Willard Brown: Hall of Fame Career from Santurce Crabbers to Cooperstown (Part II)  

Willard Brown (June 26, 1915, to August 4, 1996) landed in Cooperstown in 2006, a decade after his passing. His Kansas City Monarchs stats are now embedded as Major League ones, thanks to rulings by Commissioner Manfred. Moreover, his stellar Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) career and Caribbean Series (C.S.) performances got him inducted into the initial P.R. Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 and the first-ever CS Hall of Fame Class of 1996. Part I focused on Cuba, Mexico, PR, and Venezuela, and his 1950 C.S. Part II covers 1950-54 with Santurce, his two summers in the Dominican Republic (D.R.) Summer League (1951 and 1952), his MVP 1953 C.S. in Havana, and the 1956-57 Santurce swan song. Part III transitions to the Monarchs, a partial (1947) season with the St. Louis Browns, minor-league seasons, and the 2006 Cooperstown Induction. In the PRWL, Brown was «Ese Hombre» (That Man) for his prodigious homers. He played at 5-11, 200 pounds.

The “Pepelucazo” sends the 1950-51 Santurce Crabbers to Caracas

According to the 1950 U.S. Census of Population, Santurce—part of San Juan (S.J.)—had 195,007 residents, the most in its history. Many rabid Santurce Crabbers fans lived in working-class areas in Barrio Obrero, Trastalleres, Gandul, etc. In 1960, its population was 178,179 when the author’s family moved to Santurce’s Estrella Street, between the Condado—a tourist area—and Fernández Juncos Avenue. The author’s parents worked in Santurce, then—Sam, with FOMENTO, PR’s Economic Development Authority, on Stop 22; and Paula, Department of Commerce, near Woolworth’s on Stop 17, near bus stops used by commuters. Sixto Escobar Stadium, home to the Crabbers and arch-rival S.J. Senators, was in Puerta de Tierra, off the Atlantic Ocean, between the Condado and Old S.J.

The 1950-51 Crabbers defeated favored 57-20 Caguas Criollos in a seven-game final and won five of six February 1951 C.S. games in Venezuela to claim their first league/C.S. titles, respectively. Bob Thurman hit superbly: .362 B.A., 13 H.R., and 66 RBIs, plus 6-5 with 46 strikeouts pitching for the 48-30 Crabbers, who were 13-5 in the post-season, including the C.S. Willard Brown led the loop with 76 RBIs and, hit 14 H.R. Santurce 3B James «Buster» Clarkson’s 18 H.R. led the league. Thurman hit more doubles than Brown (22-to-19) and recorded more hits, 112-to-99. This rivalry was comparable to Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig with the New York Yankees, except that Brown batted right-handed, and Thurman batted and threw left-handed.

Thurman bested Caguas and Mike Clark, one of their aces, 2-1, in Game Five of their finals. «Bob Thurman was a great hitter and effective on the mound, and Willard Brown had power,» recalled Clark in 1992. «If we win that game, we win the series in six, and I do not face Thurman, Brown, and Pepe Lucas in the ninth inning [in relief] of game seven.» Thurman won Game Five thanks to Junior Gilliam’s two-run single.

On February 17, 1951, Luis Rafael Cabrera defeated Caguas, 3-2, in Game Seven at Escobar Stadium. Guigo Otero Suro, Santurce’s Vice-President, was visited by «Cabrerita» the night before at the Crabbers’ Stop 16 offices. Cabrera wanted Guigo to locate Doña Lala, who practiced voodoo in Ponce—Cabrera’s hometown—so that she could put a hex on Caguas. Guigo told the pitcher to «stay put.» He phoned Pancho Coímbre, in Ponce, with instructions to have Doña Lala put in a cab the next day for the [four-hour] trip to Escobar. Guigo recalled:

«Our equipment manager believed in ‘Black magic,’ and he reserved two seats near the clubhouse. Game Seven started…got word that the cab from Ponce was in Rio Piedras…she arrived in the third inning and placed some objects inside the clubhouse. Cabrera, after that, pitched very well.»

In the eighth, Mike Clark (14-6, regular season) relieved starter Roberto Vargas (10-1). Manolo Cáceres, Caguas’s third ace, went 12-1, before two sub-par appearances in the finals—Games Two and Three. In the home ninth, Brown retired Brown on a grounder and fanned Thurman. Pepe Lucas, José St. Claire, deposited Clark’s second pitch over the left-field fence. Luis R. Olmo could only watch the line drive sail into eternity between him, in left, and center-fielder Tetelo Vargas. Clark threw his glove into the stands and walked off the field. «It was noisy and Pepe Lucas [with a .243 B.A. and two regular season homers] became a hero,» remembered Clark. «They [Santurce] asked me to reinforce them in the 1951 C.S.»

Reinaldo «Poto» Paniagua, future Santurce owner (1976-77 to early 2000s) attended the game and recalled. «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.» Pedrín Zorrilla had waited 11 years for this moment. «I committed with our fans 11 years ago to bring them a championship. That commitment has been honored. May God bless you.» George Scales, Santurce’s manager, noted: «Those who wait patiently have their moments of happiness. This is mine.»

The December 26, 1950, PRWL All-Star Game was virtually forgotten, won by the Natives (13 P.R. players plus Dominican Cáceres), 5-1, over the Imports (14 Stateside players). Roberto Vargas won it, and Mike Clark took the loss. Olmo drove in two to pace the Natives. Carlos Manuel Santiago, Mayagüez’s second baseman with the Natives, noted that Lew Burdette—his Indios teammate—started for the Imports, and it «meant something to enjoy it but also come out ahead.»

Success in Caracas

Santurce prevailed in the February 1951 C.S. with pitching by Rubén Gómez (2-0) and Ponce reinforcement José «Pantalones» Santiago (2-0). MVP Olmo batted .417 (10-for-24) with three homers and nine RBIs. The Caguas-Crabbers line-up had Olmo (L.F.), Stan Breard (S.S.), George Crowe (1B), and catcher Güigüí Lucas—Pepe’s brother—complementing Junior Gilliam (2B), Buster Clarkson (3B), Brown (C.F.), and Thurman (R.F.). Pedrín and Guigo made the proper C.S. roster decisions. More details on the 1951 C.S. will be in the author’s Fall 2024 book on these 1949-2024 events.

Summer of 1951

Brown joined the 1951 Escogido Lions at the behest of their manager, Pepe Lucas, who replaced Dick Seay and Pancho Coímbre as the Escogido skipper halfway through 1951. LIDOM (Liga Dominicana) teams, then and now, frequently fire managers during the season. Escogido won the second half to face arch-rival Licey Tigers (32-24 overall) in the best-of-seven finals. In 25 regular season games, Brown slugged five H.R. in 91 A.B., second on the team to Pepe Lucas’s six H.R. Fans compared Brown to arch-rival Licey’s Alonzo Perry, who also joined his team late. Table I compares Brown’s stats with those of Pepe Lucas and Perry—who was to Licey/LIDOM fans in the 1950s what Brown represented to Santurce/PRWL fans.

Table I: Willard Brown, Alonzo Perry, and Pepe Lucas’s 1951 LIDOM Hitting Stats


Source: Winterball Data.

Licey topped Escogido, four games to one, in the finals. Perry went 8-for-20, a .400 B.A., three homers, and 14 RBIs, as the finals MVP. Brown hit two H.R.s and drove in four for Escogido. Pepe Lucas convinced «Cabrerita» to pitch for Escogido, but he was 1-3, with a 7.20 ERA. Conversely, 40-year-old Roy Partlow went 5-0 with a 0.57 ERA in five Escogido starts. Willard Brown had a 10-inning start, allowing ten hits, fanning five, and walking seven. He was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA. Manolo Cáceres had a 7-2 mark for Licey and played the outfield.

Summer of 1952

Brown’s second season with Escogido (31-25) didn’t include post-season play. His Santurce teammate Valmy Thomas joined Escogido, as did Luis «Tite» Arroyo from Ponce and talented veterans from past Negro Leagues—Dan Bankhead, Barney Brown, Johnny Davis, Howard Easterling, and John Wright—once highly touted by Brooklyn. Rubén Gómez went 8-3 for Licey, after securing his release from the Kansas City Blues in the Yankees farm system. Gómez was a close friend of Pepe Lucas and recommended—several years earlier—that Pedrín Zorrilla sign him (Lucas) for Santurce. «I saw Pepe play in an amateur tournament in the D.R. and was impressed by him,» noted Gómez. «We became good friends, and I later (1960-61) reinforced Escogido, managed by Pepe, when [Rafael Leónidas] Trujillo still ruled the D.R.»

Escogido’s three skippers were Dick Seay (0-2), Fellé Delgado (16-14), and Martín Dihigo (15-9). Table II has selected hitting and pitching stats for the 1952 Lions.

Table II: Selected Hitting and Pitching Statistics for 1952 Escogido Lions

Willard Brown511912858529299.304.379.492.871
H. Easterling361421642710147.296.367.359.726
Pepe Lucas552032251205287.251.348.335.683
Valmy Thomas531963047710147.240.307.286.593
John Wright2218103105 14512069392.051.10
Tite Arroyo261411289 141.285101551.780.99
Johnny Davis653032 40.2351792.211.08
Barney Brown543131 29.22323102.121.11
Dan Bankhead3   02 17121262.121.06
Joe Page1   10 44  2.251.00

Source: Winterball Data.

Santurce and PRWL Legacy

Santurce (42-30) won their second league and C.S. crown in 1952-53, after finishing second to S.J. in 1951-52. Brown, in 1952-53, hit .342 with three H.R. and 20 RBIs, in 114 AB. He impressed baseball fans in Havana, Cuba, during the February 1953 C.S. 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. The Crabbers hit .367 with a .575 SLG, scoring 50 runs, 8.3 per game.

The Crabbers were last (32-48) in 1953-54 but finished first in 1954-55 (47-25) and won the 1955 C.S. behind Willie Mays (C.F.), Roberto Clemente (L.F.), and Thurman (R.F.). Brown’s final 23 Santurce AB came in November 1956 after he replaced Bill White, inducted into the U.S. Army. On November 16, he cracked two homers versus Ponce, his 100th and 101st PRWL round-trippers. Brown had 679 hits in 1,940 PRWL AB for his all-time best .350 B.A. His 135 doubles, 27 triples, and 101 HR gave him a league-best .604 career SLG. Table III has his B.A., H.R., and RBI totals.

Table III: Willard Brown’s PRWL All-Time Ranking—B.A., H.R., and RBIs

Willard Brown.350Bob Thurman120Bob Thurman566
Pancho Coímbre.337José “Cheo” Cruz119Canena Márquez500
Perucho Cepeda.325Elrod Hendricks105Vic Power489
Roberto Clemente.324Héctor Villanueva105Willard Brown473
Orlando Cepeda.323Willard Brown101José M. Morales467
Juan “Tetelo” Vargas.321Buster Clarkson98José “Cheo” Cruz465
Bob Thurman.313Canena Marquez97José A. Pagán463
Omar García.304Candy Maldonado92Buster Clarkson461
Alfonso Gerard.303Orlando Cepeda89Juan J. Beníquez450
Tony Pérez.303Carmelo Martínez86Héctor Villanueva450
Buster Clarkson.301Willie Montañez86  
Motorita Feliciano.301Ismael Oquendo85  
Canena Márquez.300José A. Pagán85  

Source: https://beisbol101.com/lideres-de-todos-los-tiempos/

Caribbean Overview

Brown went 23-for-67, for a .343 B.A., in three C.S. tournaments, five H.R. and 19 RBIs. He was inducted into the CS Hall of Fame in 1996 with Rico Carty (D.R.), Héctor Espino (Mexico), and Camilo Pascual (Cuba). On October 20, 1991, he was one of 10 inducted into the P.R. Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, including Santurce teammates Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Rubén Gómez, Terín Pizarro, and Bob Thurman. Table IV covers his Caribbean (Cuba, Mexico, PR, Venezuela, and D.R.) hitting stats from 1937-38 to 1956-57.

Table IV: Willard Brown’s Hitting Stats in the Caribbean, 1937-38 to 1956-57

1941-42H-A1222250134426 .410.680
1946-47SAN2544499!254950^ ,390!.626
1947-48SAN23479!10120527!86! .432!.906!
1949-50SAN33165117!21616!97! .354!.598!
1950 CSCAG233810031.348.391
1951 CSSAN204500130.250.400
1953 CSSAN248<10<3<04<13<0.417<1.042<
Totals 28055169541703513964357.340.574

#Summer. HAV: Havana Lions. NLA: Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes. H-A: Humacao-Arecibo.

SAN: Santurce Crabbers. CAG: Caguas Criollos. O.V.: Orange Victoria. ESC: Escogido Lions. >Finals. !Led league. C.S.: Caribbean Series. <Led C.S. ^Tied for lead. Sources: Jorge Figueredo, Cuban Baseball (2003); Pedro Treto Cisneros, Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano (2011); Luis Verde, Historia del Béisbol de Zulia, Tomo 1; Jorge Colón Delgado, https://beisbol101.com/jugador/willard-brown/ Winterball Data.

Thanks to Mike Clark, Rubén Gómez, Guigo Otero Suro, Poto Paniagua, and Carlos Manuel Santiago. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

Photo colorization: Joe Torres

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