Sunday, May 7, 2017

Luis Olmo recounts facing Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in Puerto Rico

Luis Olmo, a pioneering Puerto Rican in the major leagues, passed away April 28, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 97.

The fabulous outfielder became only the second Puerto Rican in the major leagues when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. His entry followed the lead of Hiram Bithorn, who made history with the Chicago Cubs a year prior in 1942.

Luis Olmo signed photo / N. Diunte
Adrian Burgos of La Vida Baseball expertly documented Olmo's career in the wake of his passing, citing Olmo's influence on generations of Puerto Rican baseball players. His professional career started in the 1930s, leaving him as one of a small handful of peloteros at the time of his death that could document the pre-WWII era of the sport.

Acknowledging Olmo's place alongside those who opened the door for integration, I wrote to him in 2008 asking about the Negro League legends he encountered playing in Puerto Rico. While his answers were brief, they spoke volumes.

The then 89-year-old Olmo gave his insights on three Hall of Famers: Ray Dandridge, Satchel Paige, and Josh Gibson. A copy of the letter is included below, as is a transcript of the questions and his answers.

Q - "Where does Ray Dandridge rank when you think of 3rd baseman?
Luis Olmo - "One of the best I ever seen."

Q - What do you think kept the Giants from calling him to the Major League team?
Olmo - "Racism."

Q - What are your memories of facing Satchel Paige in his prime while in Puerto Rico during the late 1930s and early 1940s?
Olmo - "A great pitcher."

Q- What are your favorite memories of playing with and against Josh Gibson in Puerto Rico? 
Olmo - "Gibson was able to hit 100 home runs in a season."  

Luis Olmo letter to the author in 2008 / N. Diunte


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