Who was better in Puerto Rico: Bob Thurman or Willard Brown? (Part 2 of 2)

Willard Brown

Two years later (1952-53), Santurce (42-30) won their second league and Caribbean Series crown. Thurman had an off-year hitting .259 with seven HR and 36 RBIs in 251 AB. Brown, playing part of the regular season, hit .342 with three HR and 20 RBIs, in 114 AB. It was Brown who captivated the baseball fans in Havana, Cuba, during the February 1953 Caribbean Series. In six games for the 6-0 Crabbers, the series MVP had four homers; drove in 13; hit .417 (10/24); and posted a 1.042 SLG (25 total bases divided by 24 AB). Thurman actually had a higher BA than Brown, .474 to .417, with nine hits in 19 AB, plus a .684 SLG, but did not homer. He stole two bases. The Crabbers hit .367 with a .575 SLG, in scoring 50 runs, 8.3 per game.

The 1954-55 Crabbers were considered the “best Winter League baseball team ever assembled,” per Don Zimmer, their shortstop, named MVP of the February 1955 Caribbean Series in Caracas, Venezuela. They won that series WITHOUT reinforcements from other league teams, unlike other Caribbean Series winners. Bob Thurman went seven for 22 in the February 1955 series, .318 BA, with three RBIs. Zimmer (.385, three HR, four RBIs); Willie Mays (.440, two HR, nine RBIs); Roberto Clemente (.269, one HR, three RBIs); Buster Clarkson (.375, one RBI) also starred for this “Perfect Machine,” the title of Jorge Colón Delgado’s book on this club. Other Caribbean Series champs, including the February 1995 Puerto Rico “Dream Team,” eclipsed the 1954-55 Crabbers in series dominance, but the Dream Team 25 years ago had reinforcements from ALL league teams—Bernie Williams, Juan González, Rubén Sierra—and San Juan players such as Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and Edgar Martínez, plus Carlos Delgado, Carmelo Martínez, Carlos Baerga, and Rey Sánchez—the ninth hitter—and league batting champ!

Bob Thurman

Let’s get back to the Willard Brown-Bob Thurman comparison. Both played in three Caribbean Series. Brown went 23-for-67, for a .343 BA (fifth-best all-time, Caribbean Series, Phase I, 1949-to-1960), with five HR (tied for first with Lou Limmer-USA, who played for Panamá and Puerto Rico; and Héctor López-Panamá). Brown’s 19 RBIs are tied for fourth with Edmundo Amorós of Cuba, after Luis Camaleón García (25), Héctor López (22) and Víctor Pellot Power (20). Brown’s .627 SLG is second to Wilmer Fields’s .679 SLG, Phase I. Willard Brown was inducted in the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996, in its first class, with Rico Carty (Dominican Republic), Héctor Espino (Mexico) and Camilo Pascual (Cuba).

Thurman’s 24 hits in 63 Caribbean Series AB is a .381 BA, BEST BA, Phase I, Caribbean Series. Top 10 were Thurman, Wilmer Fields (.375), Héctor Rodríguez (.357), Pedro Formental (.350), Willard Brown (.343), Amorós (.338), Roberto Clemente (.327), Angel Scull (.306), Luis Rodríguez Olmo (.303) and Joe Tuminelli (.298). Thurman had three doubles, two triples, two HR and 15 RBIs. His .587 SLG is fourth-best all-time, Phase I, after Fields, Willard Brown and Clemente’s .592 SLG. Sadly, Thurman is not in the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. He was inducted in the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball Hall of Fame on October 20, 1991, at the first-ever ceremony of its kind in Ponce, along with Willard Brown and eight other players, including Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Perucho Cepeda, Francisco Coímbre, Rubén Gómez, Canena Márquez, Terín Pizarro and Vic Power. The author coordinated efforts to get Thurman to Puerto Rico; had dinner with him in Ponce; and appeared on a radio sports show.

Willard Brown, inducted in Cooperstown in 2006, had 679 hits in 1,940 AB in Puerto Rico for his all-time best .350 BA. His 135 doubles, 27 triples and 101 HR gave him a league-best .604 career SLG. His 101 HR are sixth-best in league history. And his 473 RBIs rank seventh all-time. Bob Thurman’s .313 lifetime BA in Puerto Rico regular season play is augmented by 120 HR and 566 RBIs, both all-time league records. His 149 doubles are seventh-best all-time while his 61 triples are fourth all-time. Thurman’s .525 career SLG in Puerto Rico is superb. He scored 527 runs, seventh all-time, and connected 931 hits in 2,978 Puerto Rico regular season AB.

With deep appreciation to Bob Thurman for his friendship, humility and kindness. Jorge Colón Delgado furnished valuable insights on Thurman and Willard Brown in terms of their Puerto Rico Winter League statistics. Thanks to Mike Clark for his memories of Thurman in Puerto Rico. Rory Costello is acknowledged for his fine SABR bios of Brown and Thurman.

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