Fernando Díaz Pedroso: February 24, 1947, Homerun versus New York Yankees (Part I)

Fernando Diaz Pedroso color
Fernando Díaz Pedroso

Fernando Diaz Pedroso became a big leaguer on December 16, 2020, when his 1945-1947 seasons with the New York Cubans achieved MLB status due to the official position taken by Commissioner Rob Manfred. This decision positively affected players in seven Negro Leagues from 1920-to 1948. So, who was Pedroso, and what were some of his baseball career takeaways? Coincidentally, his most famous home run came for the Ponce Lions, versus Joe Page of the New York Yankees, on February 24, 1947, in a San Juan, Puerto Rico spring training game, precisely 75 years before this blog was published.

Pedroso, who played at 5’11” and 180 pounds, was born in Marianao, Cuba (a borough of Havana), on May 30, 1924. He passed away at age 70, November 20, 1994, in Villahermosa, capital and largest city of southeast Mexico’s state of Tabasco. Pedroso played professionally in the Cuban Winter League, Puerto Rico Winter League, Negro National League II, and Mexican League. He is one of over 200 Negro Leaguers who saw action in the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League. https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/list-of-negro-leaguers-in-puerto-rico/     Pedroso contributed to the success of these championship teams:

  • 1946-47 Ponce Lions, Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL)
  • 1947 New York Cubans, Negro National League II
  • 1950-51 and 1951-52 Havana Lions aka Reds, Cuban Winter League
  • February 1952 Caribbean Series Champs (Havana)
  • 1954 Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes, Mexican League
  • 1956 Mexico City Red Devils, Mexican League.

Part I will focus on Pedroso’s seasons in Puerto Rico, primarily the 1946-47 Ponce Lions.

Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL), 1946-1950

The Mayor of Ponce, André Grillasca (in white suit), greets Pedroso after his historic homerun against the Yankees.

Eight-year-old Freddie Thon Jr. was the batboy for the 1945-46 San Juan Senators. His dad—Freddie Thon Sr.—played RF for the Senators, with Luis R. Olmo patrolling CF and Félix “Fellé” Delgado in LF. Monte Irvin played second base for San Juan.

Thon Jr. remembered the 1945-46 batting race “very well” between Irvin and Ponce’s Pedroso, affirming: “His [Pedroso’s] nickname in Puerto Rico was “Pajarito” [Birdie], but that had a different meaning in his native Cuba, where it was ‘Bicho’ (NOT appropriate in Puerto Rico.)” Irvin went 55 for 157, a .3677 average, but Pedroso (35 for 95) edged him at .3684. Both teams played 41 games, with Pedroso recording 2.32 AB, per Ponce game, versus Irvin’s 3.78 AB. San Juan (23-18) emerged as the league champion, winning the finals over the Mayagüez Indians.

Pedroso propelled Ponce to a 38-22 record, 1946-47, with 35 runs, team-leading .348 AVG, 12 HR, 35 RBIs and 19 SB. Projected to 162 games, Pedroso hit 32 homers, drove in 95 and stole 51 bases! His 19 steals tied Santurce’s Cocó Ferrer for first. Ponce’s four starters had 20-win seasons, prorated to 162 games—Tomás “Planchardón” Quiñones (9-4), Juan Guilbe (8-2), José “Pantalones” Santiago (8-4) and Johnny Wright (8-5), in a 60-game regular season. Ponce’s other pitchers (Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Pat Scantlebury, and Gilberto “Foca” Valentín) were a combined 5-7. 

Epic Home Run versus Bronx Bombers (February 24, 1947)

San Juan batboy Freddie Thon Jr. saw the 1947 Yankees in person, Saturday, February 22, 1947, at Sixto Escobar Stadium, home of his Senators and Santurce Crabbers. The Yankees routed the  Senators, 16-3, behind Floyd Bevens, Allie Reynolds, and Spec Shea. Barney Brown took the loss. Thon recalled Bevens threw his dad a “strike three curveball that fell off the table.” Dan Bankhead was the losing pitcher. New York bested Caguas, 6-4, the next day.

On February 24, Clarence Marshall started for New York as one of four Yankees pitchers. Ponce coach Raymond Brown scattered many hits (opponents’ line score was 8-16-2) and tired somewhat in the eighth. In the home sixth, Fernando Díaz Pedroso enriched himself by at least $70 when rabid fans made sure he was rewarded with bills and coins after his three-run HR off Joe Page. Ponce mayor Andrés Grillasca ran to home plate to shake Pedroso’s hand. Brown pitched effectively until the eighth when New York tallied four thanks to three errors. Ponce manager George Scales summoned Pantalones Santiago, who fanned two Yankees to end the inning before retiring the side in the ninth for the save. A five-column heading in the sports section of February 25, 1947, New York Times said: “To the consternation of manager Bucky Harris and the frenzied delight of 5,000 onlookers, the bombers came down with a terrific crash as they blew their game with the Ponce Club of the Puerto Rican League by a score of 12-8.”

March 2-16, 1947, Serie de los Lechones (Roasted Pig Series)

Per author Raúl Ramos, the Puerto Rico press dubbed the Caguas-Ponce finals as the second Iwo Jima, alluding to the famous World War II battle. Caguas fans roasted pigs in “lechoneras” on local highways after the Criollos won the first three games, but it was for naught when the Lions roared back to win four straight! Caguas won the first three before Ponce swept on Sunday, March 9 twin-ball on the road and returned home the following weekend to win this series.

Pedroso went 11-for-30, .367 AVG, in this series. Carlos Lanauze (.385 AVG), Marzo Cabrera (.323), Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre (.320) and Howard Easterling (.296) produced for Ponce.

Planchardón Quiñones (2-0) and Juan Guilbe (2-1) combined for Ponce’s four wins. Ponce skipper George Scales won his fifth title at Ponce’s helm (1941-45 and 1946-47). Pedroso’s heroics also included fine defensive plays at second base. https://www.1800beisbol.com/baseball/deportes/beisbol_puerto_rico/puerto_rico_la_serie_de_los_lechones_1946_1947/   

Pedroso produced for Ponce in 1947-48, with 13 HR and 58 RBIs, in a 60-game season, second to Santurce’s Willard Brown (27 and 86). Pedroso’s 41 RBIs were second to Glenn McQuillen’s 56. And Pedroso’s .361 batting average led all Ponce hitters, including Herb Souell (.345), Pancho Coimbre (.323), and Louis Louden (.304). In 1948-49, Pedroso had an off-year with Ponce: .266-7-23, when Coimbre (.336), Joe Atkins (.325), and Buzz Clarkson (.309) posted the Lions’ top three batting averages. In 1949-50, Pedro played 2B for San Juan, alongside SS Jaime Almendro, the “Phil Rizzuto” of Puerto Rico. Table I has Pedroso’s available professional baseball hitting stats.

Table I: Pedroso’s Available Hitting Stats, Excluding New York Cubans’ Regular Seasons

Cuban Winter League4575811115223815.243.298
All-Star Games+100410011.400.500
PRWL Finals&306111004NA.367.400
Caribbean Series2841010053.357.379
Mexican League2,252385742106314838936.329.468

+Three All-Star Games for East, with New York Cubans, 1946, 1949 and 1950. & March 1947 “Roasted Pig” Finals. !Incomplete stats. Sources: Jorge S. Figueredo, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003; Larry Lester ,https://tinyurl.com/ycbv67n3; https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/fernando-diaz-pedroso/ ; Rafael Costas, Enciclopedia Béisbol Ponce Leones, 1989; Pedro Treto Cisneros, Editor, Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano, Undécima Edición, 2011.  

With gratitude to Larry Lester for Pedroso’s New York Cubans (East) All-Star Game stats. Raúl Ramos covered details on March 1947 finals, between the Caguas Criollos and Ponce Lions, in his (self-published) 2020 book: Francisco Coímbre: Los Bates Grandes se Respetan. Thanks to Freddie Thon Jr., San Juan’s 1945-46 eight-year-old batboy recalled Pedroso’s batting title in Puerto Rico in a “close call” with Monte Irvin. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, edited and inserted photos.

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