Rubén Gómez and Orlando Cepeda connection to Dusty Baker five decades ago

Frank Robinson was managing Santuruce (1970-71) when he found out the 1971 Baltimore Orioles would play 18 games in a 25-day period, in Japan, October 23-November 20, 1971, post-1971 World Series. https://sabr.org/journal/article/the-baltimore-orioles-1971-japan-trip/ The 35-year old Robinson led Santurce to the 1970-71 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) title and a berth in the February 1971 Caribbean Series, held at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Municipal Stadium. Baltimore (101-57) later won the 1971 AL East Division and defeated Oakland in the ALCS, before losing to Pittsburgh, four games-to-three, in the 1971 Fall Classic. Following this exciting World Series, Baltimore finished 12-2-4 on the Japan goodwill trip, highlighted by a 115-pitch no-hitter by Pat Dobson, October 27, 1971.

Pat Dobson commemorative poster for hurling a no-hitter in Japan, October 27, 1971. Photo credit: https://sabr.org/journal/article/the-baltimore-orioles-1971-japan-trip/

What does all this have to do with Rubén Gómez, Orlando Cepeda and Dusty Baker 50 years ago? For starters, Frank Robinson alerted Hiram Cuevas—Santurce owner—that he could not manage Santurce in 1971-72, due to the Orioles trip to Japan. Cuevas offered the Santurce managing job to 44-year-old Rubén Gómez, summer of 1971. Gómez was the winningest pitcher in PRWL history (174-119) and retired after the 1976-77 season. He accepted this challenge.

Arsenio «Pinolo» Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda and Julio Gotay, teammates of Don Baylor with Santurce in 1971-72.

Coincidentally, Orlando Cepeda—another Santurce Crabbers legend—was a 1971 Atlanta Braves teammate of 22-year-old OF Dusty Baker. Per Mark Armour’s SABR bio of Cepeda, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/orlando-cepeda/, Orlando had 13 homers and a .584 SLG on June 1, 1971, before his left knee, his “good knee,” collapsed later that month. Cepeda’s Atlanta season ended in late July 1971. He had knee surgery in September and went home to Puerto Rico. Cepeda encouraged Dusty Baker to play for 1971-72 Santurce, just as he had done prior to the 1966-67 winter season, with RHP Dick Hughes, his 1966-68 St. Louis Cardinals teammate. “I thought Dusty [Baker] would benefit from winter ball with Santurce,” said Cepeda [to the author]. “He was a raw talent and I believed he could improve with more at-bats in a quality Winter League.”

Some 1971-72 Santurce Highlights

Don Baylor

Guayama native Rogelio “Roger” Moret flourished under Rubén Gómez’s tutelage, with a 14-1 W-L record, eighty-nine strikeouts and 1.81 ERA. The latter figure was second-best to Caguas’s John Strohmayer (1.71), while the fourteen wins easily bested the nine posted by Strohmayer and San Juan’s Bruce Kison. Moret’s 89 Ks surpassed the eighty-eight registered by Arecibo’s Skip Guinn.

Don Baylor—a Santurce teammate of Dusty Baker—led the league in hitting with a .324 AVG, and was second in runs scored with thirty-seven, to San Juan’s Richard Zisk (39). Baylor also reinforced Ponce in the 1972 Caribbean Series. Dusty Baker produced more “pedestrian numbers”: .273 AVG with four homers and 20 RBIs but was highly regarded for a “can-do” attitude and focus.

Félix Millán tags out Dusty Baker in the 1971-72 season. (Edwin Vázquez archives)

“Dusty ‘se fajó’ (hustled) with Santurce the entire [winter] season,” noted Rubén Gómez, in a 1991 conversation with the author. “I wish there had been more ‘refuerzos’ (imports) at the time, like Dusty and Don Baylor.” Dusty and Don never gave me any problems—they liked wearing the Santurce uniform; always hustled; and never went through the motions.” The author’s SABR bio of Rubén Gómez is at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ruben-gomez/

Orlando Cepeda joined the 1971-72 Crabbers in mid-season, and batted .310, with three homers and 12 RBIs, in seventy-one at-bats. “We qualified for the playoffs,” recalled Cepeda, [but] ‘Ponce beat us in the semi-finals.” Ponce finished second and Santurce, third, in the regular season, per Table I:

Table I: 1971-72 PRWL Regular Season Standings

TeamW-LPCTGB
San Juan Senators39-30.565
Ponce Lions37-32.5362
Santurce Crabbers34-33.5074
Caguas Criollos34-35.4935
Mayagüez Indians32-37.4647
Arecibo Wolves28-37.4319

Source: PRWL (now known as Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League), 1972.

Daryl Patterson, Chris Zachary, and Quique Rivera Recall Ponce’s Semi-Final Series Win

Chris Zachary, Ponce’s ace, with a 7-2 record and 2.20 ERA, won his semi-final start, versus Santurce. Daryl Patterson (3-5, 2.41 ERA) won two. Patterson stated: “I defeated Santurce twice, once in relief, and once as a starter. I did not have any problems with [Don] Baylor or [Dusty] Baker. [Pat] Corrales knew exactly how to pitch to them…move in and out and would make you throw the ball there.” (Santurce’s only win was a shutout by Juan “Terín Pizarro.)

If anyone knew winter ball dynamics, it was Zachary. He loved the setup in Puerto Rico. “I was making $2,500 a month, but they paid you in hundred-dollar bills,” recalled Zachary. “They furnished me with a car, normally a little old VW or Toyota. It was not much but it got you around. Heck, it was like a big paid vacation for me. Being a pitcher, you might pitch once/week. If the team was going across the mountains (Cordillera Central) and I had to pitch the next day, I did not have to go unless I wanted to. I would just go to the [Ponce] ballpark and do a little running. It was great.”

Third baseman Enrique ¨Quique¨ Rivera posted a .319 regular season AVG, second to Baylor’s .324. He went 10-for-18 against Santurce (.556 batting average) in the semis, to help Ponce prevail. “I was in a zone,” remembered Quique. “We went on to sweep San Juan in the finals, and then win the 1972 Caribbean Series in Santo Domingo. It was special—beating Santurce and San Juan; then, dominating the Caribbean Series over the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela.”

Post-Script

The 101-57 Orioles, which traveled to Japan in 1971, had four 20-game winners (Miguel Cuéllar, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Pat Dobson). All four pitched in the PRWL—Palmer, with Santurce (1968-69); McNally, with Mayagüez (1963-64); Dobson (Arecibo 1965-66, San Juan, 1967-68 and Mayagüez, 1969-70); Cuéllar, with multiple teams, 1964-65 through 1982-83, and some inactive seasons. Dobson still holds the PRWL record of twenty-one strikeouts in a nine-inning game, December 10, 1967. Palmer pitched a seven-inning no-hitter versus Mayagüez, December 22, 1968.

Dusty Baker played for the 1974-75 LaGuaira Sharks, in Venezuela, posting a .223 AVG, with five homers and 30 RBIs. In 1977, Baker and three Los Angeles Dodgers teammates (Ron Cey-30, Steve Garvey-33, and Reggie Smith-32) hit thirty plus homers. The 1977 Dodgers became the first MLB franchise to have four players accomplish this feat. Baker’s 30th homer came in the sixth inning of the last regular season game, on October 2, 1977, versus the Houston Astros—the team he is managing in the 2021 World Series. With two outs and no one on, Baker drilled a J.R. Richard fast ball over the left field wall. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=197710020LAN and https://quizzclub.com/trivia/which-was-the-first-mlb-team-with-four-players-to-hit-30-or-more-home-runs-in-the-same-season/answer/246820/#:~:text=With%20two%20outs%20and%20nobody,runs%20in%20the%20same%20season. Cey played for 1972-73 Santurce (.298 AVG, 7 HR, 43 RBIs); Garvey wore the Licey Tigers uniform, 1972-74, with a .314 AVG, two homers and 32 RBIs, in the regular seasons, and was on the winning team, 1973 Caribbean Series; and Reggie Smith patrolled center field for the 1966-67 San Juan Senators (.257 AVG, 11 HR, 35 RBIs).

Dusty Baker’s 30th HR, October 2, 1977, and MLB’s First “High Five”

Per Peter Dreier’s June 9, 2020 blog: “A High-Five for Glenn Burke, A Baseball Pioneer,” https://beyondchron.org/a-high-five-for-glenn-burke-a-baseball-pioneer/, Burke ran onto the field at Dodger Stadium, October 2, 1977, to congratulate Dusty Baker, for home run #30. “As Baker jogged home from third base, Burke raised his hand over his head and Baker slapped it. It wasn’t too long afterwards that the gesture became widespread and known as the high-five.”

Luis R. Mayoral has Fond Memories of Dusty Baker

On October 9, 2021, author-historian-public relations guru Luis R. Mayoral wrote a magnificent blog in beisbol101.com titled: “Tony LaRussa y Dusty Baker: excelentes dirigentes y mejores personas” (excellent managers and better persons), at: https://beisbol101.com/tony-la-russa-y-dusty-baker-excelentes-dirigentes-y-mejores-personas/ Mayoral recalled the trip Baker made to Puerto Rico, circa 1980, to support Orlando Cepeda’s efforts with the latter’s baseball school. And Mayoral served as Master of Ceremonies at the opening ceremony held at a ballpark in Guaynabo, a municipality within the San Juan Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

Mayoral interviewed Baker three times during the 1981 World Series, won by the Dodgers over the New York Yankees, four games-to-two. Fifteen years later, their paths crossed in Japan, during a 1996 tour of that country, by an MLB All-Star Team, one managed and coached by Baker, with a 4-2-2 won-loss record. Juan “Igor” González and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez—with Texas Rangers—were on this select ballclub. Don Baylor—Colorado Rockies manager—was one of Baker’s coaches. So was Art Howe, skipper of the Houston Astros. Howe played winter ball in Puerto Rico for the Bayamón Cowboys (four seasons, 1974-78) and managed them (1979-81). Howe was their skipper in the 1980 Caribbean Series. He posted a .394 batting average for the 1977-78 Cowboys, second to Ron LeFlore’s .396 for the Mayagüez Indians.

Dusty Baker, Houston’s 2021 manager, made his MLB playing debut, September 7, 1968, with Atlanta. He pinch-hit for Phil Niekro at Fulton County Stadium, in the home seventh, with Doug Harvey behind the plate. Houston won the game, 6-3, in ten innings, on a Jimmy Wynn three-run homer. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=196809070ATL In 23 seasons as a big-league manager, Baker has a 1,987-1,734 W-L record, for a .534 PCT. He managed San Francisco in the 2002 World Series, and Houston in the 2021 Fall Classic.

The author thanks Luis R. Mayoral, Rubén Gómez and Orlando Cepeda for their time and insights, and: Daryl Patterson, Enrique «Quique» Rivera and Chris Zachary, for recalling moments from the 1971-72 winter season. Jorge Colón Delgado edited the blog and furnished photos.

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