The February 1-7, 2020 Caribbean Series will be hosted by San Juan, Puerto Rico. Normal protocol allows for the host country or island to hold an Induction Ceremony honoring former participants—who represented them—in the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame. Puerto Rico, host of the 2015 Caribbean Series, inducted four players on February 4, 2015, including Roberto Clemente, Juan “Igor” González, Héctor Villanueva and Bernie Williams. Two prior participants from Cuba were also inducted—pitcher Conrado “Connie” Marrero and manager Napoleón Reyes. Induction criteria stipulates that the player/manager participated in at least three (3) Caribbean Series. An exception was made for Roberto Clemente, who only participated in the 1955 and 1958 events. Clemente’s humanitarian work in Puerto Rico and Latin America were cited as key reasons why he was inducted in this Hall of Fame, one which was started in 1996. Willie Mays also was inducted in this Hall of Fame despite only playing in the 1955 event.
Phase I of the Caribbean Series lasted from February 1949-February 1960, with Cuba, Panamá, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as four competitors in a six-game round-robin format. This event was discontinued in February 1961 due to political developments in Cuba, but revived in February 1970 with three entries: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. They played eight games apiece, four versus each opponent. These eight games/team were the most played per team in series history. Then Mexico joined the Caribbean Confederation for the February 1971 Caribbean Series hosted by San Juan—round-robin format; each team played their opponents twice, in a six-game series, identical to Phase I. Cuba rejoined this regional event in February 2015, in a five-team tournament. Panamá hosted the February 2019 Caribbean Series, one with a record six teams: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panamá, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
This blog focuses on Bob Thurman’s three Caribbean Series with the Santurce Crabbers (Cangrejeros) in Phase I: February 1951, February 1953 and February 1955. Santurce was the first Winter League baseball team to win three Caribbean Series tournaments—1951, 1953 and 1955. Crabbers from some or all of those teams already in the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame include: Willard Brown-class of 1996, Rubén Gómez-class of 1999, Willie Mays-class of 2005, and Roberto Clemente-class of 2015. Santurce reinforcements from 1951 and 1953 in this Hall of Fame include José “Pantalones” Santiago (class of 2003) and Víctor Pellot Power (class of 2004). Bob Thurman, who batted left; played right field; and was a starting pitcher on days/nights when not playing the OF, in Puerto Rico, wore Crabber flannels for 11 winter seasons—1947-48 through 1957-58—before playing for the 1959-60 Ponce Lions. Most of his Puerto Rico Winter League career coincided with Phase I of the Caribbean Series, 1949-to-1960.
1951 Caribbean Series: Caracas, Venezuela, February 22-26, 1951
The 48-30 Santurce Crabbers defeated Caguas, four games to three, in a memorable Puerto Rico Winter League Finals, thanks to Pepe Lucas’ walk-off HR off Mike Clark, February 17, 1951, at Sixto Escobar Stadium. Santurce’s 22-player roster for the 1951 Caribbean Series included Mike Clark, five of his Caguas teammates—Luis Rodríguez Olmo, Roberto Vargas, George Crowe, Stan Breard and Luis St. Clair aka Güigüí Lucas, plus Ponce RHP José “Pantalones” Santiago. Key Crabbers were Willard Brown, Buster Clarkson (Santurce’s player-manager), Junior Gilliam, Rubén Gómez and Bob Thurman. Cuba’s Havana Lions (aka Reds) were favored to win it with Hoyt Wilhelm on the mound and the hitting of Pedro Formental/others. Spur Cola from Panamá and the host Magallanes Navigators were less talented than the Crabbers and Havana.
Bob Thurman delivered eight hits in 22 AB for a .364 BA, with two HR and seven RBIs. He had a double and a triple; drew five walks; and scored seven runs, but was overshadowed by Luis R. Olmo’s .417 BA, three HR and nine RBIs. Olmo was named series MVP. Santurce went 5-1, ignited by a 13-1 win over Havana, in their February 22, 1951 series opener. Their only loss was to Havana three days later, by a 4-3 score. Havana (4-2), Magallanes (2-4) and Spur Cola (1-5) finished second-third-fourth behind Santurce. The Crabbers led all teams in BA (.276), runs (46), doubles (12), triples (two), and HR (eight). Rubén Gómez (2-0) and Pantalones Santiago (2-0) were the top pitchers in this series. George Scales did a masterful job as Santurce’s manager.
1953 Caribbean Series: Havana, Cuba, February 20-25, 1953
Santurce player-manager Buster Clarkson led the Crabbers to a sweep in Havana, winning all six contests. The champions had a .367 BA and .575 team SLG, and scored 50 runs! Bob Thurman went nine for 19 for an outstanding .474 BA! But Willard Brown stole the headlines with four HR and an amazing 13 RBIs, in going 10-for-24, a .417 BA. Brown was named series MVP. Junior Gilliam batted .545 (12-for-22) and scored seven times. Clarkson hit a robust .467 (six-for-15), and Vic Power—a Caguas reinforcement—scored six runs and batted .385. Bobo Holloman (2-0) and San Juan reinforcement Ellis “Cot” Deal both went 2-0 on the mound. Havana (3-3), Chesterfield Smokers from Panamá (2-4) and the Caracas Lions (1-5) were overwhelmed by Santurce. Martín Dihigo, the legendary player from Cuba, managed Caracas.
Bob Thurman was deprived of a spot on the series All-Star Team when the writers cast their votes for Havana’s RF Pedro Formental, whose 14 hits in 25 AB resulted in a series-leading .560 BA. Those 14 hits were (and remain) a series record. Only Randy Ready—Mayagüez, 1986 Caribbean Series—and San Juan’s Roberto Alomar, for the Puerto Rico Dream Team, 1995 Caribbean Series, had 14 hits in a single Caribbean Series. Santurce placed five players on the 10-player All-Star squad: catcher Joe Montalvo, 2B Junior Gilliam, SS Buster Clarkson, LF Willard Brown and RHP Bobo Holloman. Thurman told the author (in 1991) that “the most important item is that Santurce won it all in 1951, 1953 and 1955,” adding “I represented Puerto Rico baseball fans with a strong work ethic, honor and dignity.”
1955 Caribbean Series: Caracas, Venezuela, February 10-15, 1955
The 1954-55 Crabbers, managed by Herman Franks, 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, 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) starred for a “Perfect Machine,” the title of Jorge Colón Delgado’s book on this club. Series. Standings were Santurce (5-1), Magallanes (4-2), Cuba’s Almendares Scorpions (2-4) and Panamá’s Carta Vieja Yankees (1-5). Santurce was 16-2, .889 in Thurman’s three Series events.
Justification for Bob Thurman as a Caribbean Series Hall of Famer
Thurman’s 24 hits in 63 Caribbean Series AB is a .381 BA, BEST BA, Phase I, Caribbean Series, 1949-to-1960. Top 10 are Thurman (.381), Wilmer Fields (.375), Héctor Rodríguez (.357), Pedro Formental (.350), Willard Brown (.343), Sandy 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 (.679), Willard Brown (.627) and Clemente’s .592 SLG. Sadly, Thurman is not in the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame, but was inducted in the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, October 20, 1991, at the first-ever ceremony of its kind in Ponce, with Willard Brown and eight others: 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.
It would be special for Bob Thurman to be inducted in the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame the first week of February 2020, when Puerto Rico hosts the February 1-7, 2020 Caribbean Series. Thurman would join former Santurce teammates Willard Brown, Rubén Gómez, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, in this illustrious “family.” It would be even more special since Mays (CF) and Clemente (LF) played the OF with Thurman (RF) on Santurce’s 1954-55 team. Let us not forget 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. And Thurman was 39-32 as a pitcher in Puerto Rico, excluding his post-season pitching.
With deep appreciation to Bob Thurman for his friendship, humility and kindness. Special thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado who recently nominated Bob Thurman (and Buster Clarkson) for consideration as 2020 Caribbean Series Hall of Fame Inductees. Let us pray that Bob Thurman gets the recognition he deserves for being a catalyst in Santurce’s three Caribbean Series titles, 1951, 1953 and 1955. Santurce later won the 1993 and 2000 Caribbean Series. Their five titles are a second-place tie with the Caguas Criollos and Aguilas Cibaeñas (Dominican Republic). The Licey Tigers of the Dominican Republic have the most Caribbean Series crowns with 10.