Wilmer Fields: 75th Anniversary of First Homer in Caribbean Series (C.S.) History (February 23, 1949)

Wilmer Fields

Wilmer Fields once told the author: «If you didn’t produce, your butt was coming across that creek, and somebody else was on the way.» This referred to the reality of winter baseball in the Caribbean—you either produced or were sent home. Fields invited the author into his Manassas, Virginia home (a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C.) in 1991, the year before his autobiography My Life in the Negro Leagues was published by Meckler. His eight seasons with the Homestead Grays were 1940-to-1942 and 1946-to-1950, except for World War II service, 1943 through his honorable discharge in May 1946. Fields was born in rural Manassas on August 2, 1922. The SABR bio of Easter by Frederick C. Bush is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/wilmer-fields/. He was the fourth of five children born to Albert and Mabel Fields. There were three older brothers and a younger sister. Vic Harris and Sammy Bankhead, two managers Fields had with the Grays, encouraged him to play different positions. Fields was a valuable commodity when he played winter ball from 1947-48 through the mid-1950s. The Fields’ quotes in this blog come from his book or past conversations with the author. Fields was listed as 6‘3» and 215 lbs.

Fields won Game Four: 1948 Negro Leagues World Series

Perhaps his most memorable memory was Game Four of the 1948 Negro Leagues World Series, played in New Orleans on October 3, where his wife Audrey was from. (Wilmer met Audrey toward the end of his military service, stationed in Louisiana.) Fields drove at least 24 hours from D.C. to New Orleans and defeated the Birmingham Black Barons, 14-1, a team with 17-year-old Willie Mays, Piper Davis, Artie Wilson, Bill Greason, and Bill Powell. The Grays won Game Five to win the last Negro Leagues World Series. Sammy Bankhead was the Grays’ player-manager (shortstop); Buck Leonard played 1B his previous season; and Thurman (RF-P), Canena Márquez (C.F.), and Easter (L.F.) formed a superb OF. Fields (7-1, league play and 13-5 overall) played 3B when not pitching, and Thurman (6-4), R.T. Walker (7-3), and Tom Parker (7-4) were other contributors. The Grays had three of the league’s top five hitters: Leonard #1, .395 B.A.; Easter #3, .363 B.A.; and Thurman #5, .345 B.A. «I played in three Caribbean Series events,» said Fields, «but this was my only World Series. Easter, Márquez, and Thurman were wonderful teammates…played with Luke on that great 1948-49 Mayagüez ballclub…»

Indios de Mayagüez, 1948-49 Season

Jorge Colón Delgados 2019 book, Los Indios de Mayagüez, chronicles their epic 1948-49 season, with 51 wins and 29 losses, winning the leagues final series and representing Puerto Rico in the first C.S., February 20-25, 1949, in Havana, Cuba. Fields led the five-team Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) with 88 RBIs in the 80-game season, subsequently broken by Willard Browns 97 RBIs for Santurce, 1949-50. Fields 108 hits in 325 AB included 17 doubles, two triples, and 11 H.R. His 56 runs, .332 B.A., .498 SLG, and 9-6 mound record were impressive. Alonzo Perry played 1B and pitched for Mayagüez; Johnny Davis pitched and played the OF. Easters .402 B.A. led all PRWL hitters. Easter (81), Perry (76), player-manager Artie Wilson (69), Márquez (65), and Carlos Bernier (64) were 1-2-3-4-5 in runs scored. Márquez, with Aguadilla, was the only non-Mayagüez player on this list. Willard Brown-Bob Thurman, who hit 18 H.R. for Santurce, were one-two. Easter was second in RBIs to Fields (80-to-88) and third in H.R., with 14. Mayagüez won four of six games versus Santurce (47-33) to punch their ticket to Havana for the C.S. They split a twin bill at Sixto Escobar Stadium on February 13, 1949, before the Indios won two of three at home, Liga Paris, February 14-15-16. Fields outpitched Thurman in Game Three, 5-4, while Perry went the route in a 6-2 win before a near-capacity crowd of 13,133 paid fans at Escobar on February 18, 1949. A joyous caravan ensued from San Juan to Mayagüez via Aguadilla, a town 18 miles north of Mayagüez on the Islands West Coast.

February 20-25, 1949 Caribbean Series (C.S.), Havana, Cuba, Plus 1950 and 1952 C.S.

Fields went nine for 21, .429 B.A., and .667 SLG, with a series-leading eight runs scored, and hit the first Grand Slam in C.S. history, February 23, 1949, in Mayagüezs only win, 11-9 over Spur Cola, Panamá, three days after losing the series opener to them. It came in the eighth inning off Leonardo Goicoechea. He was the teams best hitter. Easter went 10-for-25 (.400 B.A. and .560 SLG) in Havana, but Mayagüez (1-5) finished last to Almendares, Cuba (6-0), Cervecería Caracas, Venezuela (3-3) and Spur Cola (2-4), despite a series-leading .307 team B.A. Their pitching was weak, and they added the wrong reinforcements, catcher Quincy Trouppe and IF Piper Davis, instead of two pitchers: Santurces John Ford Smith and Ponces Japhet «Red« Lynn, who both won 13 regular season games in Puerto Rico, the equivalent of 26 in a 162-game season. Cuba was the strongest team, led by Monte Irvin and Agapito Mayor. Fields noted that Irvin had two H.R., 11 RBIs, and three S.B.s, and Chuck Connors, Almendares first baseman and future actor, eventually left baseball for acting fame.

Fields preferred that Mayagüez have a CS OF with Luke Easter (L.F.), Canena Márquez (C.F.), and Bob Thurman (R.F.). Johnny Davis was hurt (leg abscess), and Carlos Bernier (two-for-20) slumped. Lynn and Ford Smith—recently signed by the New York Giants with Monte Irvin—would start twice (Games One-Two, Five-Six). Fields and Perry one start each, Games Three-Four, and there is no need to activate Bill Powell for this series. Carlos Manuel Santiago plays second instead of Piper Davis, and Mayagüezs three native catchers, King Kong Villodas, Chago Muratti, and Humberto «Pita« Martí—a combined eight-for-20—play in the games in which Quincy Trouppe participated in. On a positive note, Fields re-connected with Sammy Bankhead, who played shortstop for Spur Cola, and Sam Jethroe, Almendares CF and ex-Cleveland Buckeyes player. Allegations emerged of team members partying in Havana, but this did not apply to Fields, a family man who never drank nor smoked. Mayagüez scored 36 runs but allowed 60 runs per game for a four-run deficit.

Fields reinforced Caguas in the 1950 C.S., hosted by San Juan, and hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer to defeat Magallanes, 2-1, on February 23. The next night, he pitched a complete game in besting Havana, 6-1. Fields wintered in Venezuela, 1950-53. He played in 20 games with Cervecería Caracas, 1950-51, with 28 hits/72 A.B., .389 B.A., and .639 SLG; then, a complete 1951-52 season, 56 games for 40-15 Cervecería Caracas in winning League MVP honors. His .348 B.A. and .575 SLG plus eight H.R. and 45 RBIs led his club to the February 1952 C.S. in Panamá.

The February 20-26, 1952 C.S. in Panamá featured homers by Fields versus Havana (February 24) and San Juan Senators (February 26). Fields third and last C.S. was as a right fielder for 3-3 Cervecería Caracas, tied for second with host Carta Vieja. Havana (5-0-1) won it; San Juan (0-5-1) was last. Fields went nine-for-25 with two H.R. and eight RBIs for a .360 B.A. and .720 SLG. Spook Jacobs, Carta Vieja 2B, was impressed: «Fields was a gentleman who could hit,« said Jacobs. «And he was a star in the Negro Leagues…excellent all-around player.« Fields made the C.S. All-Star Team in R.F. His eight RBIs were tops; his nine hits tied Jacobs and Sandy Amorós, the series batting champ (.450 B.A.). His Venezuelan regular season career record was 11 H.R., 68 RBIs, .340 B.A., and .545 SLG. PRWL: 22 H.R., 176 RBIs, .317 B.A., .455 SLG, and 23-21 on the mound. He starred in the 1953 Dominican Summer League, Colombias Winter League, 1954-56, and the 1958 Mexican League.

In three C.S., Fields, in 15 games, had 21 hits in 56 A.B., a .375 B.A.; five doubles, four H.R., 16 RBIs, 13 runs, and .679 SLG, second-best in Phase I, 1949-1960, C.S. The criteria was a minimum of 37 at-bats in 12 games, or 3.1 at-bats/game. Fieldss .375 B.A. was fifth overall in Phase I, behind Cubas Solly Drake (.391), Junior Gilliam (.383), Bob Thurman (.381), and Rocky Nelson (.381), per Table I. Fields, 1-1 in 16 innings, 1949 and 1950 C.S., was inducted in the CS Hall of Fame, in 2001. He passed away in Manassas on June 4, 2004.

Table I. Top 20 CS BA; Top 11 SLG; Top 8 H.R. (Phase I, 1949-1960)

1949-1960 (Phase I) 37+ A.B. (Phase I) 
Solly Drake-Cuba.391Lou Limmer-PR/VZA.805
Junior Gilliam-PR.383Wilmer Fields-PR/VZA.679
Bob Thurman-PR.381Junior Gilliam-PR.638
Rocky Nelson-Cuba.381Willard Brown-PR.627
Wilmer Fields-PR/VZA.375Roberto Clemente-PR.592
Lou Limmer-PR/VZA.366Héctor Rodríguez-Cuba.583
Héctor Rodríguez-Cuba.357Pedro Formental-Cuba.567
Minnie Miñoso-Cuba.356Orlando Cepeda-PR.565
Pedro Formental-Cuba.350Lou Klein-Cuba.524
Jim Pendleton-VZA.348Robert Wilson-VZA.522
Robert Wilson-VZA.348George Crowe-PR.512
Willard Brown-PR.343Player/CountryHR
Al Leap-Panamá.342Willard Brown-PR5
Sandy Amorós-Cuba.338Lou Limmer-PR/VZA5
Roberto Clemente-PR.327Héctor López-Panamá5
Orlando Cepeda-PR.326Wilmer Fields-PR/VZA4
Lou Klein-Cuba.324Camaleón García-VZA4
Angel Scull-Cuba.306Luis R. Olmo-PR4
Luis R. Olmo-PR.303Elías Osorio-Panamá4
Joe Tuminelli-Panamá.298Chico Carrasquel-VZA3

PR: Puerto Rico, VZA: Venezuela. Sources: 1949-1960 C.S. events.

Minimum 3.1 at-bats based on 12 team games, 1949-1960.

Special thanks to Wilmer Fields. Thanks to Spook Jacobs. Jorge Colón Delgado did the editing and photo placements.

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