got an intentional walk.  Wayne Garrett’s RBI single ended Doyle’s post-season: one inning, 2 hits, 2 unearned runs, three strikeouts, one walk.  Doyle reminisced: “That crowd in New York (50,270) was the biggest I ever pitched in front of.  Mets had young pitchers…could do no wrong.”

Doyle received a letter from the California Angels informing him he was their property due to the November 26, 1969 completion of the Hoyt Wilhelm (player to be named) trade.  The Angels sent Doyle to Ponce, Puerto Rico, to reinforce the Lions, managed by Jim Fregosi.  Doyle pitched six regular season games, plus post-season, including 1970 Caribbean Series between the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and host Venezuela.  He struck out Santurce’s Tany Perez to help Ponce win the Puerto Rico league finals.  Fregosi recalled: “Doyle did a great job in Ponce.”  Doyle said Ponce “needed a lefty and I made $1,700 a month there” (comparable to $10,000 MLB minimum salary for six months).  Doyle loved the big celebration in Ponce; trip to Caracas, with limos taking the team to the hotel and a body guard who looked like singer Tom Jones.

Doyle’s post-season heroics in the league finals began at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, February 1, 1970, fifth of five hurlers versus Santurce. He held the Crabbers scoreless as Ponce earned a 7-6 win to go up, three games-to-two. The next night in Ponce, before a Lions Den attendance record of 12,008, Doyle relieved Vern Geishert in the 8th and kept Santurce scoreless, in a 3-2 win. In three finals games spanning seven innings, Doyle did not allow runs, fanned seven-walked five.

Ponce (44-25 regular season) had Wayne Simpson, league pitching Triple Crown winner: 11-5, 1.55 ERA, 114 strikeouts, plus 7 SHO; Geishert, 8-5, 2.04 ERA; Clyde Wright, 6-4, 3.27 ERA. Bernie Carbo, .278, 10, 48, and Jim Hicks, .289, 13, 45, supplied power. Sandy Alomar Sr. (2B) and Jackie Hernández (SS) turned many double plays. Chago Rosario (1B) and Quique Rivera (3B) were solid. Luis “Torito” Meléndez was a stellar OF.

Ponce (4-4 W-L) was second to Magallanes Navigators (7-1) in the first Caribbean Series of Phase II, February 1970-present. Doyle pitched four scoreless innings, including games versus Licey (1-7), February 6; a February 7 win against Magallanes; another effort versus Magallanes (February 8). Doyle had seven strikeouts to one walk in four innings, allowing two hits. Santurce’s Tany Pérez and San Juan’s Mike Cuellar reinforced Ponce.

Doyle hurt his shoulder, spring of 1972, versus SF Giants and relied on cortisone shots/other remedies—including horse liniment given to him by Nolan Ryan.  “Nolan said they use it on horses who have muscle break down(s),” said Doyle.  “It didn’t work.”   He rested during the brief 1972 MLB Players Strike and pitched two games, final one at Yankee Stadium, May 2, 1972.  “They (Angels) sent me home in June 1972,” noted Doyle.  “I couldn’t even drive a car…lift my arm…” Paul Doyle’s SABR bio by Tom Van Hyning is at:

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/7b3ababe.

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