Showing posts with label 1955 Caribbean Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1955 Caribbean Series. Show all posts

Monday, June 9, 2014

How Don Zimmer took the reins from Clemente and Mays in Puerto Rico

With a lineup that included Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, it was very unlikely that a career .235 major league hitter would steal the spotlight, but for a week during the 1955 Caribbean Series, Don Zimmer reigned supreme.

Don Zimmer crossing home plate with Santurce
Zimmer was the starting shortstop on arguably the greatest winter league team ever assembled, the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers.

“We had a team that I thought that could beat two-to-three of the lesser teams in the National League,” Zimmer said when spoke in 2011 at the MLB offices.

“We had Bus Clarkson at third base, I played short, Ronnie Samford at second, and George Crowe played first. Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti caught. Mays, [Bob] Thurman and Clemente played the outfield. People laugh when I tell them that. They say, ‘No!’ I say, ‘Yes, that was our outfield.’ … That was a great club!”

Zimmer almost played his way out of Puerto Rico that winter, but was saved by the last minute due to some quick thinking by Santurce’s manager Herman Franks.

“I was struggling with Mayaguez and they let me go. There was some kind of rule that if I left Puerto Rico, then any other club could bring me back to Puerto Rico to play … went to Miami, and Herman Franks called me to play for Santurce … got on an airplane to Puerto Rico,” Zimmer said in Thomas E. Van Hyning’s "The Santurce Crabbers".

Holding down the middle of the infield, Zimmer helped Santurce breeze through the Puerto Rican Winter League for a spot in the Caribbean Series in Caracas. They were the clear favorites going into the series, much to the chagrin of Bobby Bragan who managed the Cuban entry from Almendares.

“I remember going to Caracas,” he said. “Bobby Bragan was managing the Cuban team. He said, ‘They said you got a good team, huh? You’ll wind up second.’ Ronnie Samford was in a bar that night with us, having a beer. I didn’t want to say nothing to Bragan, but Ronnie said, ‘You couldn’t beat us.’”

Samford was right, the Santurce team ran over the competition, winning their first five games to clinch the championship. Zimmer hit .400 with three home runs, including a leading off Game 2 against Panama with a circuit blast.

Zimmer earned MVP honors for his performance, besting his teammate Mays, who hit .462 after starting the series 0-14.

“I was a cinch to be the Most Valuable Player of the Caribbean Series, except Mays got hot the last two days and took over,” he said in 2011.

While Zimmer couldn’t duplicate the success that he had in Puerto Rico in the major leagues, the experience he gained from playing with all of the veterans from the Negro Leagues and the Caribbean was invaluable in shaping the rest of his career.

“I was just 21 years old,” he said. “Just being around them was good enough for me, learning and watching the way they went about things.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Willie Mays and Ruben Gomez slugged it out 55 years ago in Puerto Rico

Willie Mays and Ruben Gomez were not only teammates on the New York Giants from 1954-58, but were teammates on arguably the greatest winter team ever assembled, the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers. Both were integral players on a team that would run away with the 1955 Carribbean Series championship. Mays anchored an outfield which included Roberto Clemente and Bob Thurman.

Gomez chiefed a staff which included "Sad" Sam Jones, Luis Arroyo and Bill Greason. With their infield including George Crowe, Ron Samford, Don Zimmer and Bus Clarkson, many experts have said that this team could hang with any of the great teams in baseball history.

Willie Mays and Ruben Gomez in Santurce
As wonderful as the team played, things were not harmonious between two of it's biggest stars, Gomez and Mays. Before a January exhibition game. Gomez and Mays engaged in a scuffle over a turn in batting practice. According to an Associated Press report, Santurce club president Pedrin Zorilla described the events as followed.

"Gomez started kidding Roberto Clemente, his teammates who was having  his swings," Zorillia recalled. "Gomez said he wanted to get in a couple of swings but batting practice pitcher Milton Ralat said Clemente wasn't through yet. Gomez still kidding, sat on home plate. Mays was behind the cage, watching the horseplay, and stepped out to ask Ralat to pitch to him while the other two decided their argument. ... Finally, Ralat threw some slow ones to Mays. He hit one directly at Ralat, knocking off his glove. Ralat got mad and said something like, 'What are you trying to do, kill me?'

"That led to arguing between Ralat and Mays and finally got to blows. Gomez tried to intervene to halt it. Mays apparently mistook Gomez' intentions and gave him a shove. Gomez, unexpecting it, went down."

Many other reports have Gomez going down as a result of one of Mays punches. Damage control quickly ensued and the two squashed their beef. The Associated Press reported that Gomez said, "There's nothing to it. We both consider the case closed and are good friends."

Mays went on to deny the fight.

"We want to make clear there was no fight and you can say without reservation that there is no difficulty between Gomez and myself."

Days after the incident, the Victoria Advocate reported that Mays left the Santurce team as a result of the fight. Mays told the International News Service that he was leaving Puerto Rico because, "it was just too much." He cited the 154 games he played with the Giants and the additional 62 games with Santurce as, "taking too much" and "not being fair to the Giants."

Mays left Puerto Rico and returned two weeks later for the playoffs. Mays went hitless in his first 13 at-bats in the series, until he hit a two-out, two-run walk-off homer in the 11th inning of Game Six. He then went 11-for-13 in the next three games to finish with a .462 average (12-for-26) and leading the series in RBIs.