Remembering Pedro “Speedy” González, first Dominican player with New York Yankees, Part II

Pedro Gonzáez with Licey (diariolibre.com)

Part I ended with Licey’s dramatic win over the Águilas Cibaeñas, five-games-to-three, January 25-February 1, 1964 league finals, as Licey fielded a “new” team with reinforcements from Puerto Rico’s Winter League. The Aguilas Cibaeñas also signed several players from Puerto Rico for this series: 2B Octavio “Cookie” Rojas from the Arecibo Wolves and Ponce’s Walter Bond—who had finished second to Tony Oliva in Puerto Rico’s batting race. (Bond’s .349 AVG trailed Oliva’s .365 AVG, but edged Roberto Clemente’s .345 AVG with San Juan.). The Águilas’s Willie Stargell (14-for-31) led all final series hitters with a .452 AVG. “Speedy” González played impeccable defense in the 1963-64 finals; and went six-for-24 at the plate.

Mario Emilio Guerrero, long-time sportswriter, historian, and past staff member for teams in the Dominican Winter League aka “Liga Dominicana” (LIDOM), began a series on Facebook, chronicling “Speedy” González’s career. (Speedy is used in this blog.) Guerrero e-mailed Speedy’s complete LIDOM regular and post-season stats to the author. Speedy played 10 full seasons with Licey, 1957-58 through 1969-70, excluding 1961-62, 1962-63, and 1965-66, when he played 2B for the San Juan Senators. Speedy completed his LIDOM career with the Estrellas Orientales (“Green” team), 1970-73, after a portion of 1970-71 with the Escogido Lions (“Red” team). Licey is the “Blue” team; Águilas Cibaeñas were/are known as the “Yellow” team, per players the author conversed with: Steve Blass, Joe Gibbon, and Danny Kravitz. Other “Aguiluchos” imports include Dave Cash, Dock Ellis, Bill Mazeroski, Bob Robertson, Dick Stuart, Stargell, and Kent Tekulve.

The 6’0” and 176 lb. Speedy 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 (The Great Captain), and El Gran Capitán Azul.

Tony Piña Campora Remembers El Gran Capitán

The author, via Twitter, got some positive feedback on Speedy, from Tony Piña Campora, who has published extensively on Caribbean Series history, written books, including one on Pedro Martínez, among his other projects. Here is Tony’s January 19, 2021 statement on Speedy:

“Pedro González was a great 2B. His defensive skills were very good, with one of the best double play turns; range on both sides was superb; he had a strong arm. Offensively, he could hit it to the gaps in right-and-left center, with an occasional HR. He was at his best in the clutch, and had above average speed as well as strong base-running instincts. Summarizing, he was a complete athlete when it came to baseball, and one of the best ball players I have ever seen.”

Background Information on Speedy and LIDOM

Speedy was almost 18 when the first pro LIDOM “winter” season began, 1955-56. He was playing in 1957 for the Aviación Militar Dominicana (Dominican Military Aviation)team, owned by Ramfis Trujillo Martínez, son of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Ramfis, as Lt. General and the Air Force Commander-in-Chief, approved Licey’s signing of Speedy, but not the “Blue” team signing RHP Juan Marichal, who signed with Escogido. The Trujillo family controlled all aspects of the Dominican economy, including sports and recreation. Rubén Gómez had pitched for Licey, summer of 1952, pre-Winter League, and reinforced Escogido for their 1960-61 finals, as a favor to Escogido manager Pepe Lucas (José St. Claire). Gómez alerted the author (1993) that “we kept our mouth shut regarding the country’s leader and his family; it was a tense situation in late January 1961.” (General Trujillo was assassinated May 30, 1961).

LHP Joe Gibbon, a Pittsburgh Pirates teammate of Roberto Clemente, 1960-65 and 1969-1970, pitched for the 1958-59 Águilas Cibaeñas, based in Santiago de los Caballeros. He faced Speedy’s Licey Tigers a few times, recalling he did not pitch well early that season, and was on the “verge of being released.” But his pitching improved, and he stayed in the Águilas’s rotation. Gibbon, as did Gómez, was careful with comments. Gibbon said: “They [the Trujillo-controlled government] checked your mail—if you wrote a letter saying something ‘bad’ about the country, your family would never get it…I lost three or four in a row. They wanted to run me out of the country; then I started winning…” (Gibbon was traded with Ozzie Virgil Sr. by Pittsburgh to San Francisco, December 1, 1965, for Dominican OF Matty Alou. Virgil’s father was Dominican; his mother was from Puerto Rico.)

Per Mario Emilio Guerrero, the New York Yankees had a “working agreement” (acuerdo de trabajo) with Licey, late 1950s. This resulted in some “Blue” team players signing with the Yankees, including Speedy and OF Elvio “Mulito” Jiménez. The Los Angeles Dodgers eventually had a more formal working agreement with Licey throughout the 1970s, culminating with Orel Hershiser pitching for the 1983-84 Tigers. (In the mid-1990s, when Hershiser pitched for Cleveland, he conversed with the author about his 1982-83 season with Venezuela’s Magallanes Navigators, followed by his 1983-84 campaign with Licey.) “I learned a lot about life, off the field, in both countries,” said Hershiser. “Winter ball not only gave me a chance to improve my pitching, it provided a first-hand look at what players from the Caribbean, Central, and South America have to go through, when they come to the States…” Speedy was the first Dominican player to play for the New York Yankees, April 11, 1963, but was traded to Cleveland, May 10, 1965. “Mulito” Jiménez played one game for the 1964 Yankees. Conversely, Dodgers such as Bill Buckner, Charlie Hough, Doug Rau, Steve Garvey, Steve Yeager, Bobby Valentine. Von Joshua, and others, played with Licey. And Tommy Lasorda managed Licey for four seasons in the 1970s.

Escogido developed close links with the San Francisco Giants, starting in 1958. Willie McCovey was a prime example. During the 1958-59 LIDOM season, he slugged a long, game-winning three-run HR off Licey’s Bob Gibson, December 2, 1958. Gibson was immediately removed from the mound by manager Joe Schultz, who walked toward the mound, holding a towel. Speedy watched this spectacle from 2B. In the meantime, Gibson’s release papers were prepared by Cuso García, Licey’s President. https://beisbol101.com/bob-gibson-legendary-interamerican-series-and-world-series-pitcher/  Juan Marichal and the three Alou brothers were also part of the Escogido-San Francisco connection, late-1950s through the 1960s.

Pittsburgh’s ties to the Águilas Cibaeñas started with Mazeroski going to Santiago for several seasons, starting in 1955-56. The “Pirates Parade” to Santiago continued for some decades, including Kent Tekulve’s “breakout winter season” for the 1975-76 Aguilas. In between Mazeroski and Tekulve, starters Blass (9-2, 1963-64) and Ellis (9-3, 1966-67), along with position players Robertson (1B), Cash (2B), and Stargell (LF-!B) showed Pittsburgh front-office staff, managers and coaches that they were ready to help the Pirates. Catcher Tony Peña starred for the Águilas Cibaeñas, early-to-mid 1980s, when he also caught for Pittsburgh. Peña later experienced success managing the Aguiluchos. He still caught for them in 1992-93. “I didn’t have to play in that [February 1993 Caribbean Series] series,” recalled Peña. “But it was a patriotic duty. I’ve always prided myself on playing winter ball.” Peña was 1982-83 Co-MVP of the LIDOM, with Licey’s César “El Chief” Gerónimo.

Simply put, the purpose of LIDOM teams was to WIN, not develop players. The same held true in Cuba (though 1960-61), Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panamá, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. The late, great Bob Gibson experienced this first-hand, with Licey, pre-1959 NL debut for St. Louis.

Speedy with 1964 New York Yankees

Pedro González

Speedy (.277 AVG) performed well in a utility role for Yogi Berra’s 1964 New York Yankees. His  only full season with the Bronx Bombers was special, with his team (99-63) winning the AL pennant by one game over the White Sox, and two in front of Baltimore. New York used him as a “super-sub,” 31 games and 97 innings at 1B; 20 games and 87.2 OF innings in RF and LF; nine games and 61 innings at 3B; and, just six contests and 46 innings at 2B. Bobby Richardson, the Yankees All-Star and Gold Glove 2B, noted González was a valuable role player. Richardson, the club’s regular 2B through 1966, told the author “we had a depleted farm system by the time the Yankees acquired Pedro Ramos from Cleveland for players to be named later.” This September 6, 1964 transaction involved the Indians receiving LHP Bud Daley and RHP Ralph Terry in 1965, plus $75,000 in cash. Ramos’s eight saves and 1.25 ERA did wonders for the Yankees. Ramos was ineligible for the 1964 World Series since he was acquired post-August 31.

Speedy’s only World Series appearance came in Game Five, October 12, 1964, at Yankee Stadium. He replaced Clete Boyer, his ex-1957-58 Licey teammate, at 3B in the eighth frame. Speedy faced Gibson (ex-1958-59 Licey teammate) with two outs in the ninth, after Tom Tresh’s two-run HR tied this game, 2-2. Gibson induced Speedy to pop up to 1B Bill White. Then, Tim McCarver’s three-run HR in the 10th off Pete Mikkelsen gave St. Louis the win. The Cardinals won the series in seven, with Gibson voted its MVP. The author rooted for the Yankees, his favorite team, mid-1960s. At age 10, he would have been delighted IF Speedy had hit a “walk-off” HR off Gibson! Vern Benson, Speedy’s 1963-64 Licey manager coached 3B for St. Louis. So, it’s likely that Benson and Speedy exchanged pleasantries. Speedy  received $5,309, the Yankees losing player’s share. Gibson’s winning share was $8,622, or $622 more than Speedy’s $8,000 regular season salary for the 1964 Yankees.

Speedy’s 1965 Trade to Cleveland

Pedro Gonzáez

Bobby Richardson, one of the author’s favorite players, did not discuss the May 10, 1965 trade which sent Speedy to Cleveland for 1B Ray Barker. But Richardson opined that Horace Clarke was “being groomed” to replace him at 2B. “Clarke came up in 1965,” said Richardson. “He could play 2B and shortstop. Tony [Kubek] would retire after the 1965 season, due to injuries; and I retired at 32 following 1966.” Richardson alluded to the Yankees “depleted farm system” and the fact that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were also “getting older and playing hurt.” Ralph Terry opined he was A-OK with pitching for Cleveland in 1965. “We had four solid starters—Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, Sonny Siebert, and myself—with double-digit wins,” said Terry. “[Gary] Bell and [Don] McMahon were solid in the pen.” Cleveland (87-75) finished fifth in the AL, ahead of the sixth-place (77-85) Yankees. Cleveland’s OF with Leon Wagner (LF), Vic Davalillo (CF), and Rocky Colavito (RF) outperformed Tresh, Maris, and Mantle, in 1965.

Perhaps one reason why 1B Barker was acquired had to do with Joe Pepitone’s ability to play the OF, and Mantle’s (eventual) move to 1B? Regardless, Speedy went two-for-five (.400 AVG) with the 1965 Yankees, when Cleveland acquired him. He posted a .253 AVG with the Indians, in 116 games and 400 AB, with seven SB. His $10,500 salary was a 31.3 percent increase from 1964. Johnny Keane was the Yankees skipper when Speedy’s went to Cleveland, managed by Birdie Tebbetts. Speedy had played for Ralph Houk (1963), Berra (1964), and Keane (1965).

Barker was 0-for-six with Cleveland (1965) before playing in 98 games for the Bronx Bombers. His slash line with New York was .254/.326/.410, clouting seven HR in 211 AB. His playing time diminished in 1966 when Houk replaced Keane as the Yankees manager. Barker was released in 1967 after going two-for-26 with the Yankees. “Winter ball was important to me,” said Barker. “There weren’t many winter jobs back home (in West Virginia), so I played in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.” Barker’s career Puerto Rico stats were a .258 AVG with 14 HR and 93 RBI. He performed well with Licey (1963-64 and 1966-67).

Speedy González, Licey (1964-65) and 1965-66 U.S. Military Occupation

Speedy surpassed the .300 AVG for the second time with Licey, with 64 hits in 207 AB, a .309 AVG, in 51 games, for manager Clyde King. Licey lost their 1964-65 semi-final series. The Águilas Cibaeñas won their first “winter” crown, having won the 1952 “summer” title. Then, political instability affected the Dominican Republic in 1965. U.S. Marine Corps entered Santo Domingo on April 28, 1965. This “occupation” lasted about one year, two months, and three days. There was no professional baseball on this Island, from October 1965-January 1966.

San Juan Senators (1965-66)

Pedro González with San Juan

Speedy’s third winter season with San Juan had ups and downs. The Senators (31-39), managed by Charlie Metro and Less Moss, finished fifth, three games behind Arecibo (34-36), with skipper Cookie Rojas. Ponce (38-33) won a tie-breaker versus Caguas (37-34) for second-place. Mayagüez (42-28) won the pennant, and the post-season, helped by eight imports, mostly from the Detroit Tigers, including Jim Northrup, Mickey Stanley, Ray Oyler, and John Hiller. The Santurce Crabbers (29-41) were last. The Senators bested Santurce, nine games-to-five, in their “City Championship.” (In Speedy’s two other seasons with San Juan, the Senators won nine of 16 City Champ contests, 1961-62; then, 10 of 14, in 1962-63.) Licey and Escogido—who shared Quisqueya Stadium (now named after Juan Marichal) in Santo Domingo—also have a City Championship rivalry. San Juan and Santurce shared Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 1965-66. 

José “Palillo” Santiago related (in Part I) that Speedy was an exquisite human being, as well as a fine second baseman, and great teammate. Palillo recalled the 1965-66 Senators provided “very little run support.” A case in point was a Saturday night game, at Bithorn, versus Ponce, November 3, 1965. LHP Tommy John started for San Juan versus Ponce’s John Boozer, Speedy’s Licey teammate, 1963-64 LIDOM finals against Águilas Cibaeñas. Boozer pitched 14 scoreless innings; John pitched half as many—seven frames, without allowing runs.

José Santiago

This three hour-and-forty-five minute contest was suspended after 16 scoreless innings. Game stats counted, but it was a tie for W-L purposes. Tommy John left Puerto Rico with a 3-0 record and 1.36 ERA for San Juan in his five starts and 33 innings. Palillo Santiago, in games he was not pitching, would actually “broadcast San Juan’s game, from the dugout. “I loved poetry and the art of public speaking,” noted Santiago, a future broadcaster of Puerto Rico Winter League games. “Broadcasting from the dugout was fun, and helpful to my future career in broadcasting.”

Palillo’s comment on minimal run support has merit; the 1965-66 Senators only hit 11 HR in 71 games, including Tommy John’s November 3, 1965 start. San Juan scored 224 runs, an average  of 3.15/game. Their team batting AVG was .249; with a .312 team SLG. Just 180 combined HR were hit by all six teams. Caguas’s 48 were  a league-best; San Juan’s 11 were a league-worst. Seven San Juan players hit HR, led by Danny Cater’s three round-trippers. Cater led the team with a .312 AVG, second to Northrup’s league leading .353 AVG. Caguas’s Ferguson Jenkins led the league with a 1.38 ERA, in 117.1 innings pitched. LHP Joe Hoerner was San Juan’s best reliever with seven saves and a 2.91 ERA. “It was a great experience and one I’ll never forget,” said Hoerner. “Puerto Rico helped some of my 1967 (St. Louis) Cardinals teammates—Carlton, [Dick] Hughes, [Nelson] Briles, [Bob] Gibson. I felt honored to be part of that tradition.”

Horace Clarke, Ponce’s 2B, played in all 72 of their games, with a .281 AVG, league-leading 46 runs, and nine SB. Speedy’s 66 games, included a .279 AVG, with 33 runs. Sportswriters placed Clarke on the league’s All-Star Team, at 2B. “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.”

Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Ponce’s manager, counted on Clarke to (eventually) become the New York Yankees 2B. “I made sure to play Clarke every day,” said Arroyo. “Roger Repoz, another Yankee, played CF for Ponce.” Repoz told the author he loved playing winter ball with Ponce, and living at Ponce’s Darlington Apartments, where teammate  Steve Carlton resided. Repoz loved the warm weather, since he was from Bellingham, Washington (state), near the border with Canada. Repoz made the league’s All-Star Team.

Speedy’s complete Puerto Rico hitting stats are at https://beisbol101.com/pedro-gonzalez/

Speedy’s Legacy with Licey includes these team rankings:

  • Sixth, games played: 505
  • Fifth, runs: 258
  • Fourth, AB: 2,019
  • Fourth, hits: 542
  • Eighth, 2B: 69
  • Second, 3B: 25
  • Ninth, HR: 20
  • Seventh, RBI: 177
  • Fifth, SB: 59
  • First Licey 2B to play in a Caribbean Series, February 5-10, 1970, Caracas, Venezuela (six hits in 25 AB).

Speedy’s career Dominican Winter League Stats are summarized here:     https://www.licey.com/tristeza-en-el-licey-por-la-partida-del-gran-capitan-pedro-gonzalez/

  • 644 games, 320 runs, 2,519 AB, 320 runs, 684 hits, 86 doubles, 27 triples, 22 HR, 213 RBI, 73 SB, .272 AVG, .311 OBP, .353 SLG, and 102 OPS+.

Circling back to the Licey Tigers, only 11 of their uniform numbers have been retired.

Table I: Eleven Uniform Numbers retired by Licey Tigers

PlayerPlace of BirthNumberPosition and Licey Highlights
Pedro “Speedy” GonzálezSan Pedro de Macoris22B: three triples, one game. Dec. 16, 1960; league leader in triples (10) and RBI (37), 1960-61. El Gran Capitán Azul. A fan favorite. Played in Licey’s (and country’s) first Caribbean Series: Feb. 1970.
Alonzo Thomas PerryBirmingham, Alabama51B: 2x HR champ (summer) 1952 and 1953 with 11; 1954 batting champ (.326 AVG); 1957-58 batting champ (.332 AVG).
Manny MotaSanto Domingo7OF: player-mgr, 1970-71. First DR Caribbean Series championship (series batting champ, .500 AVG).
Diómedes “Guayubin” OlivoGuayubín9P: two wins, 1963-64 finals; no-hitter versus Escogido, May 29, 1954. Most LIDOM wins (86); 2nd LIDOM ERA (2.11) behind Escogido’s Juan Marichal (1.87).
Alcibíades ColónSanta Cruz de Mao11OF: Leadoff hitter and table-setter for 1951-54 summer pro team. 2nd in 1953 with .338 AVG, to Tetelo Vargas’s .355 AVG. Cannon arm.
Elvio “El Mulito” JiménezSan Pedro de Macoris11OF: Led league, 67 hits, 1963-64; on 1958-59, 1963-64, 1970-71 league champs.
Luis “Grillo C” BáezSanto Domingo15OF: 1939-41 (amateur) and 1951-57 (pro) Licey. Younger brother of Grillo A and Grillo B. Hit 2nd in 1951 line-up for Fellé Delgado.
Rafael LandestoyBaní172B-SS: 5x LIDOM champ: 1976-77, 1979-80; 1982-85.
Olmedo “El Chelito” SuárezBonao202B-UT: regular 2B for Fellé Delgado, 1951; .336 AVG, 1953; Speedy’s back-up, 1958-1964.
Pedro MartínezManoguayabo45P: 38 K, 38.2 innings, 3.03 ERA, 1991-96. Debut: Dec. 2, 1991, Tetelo Vargas Stadium, versus Estrellas Orientales: 2 IP, 3 K.
César “El Chief” GerónimoEl Seibo80OF: Co-MVP (Tony Peña), 1982-83; batting champ (.341 AVG), 41 RBI. In 18 seasons, .282 AVG, 254 RBI: most-ever for Licey.

Source: https://www.diariolibre.com/deportes/beisbol/los-numeros-retirados-por-los-equipos-en-la-pelota-invernal-dominicana-LD23138388

With special thanks and appreciation to Mario Emilio Guerrero, and Tony Piña Campora, for recollections of Speedy, his ability, regular/post-season stats, including 1970 Caribbean Series. José “Palillo” Santiago furnished memories of Speedy, with the San Juan Senators. Thanks to Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Ray Barker, Steve Blass, Horace Clarke, Joe Gibbon, Rubén Gómez, Orel Hershiser, Joe Hoerner, Tony Peña, Roger Repoz, Bobby Richardson, Ralph Terry, and Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League.

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