Paul Hartzell Recalls 1976-77 Santurce Crabbers

Paul Hartzell with the Santurce Crabbers

Paul Hartzell played four complete major-league seasons (1976 through 1979) and parts of two others (1980, 1984). He was a swingman, starting 77 of 170 games in which he appeared. He threw 22 complete games yet posted 12 saves, a statistical combination difficult to imagine in today’s game. His best season came as a 1976 California Angels rookie, 7-4, 2.77 ERA, seventh best in the AL. In 37 games, Hartzell made 15 starts, throwing seven complete games and two shutouts. He picked up two saves, earning the first with four scoreless innings at Cleveland on May 1 to preserve a win by Nolan Ryan, who bought him a beer at the restaurant that night.

Hartzell took a 5-3 lead into the ninth at Kansas City, September 9, 1976, but was relieved by Mike Overy with two outs, after scattering 15 hits. The Royals tied it and won it in the tenth. Carlos Pieve, GM of the Santurce Cangrejeros in the Puerto Rican Winter League, was there. Pieve felt Hartzell showed good control and poise; he called Santurce team owner Hiram Cuevas to recommend getting the pitcher for the Crabbers. Harry Dalton seconded the idea. He had known Cuevas since 1966, when Baltimore first sent its top prospects to Santurce. Soon thereafter, Hartzell signed with Santurce.

“We had a fine Santurce team with big-league players at every position most nights,” said Hartzell. Mike Overy and Tony Solaita were other Angels who played for Santurce. “I mostly remember Sandy Alomar Sr., Elrod Hendricks and Danny Walton making me feel at home and looking out for me. We spent time with Frank LaCorte, Rick Camp, and Mike Cubbage and their wives and would visit the casino at the El San Juan Hotel.”

Playing in Puerto Rico was Paul and Andrei Hartzell’s honeymoon. They lived in a nice apartment and enjoyed the beach/long walks in Santurce’s Condado section. ”The reason we were there,” said Hartzell, “was to furnish our first house, which was being built in Laguna Beach. I was not only there to pitch, but to save money, too!” Hartzell had signed a 1977 contract with the Angels for $32,000, plus a car, plus graduate school tuition for both his wife and himself. An entry-level engineer made $11,000 a year at the time, so Hartzell felt good.

The Crabbers’ skipper was Jack McKeon, who enjoyed developing players in Puerto Rico but understood the importance of winning. Hartzell viewed him as a solid manager who “seemed to have the right balance between playing native players and imports.” McKeon reciprocated on Hartzell: “Good sinker, good control, real competitor, fun to manage, hard worker.”

Hartzell’s two months in the PRWL were productive: 8-2, a 2.92 ERA in 92 1/3 innings, helping Santurce qualify for the postseason. His 13 starts included three complete games, one of which was his first win as a Crabber. It came versus the Caguas Criollos (eventual league champs), with 20-year old Orlando Sánchez catching. Hartzell enjoyed pitching to the youngster, but preferred the veteran Hendricks.

Hartzell bonded with Ken Brett of the Bayamón Vaqueros after they faced each other at Bayamón’s Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium. Brett, one of the best-hitting pitchers ever, was the designated hitter for the Cowboys in that game. The starter opposing Hartzell was 49-year-old Rubén Gómez in the last of his league-record 29 PRWL seasons. The next time the teams faced each other, Hartzell was running in the outfield when Brett introduced himself, saying that he “had never had a more comfortable 0-for-3 in his life.”

Brett, who joined the Angels in June 1977, became Hartzell’s best friend in baseball. After Brett died in November 2003, Hartzell spoke at the funeral. He reminisced, “Speaking that day was the hardest thing I have ever done and I think of him almost every day when I think about baseball.”

Paul Franklin Hartzell Jr. was born in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, on November 2, 1953. He graduated from Lehigh (1975) with an engineering degree. His outstanding business career included compliance printing for Hato Rey’s Oriental Savings Bank. That bank’s chief financial officer recalled seeing him pitch for Santurce. Hartzell’s SABR bio by Tom Van Hyning: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/15218721.

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