Ray Rippelmeyer Remembers Luis Rodríguez Olmo—His San Juan Senators Manager

Ray Rippelmeyer

The 1957-58 San Juan Senators were in a winter league pennant race in Puerto Rico with the Santurce Crabbers and Caguas Criollos. By season’s end, San Juan (33-31) tied Caguas for second-place, three games behind the 36-28 Crabbers. Luis Rodríguez Olmo, San Juan’s manager, used Don McMahon as his closer during a large portion of that season. Olmo was the first manager in the Puerto Rico Winter League to use a closer earlier in the decade with Caguas. Olmo also was a Boston-Milwaukee Braves scout throughout the 1950s and well aware of McMahon’s fine bullpen work for the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, including three World Series appearances in the 1957 World Series versus the New York Yankees with five scoreless innings and five strikeouts. McMahon was 3-2 for Olmo with a 1.37 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 46 IP.

Enter Ray Rippelmeyer, sporting a 1-7 won-loss record for the 1957-58 Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Winter League. Rippelmeyer had pitched for the 1957 Wichita Braves in the American Association, AAA level farm club of the Milwaukee Braves, primarily as a long reliever—23 relief appearances and two starts, in 73 innings; 2-3 record, 3.45 ERA. Olmo and San Juan’s front office desperately needed a starter. They opted to trade closer Don McMahon for Rippelmeyer, since Luis “Tite” Arroyo (8-8, 2.64 ERA), Matthew Leroy Robert (Bob) Saban (9-2, 2.93 ERA) and Noel Oquendo (5-5, 2.78 ERA), were the club’s only capable starters for the stretch run.        

Who benefited from the McMahon-Rippelmeyer trade? Both teams did. McMahon posted a 0-1 record with the Estrellas Orientales, and a 1.35 ERA in 20 IP, with 12 strikeouts and nine walks. The 25-24 Estrellas Orientales bested the Licey Tigers, three games-to-one, in the semi-finals, with McMahon throwing 5.1 scoreless innings in three games. McMahon started one game in the finals versus the Escogido Lions (a loss) in posting a 0-1 mark, 3.60 ERA in two games-10 IP.

Rippelmeyer produced a 3-2 ledger for Olmo in 48 IP; fanning 25; walking 13; with a 2.25 ERA. He helped San Juan tie Caguas for second-place, ahead of the 30-34 Ponce Lions and 28-36 Mayagüez Indios. Rippelmeyer was 0-1 in the semi-final series versus Caguas, won by the Criollos, three games-to-one. “Ben Geraghty was the [Estrellas Orientales] manager; I lost seven in a row after winning my first game,” said Rippelmeyer. “I was then traded for Don McMahon in Puerto Rico…told by Ben that I was going to San Juan…best thing that ever happened to me. San Juan was almost like living in the States.”

San Juan signed Rippelmeyer to pitch the 1958-59 winter season. He responded with an 11-5 record; 1.66 ERA in 135 IP; and 46-to-29 strikeout/walk ratio. His ERA was second-best in the league to Caguas’ Lloyd Merritt’s 1.62 ERA. The Senators won the regular season title at 38-24, 2.5 games up of arch-rival Santurce, led by Rubén Gómez’s 12 wins. Rippelmeyer’s 11 wins were second to Gómez. Chris Nicolosi (10-5), Luis Arroyo (9-6) and late-season addition Ron Negray (5-1) formed a strong rotation with Rippelmeyer. San Juan’s post-season was ruined by Caguas, who won their seven-game semi-finals, with Víctor (Vic) Pellot Power, Johnny Powers and others. Santurce, however, bested Caguas to win the finals, with the pitching of Rubén Gómez and Julio Navarro; hitting of Orlando Cepeda, José Antonio Pagán and Jackie Brandt.

Then Rippelmeyer, Luis Arroyo and 1B Nino Escalera were contracted by the Aguilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Republic for the post-season semi-finals. This was a common practice in Caribbean winter ball, mid-1950s-to-mid-1960s. Talented players from eliminated teams could make “top dollar” for a week-or-two in another league. Tommie Sisk, for example, was offered $1,500 to pitch in a series in the Dominican Republic after his San Juan Senators were eliminated by Santurce in the 1964-65 semi-finals. Sisk declined the offer and went home. Rippelmeyer was 0-1, 3.86 ERA, in seven IP for his “new” Aguilas Cibaeñas team, but struck out nine and only walked one Licey hitter. Arroyo was also 0-1 with a miniscule (0.84) ERA. Nino Escalera went four for 15 (.267) BA for a team with 2B Julián Javier, a future MLB star. Licey won this best-of-five series, three games-to-one.

Rippelmeyer’s third winter for San Juan was 1959-60, and he came through with an 8-3 record, 119 IP, and 54-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nino Escalera was San Juan’s player-manager, as Olmo moved into the radio broadcast booth the first-half of 1959-60, before accepting the Santurce managing job. (Phil Rizzuto did the English-language radio broadcasts for San Juan; Olmo did the Spanish-language play-by-play.) San Juan (41-23) finished first in the regular season; then, bested fourth-place Mayagüez in one semi-finals, four games-to-two. Rippelmeyer was 1-1 versus Mayagüez. He got San Juan’s only win in their final series loss to Caguas, five games-to-one. Jack Fisher, a Baltimore Orioles prospect, was 13-5 for San Juan; Luis Arroyo (11-4) and Gerry Nelson (6-5) also helped San Juan claim the regular season title. Roberto Clemente—obtained by San Juan via a trade with Caguas for OF Herminio Cortés—finished third in the batting race at .330 to Vic Power (.347) and Mayagüez’s Wito Conde (.336). Carlos Bernier, a San Juan OF, was third in runs scored (43), behind Ray Barker’s 47 for Mayagüez and Escalera’s 44. Bernier’s 21 SB were second-best to Caguas’ Félix Mantilla’s 23 SB.

The Darlington Apartments, right across from Sixto Escobar Stadium, was Rippelmeyer’s “home away from home.” These apartments were located in the Puerta de Tierra section of San Juan. The Santurce and San Juan baseball clubs shared Sixto Escobar Stadium. Rippelmeyer affirmed: “I lived in the Darlington and loved it; Puerto Rico was like a second home. I pitched some great baseball there and hit a two-run homer off Juan Pizarro [1959-60 season] to beat Santurce one Sunday.” Rippelmeyer enjoyed being Roberto Clemente’s teammate, noting: “He was a real joy to be around and the best I ever had a chance to play with!” Rippelmeyer added, “What a high-quality person and a super, super player…”

Rippelmeyer reinforced Caguas for the February 10-15, 1960 Caribbean Series in Panamá, but was not involved in any decisions. Juan Pizarro (1-1, 16 strikeouts-14 IP) and Earl Wilson (1-1, 15 strikeouts-15 IP) got Caguas’ only two wins.  Cuba’s Cienfuegos Elephants easily won it with a 6-0 record, followed by Panamá at 3-3; Caguas (2-4) and Venezuela (1-5). Tommy Davis, the series MVP, played for Caguas. His .409 BA, .818 SLG, three HR, six RBI and two SB, got him enough votes. Orlando Cepeda (.333 BA, .524 SLG, and two SB) reinforced the Criollos. Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos and Orlando Peña were a winning trio for Cuba. George Altman, Cookie Rojas, Tony González, Leo Cárdenas and Ray Noble provided the hitting. Panamá’s contributors included Héctor López (.370 BA, two HR, 10 RBIs); Stan Palys (two HR, 12 RBIs, .704 SLG); and Eddie Napoleon (.450 BA, good for the BA tie with George Altman). Luis Aparicio, Bob Aspromonte, Willie Davis and Luis “Camaleón” García starred for Venezuela.

Rippelmeyer’s Puerto Rico Winter League career with the San Juan Senators ended with a 22-10 regular season record in 302 innings; 125 strikeouts, 71 walks and a 2.47 ERA. He truly enjoyed pitching for Luis Rodríguez Olmo, stating: “Olmo had a personal touch and let you pitch your game. He handled the natives well and he was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.” Rippelmeyer’s one MLB season came with the Washington Senators.

On April 14, 1962, Rippelmeyer made his MLB debut with the Washington Senators, with 5.2 scoreless innings at Cleveland. He allowed six hits and struck out three hitters. His final MLB game was a start against the Minnesota Twins and Camilo Pascual, July 1, 1962. Rippelmeyer’s

pitching arm was “not up to par,” but he pitched anyway, lasting 3.2 innings. His arm was stiff for over a month due to not getting warmed up properly before relieving against Detroit several days after his MLB debut. Rippelmeyer was 1-2 for Washington, with a 5.49 ERA in 39.1 IP. In 11 minor-league seasons, the 6’3,” 200-pound RHP was 114-83.

Perhaps Rippelmeyer’s most important contribution at the MLB level came as a pitching coach for the 1972 Philadelphia Phillies, when he “got Steve Carlton (27-10) to throw his slider, which he hadn’t used with the Cardinals.” Rippelmeyer had seen Carlton throw the slider in Tulsa when he (Rippelmeyer) was traveling with the 1966 Phillies, as a minor-league pitching instructor.

With deep appreciation to Ray Rippelmeyer for his insights and kindness when responding to questions, via mail, June 2019. This blog primarily focused on Rippelmeyer’s winter league experiences in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The author hopes to write Rippelmeyer’s SABR bio, to include other particulars of his life and baseball career.

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