Joshua Gibson managed and caught for the 1939-40 Santurce Crabbers, in Puerto Rico’s Winter League (PRWL). Quincy Trouppe did likewise for the 1947-48 Caguas Criollos, PRWL champs. Robert Clarke managed the 1945-46 San Juan Senators, as a catcher. Johnny Hayes performed catcher/manager double duty for the 1941-42 Aguadilla Sharks. Part I focuses on these talented player-managers in Puerto Rico. Part II highlights exploits by Gibson and Trouppe throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela.
1939-40 Santurce Crabbers: The “Softball Team”
Pedrín Zorrilla, Santurce’s owner, called Josh Gibson the “Bambino of the Caribbean” for the hitting prowess he displayed in Cuba (1938-39), Puerto Rico (barnstorming games, 1930s) and the Dominican Republic (summer of 1937). Gibson’s other nickname in Puerto Rico was “Trucutú,” named after a famous cartoon hero. Zorrilla signed three imports—the league maximum—to reinforce his 1939-40 Crabbers: pitcher Billy Byrd, infielder Dick Seay and catcher-manager Gibson. Seay was Santurce’s initial skipper since Gibson was absent the first three weeks of the season.
The 56-game season featured Sunday doubleheaders. When Gibson arrived at Santurce’s Isla Grande Airport via a Pan Am clipper, Friday, October 20, 1939, he was greeted by Pedrín, hurler Luis Rafael Cabrera, sportswriter Heriberto Ramírez de Arellano aka “Don Guindo,” Rafael Muñiz, and Mike Pasarell. On Saturday, Gibson worked out at Escambrón Stadium (renamed Sixto Escobar Stadium, to honor Puerto Rico’s first World Boxing Champion, a bantamweight.) Then, the arch-rival San Juan Senators—who shared Escambrón with Santurce—split their October 22, 1939 twin-bill by identical 3-2 scores. Raymond Brown won the opener for San Juan, followed by Byrd’s triumph for the Crabbers in the p.m. game.
Gibson’s first game for Santurce had Oscar Mangual, right; Seay, shortstop; Agustín “Tingo” Daviú, third; Gibson catching; Byrd, center; Monchile Concepción, left; Guillermo Angulo, first; Fellito Concepción, second; Cabrera, pitching. San Juan had shortstop Millito Martínez; third baseman Rafael Quintana; Gene “Bicicleta” Benson, center; catcher Clarence Palm; Pepe Santana, first; Raymond Brown pitching; Nenené Rivera, second; Georgie Calderón, right; Rafael Polanco, left. San Juan-Santurce rivalry became known as the “City Championship” thanks to Don Guindo. “I created Santurce’s first banner,” said Don Guindo. “It then occurred to me that a battle for the city’s supremacy would stimulate fan interest and attendance…”
Santurce, 26-29 W-L, was ridiculed as a “Softball Team” in its first years, per Reinando “Poto” Paniagua, franchise owner, late 1970s-early 21st century. Gibson did his part with a .380 batting average (BA), six homers, and 28 RBIs. He was second in BA to Guayama’s Perucho Cepeda (.383) but outpaced Cepeda in homers, six to five. Gibson and Aguadilla’s Leon Day left their clubs before seasons’ end to play in Venezuela. “Aguadilla paid me $20/week…it was a lot of fun living on the beach,” said Day. “There were good rivalries…Ponce had [Juan] Guilbe; Guayama’s Satchel Paige and I had a few duels; [Roy] Partlow was with San Juan…Cabrera and Billy Byrd could throw the ball for Santurce.”
1941-42 PRWL Season
Switch-hitting Quincy Trouppe became a fan favorite with the 1941-42 Guayama Witches, leading the league with 57 RBIs, for a second-place (29-15) team. His skills behind the plate and as a clutch hitter kept Guayama in the hunt behind the 30-13 Ponce Lions. Trouppe indicated that “I could communicate with the ballplayers. I could speak Spanish and talk to them, ‘cause if I couldn’t speak the language, it would have been difficult…[I] learned Spanish by playing in Mexico.”
Conversely, Joshua Gibson had a splendid season for the 1941-42 Crabbers, who tied the Caguas Criollos for fifth place at 21-23. Gibson’s astronomical .480 BA, reflected 59 hits in 123 AB, with a league-leading 13 round-trippers! His 43 RBIs were second to Trouppe. Both catchers combined for 100 RBIs. Table I compares Gibson’s 1941-42 hitting prowess with Trouppe, the only catcher to hit ten triples in a PRWL season.
Table I: Joshua Gibson and Quincy Trouppe, 1941-42 PRWL
#GUAY-Guayama; SAN-Santurce. Sources: https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/joshua-gibson/ https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/quincy-trouppe/
Lefty Barney “Brinquitos” Brown, Trouppe’s Guayama batterymate, was League MVP, with a 16-6 season, 2.58 ERA, and 153 strikeouts in 185.1 innings. (Gibson received a separate [MVP] trophy from the newspaper El Imparcial, not the League trophy.) A 14-year old Rubén Gómez recalled watching Barney Brown pitch to Trouppe that [1941-42] season. “I was a high school Freshman at Guayama’s George Washington High School,” recalled Gómez. “Barney Brown was magical on the mound—he and Satchel Paige, with Guayama [1939-40 and 1940-41]—were my two favorite Brujos (Witches) hurlers. I used to watch Paige warm up during the 1939-40 season—he used cigarette packets as a home plate and threw strike after strike.”
Table II: Top Strikeout Artists, 1941-42 PRWL
|Luis R. Cabrera||Santurce||116|
Sources: https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/billy-byrd/ https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/luis-rafael-el-tigre-cabrera/ https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/barney-brown/ https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/raymond-brown/ https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/leon-day/
January 1, 1942 PRWL All-Star Games
Four Santurce players (Luis R. Cabrera, Ray Dandridge, Joshua Gibson, Vidal López) were on the Northeast Team, which also comprised Caguas (Byrd, Roy Campanella, Sammy Céspedes, Manolo García, Luis R. Olmo), Humacao (Willard Brown), and San Juan ( Monte Irvin, Gerardo Rodríguez, Freddie Thon Sr., and Bill Wright) stars. They faced the Southeast All-Stars (Aguadilla, Guayama, Mayagüez, Ponce). Trouppe caught Leon Day, Barney-Raymond Brown, and other Southeast hurlers. The Northeast All-Stars swept their opponents, 7-3 and 8-3. Joshua Gibson hammered two long homers in Game Two, the first one off Day. Gibson grinned when circling the bases on HR #1. The grin became a laugh after HR#2. Only four other players in PRWL history hit two HR in a League All-Star Game:
- Hank Aaron, Caguas Criollos, December 26, 1953
- Roberto Clemente, Santurce Crabbers, December 12, 1954
- Ismael Oquendo, Santurce Crabbers, January 6, 1979
- Candy Maldonado, Arecibo Wolves, January 6, 1981.
February 8 and March 1, 1942 Homers by Joshua Gibson
In a doubleheader versus San Juan, Freddie Thon Jr. witnessed Gibson’s 11th and 12th homers in 1941-42 season. In the a.m. contest, Gibson blasted a long homer over the pine trees in CF, off Freddie Thon Sr. His son, Freddie Jr., via Facebook Messenger, March 24, 2022, recalled it was “quite a shot.” And three weeks later (March 1, 1942), Thon Jr. saw Gibson’s final HR in Puerto Rico, a 600-foot rocket that sailed over Escobar’s pine trees toward Escambrón Beach. Arecibo, the former Humacao franchise, was the opponent. That blast was 64 feet further than Caguas’s Frank Howard’s 536-foot HR off San Juan’s Jack Fisher, 1960-61 finals. “Josh Gibson was in his prime, and there was no better hitter in Puerto Rico, or perhaps in organized baseball from what dad said,” stated Freddie Thon Jr. “Gibson was just so strong.”
Exhibition Basketball Game
Before departing Puerto Rico, one of Gibson’s last activities, March 5, 1942, was a basketball game between some of the league’s top imports and Arecibo High School, reinforced by Willard Brown. Gibson’s hoop teammates were Buster Clarkson, Howard Easterling, Raymond Brown, Dick Seay, Quincy Trouppe, and Harry Williams. Guigo Otero Suro, who later became a Santurce team executive and league president, was a fine university basketball player who recalled playing hoops with and against Gibson and Seay during the week. “In the early 1940s we played some rough pick-up games,” said Otero Suro. “It was a lot of fun…after the games, we had some beer, and Gibson could down two huge jugs of brew…”
Johnny Hayes: Aguadilla-to-Mayagüez, 1941-42
Catcher Johnny Hayes managed the Aguadilla Sharks to a 12-10 record, first-half, 1941-42, before the Sharks released him. (Aguadilla was 40-56 the prior two seasons, 1939-40, 1940-41.) Hayes—a left-handed hitter—was signed by Mayagüez to replace the departed Bill “Thou Shall Not Steal” Perkins, behind the plate. Hayes slugged six homers to tie Ponce’s Howard Easterling for third, behind the seven-hit by Luis R. Olmo, and Joshua Gibson’s 13 round-trippers. Leon Day and Willie Wells were Aguadilla’s other two imports. Day opined that Hayes was a good catcher but not as talented as the switch-hitting Trouppe, nor the legendary Joshua Gibson.
Robert Clarke, 1945-46 San Juan Senators
Robert Clarke (.245-0-10) was the first catcher-manager to lead his PRWL team to a title, when the 23-18 San Juan Senators bested 24-16 Mayagüez Indians, four games-to-two, in the league finals. San Juan swept a February 17, 1946 twin-bill at Escobar Stadium, to go ahead, two-games-to-none. In-Game One, Monte Irvin drilled two homers with five RBIs, in the Senators’ 14-8 victory. With an HR, Irvin went 4-for-4 in Game Two, a 13-8 win. AFTER HITTING A THREE-RUN HR IN GAME ONE, Luis R. Olmo had three hits in three AB (Game Two). A week later, San Juan won Game Three, 14-10, with Johnny “El Gaucho” Davis, the winning pitcher. But Mayagüez stayed alive with a 16-5 win in Game Four, the second contest of a February 24 doubleheader.
On Saturday, March 2, 1946, Mayagüez’s Tite Figueroa outpitched Johnny Davis in a 3-1 Tribe win. However, San Juan’s Juan Carrero won Game Six, 9-2, the following morning to give Clarke and the Senators their first league crown. Hiram Bithorn, who posted a 3-3 regular-season mark for Clarke, did not pitch in the finals. Monte Irvin was the League MVP with a .3677 BA, three HR, and 31 RBIs. He was versatile, playing all positions except pitcher and catcher. Irvin played a lot of second base, so Fellé Delgado (LF), Olmo (CF), and Freddie Thon Sr. (RF), as well as Johnny Davis, could get at-bats as outfielders. Irvin teamed with SS Jaime Almendro to give San Juan a solid double-play combo. “Cinque” García (3B) and Medina Chapman (1B) rounded out the infield. Freddie Thon Jr. was the team’s batboy, just shy of his eighth birthday.
Quincy Trouppe, 1947-48 Caguas Criollos
Vic Power was still a teenager (age 19) when he made his PRWL debut for 1947-48 Caguas.”Trouppe was my manager, teammate and father,” recalled Power. “He brought me to the Provincial League in Canada, where I played with ballplayers who had jumped to the Mexican League—Max Lanier, Sal Maglie.”
Trouppe juggled his 1947-48 Caguas line-up to get the most out of his players. Perucho Cepeda and Power took turns at first. The middle was left alone, with Piper Davis at second, and shortstop Sammy Bankhead. Tetelo Vargas (.362 BA) covered real estate in CF at 41. Trouppe’s best pitchers were Chet Brewer and Rafaelito Ortiz (7-5, 2.97 ERA). Ortiz also pitched for Trouppe with the 1948 Chicago American Giants. Caguas edged Mayagüez in a seven-game final series, winning the deciding game, 7-6, in 10 innings. Trouppe’s HR, batting lefty, off southpaw Tite Figueroa tied it, in the ninth. Perucho drove in the game-winner with an infield hit. Mayagüez skipper Joe Buzas hugged Trouppe after the game’s final out. Trouppe was overwhelmed by the emotion shown by Caguas fans. “You didn’t know what to expect. When we got to Caguas, they mobbed us. Those were great feelings.” Table III features PRWL career hitting records of Trouppe and Gibson.
Table III: Joshua Gibson and Quincy Trouppe PRWL Career Hitting
#Guayama, San Juan, Caguas, and Aguadilla. Sources: https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/joshua-gibson/ https://negroleaguerspuertorico.com/player/quincy-trouppe/
Ismael Trabal witnessed a 450-foot homer by Joshua Gibson at Mayagüez’s Liga Paris, which knocked a fan from a tree. Gibson was aggressive in running the bases. When a good base stealer got on, Trabal stated that Gibson would let a pitch drop in front of him and challenge the runner to steal second. Gibson’s best day at the plate was in Aguadilla, January 11, 1942, according to Víctor Navarro. It included a long HR blast in the a.m. game against Leon Day, followed by two more round-trippers in the p.m. game.
Special thanks to Quincy Trouppe, for memories, 1947-48 PRWL season. Leon Day furnished thoughts on his Aguadilla Sharks’ seasons. Guigo Otero Suro shared anecdotes of playing basketball with-against Joshua Gibson, in Puerto Rico. Heriberto Ramírez de Arellano provided City Championship Series background. Rubén Gómez recalled Barney Brown pitching to Quincy Trouppe, 1941-42. Reinaldo “Poto” Paniagua highlighted Santurce’s early league years. Freddie Thon Jr. witnessed Joshua Gibson’s final three homers in Puerto Rico. Victor Navarro saw Gibson hit a trio of HR in Aguadilla’s Parque Colón. Ismael Trabal had vivid memories of a Gibson HR in Mayagüez’s Liga Paris. Thanks to Vic Power for his Quincy Trouppe insights. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, did the editing, photo placement and provided PRWL stats.