Ruben Gómez helped Caguas win the 1954 Caribbean Series with Masterpiece on February 20, 1954

Rubén Gómez

Seventy years ago today, the Caguas Criollos, 1953-54 Puerto Rico (PR) Winter League (PRWL) champions, were facing Venezuela’s Pastora Milkers in the 1954 Caribbean Series (CS) at San Juan’s Sixto Escobar Stadium, named after Puerto Rico’s first World Boxing Champion, a bantamweight. Caguas player-manager Mickey Owen was concerned when two of his starters—Bob Buhl (14-3) and Ray Crone (6-1)—missed the CS due to instructions from the Milwaukee Braves to «rest for a few days» before spring training for pitchers and catchers began the third week of February at Lecom Park, Bradenton, Florida. For similar reasons, Hank Aaron, Criollos’s star right-fielder, left the Island after Caguas defeated Mayagüez in the finals—Milwaukee wanted a «rested Aaron» for 1954 spring training. Aaron had turned 20 in PR on February 5, 1954, and was expected to compete for a starting job in Milwaukee’s outfield after posting a .322 BA with nine homers and 42 RBIs for Caguas. The Criollos chose Santurce’s Rubén Gómez to replace Buhl on Caguas’s roster for the 1954 CS. Ponce’s Jack Sanford and his teammate Luis «Tite «Arroyo were added to Caguas’s CS roster, as was Mayagüez’s Corky Valentine. Sanford was 8-8 with a 1.99 ERA with Ponce; Arroyo went 7-7 with a 2.52 ERA for Ponce skipper Joe Buzas. Caguas ace Brooks Lawrence (13-7) and Dominican hurler Federico «Chichí «Olivo remained in PR and pitched in the CS. Mayaguez’s Bill Howerton was chosen to replace Aaron as Caguas’s right fielder. Carlos Bernier and Canena Márquez also reinforced Caguas via Mayagüez. Per Mickey Owen, Caguas executives chose Bernier over Santurce’s Roberto Clemente to replace 47-year-old Tetelo Vargas as the Criollos’s CS left-fielder. «Tetelo could still run like a deer, «recalled Owen. «I wanted Clemente to play left but was overruled by our owner and general manager (GM). «Caguas also added San Juan’s second baseman, Jack Cassini, to replace the departed Charlie Neal.

February 20, 1954: Caguas vs. Pastora Milkers

Caguas had an 0-1 record, having lost to Panamá’s Carta Vieja Yankees, 4-1, on February 18. Jack Sanford took the loss. The Criollos needed a win against the Pastora Milkers, from Venezuela. Pastora shocked Almendares, 7-5, in the February 18 opener for Venezuela’s first CS win over Cuba after ten straight losses between 1949 and 1953. Almendares led 4-0 early on a two-run homer by starter Joe Hatten, but Pastora scored six in the eighth for the upset. Camaleón García had a key two-run single in a rally capped by Vern Benson’s sacrifice fly. Benson was Pastora’s shortstop; his backup was Luis Aparicio. Games were postponed by rain on February 19. Aparicio started the February 20 contest vs. Santurce in his CS debut. (Benson started the remaining four games, February 21-23). Gómez won his start against Pastora to help Caguas regain momentum and win this CS with a 4-2 record. Owen, Gómez’s catcher, said, «He was a pleasure to catch. I think he had nine strikeouts. «Gómez fanned nine, walked four, and allowed five hits. His only «mistake» was permitting Camaleón García’s two-run homer in the fourth. Caguas’s winning run came in via Jim Rivera’s hustle in the eighth inning, with the score tied, 2-2, due to two runs in the sixth, when Jack Cassini and Vic Power had run-scoring singles. Rivera singled, and Cassini bunted him to second. Canena flew out to right before Vic Power’s slow grounder to Aparicio was bobbled and he [Aparicio] threw the ball to a confused Camaleón at third base, hoping to catch Rivera off-base. Camaleón, strangely, looked for the ball in the webbing of his glove. This allowed Rivera to scamper home with the winning run. Starter Thornton Kipper was the losing pitcher for Pastora. Camaleón’s mental error was referred to as the «Camaleonada.»

            Ramón Monzant pitched Pastora to a 9-3 win over Carta Vieja, preceding Caguas’s 3-1 victory over Almendares on February 21, as Brooks Lawrence went the route. Sam Chapman’s homer accounted for the Scorpions’ second-inning tally. With one out, at the top of the seventh, Howerton clouted a game-tying HR. «I had been released by Cuba’s Marianao team early that season but I could always hit. Caguas added me for the [1954] CS as Hank Aaron’s replacement.» Rafael Pont Flores described it: «Angel Scull put on wings going after Howerton’s blast. The fans put their hands to their eyes like a sentry on the top of a post. Noise erupted from the stands, which never, never stopped. When the import [Howerton] crossed the plate, he was received like a famous native who has been absent from the country a long time.» Pless followed this blast with a homer of his own. Pont Flores noted: «Hankies, coats, and ties were waved in the air by these happy lunatics. Pless took his time rounding the bases. A priest was waving his hankie—if that wasn’t a blessing.» Billy Howerton Jr., aged eight then, attended this game with his mother. He never forgot this lunacy. «The fans began to torch newspapers and anything they could lay their hands on. It was like a huge bonfire. After the game, I remember my father being interviewed for several radio stations. He received gift certificates.» This 3-1 win over Almendares was followed by two straight Caguas victories on February 22, clinching this CS.

 Caguas player-manager Mickey Owen celebrates the 1954 CS title on a «yeguita.» Photo credit: personal collection of Jorge Colón Delgado.

Chichí Olivo started Caguas’s final CS contest on February 23, allowing four unearned runs in the first, as Almendares prevailed, 4-2. Olivo and batterymate Güigüí Lucas—brother of Santurce’s Pepe Lucas—made history as the first Dominican pitcher-catcher duo to start a CS game. Spook Jacobs started Almendares’ rally with a base hit. Cassini drove in Caguas’s runs with run-scoring hits off winner Jim Walsh. Caguas (4-2) outdistanced Almendares (3-3), Carta Vieja (3-3), and Pastora (2-4). The Criollos six-man pitching staff had a 1.61 ERA and 1.11 walks and hits allowed per innings pitched (WHIP). They allowed 15 runs, 10 earned. Nine homers were hit by four teams, led by Almendares’ four. Caguas and Almendares committed five errors apiece, with Caguas holding the fielding  PCT edge, .979 to .976. Local sportswriters, when selecting the CS All-Star Team, chose one starting pitcher per team, Thornton Kipper (Pastora), Connie Marrero (Almendares), Victor Stryska (Carta Vieja), plus Rubén Gómez (Santurce). Position players included Angel Scull (Almendares right-fielder), Camaleón García (Pastora third baseman), Carta Vieja shortstop Ziggy Jasinski, and left-fielder Bobby Prescott. Jim Rivera was CS MVP and one of Caguas’s four position players to make the All-Star Team, along with Owen, Vic Power (first base), and second baseman Jack Cassini. Rivera’s series-leading .450 BA made him the first non-Cuban to win a CS batting crown. Pless recalled parades and serenades lasting all night. He gave a speech at Caguas’s town plaza and received a portable television and other gifts. Tables I-A and I-B highlight Caguas’s hitting and pitching statistics. Gómez alerted the author that 1954 was special: he won the February 20 CS game and Game Three of the 1954 World Series for the New York Giants, 6-2, versus Cleveland, on October 1. Gómez’s 1954 Fall Classic win was saved by Hoyt Wilhelm, who pitched in the 1951 CS for the Havana Lions.

Table I-A: Caguas 1954 Hitting Statistics

BattersPOSGABRH2BHRRBIsSBBASLG
Mickey OwenC517442011.235.353
Güigüí LucasC13000000.000.000
Vic Power1B626293030.346.478
Jack Cassini2B521371032.333.381
Rance Pless3B622151130.227.409
Félix MantillaSS517230000.176.176
Charlie NealUT311100000.000.000
Canena MárquezLF518010000.056.056
Jim RiveraCF620391040.450.500
Bill HowertonRF516120120.125.313
Carlos BernierOF612430020.250.250
Pitchers (6)P621140030.190.190
Totals 6204224782213.230.299

Table I-B: Caguas 1954 Pitching Statistics

PitchersGW-LIPHERSOBBERAWHIP
Jack Sanford20-113.1136854.161.35
Rubén Gómez11-0952942.001.00
Brooks Lawrence11-0961651.001.22
Corky Valentine11-0951351.001.11
Chichí Olivo20-18.170720.001.08
Luis “Tite” Arroyo31-07.120430.000.82
Totals64-256381037241.611.11

Source: Jorge Figueredo, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, McFarland, 388-89.

Post-Script

Rubén Gómez (6-4 W-L), José «Carrao» Bracho (6-2), and Camilo Pascual (6-0) were the only CS pitchers to win six games until February 6, 2024, when Licey’s Raúl Valdés won his sixth CS game, 2-0, versus the Curacao Suns. Valdés is now 6-4 in CS competition while posting the most CS starts (15) and innings pitched (85) in the «Little World Series.»  

Special thanks to Rubén Gómez, Bill Howerton Jr. and Sr., Mickey Owen, Rance Pless, and Corky Valentine. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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