Rick Dempsey: 296th Overall Pick, 1967 Major League Draft to Venezuela, and Mayagüez, Puerto Rico; and 1983 World Series MVP

Rick Dempsey turned 74 on September 13, 2023, four decades after becoming the 1983 World Series (WS) MVP after Baltimore defeated the Philadelphia Phillies four games to one. This blog will focus on the 1967 Major League Draft, Dempsey’s three winter seasons in Venezuela with the Aragua Tigers (1972-73) and Caracas Lions (1973-75), two seasons with the Mayagüez Indios (1975-77) in Puerto Rico’s Winter League (PRWL), plus the 1983 and 1988 WS. But first, Dempsey’s place in big-league history is secure for several reasons:

  • He was one of only three major league catchers who played during four different decades: 1969-1992. The other two are Carlton Fisk, 1969, 1971-1993; Tim McCarver, 1959-1961; and 1963-1980. Dempsey and Fisk both played 24 big-league seasons. Dempsey won two World Series (WS) rings (1983 Orioles and 1988 Dodgers), the same number earned by McCarver (1964 and 1967 St. Louis Cardinals). Dempsey and McCarver played in three WS; Fisk just played in one, 1975, for the Boston Red Sox.
  • Earned WS MVP laurels as one of five catchers to do so—1) Gene Tenace, 1972 Oakland A’s; 2) Steve Yeager, 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (tri-MVP with Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero); 3) Darrell Porter, 1982 St. Louis Cardinals; 4) Rick Dempsey, 1983 Baltimore Orioles; and, 5) Salvador Pérez, 2015 Kansas City Royals.
  • Caught the most games (1,230) in Baltimore Orioles history, between 1954-present.
  • Did some funny and realistic Babe Ruth impressions during rain delays.

Fayetteville, Tennessee to Canoga Park-Woodland Hills, California, to Minnesota Twins

Fayetteville, Tennessee, founded in 1809, was named after Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Many of its early Tennessee settlers came from North Carolina.) Lincoln County and Fayetteville (Tennessee) land had once belonged to the Cherokee and Chickasaw (Native American) tribes. Dempsey’s SABR bio did not mention his September 13, 1949, birth in Fayetteville but provided some details on his Pony League Baseball experience in Canoga Park-Woodland Hills, California. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/rick-dempsey/ This is within the city limits of Los Angeles, 30 miles northwest of the downtown, in the San Fernando Valley, where Dempsey played high school baseball before being drafted in 1967 by the Minnesota Twins—15th round, 296th overall pick. The Twins drafted Al “The  Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky in the 11th round (216th pick). Ron Blomberg, out of Atlanta, Georgia, was the #1 pick by the New York Yankees.

Coincidentally, the author wrote the SABR bio of Atley Donald—the Yankees scout who signed Blomberg. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/atley-donald/ (Donald was the only big leaguer ever born in Morton, Mississippi, located five miles from where this blog was written, in Pulaski.) Some other 1967 draft picks were: #3 Mike Garman, by the Boston Red Sox, out of Caldwell, Idaho, birthplace of the author’s father; #8 Wayne Simpson, by Cincinnati, out of Los Angeles; #10 Ted Simmons, St. Louis Cardinals, via Southfield, Michigan; #27 Vida Blue, KC A’s, from DeSoto High School, Mansfield, Louisiana; and, #39 Don Baylor, Baltimore Orioles, from Austin (Texas) High School.

Dempsey debuted with the 1969 Twins, who won the AL West title (97-65) before being swept by Baltimore, three games to none, in the AL Championship Series. Billy Martin was Dempsey’s first big-league skipper. Four of his teammates were from the Caribbean, Central or South America: Leo Cárdenas (Cuba), Rod Carew (Panamá), Tony Oliva (Cuba), and César Tovar (Venezuela). Carew (with Aragua) and Tovar (with Caracas) would be Dempsey’s teammates in the Venezuelan Winter League (LVBP—Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional).

Valuable Experience with Aragua Tigers and Caracas Lions

From 1969-1972, Dempsey had 66 at-bats with Minnesota, with most of his playing time in the minors. He was traded to the New York Yankees on October 27, 1972, for Danny Walton and found time to hone his skills with the Aragua Tigers, a ballclub with David Concepción and Rod Carew, among other big leaguers. Dempsey had more at-bats in 20 games with Aragua (68) than during parts of the 1969-1972 seasons with the Twins (66)! “I needed the winter work to compensate for lack of big-league playing time,” said Dempsey. “Venezuela gave me a chance to polish my skills after the [AL] trade to the Yankees when I was Thurman Munson’s backup after spending most of 1973 at Syracuse.”

Dempsey helped Aragua advance to the 1972-73 finals and went 7-for-20 (.350 BA) in five games, but they lost to the Caracas Lions, four games to one, with Diego Seguí pitching superbly for the Lions. Caracas was impressed by Dempsey, and they signed him for the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons. Baudilio “Bo” Díaz was Dempsey’s backup with Caracas. Mike Kekich, Vic Davalillo, Luis Peñalver, and Dave Hamilton were 1973-74 teammates for the 34-31 Lions. In 1974-75, he

caught all 60 games for Caracas, which finished 30-30. Chuck Dobson, Tom Buskey, and Luis Peñalver were some Lions hurlers. Dempsey re-connected with Caracas’s César Tovar, long-time LVBP player and his ex-Twins teammate. Table I has Dempsey’s LVBP stats.

Table I: Rick Dempsey’s LVBP Stats, Aragua (1972-73) and Caracas (1973-75)


Source: Pelota Binaria, September 13, 2023.

Additional Experience with the 1975-77 Mayagüez Indios                   

Rick Dempsey with Mayagüez

Jorge Colón Delgado superbly chronicled Mayagüez’s 1975-76 campaign on this franchise in his 2019 book—Indios de Mayagüez. The Indios finished 33-27, third behind Caguas (35-25) and Bayamón (34-26). Indios owner Luis Gómez signed Dempsey, second baseman Frank White, and pitcher Don Stanhouse via Bobby Maduro, who worked in the Commissioner’s Office in New York City. Maduro informed Gómez that the Caracas Lions had not sent contracts to the abovementioned players. Gómez quickly signed the trio and Harvey Kuenn from the Milwaukee Brewers organization to manage the Indios. Kuenn was the 1953 AL Rookie of the Year and 1959 AL batting champ with Detroit. Center fielder Ron LeFlore, with Detroit in 1975, played for 1975-76 Mayagüez; led the PRWL with 50 runs; stole 11 bases, third-best in the loop. According to Table II, Dempsey tied teammate Raúl “Boogie” Colon with a .314 BA.

Table II: Top Five Hitters (BA), 1975-76 PRWL

Dan DriessenBayamón16655.331
Otto VélezPonce17758.328
José M. MoralesCaguas22272.324
“Boogie” ColónMayagüez18558.314
Rick DempseyMayagüez20765.314

Source: El Béisbol Profesional Boricua by José A. Crescioni Benítez, 1997.

In between his two Mayagüez seasons, Dempsey was part of a 10-player trade between Baltimore and the Yankees, with Rudy May, Tippy Martínez, Dave Pagan, Scott McGregor, and himself going to the Orioles on June 15, 1976, for Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson, Elrod Hendricks, and Jimmy Freeman. Alexander helped Santurce win the 1972-73 PRWL title; Hendricks was a long-time Santurce Crabbers star (1961-62 through 1977-78); Jackson pitched seven seasons for Caguas, also marrying a Caguas native.

One of the more colorful 1976-77 incidents occurred when Dempsey caught Mike Dupree in the top of the ninth vs. the Ponce Lions. The bases were loaded when Dupree rejected Dempsey’s signal. On the next pitch, Kevin Bell cleared the bags with a double. Dupree said something to Dempsey en route to the dugout, which the catcher did not appreciate. Dempsey promptly broke the pitcher’s nose with a well-aimed punch. Owner Gómez immediately took Dupree to a local hospital. On a lighter note, Dempsey alerted the author that he lived in Rincón, a west coast municipality near Mayagüez known for world-class surfing events. “I ate plenty of lobster in Rincón,” recalled Dempsey, who was also 2-12 as the team’s interim manager.

Paul Hartzell pitched for 1976-77 Santurce, but his Dempsey recollections were on the catcher getting three hits in 11 at-bats off him between 1976 and 1979. “I was never comfortable throwing to him in my brief appearances with the [1980] Orioles,” noted Hartzell. “My first win for [1976-77] Santurce was beating Caguas in a day game. I pitched all nine innings!” Table III summarizes Dempsey’s hitting stats with Mayagüez.

Table III: Rick Dempsey’s PRWL Stats, Mayagüez (1975-77)


Source: Jorge Colón Delgado, EXCEL file, September 13, 2023.

Three WS: Baltimore (1979 and 1983) and Los Angeles (1988)

Pittsburgh defeated Baltimore, four games to three, in the 1979 Fall Classic. Dempsey caught all seven games and cracked six hits in 21 at-bats for a .286 BA, with two doubles. He was MVP of the 1983 WS four years later, with five hits in 13 at-bats, a .385/.467/.923 slash line and 1.390 OPS! Mike Boddicker recalled winning Game Two, 4-1, after Baltimore lost Game One. “Rick called a great game and got a key double, scoring a run,” said Boddicker. “He deserved the MVP Award. We then won three straight in Philadelphia.”

Bryan Goldberg, a vast Dodgers fan since the late 1970s, mentioned that Tim Belcher and Dempsey would carpool to Dodgers home games in 1988. Tom Lasorda used Dempsey against left-handed pitchers and Mike Scioscia vs. right-handers. Los Angeles surprised Oakland by winning the 1988 WS in five games, propelled by Kirk Gibson’s Game One walk-off homer against Dennis Eckersley. Table IV consists of Dempsey’s Fall Class hitting stats. His .308 BA and .564 SLG are impressive.

Table IV: Rick Dempsey’s WS Stats, Baltimore (1979 and 1983) and Los Angeles (1988)


Rick Dempsey, Los Angeles Dodgers circa 1988. Photo credit: Barajita, Pelota Binaria.            


The author attended a February 6, 2023 unveiling of a Babe Ruth statue in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dempsey, whose father was an actor, is known for his Babe Ruth impressions.

    Babe Ruth statue dedication, Hot Springs, Arkansas, February 6, 2023.

                        Photo credit: Tom Van Hyning.

Special thanks to Rick Dempsey for sharing thoughts, in spring training in 1993, on the importance of winter ball to him between 1972-77. Thanks to Historian Jorge Colón Delgado for covering the 1975-76 and 1976-77 PRWL seasons in his 2019 book on the Mayagüez Indios and for the blog’s editing and photo placement. Thanks to Paul Hartzell’s September 12, 2023 e-mail, with 1976-77 PRWL season memories when he was 8-2 for Santurce under skipper Jack McKeon, facing Dempsey in the AL 1976-79 and as Dempsey’s 1980 Baltimore teammate. Mike Boddicker helped 1980-81 Caguas Criollos win the PRWL title and had insights on pitching to Dempsey, 1983 WS. Bryan Goldberg, the author’s cousin and lifetime resident of Los Angeles, shared insights on his hometown, San Fernando Valley, and Dempsey carpooling to 1988 Dodgers home games with teammate Tim Belcher, who once pitched for the Mayagüez Indios.

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