Remembering Pedro “Speedy” González, first Dominican player with New York Yankees (Part I)

Pedro González

On Facebook, the author found out Pedro “Speedy” González had passed away January 10, 2021, at 83, in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. (Speedy will be used in this blog.) The second baseman and UT player had a five-year AL career with the New York Yankees (1963-65) and Cleveland Indians (1965-67). His AL debut was April 11, 1963. He was a fan favorite with the Licey Tigers, the oldest franchise—dating to its founding in 1907—in the Dominican Republic. Speedy was called El Gran Capitán Azul (The Great Blue Captain) for Licey, whose colors are royal blue and white, similar to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Speedy was with Licey, 1957-58 through 1970, excluding seasons when league play was cancelled due to political unrest. He played two seasons with Estrellas Orientales (the “Green” team), 1970-72, plus half of 1972-73 with the Escogido Lions (“Red” team). Stateside and Criollo (Native) players who played in the Dominican Republic identified their teams by their team’s color.

The best compliment heard by the author on Speedy came from José “Palillo” Santiago, his teammate with the 1961-62, 1962-63 and 1965-66 San Juan Senators, in Puerto Rico’s Winter League. “Speedy was a good ballplayer, but an exquisite and better human being,” recalled Santiago by phone. “He was quiet, humble and low-key; did his job efficiently…was saddened by his passing. I liked him a lot.”

Part I covers Speedy’s 1961-62 and 1962-63 seasons with San Juan; early seasons plus 1963-64 championship season with Licey; his first six minor league years; historic links between Puerto Rico and Licey; and, his 1963 season with the New York Yankees. Table I lists 11 Caribbean, Central American, South American and Mexican players from different islands and countries who first wore New York Yankees flannels, including Speedy, the first Dominican player with the Bronx Bombers.

Table I: First Players with New York Yankees (NYY): Caribbean Baseball Countries-Territories

Player and PositionPlace of BirthWith NYYYankees Highlights
Héctor López: OFColón, Panamá1959-1966Five World Series (WS), 1960-64, with .286 AVG and .536 SLG.
Luis “Tite” Arroyo: PPeñuelas, PR1960-63AL-best 29 saves, 2.19 ERA, 1961. Pitched in two WS (60-61).
Speedy González: 2BSan Pedro de Macoris, DR1963-65.277 AVG, 1964; had one AB in 1964 World Series.
Pedro Ramos: PPinar del Río, Cuba1964-668 saves, 1.25 ERA, 13 G in 1964.
Horace Clarke: 2B-SSFrederiksted, St. Croix, USVI1965-7433 SB and .285 AVG, 1969.
Rubén Amaro: SSNuevo Laredo, MX1966-68.973 FLD PCT, 1967.
Alvaro Espinoza: SSValencia, Venezuela1988-91.282 AVG, 23 doubles, 1989.
Hensley Meulens: OF-IFWillemstad, Curacao1989-936 HR and 29 RBIs, 1991.
Charles “Chili” Davis: DHKingston, Jamaica1998-99World Series Champ: 1998-99.
Donovan Solano: 2B-3BBarranquilla, COL201622 AB, .227 AVG, A+ attitude.
Jonathan Loaisiga: PManagua, Nicaragua2018-203-0, 3.52 ERA, 22 K, 23 IP, 2020.

Abbreviations: Colombia (COL); Dominican Republic (DR); Mexico (MX); Puerto Rico (PR); and  U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Fielding PCT is FLD PCT; batting average (AVG); slugging percentage (SLG); earned run average (ERA); pitcher (P); designated hitter (DH); among others.

Baseball Links Between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic

Pedro Miguel Caratini

In late October 2016, a team from Ponce, Puerto Rico, starring SS Pedro Miguel Caratini, played a three-game series against a Dominican All-Star squad from Nuevo Club, Licey and Columbia. Caratini relocated to Santo Domingo and become known as the “Father of Dominican Baseball” in the 1920s. He was Licey’s captain, best-hitter and shortstop, a math wizard and administrator for the Public Works Department. Dominican media called Caratini the “Ty Cobb borincano.” (Boricua-borincano implies pride in representing and being from Puerto Rico, whose National Anthem begins with: “La Tierra de Borinquen, donde he nacido yo” or The Land of Borinquen, where I was born.) Historian Mario E. Guerrero wrote about the two-island links in the Listín Diario of September 12, 2020: https://listindiario.com/el-deporte/2010/09/12/158558/el-beisbol-es-el-principal-vinculo-entre-rd-y-pr

Coincidentally, the author met Mario E. Guerrero in the press box at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, during the February 1-7, 2020 Caribbean Series. Bithorn Stadium was inaugurated for Puerto Rico’s 1962-63 Winter League season. Speedy González played all his 1962-63 and 1965-66 home games for San Juan at Bithorn, shared by San Juan and Santurce and home games at Sixto Escobar Stadium, 1961-62, located in the Puerta de Tierra section of San Juan.

Puerto Rico allowed Dominican players to play as “Natives” (not “Imports”) between the late 1940s and mid-1950s. Thus, catcher GuiGui Lucas and pitchers Manolo Cáceres and Diómedes “Guayubín” Olivo pitched for the Caguas Criollos as Natives; Dominican Pepe Lucas played 1B for Santurce as a Native, too. Speedy González was an Import for San Juan, early-to-mid 1960s, since the Dominican Republic had their Winter League in place, since 1955-56.

From 1951-to-1954, Puerto Ricans were imports in the Dominican Summer League, e.g., Luis “King Kong” Villodas, 1951 batting champ (.346 AVG), Aguilas Cibaeñas (“Yellow” team); Luis Rodríguez Olmo, 1952 batting champ (.344 AVG), Licey, and 1954 player-manager,  Aguilas Cibaeñas; Rubén Gómez, 1952 Licey Tigers, staff ace, who lost Game Seven, finals, to Venezuelan Emilio Cueche (Aguilas Cibaeñas); and Luis “Tite” Arroyo, 1952 and 1953 Escogido Lions. Stateside players Willard Brown, Bob Thurman, Alonzo Perry and Wilmer Fields starred in this Dominican Summer League. Cuban skippers led Dominican teams to titles: Rodolfo Fernández—1952 Aguilas Cibaeñas; Oscar Rodríguez—1953 Licey Tigers; and Ramón Bragaña—1954 Estrellas Orientales.

Félix “Fellé” Delgado alerted the author, in 1992, at Bithorn Stadium, that he managed 1951 Licey to their first professional league title. Fellé recalled the 1937 Ciudad Trujillo Dragons, with some Licey and Escogido players, plus Negro Leagues signees, won a summer tournament over the Aguilas Cibaeñas and Estrellas Orientales. Dragons signed stellar Negro Leaguers Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, James “Cool Papa” Bell, among others, managed by Lázaro Salazar, their player-manager. Fellé also played in the Negro Leagues and for the San Juan Senators.

 Speedy González, Minors, 1958-63

  • First Dominican signed by the New York Yankees, prior to 1958 baseball season.
  • Scored 117 runs and stole 31 bases, 1958 St. Petersburg, Class D Florida State League.
  • .371 AVG, .413 OBP and .509 SLG for 1959 Modesto, Class C California League. His 374 plate appearances were 60 shy of the required 434 to win the batting crown. Willie Davis, Reno Silver Sox, won it with a .365 AVG. Modesto (86-55) bested Bakersfield (70-71) in the playoff finals, four games-to-two. Each had won a half-season.
  • 1960 Class A Eastern League batting champion (.327 AVG) for Binghamton Triplets. He led league with 179 hits; cracked 10 HR and drove in 70; was League All-Star 2B.
  • Played 100 games for 1961 Class AAA Richmond Virginians; .266 AVG and17 SB. Double-play partner of SS Tom Tresh. League’s All-Star 2B was Julio Gotay, San Juan and Charleston (WV) Marlins. Diómedes “Guayubín” Olivo, Columbus, was Pitcher-of-the-Year. Speedy’s manager was Cal Ermer, who also managed in Puerto Rico’s League.
  • .280 AVG, 13 HR and 45 RBIs for 1962 Richmond Virginians, but Phil Gagliano, Atlanta Crackers, was chosen All-Star 2B.
  • .307 AVG and .488 SLG for 1963 Richmond, 303 AB, for manager Preston Gómez. International League’s All-Star 2B.

Speedy González, Licey and San Juan, 1957-62

Pedro González with San Juan

Speedy was a consistent producer in winter ball, with his .280 AVG for 1958-59 Licey, league champs. RHP Bob Gibson was his teammate. In his 1957-58 rookie season, 3B Clete Boyer was a teammate; and, Roger Maris played for Estrellas Orientales. On December 16, 1960, Speedy hit three triples in one games versus Aguilas Cibaeñas. The 1961-62 Dominican Winter League (DRWL) was suspended December 3, 1961, post-1961 assassination of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Dick Hughes, Speedy’s 1961-62 teammate, lived at Santo Domingo’s Embajador Hotel, along with OF Willie Davis. “We only played 18 games,” recalled Hughes. “There were strikes, bombings going on…we just stayed in the hotel. I went down there a couple of years later [1963-64] and played the whole season.” The 1962-63 DRWL season was also cancelled in its entirety.

So, Speedy played part of 1961-62 and 1962-63 with San Juan, managed by Napoleón Reyes, aka “Fat Cuban,” as he was politely called by Palillo Santiago, whom Reyes (and others) called “El Flaco” (the skinny one). Palillo (toothpick in English) bonded with Fellé Delgado, the scout who signed him for Charles O. Finley’s Kansas City A’s. Palillo’s best friend with the Senators, early 1960s, was Tite Arroyo, godfather to Palillo’s first son, Alex. Tite Arroyo was Palillo’s “compae,” short for compadre (second dad).

The 1961-62 San Juan Senators were fifth of six teams at 41-40, after losing a fourth-place tie-breaker to 42-39 Arecibo, managed by Luis Olmo. Horace Clarke, New York Yankees prospect, was Speedy’s 1961-62 double-play partner. Roberto Clemente played for San Juan in the season’s second-half. Palillo recalled the argument that ensued in the tie-breaker after Clemente hit into a double-play off Phil Niekro. Napoleón Reyes bumped 1B ump Mel Steiner and all “hell broke loose.” Craig Anderson, starter for the 1961-62 Santurce Crabbers, witnessed this altercation, as a spectator. “It got ugly; Clemente got involved in the fracas,” recalled Anderson. Palillo noted that Nino Escalera, quiet and low-key, protested the call vehemently. Speedy sparkled (1961-62) with his .307 AVG, four HR and 16 RBIs, in 88 AB, but arch-rival Santurce won the league title and February 6-14 Inter American Series at Escobar, paced by Miguel de la Hoz’s hitting and pitching of Bob Gibson, Orlando Peña, Juan “Terín” Pizarro and Anderson. “I liked the way the ball carried at Escobar,” said de la Hoz. “There was a favorable ocean breeze toward left-field.”

Ray Barker played 1B for San Juan, 1961-62, behind Nino Escalera. Barker became Speedy’s post-season teammate with the 1963-64 Licey Tigers; regular season 1966-67 teammate with Licey; and was traded for Speedy, May 10, 1965, in a Cleveland-New York Yankees. Barker played for 1959-60 Mayagüez Indians and 1963-64 Arecibo Wolves, prior to joining Licey. Puerto Rico fans called him “Buddy Baker.” Barker liked the high level of competition, good food and rewards of a job well done in the Caribbean. This overshadowed shark-infested ocean and apartments with cockroaches in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Vern Benson managed the 1961-62 Crabbers and made a trip to the Dominican Republic to secure the services of 2B Julián Javier, after their league play was suspended there, December 3, 1961. Dominican bloggers and baseball historians agree that Julián Javier was the best Dominican 2B in the 1960s, with Speedy rated as their second-best 2B, that decade. Javier just played for Santurce in the 1961-62 regular season. The Crabbers reinforced themselves at 2B for the four-team Inter American Series with Arecibo’s Octavio “Cookie” Rojas.

San Juan-New York Yankees Connection, 1962-63

Horace Clarke was a utility IF for 1962-63 San Juan. The New York Yankees sent Phil Linz to Puerto Rico to play SS, alongside 2B Speedy. Clarke roomed at San Juan’s YMCA with Elrod Hendricks, fellow U.S. Virgin Islander, who caught for Santurce. San Juan traded Clarke to the Ponce Lions, during 1962-63, for 3B-OF Eddie Olivares,. “Players from the [U.S.] Virgin Islands who got to the big leagues in those earlier years were fortunate to have been allowed to play in the Puerto Rico League as natives,” said Clarke. “That wasn’t a league to really develop players; they played most of the veteran players, with the hope to win.”

José ¨Palillo¨ Santiago

Palillo Santiago was a New York Yankees fan growing up in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico. “I was a Yankees fan [late 1940s-1959] until Fellé Delgado signed me for Kansas City,” stated Palillo, whose September 9, 1963 AL debut was against the Yankees, in relief. Palillo got the win after retiring Elston Howard, Joe Pepitone and Clete Boyer in order (8th), in a tie game, and the A’s scoring the winning run in the home eighth. “Years later, I met Mickey Mantle in the Yankees training room, when I pitched for Boston. The amount of tape put on his body was incredible. My outside fastball and inside slider were tough pitches for him to hit, but with a 6-0 lead, I threw him “easier to hit” outside pitches, which he hit for two HR, toward LF.

Tite Arroyo confirmed the San Juan-New York Yankees 1962-63 link. “I was a pitching coach with the Senators, and took over managing duties after Napoleón [Reyes] was fired,” said Arroyo. “Ralph Houk, my [1961-63] Yankees manager, was my [1956-57] manager with San Juan, and appreciated me.” San Juan again finished fifth in 1962-63, at 30-40. They defeated third-place Santurce, 10 of 14 games, in their “City Champ Series.” Palillo finished 10-2, but the other hurlers were a combined 20-38, .345 PCT. Speedy’s 67 hits in 234 AB resulted in a .261 AVG. His complete Puerto Rico hitting stats are at https://beisbol101.com/pedro-gonzalez/

1963 New York Yankees

Speedy debuted with the Yankees, in their home opener, April 11, 1963, versus Baltimore. He pinch-ran for Dale Long, who drew a walk off Milt Pappas, in the seventh. Pappas pitched a CG, 4-1 win, in front of 30,374 fans. Speedy’s first MLB hit was a pinch-hit double off LHP Hank Aguirre, of Detroit, at Yankees Stadium, April 16, after Ralph Houk summoned Speedy to hit for Whitey Ford, in the fourth. Tony Kubek’s double drove in Speedy, in Detroit’s 7-2 win.

Thirty players were on the Yankees roster that whole season, with an average height of six feet, one-half inch; with a weight of 186 lb. Speedy, at 6’0” and 176 lb., was just a half-inch shorter and weighed 10 pounds less than “the team average.” Their average team opening day age was 28, three years older than Speedy—who was 25. Ralph Terry, known for Game Seven World Series exploits in 1960 (at Pittsburgh) and 1962 (at San Francisco) opined the “Yankees were getting older, with Mantle and Maris injured most of that [1963] season.” Terry—who became Speedy’s teammate with the 1965 Cleveland Indians—expressed strong feelings (to the author) about Maris not being a Cooperstown Hall of Famer. “That is a joke,” exclaimed Terry. “Roger could do it all in baseball and would have been a great football running back at the University of Oklahoma if he had chosen that route…”

Speedy’s 14 games for the Yankees resulted in 26 AB, with five hits, a .192 AVG. Bobby Richardson was entrenched at 2B with 151 games and 668 plate appearances. Clete Boyer, at third, played 152 games, with 596 plate appearances, while SS Tony Kubek played 135 contests, with Phil Linz, his primary back-up. Yankees RHP Stan Williams had pitched to Speedy in the 1959-60 DRWL season. (Williams pitched a November 20, 1959 no-hitter at Santiago, against the Aguilas Cibaeñas.) The 104-57 Yankees easily won their fourth straight AL pennant, but were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1963 World Series.

Licey Defeats Aguilas Cibaeñas, 1963-64 Finals

Licey (28-30) was a distant second to Aguilas Cibaeñas (39-19), 1963-64 regular season, but bested Estrellas Orientales, three games-to-two, in a semi-final series, before upsetting the first-place Aguilas, five games-to-three, in a best-of-nine finals. Licey’s opening night line-up, on October 23, 1963, versus Estrellas Orientales, had Speedy at 2B, Elvio Jimenez-LF, John Lewis-CF, Jim Beauchamp-1B, Merritt Ranew-C, Manny Mota-RF, Jack Damaska-SS, José Vidal Nicolás-3B and starter Guayubín Olivo. Guayubín blanked the “Green Team,” 2-0, whose starter was his brother, Federico “ChiChí” Olivo! Later that season, Dick Hughes bested Gaylord Perry, Escogido Lions, 3-1. The league’s best imported starter was Steve Blass, Aguilas Cibaeñas. “That winter was vital to my big-league career with the Pirates, starting in 1964,” said Blass to the author at SABR’s 2018 Annual Conference in Pittsburgh. “It prepared me for the majors.”

Monchín Pichardo, Licey’s owner, bought a “new team” for the final series. Dick Hughes (5-7 W-L regular season) departed from Santo Domingo before the playoffs to get married, January 26, 1964. No problem—Pichardo signed Arecibo’s John Boozer, Caguas’s Fred Talbot, and Mayagüez’s Allan Koch, to boost his rotation. Pichardo released 1B Jim Beauchamp, and signed Arecibo’s Ray Barker. Tony Oliva, Puerto Rico Winter League’s batting champ (.365 AVG), and Santurce’s Félix Juan Maldonado were signed to play the OF. Santurce’s Miguel de la Hoz signed a Licey contract to play 3B. Phil Gagliano, Christian Brothers High School classmate of Tim McCarver, in Memphis, Tennessee (Class of 1959), became Licey’s post-season SS. Thus, Manny Mota (OF), Speedy (2B) and Ranew (catcher) were Licey’s only opening day night regulars for the finals. Beauchamp had mixed feelings: “I loved playing winter ball in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic…played for Santurce [1964-65] and San Juan [1968-69]; was OF for the 1970-71 Licey club which won the country’s first [February 1971] Caribbean Series.”

The Aguilas Cibaeñas took the first three games, at home, January 25-27, 1964, led by Blass’s 3-1 CG, 3-hitter in Game One. But in Game Four, Tony Oliva ignored Vern Benson’s stop sign from the 3B coaching box, to score the winning run, in a 7-6 victory at home, January 28. “I really enjoyed managing Licey,” recalled Benson. “Santurce [1961-62] was a great team and I later had success in Venezuela, managing the Lara Cardinals.” Willie Stargell, Aguilas LF, was unable to throw Oliva out at home. Talbot won, 7-3, on January 29, a CG. Boozer and his spitball prevailed, 2-1, on January 30, as Oliva tripled twice. Guayubin Olivo scattered 12 hits and allowed one run in his Game Seven 4-1 win, the next night. Licey captured the crown in Santiago de los Caballeros—home of the Aguilas—on February 1. Koch hurled a CG and de la Hoz hit the game-winning HR in a 4-3 triumph. “I could always hit in winter ball, in my native Cuba, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic,” said de la Hoz.

With special thanks and appreciation to José “Palillo” Santiago, for recollections of Speedy, with the San Juan Senators; to Félix “Fellé” Delgado, for his 1951 Licey “history lesson” and to Craig Anderson, Ray Barker, Jim Beauchamp, Vern Benson, Steve Blass, Horace Clarke, Miguel de la Hoz, Mario E. Guerrero, Dick Hughes, Bobby Richardson, Fred Talbot, Ralph Terry, and Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League.

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