San Juan Senators-Santurce Crabbers Rivalry and 1971 World Series

Jorge Colón Delgado, Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, reminded the author that Pittsburgh’s 1971 World Series triumph over the Baltimore Orioles was a “huge disappointment” to rabid Santurce Crabbers fans. Jorge and the author lived this reality five decades ago when Winter League rivalries were very significant to Island fans. When Roberto Clemente and José Pagán drove in Pittsburgh’s only two runs in Game Seven of the 1971 Fall Classic, to give Steve Blass a 2-1 win versus Baltimore, why were Santurce fans sad, contrasted to ecstasy of San Juan Senators fans? After all, Clemente was 1971 World Series MVP with a .414 AVG (12-for-29) and superb play in RF. Clemente was player-manager for the 1970-71 San Juan Senators, whereas the 1971 Baltimore Orioles counted on future Cooperstown Hall of Famers (excluding Brooks Robinson) with a Santurce connection: manager Earl Weaver, RF Frank Robinson and pitcher Jim Palmer. Paul Blair, Davey Johnson, Merv Rettenmund, Curt Motton, Jerry DaVanon, Don Baylor, Orlando Peña, Jim Hardin, Dave Leonhard and Elrod Hendricks were other Orioles who had played, or would play, for the Crabbers. (Hendricks played 16 seasons with Santurce, 1961-62 through 1977-78.)

Jorge and the author became Santurce Crabbers fans in their childhood, a bond which continues. Jorge was an avid Crabbers fan by1965-66, when Luis R. Olmo was their manager, two years after the author became one in Preston Gómez’s initial (1963-64) season managing the Crabbers. Santurce was first shown on a map in 1519, as part of San Juan, the oldest city under the U.S. flag and Puerto Rico’s capital since 1521. San Juan will celebrate the 500th official anniversary of its incorporation in 2021. San Juan-Santurce’s baseball rivalry was compared to Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants by Puerto Rico’s baseball aficionados. Heriberto Ramírez de Arellano, aka “Don Guido,” created the City Championship concept in the 1939-40 Puerto Rico Semi-Pro League season, which kept tabs on won-lost records by San Juan-Santurce in head-to-head competition.

Two months post-1971 World Series, Clemente passed through Jorge’s Las Lomas (San Juan) neighborhood in the midst of a pick-up baseball game. Clemente got out of his car (MVP Dodge Challenger 1972) to converse with Jorge and his buddies. Most were Santurce fans and hurt by Pittsburgh’s recent (1971) World Series win. Clemente tried to convince them that Pittsburgh was superior to Baltimore position-by-position. Keep in mind Clemente was MLB’s highest paid superstar, then, in “take-home” pay, with a gross 1971 salary of $125,00. Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski was the highest-paid MLB player in 1971, at $167,000, but he paid a significant amount of Federal income taxes. Clemente, as a resident of Puerto Rico who wasn’t a Federal employee, was not subject to paying Federal income taxes, just Commonwealth of Puerto Rico taxes. Willie Mays grossed $135,000 for the 1971 San Francisco Giants, the highest NL salary, but paid Federal income taxes.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh Connection to San Juan (1960-61) and 1960 World Series

When Robert (Bob) Leith Sr. became owner of the 1960-61 San Juan Senators, featuring Roberto Clemente, he made an arrangement with Lee MacPhail, Baltimore’s President/GM, to sign Luman Harris—Orioles third-base coach—to manage San Juan, and bring shortstop Jerry Adair, and pitchers Jack Fisher and Wes Stock, for “extra seasoning.” Coincidentally, Leith recalled Brooks Robinson came to that meeting with MacPhail and tried to “pass as a rookie.” (Brooks Robinson played winter ball in Colombia, 1955-56, and in Cuba, 1957-58, in an era when many Stateside players benefitted from winter ball.) Jack Fisher was nearly sent packing after some subpar performances. When Luman Harris phoned Lee MacPhail from the Normandie Hotel—across from Sixto Escobar Stadium, shared by San Juan and Santurce—Leith Sr. recalled MacPhail telling Harris: “If I have to bring you back from Puerto Rico, it’s not going to look good on your record.” San Juan (39-25) won the five-team regular season title, while Santurce (29-35) finished last, to the enjoyment of San Juan’s fans. San Juan had imports from other organizations such as Jim Archer, LHP—Kansas City A’s. He pitched in Cuba (1959-60) and enjoyed winter ball and the chance to earn extra money. Benny Agosto, who later became the league’s administrator, recalled the time he traveled to a San Juan away game, with Archer driving a rented Volkswagen. “It was scary,” said Agosto.

Prior to the 1960-61 Puerto Rico Winter League season, 15-year Bob Leith Jr. was asked by his dad to accompany Luisa Walker Clemente—Roberto’s mother—on a flight to Pittsburgh, prior to historic Game Seven, 1960 World Series. Leith Jr. recalled Doña Luisa holding his hand throughout the six-hour flight, with a connection, from Isla Grande Airport in Puerto Rico to Pittsburgh. Leith Jr. was a replacement for Don Melchor Clemente—Roberto’s father—who was unable to make the trip. Upon arrival at the Pittsburgh Airport, a policeman on a motorcycle was escorting a gold Pontiac Bonneville driven by Roberto Clemente, accompanied by Guayubín Olivo, a LHP from the Dominican Republic. Leith Jr. witnessed an unforgettable embrace between Doña Luisa and her son, just after Roberto yelled “vieja” (friendly slang) to her.

In December 1960 Leith Jr. was woken up by his father, and given a brand-new Wilson A 2000 baseball glove. It was a gift from Roberto Clemente, known by his nickname “Momen.” Clemente deeply appreciated Bob Leith Jr. for accompanying Doña Luisa on her flight to Pittsburgh. Leith Jr., in his February 2019 article on the special October 1960 trip to Pittsburgh, noted that Clemente told members of the 1955 Pittsburgh media “one moment” after getting a question. Hence, his nickname “Momen.” Circling back to Puerto Rico, Leith Jr. also recalled Orlando Cepeda and LHP Juan “Terín” Pizarro reinforcing San Juan for the February 1961 Inter American Series hosted by Caracas, Venezuela, and Pizarro facing Bob Gibson (who reinforced Valencia Industrialists) in Game One of that event. Bob Leith Sr. picked up Pizarro, in the pitcher’s Barrio Obrero (working class neighborhood of Santurce) home, en route to the airport.

Baltimore Connection to Santurce Crabbers, 1966-67 to 1969-70

By 1966-67, Harry Dalton was Baltimore’s GM, and MacPhail was New York Yankees GM (October 1966) after one year as chief aide to William Eckert, Commissioner of Baseball. MacPhail’s last function with the Orioles, post-1965 AL season, was setting up a trade resulting in Frank Robinson coming to Baltimore from Cincinnati. Robinson later managed Santurce for eight seasons, after Earl Weaver’s two-year managing stint with them.

Earl Weaver in 1966-67 with Santurce (photo Tom Van Hyning)

Dalton developed a close relationship with Hiram Cuevas, Santurce’s owner, in 1966, resulting in Earl Weaver managing the 1966-67 and 1967-68 Crabbers. Weaver would have managed the 1968-69 Crabbers, but Dalton replaced Hank Bauer as Orioles skipper with Weaver during the 1968 All-Star break. Then, 33-year old Frank Robinson expressed an interest in managing Santurce, and agreed to terms with Cuevas after a lunch at the Baltimore Hilton, that summer. “When I signed Weaver in 1966, I met Harry Dalton and we had a good chemistry,” per Cuevas. “We developed a sincere friendship. Every Baltimore player under him had first refusal to play in Puerto Rico and my friendship with Harry never interfered with business aspects.”

Paul Blair, Larry Haney and Dave May were a trio of Orioles/prospects who played for the 1966-67 Crabbers. Blair homered in Game Three, 1966 World Series, versus Los Angeles Dodgers, and caught the final out in Game Four, when Lou Johnson—ex-Santurce player, 1964-65—flied to CF. Santurce’s fans were excited to see Blair in action, 12 years after Willie Mays played CF for the 1954-55 Crabbers, after leading the 1954 New York Giants to a World Series title. (Blair and Mays played a shallow CF, based on recollections by Don Buford, ex-San Juan Senators player, and a Baltimore teammate of Blair.) And it was Blair’s three-run HR versus the 1966-67 Ponce Lions, Game Six of the League’s Finals, which propelled Santurce to a 6-3 win at the Lion’s Den. Earl Weaver told the author that the 1966-67 winter season was special and he and his wife “were treated first-class by Hiram Cuevas.” Weaver complimented Santurce’s fans, comparing them favorably to baseball-smart fans of the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

Santurce won the 1967-68 regular season crown (47-22), but fell to Caguas, in the League Finals. Blair, Haney and Dave May returned to Santurce. Elrod Hendricks, recently signed by the Orioles, was Santurce’s regular catcher. Pitchers Jim Hardin and Dave Leonhard reinforced Santurce from the Baltimore organization. So did 2B Davey Johnson from the Orioles. Roberto Clemente rejoined San Juan, after sitting out the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons. Clemente had won his fourth NL batting crown (.357 AVG) but only had 68 AB for San Juan, with 26 hits, for a .382 AVG. Johnny Bench and Lee May were two San Juan teammates. Lee May mentioned—to the author—that “Clemente would invite me and other San Juan teammates to his [Trujillo Alto] home for a meal and socializing…it was a special time for us…”

Santurce’s 1968-69 team finished 49-20 to win the most regular season games in franchise history, but lost a tough seven-game Semi-Finals series to San Juan, managed by Sparky Anderson. Jim Palmer resurrected his Cooperstown Hall of Fame career with the 1968-69 Crabbers, thanks to his fine pitching (5-0, 2.79 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 29 innings), plus help from Nick Acosta, Santurce’s talented trainer. Sparky Anderson called Santurce a big-league club, during our March 1993 interview in Lakeland, Florida. Anderson credited Miguel (Mike) Cuellar for winning his two series starts versus Santurce, and being “all business” after going 5-4 in the regular season for the 36-34 (fourth-place) Senators. Jim Beauchamp, San Juan’s 1968-69 RF, since Clemente sat out, recalled fans’ excitement and enthusiasm during games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. (Beauchamp also played for Santurce, 1964-65, so he was on both sides of this rivalry.)

The 1969-70 Crabbers finished third (35-33) and advanced to the Finals under Frank Robinson, but Santurce was bested by Ponce—managed by 28-year old Jim Fregosi—in six games. Fregosi recalled his happiness after Ponce won it. Dave May, Curt Motton, Merv Rettenmund were three Baltimore OF who reinforced Santurce. Frank Bertaina and Dave Leonhard pitched for the Crabbers; Elrod Hendricks caught them and other hurlers. Leonhard loved pitching in Puerto Rico, citing Baltimore players had made over $50,000 in World Series earnings between 1969 and 1971 and he did not pitch in Puerto Rico “for the money.” He found it amusing the time Santurce’s team bus was roach-infested and roaches took his sandwich off the luggage rack. Julio Gotay, his Santurce teammate, once referred to several Caguas players as witches after they made a cross of chicken bone at his (second base) position. Gotay refused to go out until the cross was removed. Elrod Hendricks picked up the cross and handed it to Frank Robinson. A Caguas player smacked Hendricks on the head with the swing of his bat and Robinson was later thrown out of the game. “Blood was everywhere,” Leonhard said. “The cross had worked.”

Cot Deal and José Laboy

Ellis “Cot” Deal managed the 1969-70 San Juan Senators. He once told the author: “Roberto Clemente mentioned that I (Deal) was the favorite manager he played for in Puerto Rico.” San Juan (33-36) finished fifth, of six teams, missing the post-season. There was no Pittsburgh-San Juan connection in 1969-70. José “Palillo” Santiago recalled pitching to Thurman Munson, an excellent catcher. José “Coco” Laboy, San Juan’s third baseman, was honored to be Clemente’s teammate, following his (Laboy’s) 1969 rookie season with the Montreal Expos. Lee May (LF) and José Cardenal (CF) patrolled the OF with Clemente. Lee May’s affection and respect for Clemente deepened after this winter season, despite the 1970 Cincinnati-Pittsburgh rivalry, culminating in his Reds NLCS win over Clemente’s Pirates.

San Juan-Santurce 1970-71 Rivalry and 1971 World Series

Dave Cash and Al Oliver

Roberto Clemente managed 1970-71 San Juan, for a $1,000/weekly salary plus $300/weekly for expenses. Dave Cash (.266 AVG), Al Oliver (.327 AVG) and Manny Sanguillén (.364 AVG) played well for San Juan, but did not play the entire winter season. Pittsburgh (1970) shortstop Fred Patek (.338 AVG for San Juan) was traded by the Pirates to Kansas City that winter, and did not finish the season with the Senators. He was one of five 1970 Pirates, including Clemente, who played for San Juan. Second-place San Juan (37-30) fell to third-place Santurce (37-32) in their Semi-Finals, won by the Crabbers, four games-to-two. (Clemente only had four AB in the regular season, with his one hit (last regular season hit in Puerto Rico) off Juan Veintidós of Mayagüez, January 16, 1971, per Jorge Colón Delgado’s research.)

Ken Brett (8-3, 3.00 ERA, 90 innings, 82 strikeouts) was San Juan’s ace. Palillo Santiago (5-1, 3.35 ERA) and Jim Colborn (8-8, 2.90 ERA) pitched well. Jim Lonborg (2-3, 4.93 ERA) was making a comeback attempt, after a serious off-season injury, post-1967 season. Brett opined: “We loved him [Clemente]. There were times he would get frustrated because we didn’t play at the level he expected us to play. I’ll never forget the time he decided to play to prove his points. He was a hero down there; the people went crazy and it helped attendance.” Ken Brett started the regular season opener versus Santurce, October 22, 1970. Fred Beene, his mound opponent, had a cup of coffee with the 1970 Baltimore Orioles, A power failure delayed its start by two hours, and the crowd had swelled to over 25,000 at Bithorn Stadium, but official paid attendance was listed as 19,979, just 22 fewer than a Bithorn record paid attendance of 20,001 for a January 29, 1967 Ponce-Santurce Final Series contest with Rubén Gómez as the Crabbers Game Three starter versus Ponce’s spitball-throwing John Boozer.

Beene remembered the October 22, 1970 contest. “We played San Juan and Clemente was managing [them]. I blew my arm that night in the third inning pitching to Ken Singleton. Boy, I tore a tendon. Couldn’t throw a lick anymore that winter, but stayed there about six weeks. That’s when Roger [Rogelio] Moret came alive and Reggie [Jackson] hit 20 homers.” Baltimore’s [GM] Harry Dalton got the green light from Oakland A’s owner Charles O. Finley, after Finley suggested that the 24-year old Jackson play winter ball after a sub-par 1970 season. Dalton also sent Don Baylor and Roger Freed from the Orioles farm system to Santurce. Both produced. Freed was leading the [Puerto Rico] league in RBI the first half of 1970-71 when he injured his right arm. Freed: “In fact, Reggie told me when I was hitting third and he was hitting fourth, that [Roger], you don’t leave anybody on base for me to pick up.” Freed ended third in RBI with 40, behind Bob Oliver’s 52 for Caguas and Reggie’s 46, but Reggie’s 20 HR topped Oliver’s 15, the 12 by San Juan’s Mike Jorgensen and 11 by Ponce’s José “Cheo” Cruz.

Future Cooperstown Hall of Famer Tony Pérez joined Santurce for the 1970-71 stretch drive and helped them defeat San Juan, four games-to-two, in a hard-fought Semi-Finals. He also played for the Imports (Stateside and Cuban players), managed by Frank Robinson, in the January 6, 1971 League All-Star Game, versus the Natives (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands players), managed by Roberto Clemente. Pérez scored the Imports’ only run in the Natives’ 4-1 win.

Two weeks later (January 20, 1971), San Juan squared off with Santurce in the Semi-Finals. They split the first two games, but Clemente’s clutch, two-run pinch-hit single in Game Three helped the Senators win it, 7-4. Santurce knotted the series in Game Four when Baylor, Reggie Jackson and Tony Pérez had first-inning singles off Ken Brett en route to a 5-2 win. When line-up cards were made for Game Five, Clemente penciled his own name in the third slot to play RF. The game’s pivotal play ensued in the fourth frame with Clemente on third and Sanguillén on first. Ken Singleton’s fly ball was caught by Reggie Jackson and his throw nailed Clemente at home plate. Javier “Terín” Andino drove in the game-winner in the bottom of the fifth to give Terín Pizarro the win. Jim Colborn was the hard-luck loser. Columnist Rafael Pont Flores—a Crabbers fan—called this game “a night with plenty of heart attacks.”

Dave Leonhard won Game Six after driving in the contest’s first two runs with a bases-loaded single off Angel “Papo” Davila. San Juan’s fans were annoyed at Clemente for starting this lefty in such an important game and booed Clemente when he summoned José “Palillo” Santiago to relieve Davila. Leonhard became the toast of the town after fanning pinch-hitter José Manuel Morales to end the game. Santurce then defeated Caguas, four games-to-three in the Finals, before representing Puerto Rico in the February 1971 Caribbean Series at Bithorn Stadium, won by the undefeated (6-0) Licey Tigers from the Dominican Republic.

Readers now have a better understanding of why San Juan-Santurce’s rivalry, culminating in the Crabbers 1970-71 Semi-Final Series win over San Juan, influenced the outlook of Santurce fans during and post-1971 World Series won by Pittsburgh over Baltimore. To Crabbers fans like Jorge and the author, Roberto Clemente’s heroics in the 1971 Fall Classic epitomized San Juan’s superiority over Santurce, at the time. When Clemente was asked by Stateside media if he had ever played on a team with such talent and power as the 1971 Pirates, he responded: “Yes, when the Santurce Crabbers won the [1955] Caribbean Series.” Willie Mays, Don Zimmer, George Crowe, Buster Clarkson, Sam Jones, Bill Greason and Rubén Gómez were other 1954-55 Crabbers.

With thanks to Benny Agosto, Jim Archer, Jim Beauchamp, Fred Beene, Paul Blair, Ken Brett, Don Buford, Hiram Cuevas, Cot Deal, Jorge Colón Delgado, Jim Fregosi, Rubén Gómez, Bob Leith Jr., Bob Leith Sr., Lee MacPhail, Lee May, Juan “Terín” Pizarro, Ken Singleton and Earl Weaver. Special thanks to Frank Otto, who mailed the article by Bob Leith Jr., to the author.

4 comentarios en “San Juan Senators-Santurce Crabbers Rivalry and 1971 World Series”

  1. Gracias por tan buen articulo. Nos trae muchas memorias a nosotros fanaticos de la Senadores de San Juan. Dios les bendiga. Adelante.
    Dr Fuentes, Aibonito PR

  2. Esos años del 1966 al 1971 yo tenia entre 13 a 18 años y disfrutaba mucho las narraciones de esos partidos en las voces de ernesto diaz gonzalez , reynaldo moreira, hector rafael vazquez, wito morales, felo ramirez, paracorto andujar y otros. Eran los años en que la calidad de los jugadores importados era insuperable y el respaldo de la fanaticada era constante en los estadios. La mayoria de las importaciones que traian los equipos eran prospectos de alto nivel y ya en desarrollo hacia las grandes ligas. Jugadores como paul blair jim palmer tani perez dave johnson johnny bench thurman munson gary carter mike smith don mattingly luis tiant mike cuellar ferguson jenkins reggie jackson y muchisimos mas casi todos estos aqui mencionados en el salon de la fama, jugaron aqui para esos años o cerca de estos. Eran años muy distintos a los de hoy en dia. Los felicito por su gran reportaje; me retrotrajo a mis años de adolescencia. FELICIDADES.

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