Tetelo Vargas: among the greatest latino players of all time (part IV)

Tetelo kept producing for Caguas in 1948-49 and 1949-50. Part III documented his stellar performances for Caguas, 1946-47 and 1947-48, but did not mention that Luis R. Olmo was suspended from organized baseball for jumping to Mexico in 1946 when the Pasquel brothers offered Olmo a lucrative contract. (Olmo was suspended for 1948-49, but reinstated for the 1949 big-league season, and 1949-50 winter season.) This is important, since Olmo was Tetelo’s teammate and manager, 1949-50 through 1952-53.

Caguas Criollos (1948-49)

Table III in Part III showed Tetelo’s .357 career AVG in Puerto Rico, through 1948-49, highest AVG of any league player, with at least 1,000 AB. The league expanded to an 80-game schedule, 1948-49 and 1949-50, from a 60-game season, 1946-47 and 1947-48.

Tetelo was 42 in 1948-49, with an AVG below .300 for the first time in Puerto Rico. His 88 hits in 295 AB produced a .298 AVG for the fourth-place 41-39 Caguas Criollos. Tetelo scored 50 runs, 101 in a 162-game season. He drew 32 walks-to-13 strikeouts. He impressed player-manager Quincy Trouppe with alert base-running and excellent CF play. Caguas’s top run producer was 2B Piper Davis (66 RBIs). Roberto Vargas (11-7) was solid for Caguas; Eugene Collins (157) and Dan Bankhead (119) were one-two in the league’s strikeout department.

But the 51-29 Mayagüez Indios won the 1948-49 pennant by four games over Santurce and Ponce. Caguas was precluded from post-season play, since the #2 and #3 teams played a semi-final series, won by Santurce, three games-to-two. Mayagüez then bested Santurce, four games-to-two, in the finals. The Indios had the League MVP, Luscious “Luke” Easter, with a .402 AVG (tops in the league), 14 HR, 80 RBIs and 15 SB; Wilmer “Red” Fields’s .332 AVG, 11 HR and league-leading 88 RBIs (plus fine pitching); player-manager Artie Wilson, with a .373 AVG, third-best in the league; 1B-P Alonzo Perry (.297 AVG, nine HR, 64 RBIs; 11-4, 3.38 ERA); speedster Carlos Bernier, pitcher Cefo Conde (10-6); among other talented players, including Johnny “El Gaucho” Davis, with a .331 AVG, nine HR, plus his pitching skills.

Mayagüez selected Trouppe and Piper Davis to reinforce them for the February 20-25, 1949 Caribbean Series, in Havana, Cuba. This proved fatal to the Indios, who needed more starting pitching, e.g., Santurce’s John Ford Smith (13 wins) and Ponce’s Japhet “Red” Lynn (13 wins). The Indios already had a trifecta behind-the-plate: Luis “King Kong” Villodas, Pita Martí and Chaguín Muratti. Carlos Manuel Santiago was a good glove man at 2B, and a better fielder than Piper Davis. Perhaps Mayagüez should also have added Tetelo to play CF? Other OF options were Santurce’s Willard Brown (.323, 18 HR, 69 RBIs) and Bob Thurman (.333 AVG, 18 HR, 65 RBIs), the “Ruth-Gehrig” duo for the Crabbers. In any case, Mayagüez was 1-5 in Havana, as the Almendares Scorpions, led by Monte Irvin, Al Gionfriddo, Chuck Connors…finished 6-0.

Caguas Criollos (1949-50)

Tetelo had a .300+AVG for the last time in Puerto Rico: .301, 90 hits in 299 AB. He scored 48 runs, stole 16 bases and helped 47-31 Caguas win the regular season title over Santurce and Ponce, tied at 45-35. Mayagüez (38-39) qualified for the semi, finishing fourth. Caguas overcame a 4-10 start to win 43 of their last 64 regular season games. Dan Bankhead contributed 160.1 innings and a league-leading 131 strikeouts. Cecil Kaiser’s 1.67 ERA led the league, and his 13 wins were second to Rubén Gómez’s 14. LHP Roberto Vargas (9-8, 3.65 ERA) was a valuable third starter for the Criollos. Player-manager Olmo had a .280 AVG, two HR and 32 RBIs, versus Tetelo’s .301 AVG, one HR and 35 RBIs. Olmo achieved hero status, in Puerto Rico, as the first Puerto Rican to play in a World Series, 1949 Classic, with Brooklyn against the New York Yankees; and, for hitting a HR off LHP Joe Page in Game Three, October 7, 1949.

Caguas had a new ballpark—Yldefonso Solá Morales, a stadium with lighting. It should be noted most of Tetelo’s games in Puerto Rico, prior to 1949-50, were day contests. Mayagüez’s Isidoro García Stadium also made its debut, featuring lighting. Ponce’s new Paquito Montaner Stadium installed lights, too. Lights had already been installed at Sixto Escobar Stadium (post-World War II), home of the San Juan Senators and Santurce Crabbers.

The semi-final series between Caguas and Ponce, went to the Criollos, four games-to-one. Forty-year old Pancho Coímbre was on his last legs for Ponce, a .243 regular season AVG. George Scales, still managing Ponce, counted on Luis “Tite” Arroyo (11-5) and José “Pantalones” Santiago (11-8). And Caguas advanced to the finals to face Mayagüez, when the Indios defeated Santurce, four games-to-two. Caguas went to the 1950 Caribbean Series, after sweeping Mayagüez (four games); outscoring the Indios, 14-6, including back-to-back SHO in Games Three-Four.

Sixto Escobar hosted the February 21-27, 1950 Caribbean Series. Caguas reinforced itself with Willard Brown, Wilmer Fields, Bob Wilson, Luis Villodas, Tite Arroyo and Rubén Gómez. Arroyo (2-0) and Fields (1-0) were vital additions. But Caguas only scored 19 runs in their seven games, including a February 27 tie-breaker loss to Panamá’s Carta Vieja Yankees. Caguas and Carta Vieja had identical 4-2 records, requiring a seventh game. Almendares (3-3) and Venezuela’s Magallanes Navigators (1-5) were third and fourth, respectively. Chet Brewer, ex-Caguas hurler, won against Almendares and Caguas (tie-breaker), to help Carta Vieja surprise the “favorites.” Tetelo went 3-for-23, .130 AVG. His two SB led all players. Vic Power, 3-for-18, .167 AVG, also disappointed. Willard Brown (.348, 0, 3) hit for AVG, but not power.

Here is a what IF question? IF Tetelo had retired from Puerto Rico Winter League play after the 1950 Caribbean Series, then, his regular season stats, after 11 seasons, would reflect a career .349 AVG, just .001 below Willard Brown’s career .350 AVG in his 10 Puerto Rico seasons, and .012 above Coímbre’s .337 AVG in 13 Puerto Rico seasons, when he retired after a 1950-51 season with 19 AB (and five hits) for Ponce, serving mainly as Rogers Hornsby’s hitting coach.

Table I: Tetelo’s Hitting Stats, by team, First 11 Seasons, 1939-1950

Team-seasonsABRHHRRBIsSBAVG
Guayama (4)71021325895268.363
Santurce (2)2898110821513.374
Mayagüez (1)1341948NA14NA.358
Caguas (4)1,0802083591110037.332
11 seasons2,21352177322181118.349


Tetelo’s HR, RBIs and SB are incomplete. Guayama stats: 1938-42;

Santurce: 1943-44, 1945-46; Mayagüez, 1944-45; Caguas, 1946-50.

1950-51 Season: the “Pepelucazo”

Tetelo was still a regular at age 44, and stole 10 bases for the 57-20 Criollos, runaway winners over 48-30 Santurce and 43-35 Ponce. Tetelo’s 46 hits in 205 AB resulted in a .224 AVG. He scored 36 runs for what many analysts and ex-players consider one of the best teams in Puerto Rico Winter League history. George Crowe (1B) won the batting crown with a .375 AVG; catcher Luis St. Clair (GuiGuí Lucas) had a .313 AVG and 43 RBIs; 3B Vic Power drove in 63 runs, stole 11 bases and batted .312; RF Jim Rivera scored a league-leading 76 runs, knocked in 51, with seven SB, and a .308 AVG. Player-manager Olmo (LF) drove in 40, with a .282 AVG.

Caguas featured three starters with a combined 36-8 record: Mike Clark (14-6), Manolo Caceres (12-1) and Roberto Vargas (10-1). Royce Lint (4-0) joined the team in the latter part of 1950-51. Bin Torres (3-2) could still pitch. The Criollos swept fourth-place San Juan (34-44) in one semi-final, outscoring the Senators, 37-15. Two of San Juan’s OF were called “Las Vacas” (The Cows) for being so heavy—Taft Wright and “Babe” Barna. San Juan’s best all-around player was Ellis “Cot” Deal, .350 AVG and 6-8, 3.64 ERA. Roberto Vargas, Lint, Clark and Torres were 1-0 apiece for Caguas, in this semi-final. Tetelo’s three hits in 14 AB versus San Juan were good for a .214 AVG.  In the other semi-final, Santurce bested Ponce, four games-to-one. Rogers Hornsby, Ponce skipper, recently left Puerto Rico, due to commitments with his Baseball School in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Coach Benny Huffman took over for this match-up versus Santurce.

The Caguas-Santurce final was “one for the ages.” It went a full seven games. More details can be found at the author’s March 11, 2019 blog, at https://beisbol101.com/the-pepelucazo-shot-heard-around-the-caribbean-february-17-1951/

Tetelo was six-for-23, .261 AVG, with four runs and one SB, versus Santurce. (Caguas had a team AVG of .260, 64-for-246, with 30 runs and five SB.) In Game Seven, February 17, 1951, Olmo in LF and Tetelo in CF were glad when Clark retired Willard Brown on a grounder; then, fanned Thurman for the second out, in the home ninth at Escobar, in a 2-2 game. Up stepped José St. Clair (Pepe Lucas), GuiGuí’s brother. Pepe Lucas hit two regular season HR in

111 AB, with a .243 AVG. But he deposited Clark’s second pitch (after ball one) over the left-center field fence as Olmo and Tetelo could only watch. Clark told the author “it was noisy and Pepe Lucas became a hero.” He (Clark) threw his glove into the stands as he walked off the field. Charles Ferrer, a friend of the author, was on the stadium roof and ecstatic. (Charles was the son of Santurce’s team doctor, and cousin of Santurce-born actor José Ferrer, who won an Oscar.) Reinaldo “Poto” Paniagua—who became Santurce’s team owner in the late 1970s, after serving as Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State—noted: “Pepe Lucas hit a line drive that did not rise more than four or five feet. The post-game partying was incredible—as if it was election night.”

Four more years with Caguas; four summers and one winter in the Dominican Republic

Dominican fans welcomed Tetelo with open arms in 1951, during that island’s first pro baseball season in 14 years. Tetelo played for his beloved Estrellas Orientales in San Pedro de Macoris. In 51 games, he went 64-for-195, for a .328 AVG, plus 13 doubles and a triple. He scored 39 and drove in 32. Luis Villodas, catcher with the Aguilas Cibaeñas, won the batting crown at .346. His teammate Pedro Formental, from Cuba, won the HR title, with 13. And Pepe Lucas, player-manager for the Escogido Lions, had the most RBIs (38), in leading his team to the finals against the Licey Tigers, who won that series thanks to the hitting of Alonzo Perry, Final Series MVP.

Tetelo was the fourth OF for the 1951-52 Caguas Criollos. His 26 hits in 114 AB resulted in a .228 AVG. He stole three bases. Caguas had a Milwaukee Brewers “look.” Player-manager Olmo arranged for some of his 1951 Brewers teammates to play for Caguas. (Milwaukee won the 1951 Junior World Series, defeating the Montreal Royals, four games-to-two.) Bert Thiel (14-7) was Caguas’s best pitcher. Olmo and Vic Power were 3-4 in RBIs (55-54), behind George Crowe’s 70 and Thurman’s 57. (Crowe, another Brewer, was traded from Caguas to San Juan.) San Juan (43-29) won the post-season, after edging Caguas by one game in the regular season.

Tetelo returned to the 1952 Estrellas Orientales, scoring 52 runs in 45 games, with a .297 AVG (52-for-175). Olmo played for the 1952 Licey Tigers, and led that summer league with a .344 AVG. Teammate Alonzo Perry’s 11 HR and 38 RBIs led in those categories. The Aguilas Cibaeñas defeated Licey in their best-of-seven finals.

Back to Puerto Rico, for 1952-53, Tetelo’s AVG plummeted to .179 (21-for-117). Caguas (26-46) finished last. They had an interesting cast, including 2B Gene Mauch and pitcher Roy Face.

A determined Tetelo, now 47 years old, won the 1953 Dominican League batting crown, with a splendid .355 AVG (66-for-186). He scored 35 runs in 49 games, and won a special award for his OF defense. Alonzo Perry took the HR (11) and RBI (53) titles, for league champion Licey.

Tetelo’s magnificent 1953 summer season earned him a $150/week salary with the 1953-54 Criollos, plus $15/week for meals, and a dormitory. Tetelo rode to away games on the team bus. (By 1954, Tetelo remarried, after becoming a widower. The 1953-54 dormitory arrangement was prior to his second marriage.) Tetelo’s new Caguas manager was Mickey Owen, who had been banished by organized baseball (1946-48), for jumping to Mexico. Owen told the author that Tetelo “ran like a deer and could outrun Caguas teammates CF Jim Rivera and RF Hank Aaron.”

The 1953-54 Criollos were Tetelo’s fifth championship team in Puerto Rico, post-Guayama (1938-40); 1947-48 and 1949-50 Caguas. Tetelo played in 53 games for Owen, with 30 hits in 133 AB, a .226 AVG, plus seven SB. Owen loved Tetelo’s attitude—he was a team player, who might pinch-hit, or pinch-run, when not starting. Jim Rivera felt “honored” to play CF for Caguas, between the legendary 47-year old Tetelo and a 19-year old Hank Aaron. (Rivera told the author he admired the way Ty Cobb played the game—always hustling—from reading about Cobb; Rivera never saw Tetelo loaf on the field, playing with/against much younger players.)

Caguas (46-34) won their final series with Mayagüez, four games-to-one, after Rivera and Aaron, tied for the regular season league HR title, with nine apiece. Aaron was third in AVG (.322), behind Canena Márquez’s .333 for Mayagüez, and Charles Harmon’s .325 with Ponce. Rivera’s 13 SB were third-best, following Márquez (32) and teammate Bernier (15). Tetelo was replaced as Caguas’s LF for the February 1954 Caribbean Series, by Bernier, who had 15 SB for the 1953 Pittsburgh Pirates. Márquez also reinforced Caguas. Santurce’s Roberto Clemente was considered after Aaron returned to the States, pre-Caribbean Series, but Aaron’s roster spot was taken by Mayagüez’s Bill Howerton. Rivera was 1954 Caribbean Series MVP: nine-for-20, .450 AVG. Rubén Gómez, Mayagüez’s Corky Valentine, Ponce’s Jack Sanford and Tite Arroyo reinforced Caguas. (Gómez, Valentine and Arroyo posted wins.)  Márquez (one-for-18) and Bernier (three-for-12) were a combined four-for-30 in the 1954 Caribbean Series, a .133 AVG. Owen did most of the catching for Caguas, down the stretch, and post-season. He had fond memories of his Dominican players—Tetelo, GuiGuí Lucas and pitcher Chichí Olivo—and winning the 1954 Caribbean Series with a 4-2 record, over Almendares, Carta Vieja and Pastora.

Tetelo played on another winner—1954 Estrellas Orientales. They upset Licey, four games-to-one, in the league finals. Tetelo’s 26-for-89 performance gave him a .292 AVG. His 16 runs in 25 games were equivalent to 104 in a 162-game season. Alonzo Perry’s .336 AVG for Licey, and Bob Thurman’s 11 HR and 34 RBIs for Escogido, led the league in those offensive categories.

Tetelo’s 1954-55 Puerto Rico “swan song” for 42-30 Caguas resulted in 10 hits in 39 AB, a .256 AVG. He got to see 24-year Willie Mays win the league’s batting crown (.395 AVG) with Santurce. The 48-year old Tetelo—twice as old as Mays—could marvel at May’s overall play. It is a shame Tetelo never had the opportunity to play big-league baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. A 49-year old Tetelo concluded his playing career with the 1955-56 Estrellas Orientales, when winter ball was resurrected there. Tetelo, in six games, went five-for-17, a .294 AVG.

Tetelo’s career .321 AVG in Puerto Rico, was sixth all-time. Tetelo was fourth with 606 runs; 11th with 906 hits; fifth in triples (56); and seventh in SB—138. He is one of 19 league players to hit over .400 in a single-season; and one of four to do it twice, 1938-39 and 1943-44, per https://beisbol101.com/lideres-de-todos-los-tiempos/

Table II: Puerto Rico All-Time AVG Leaders, 1,500+ AB

PlayerABHAVG
Willard Brown1,940679.350
Pancho Coímbre1,915646.337
Perucho Cepeda1,585516.325
Roberto Clemente1,917621.324
Orlando Cepeda1,849597.323
Tetelo Vargas2,821906.321
Bob Thurman2,978931.313
Omar García1,905579.304
Tony Pérez1,757533.303
Alfonso Gerard2,288693.303
Buster Clarkson2,063621.301
Jesús Feliciano1,958590.301
Canena Márquez4,0181,206.300

Table III covers Tetelo’s hitting in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Negro Leagues, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, with a career .320 AVG in league play. Table IV includes his separate 16-for-24 performance versus Enid Refiners, 1940 National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series; seven-for-14 against 1947 New York Yankees (spring training); and two-for-eight versus 1936 Cincinnati Reds (spring training); 46-for-93, recorded barnstorming contests (Revel and Muñoz).

Table III: Tetelo’s Career Hitting Totals, Countries and Leagues

Country-leagueABRH2B3BHRRBISBAVGSLG
Cuba-Winter4167011915NA1156.286.329
Dominican Rep.834186271419271NA.325.401
Negro Leagues^560113190291048610.339.448
Puerto Rico2,8216069061195623248138.321.428
Venezuela378921192283NA44.315.439
Career Totals5,0091,0671,6052268333420198.320.418

^ Just in league play, per Seamheads.

Table IV: Tetelo’s Career Hitting Totals, Selected Non-League Games

Non-LeagueABRH2B3BHRRBISBAVGSLG
NBC Semi-Pro24NA16NANANANANA.667NA
Spring Training22NA9    NA.409NA
Barnstorming^9335469310NA10.495.978

^ With 1927 Havana Red Sox and Cuban Stars; 1931 Cuban House of David; 1938 Cuban Stars; and 1941 New York Cubans.

Tetelo was inducted in: Dominican Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF), 1967; Puerto Rico Professional Baseball HOF (1992); Cuban Baseball HOF (1998); and, Latino Baseball HOF (2010). The Estrellas Orientales Baseball Stadium in San Pedro de Macoris was named after Tetelo in 1961. Tetelo passed away, at age 65, in Guayama, Puerto Rico, December 30, 1971.

With special thanks and appreciation to Mike Clark, Jorge Colón Delgado, Charles Ferrer, Luis Muñoz, Luis Rodríguez Olmo, Mickey Owen, Reinaldo “Poto” Paniagua, Dr. Layton Revel and Jim Rivera.

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