Remembering Tom Lasorda’s career in the Caribbean, namely Puerto Rico

Tom Lasorda with Mayagüez

Tom Lasorda was one of the most competitive hurlers in the history of Puerto Rico’s Professional Baseball League. He was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on September 22, 1927; and, passed away in Los Angeles, California, at age 93, on January 7, 2021. The 5’10” and 175 lb. LHP had a rubber arm and much stamina, and never gave in to opposing hitters. This was clearly demonstrated on three different occasions:

  • January 4, 1953—pitching for the Mayagüez Indians, he threw two complete games (CG), winning the opener, 3-1; and losing the nightcap, 2-1 in 10 innings. Those 19 innings he pitched the same afternoon and evening are impossible to equal or surpass.
  • February 1, 1953—in Mayagüez’s Isidoro García Stadium, he bested Caguas twice, winning the afternoon contest, 5-4; then, relieving in the fifth inning of the night game, with the scored tied, 2-2. The Indians prevailed, 4-2, with Lasorda the victor.
  • Another memorable achievement took place November 16-17, 1954, also with Mayagüez. He pitched three games in 24 hours and 45 minutes. On November 16, he pitched a nine-inning CG win over Caguas, with the 7-3 victory ending at 10:15 p.m. The next day (November 17) featured Lasorda’s five innings in a continuation of a suspended game dating to November 11, 1954. Lasorda was the losing pitcher, in a 7-6 defeat. The regularly scheduled game on November 17 started at 8:50 p.m., one hour and five minutes after completion of the suspended game. And Lasorda hurled a CG win by a 6-1 score. That contest ended at 11 p.m. Thus, Lasorda pitched two CG (nine innings apiece) and five innings in relief in one full day, plus 45 minutes! That translates to 23 innings!

Lasorda was the first ex-player from Puerto Rico’s Winter League to be the winning manager in a World Series (with the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers). He was inducted in Cooperstown, in 1997. In Puerto Rico, he sported a 28-29 career W-L record with Mayagüez (1952-53, 1954-55, part of 1955-56); Santurce Crabbers (1953-54); Caguas Criollos (part of 1955-56 and 1956-57) and the Ponce Lions (briefly, 1959-60).

Lasorda Converses with the Author in Vero Beach, Florida, March 1992

Lasorda greeted the author when the latter interviewed John Candelaria, a Dodgers LHP, in spring training, 1992. Coincidentally, Candelaria also pitched in the Puerto Rico Winter League, mid-and-late 1970s, with the Bayamón Cowboys. Lasorda was fascinated upon hearing that Candelaria was a star basketball forward for the Quebradillas Pirates, early 1970s, in Puerto Rico’s Superior Basketball League, and nearly a member of Puerto Rico’s 1972 Olympic Team, when he opted to sign a pro baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, mid-August 1972.

“I just learned something new about my lefty,” exclaimed Lasorda. “So, he was a 6’7” star forward in Puerto Rico.” Lasorda listened to the final portion of the author’s interview with Candelaria, before sharing some of his Winter League recollections. Lasorda recalled his 11-inning CG loss to Santurce, 1955-56 league finals. “Steve Ridzik won that [1-0] game,” said Lasorda. The Crabbers had [Roberto] Clemente, [Orlando] Cepeda, Bob Thurman…” And

Lasorda remembered that Caguas eventually bested Santurce in that final series, and traveled to Panamá for the February 1956 Caribbean Series. Lasorda relieved in two games for Caguas, without a decision. Caguas finished with a 3-3 mark, tied with host Chesterfield Smokers, and behind the champion 5-1 Cienfuegos Elephants from Cuba, and ahead of the Valencia Industrialists from Venezuela, at 1-5. Lasorda smiled when the author alerted him that Willie Mays, with Santurce, hit his first 1954-55 Puerto Rico Winter League HR off him [Lasorda].

Sandy Koufax, Jim Landis and Tom Lasorda with Caguas in 1956-57.

Lasorda noted that he also struck out Mays in Puerto Rico, and was Clemente’s teammate with Santurce (1953-54) and Caguas (1956-57). “With Caguas, we had [Vic] Power, [Félix] Mantilla, Luke Easter, Wes Covington, [Sandy] Koufax—some tremendous ballplayers.”

Tom Lasorda with Almendares

When the author mentioned Lasorda’s fine pitching (8-3 W-L, 1.89 ERA) for the 1958-59 Almendares Scorpions, in Cuba’s Winter League, Lasorda beamed. “Orlando Peña [15-5] and Art Fowler [9-6] were terrific for us,” recalled Lasorda. “Mike Cuéllar [5-7] and myself gave our staff two lefty starters. We then picked up Camilo Pascual for the [February 1959] Caribbean Series in Caracas. Cuéllar and I pitched out of the bullpen; we won it over Venezuela (Oriente, 4-2 W-L), Puerto Rico (Santurce, 3-3 W-L) and Panamá (Azucareros, 0-6 W-L).”

Lasorda also summarized his managing experience with Escogido (1970-71 season) and Licey (1972-76 seasons) in the Dominican Winter League. His teams were a combined 150-135 in the regular season. Licey won the February 1973 Caribbean Series, hosted by Caracas, with a Dodgers connection—Steve Garvey, Manny Mota, Bobby Valentine and Steve Yeager, among others. “That was a great ballclub and a good experience for me,” said Lasorda. “I managed Licey [and Escogido] for a total of five seasons and enjoyed working with our Licey owner, Monchín Pichardo.” Lasorda’s 1973-74 Licey team sported a 37-21 record and made it to the February 1974 Caribbean Series in Hermosillo, Mexico, finishing tied for second, behind the Caguas Criollos.

Ron Cey, Santurce’s 3B, 1972-73 season, and in the February 1973 Caribbean Series, remembered this about Lasorda and that [1973] Caribbean Series. “Tom Lasorda would talk to me the whole game while I was playing third base. He was coaching [Licey] from the third base coaching box telling jokes and trying to distract me the entire game. We had a good laugh.”

Kevin Kennedy—who managed in the Dodgers minor-league system 1984-1991—also managed Santurce, for three seasons, 1986-89. Kennedy recalled that Lasorda and Peter O’Malley, Dodgers executive, would visit Puerto Rico, and attend Santurce games, since the Dodgers sent prospects such as Mike Sharperson and John Wetteland to the Crabbers. Dave Wallace, from the Dodgers organization, also served as Santurce’s pitching coach, then.

With special thanks and appreciation to Tom Lasorda (Rest in Peace); to John Candelaria, Ron Cey, Kevin Kennedy, Dave Wallace, and Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League.

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