Vidal López: “El Muchachote (Big Kid) de Barlovento” and the Babe Ruth of Venezuela

On March 15, 2020, the author saw a tweet in Spanish on Vidal López by Alberto José Mestas. It is followed by its English translation. “Caramba, la flor y nata de los venezolanos que jugaron en el Caribe. Que buen recuerdo. Para los conocedores, Vidal López está en el Top 10 de los jugadores nacidos en Venezuela. El de Barlovento fue así como un Ruth venezolano, por su picheo y bateo de largo alcance.” “The cream of the crop of all Venezuelans who played in the Caribbean. To those in the ‘know’ Vidal López is in the Top 10 of all players born in Venezuela. The big kid from Barlovento was the Venezuelan Ruth, for his pitching and long-ball hitting,”

One of the most famous Caribbean barnstorming baseball teams, early-to-mid 1930s, was Concordia—based in Venezuela. It featured a pitcher from Guayama, Puerto Rico, Marcelino “Moncho El Brujo (Witch)” Blondet, who introduced the spitball to Venezuela. Concordia, at one time, had talented Negro Leaguers such as Josh Gibson; an up-and-coming minor leaguer from Demorest, Georgia: Johnny Mize. Vidal López—a Venezuelan phenom aka Venezuela’s Babe Ruth for his pitching and hitting prowess—joined them in 1934. Dominican Republic stars Juan Esteban “Tetelo” Vargas and Pedro Alejandro San, starred for Concordia. Gonzalo Gómez, team owner, took a liking to López, and gave him a salary of 300 Bolivares a month, room and board. So, who was Vidal López Ascanio, and why should we remember him?

A good starting point is a detailed blog on López by Miguel Dupouy Gómez, at http://beisbolinmortal.blogspot.com/2017/11/vidal-lopez-un-idolo-del-beisbol.html. This covers key points in López’s amateur, semi-pro, and pro career. He was born on April 19, 1918, in Barlovento, an agricultural region in Miranda, 62 miles east of Caracas. (Barlovento is translated as “Windward.”) This agricultural area was heavily influenced by the migration of slaves from Africa, namely the Congo. (López moved to Caracas at age nine in 1927, with his mother and three siblings, three years after his father’s death in 1927.) López was Afro-Venezuelan (black), and unable to play in the majors, unlike his contemporary, Alejandro “Patón” Carrasquel, who made his MLB debut with the 1939 Washington Senators.  

Youth and Semi-Pro Baseball in Venezuela (1931-38)

López’s first (youth) team was Lucky Strike, managed by Froilán Villena. (His uniform was paid for by Gonzalo Gómez, son of Juan Vicente Gómez, Venezuela’s President.) His early teen years, 1931-33, were with Valdespino. In 1931, he fanned 122 in seven games, won four; played OF and caught, when not pitching. Then came his chance with Concordia, mentioned earlier. Alejandro Carrasquel pitched for Concordia, as did “Moncho El Brujo” Blondet, and others. López made 700 Bolivares/month pitching for Japón, in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, circa 1935. He played in Maracaibo and elsewhere as a pitcher/OF and clean-up hitter. He showed his rifle arm, from the OF, playing for the Royal Criollos against the Senators, featuring Francisco “Pancho” Coímbre, on June 2, 1935. López, from deep RF, nearly threw out Coímbre at home. Five weeks later, he relieved Patón Carrasquel, in his pitching debut with the Royal Criollos. He finished with a 5-0 record with these Criollos, fanning 28 and walking 17, in 54.2 IP. Four of his wins were SHO, and his ERA was 0.66! López was named League MVP. The best-of-seven finals between the Criollos and Gavilanes—champions of Zulia—was tied at three games apiece, when General Gómez passed away. The series was suspended and declared a tie.

López wore different uniforms in 1936, including Indios de Sarría, Royal Criollos, and Deportivo Caracas. With the latter, he pitched a 17-inning game, losing, 5-4, to Manuel “Cocaína” García, with the Senadores. López finished 3-2, 2.65 ERA, 18 strikeouts, and 15 walks in 44 IP.  One 1937 highlight included 10 innings and 12 strikeouts for “América” versus “Libertador” and their ace, “Patón” Carrasquel, 2-2 tie. López then played for the Sabios de Vargas in the National Championship Series, and hit the first grand slam in this event, August 22, 1937, in Caracas’ San Agustín Stadium, off Oscar Estrada. Vargas won, 8-5.

A “Ruthian” moment for López occurred on September 26, 1937, when he homered twice in one game for Vargas, the first time this happened in Venezuela. The second homer traveled almost 600 feet! It was his fourth, earning him a HR title. Per Alex Ulacio, López was the FIRST premier HR hitter of Venezuela, after hitting this “unprecedented home run.”

http://desdeelbullpen.blogspot.com/2014/04/vidal-lopez-leyenda-del-beisbol.html On June 5, 1938, López, with Gavilanes, played a 20-inning game lasting six hours and 30 minutes, versus Pastora. The losing pitcher for Gavilanes was Cuban Lázaro Salazar, who later managed López in Mexico (1943-45), and with Magallanes (1950-51). Juan Vené, acclaimed Venezuelan journalist and sportscaster, told the author that López had a swarthy complexion and was a shade over six feet tall. Vené saw López pitch many times in the “Estadio Miranda,” where he won pitching duels with Alejandro Carrasquel. More details on López’s career, including his two no-hitters in 1941, and 1945 semi-pro season in Venezuela with a .464 AVG, are in Miguel Dupouy Gómez’s blog.

Puerto Rico (1939, 1941-42) and Cuba (1940-41)

Vidal López with Santurce

López joined the Caguas Criollos in late January 1939. In his first (January 31, 1939) game, he hit two HR and a double. He ended with a .393 AVG and .595 SLG, after 33 hits in 84 AB, eight doubles, three HR, and 12 RBIs. Raymond Brown of San Juan batted .404 (23-for-57) and won all seven decisions, but the league’s best hitter was Perucho Cepeda, shortstop, Guayama Witches, with a .465 AVG (79-for-170). López reconnected with Tetelo Vargas—his ex-Concordia teammate, who batted .415 and scored a league-leading 59 runs (his team played 39 games). Francisco “Pancho” Coímbre’s 14 doubles for Ponce led the league. Had López played the whole season, he hits 15 or 16 doubles to surpass Coímbre’s 14. Coincidentally, López was the first Venezuelan to play in Puerto Rico’s new 1938-39 Semi-Pro League.

The 1940-41 Cienfuegos Elephants welcomed López with open arms in Havana, Cuba. He won 12 and lost 5, for a team which finished 25-26, tied with the Santa Clara Leopards for second-place. Havana (31-18) was first; Almendares (20-31) finished last, in the four-team circuit. López completed a league-leading 16 games, surpassing Martín Dihigo, Luis Tiant Sr., etc. López’s 12 wins were 48 percent of his team’s wins. This compares favorably to Satchel Paige (19-3), winning 48.7 percent of Guayama’s 39 wins in 1939-40; Dihigo’s (14-2), winning 48.3 percent of Havana’s 29 wins in 1938-39; and Patón Carrasquel (11-6), winning 44 percent of Cuba’s 25 wins in 1938-39. Raymond Brown (21-4), 1936-37 regular season, for the 36-30 Santa Clara Leopards, won 58.3 percent of their games! On Christmas Day 1940, López bested Almendares, 2-1, managed by Adolfo Luque. On January 19, 1941, López blanked Santa Clara, 1-0, in the fastest game ever played in Cuba—one hour, nine minutes! He was named to the 1940-41 League All-Star Team, a 10-player squad which included 1B Lázaro Salazar (Almendares), 2B Silvio García (Santa Clara), SS Horacio “Rabbit” Martínez (Havana); plus, second pitcher Gilberto Torres, 10-3 W-L, Havana. López’s 18 hits in 74 AB, included two doubles. He had six RBIs and a .243 AVG.

Pedrín Zorrilla, owner, Santurce Crabbers, had to replace Raymond Brown in 1941-42, the season when the League’s name switched from Semi-Pro to Professional. Pedrín signed López. The “Big Kid” arrived in San Juan on the steamship Cuba the Friday before the 1941-42 season began. (Pedrín sold holdout Brown to Ponce, for $500.) López cleared Customs and went to the offices of newspaper El Imparcial to meet with Luis Rosario Jr. and Santurce’s treasurer, Luis F. Torres. Rosario and Torres commented that López had the same skill levels as Alejandro “Patón” Carrasquel and would be in the majors if darker-skinned players had a chance to play there. López lost in his (Santurce) debut to Aguadilla and their ace, Leon Day, but fanned 11, including the side in the fourth when Juan Sánchez and Willie Wells were victims.

López normally pitched Game One of Sunday twin-bills, with Luis Raúl Cabrera starting Game Two. Clarence Palm caught López throughout October and November 1, 1941. Josh Gibson took over as catcher after experiencing minor injuries in a Santurce practice session. López shut out Ponce with Palm behind the plate, October 26, and helped his cause with a HR. On November 2, 1941, López defeated San Juan, 2-1, and drove in both runs, at Sixto Escobar Stadium, home of the Crabbers and San Juan Senators. He preserved his 2-1 lead in the eighth, fanning Monte Irvin and inducing Terris McDuffie to hit into a double play. Santurce fans carried López off the field. Gibson began catching López on Sunday, November 9, 1941, and did so through March 1, 1942.  

Puerto Rico’s newspapers were running Marín Rum ads, since Ron Marín was Santurce’s corporate sponsor. Josh Gibson, López, Cabrera, and Don Guindo (Heriberto Ramírez de Arellano) might appear in them. Gibson would hold the bottle of rum, which represented the fourth “ace” in poker. López and three teammates (Cabrera, Gibson, and Ray Dandridge) were selected to represent the Northeast All-Star Team, comprising Santurce, San Juan, Caguas, and Humacao players, versus the Southeast Team: Aguadilla, Guayama, Mayagüez, and Ponce players. The Northeast team swept their opponent, 7-3 and 8-3, on January 1, 1942. This Northeast squad may have been the strongest in League history with Caguas stars Billy Byrd, Roy Campanella, Luis Olmo, Sammy Céspedes, and Manolo García; San Juan players Monte Irvin, Gerardo Rodríguez, Freddie Thon Sr., and Bill Wright; Willard Brown of Humacao; plus, the four Crabbers.

López finished 8-13, 2.88 ERA, 104 strikeouts and 43 walks, in 178.1 innings. He averaged over eight innings per start, with 22 starts. At the plate, his 49 hits in 150 AB translated to a .327 AVG, .560 SLG, 17 doubles, six homers, and 29 RBIs. He scored 25 times. This, projected over a 162-game season, is 552 AB, 180 hits, 65 doubles, 22 HR, and 107 RBIs. Only Monte Irvin (18) hit more doubles than López’s 17, equaled by Coímbre and three others. Josh Gibson won the batting (.480 AVG) and HR (13) titles. Leon Day (168), Raymond Brown (158), and Luis Cabrera (116) had more strikeouts than López, who finished his Puerto Rico (Caguas and Santurce) hitting career with: .350 AVG, .573 SLG, 25 doubles, nine HR, and estimated 41 RBI. His 25 doubles in 234 Puerto Rico Winter League AB are the equivalent of 59 in 550 AB.

Venezuelan journalist Martín E. González interviewed López shortly after he returned home. “We knocked on the door near the square in La Candelaria [neighborhood of Caracas] and heard a voice with a slight Puerto Rican accent. ‘Who is it?’ And the Herculean figure of Vidal López emerges.” Here is an excerpt of López’s replies to González, courtesy of Miguel Dupouy Gómez.

I arrived by plane from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad…from there to             Venezuela. Had some back luck—Santurce was not a consistent team. Arrived there October 10 [1941]; there were issues with imports and many native players were rookies. But things improved when Josh “Trucutú” Gibson and [Ray] “Talúa” Dandridge came on board. Gibson was the sensation throughout the season. Uf! That guy [Gibson] hammered the ball. Hit 12 [13] HR and .472 [.480], the champion bat. Dandridge was a bit weak at the plate around .240. I wasn’t that bad at the plate, finishing seventh at .327, and tied for third with six homers. My pitching was OK. I arrived in Puerto Rico on  October 10 and on the 12th had to pitch against no one less than Leon Day, with  Aguadilla. My teammates made six errors. Of course, this was a disaster. In my eight  wins, the opponent only scored in two of them. The only team that escaped one of my  shutouts was Guayama. The people treated me extremely well, namely, Mr. Pedrín Zorrilla, team owner. That fellow is worth his weight in Gold. Luisín Rosario,             sportswriter with El Imparcial in San Juan, conducted himself admirably; I’m grateful to  him for being so helpful.

http://beisbolinmortal.blogspot.com/2018/12/vidal-lopez-entrevistado-su-regreso-de.html

Record of Vidal López in Puerto Rico https://beisbol101.com/vidal-lopez/

Independent Mexican League (1943-45)

His three (summer) seasons with Monterrey Industrialists resulted in 178 games played, 583 AB, 79 runs, 184 hits, 39 doubles, one triple, 17 HR, 119 RBIs, 94 walks, 60 strikeouts, a .316 AVG and .473 SLG. In 1943, his .368 AVG was .002 higher than Bill Wright’s league-leading .366 for Mexico City, but López did not have the required AB. He led the (1943) league with a 2.08 ERA. Dihigo’s 134 strikeouts for Torreón topped that league, but his team (51-36) came in second to first-place Monterrey (53-37). On June 4, 1944, López blanked Nuevo Laredo, 3-0. His mound opponent was Dihigo, their player-manager. López bested Dihigo, 4-3, on August 14, 1944. Monterrey (50-39) finished second to Veracruz (52-37), managed by Rogers Hornsby/Ramón Bragaña. Monterrey, managed by Lázaro Salazar, 1943-45, came in third in 1945 at 48-42. López was 29-27 with Monterrey, 65 games, with 227 strikeouts, 211 walks, and 3.01 ERA.

Pro Baseball in Venezuela (1946-1955), Caribbean Series, and Dominican Republic (1951)

Courtesy of Miguel Dupouy Gómez, 2014.

López’s constant pitching coupled with playing the outfield put a lot of strain on his right arm. From January 1946 until his final AB for Magallanes, October 27, 1954, he mostly played the OF and was a pinch-hitter. He was the first player to hit a pinch-hit HR (May 21, 1946) in the (professional) Venezuelan League. It was a three-run blast off LHP Roy Welmaker, pitching for Vargas. This meant a lot to López: “It was an unforgettable day,” recalled López. “I hit it off a great one.” In 1947-48, he led the league with 52 hits and a .374 AVG. López was a 2x HR champ, 1946-47 (six) and 1949-50 (nine); 2x RBI leader, 29 in 1948-49; and, 43 in 1949-50. He played on three league championship teams: 1949-50, 1950-51, and 1954-55 Magallanes Navigators. López had a .359 AVG with five HR and 36 RBIs in 1950-51. Herman Franks managed Magallanes in 1953-54. He noted López was highly respected by his teammates and “more of a coach than a player during this stage of his career.” His stats with Magallanes included 310 games, 905 AB, 126 runs, 279 hits, 54 doubles, 33 HR, 215 RBIs, four SB, .308 AVG, and .477 SLG.

This legend played in the first three Caribbean Series for his country, February 1949, Havana, Cuba; February 1950, San Juan, Puerto Rico; and, February 1951, Caracas, Venezuela. In the 1950 event, held at Sixto Escobar Stadium, his four doubles led all players from Cuba (Almendares), Panamá (Carta Vieja), Puerto Rico (Caguas), and Venezuela (Magallanes). López was Magallanes player-manager. He visited with Luis Olmo, Caguas player-manager, his ex-Caguas teammate from 1938-39. In the 1951 Caribbean Series, López went three-for-six (.500 AVG) with one double to conclude his Caribbean Series career with eight hits in 23 AB, five doubles, and .348 AVG. He played one summer season (1951) in the Dominican Republic with the Escogido Lions and Licey Tigers, with a .241 AVG and .310 SLG.

López passed away in Caracas, February 20, 1972, at age 53. He was in the first group of 14 inductees, Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame (2003); inductee of the Latin America Baseball Hall of Fame (2011); and Magallanes Baseball Hall of Fame inductee (2012). A statue honors him in Río Chico. The Vidal López Stadium, El Cafetal section of Caracas, bears his name.

With special thanks and appreciation to Miguel Dupouy Gómez for research-blogs on Venezuelan Baseball History, including Vidal López. Miguel recommends the book Vidal López: El Muchachote de Barlovento, by Brigadier General José Antero Nuñez. Thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado for sharing Vidal López’s stats from the 1938-39 Caguas Criollos and 1941-42 Santurce Crabbers; to Herman Franks, for reflections on Vidal López in one of our 1999 conversations; and, to Juan Vené, member, Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame (2014), for sharing memories of “The Big Kid” from Barlovento.

Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada.

error: Este contenido está protegido
Ir arriba