While researching my post about Big George Crowe, I learned that the Santurce Cangrejeros, one of the greatest Puerto Rico Winter League teams of all time for which many Major League stars played, is out of business.
Because of faltering attendance from 2000-2004, the Santurce team moved to two smaller island cities, first Manatí and then Arecibo. Now, with no games played during the 2010-2011 season and none scheduled in the future, it appears that the franchise is gone forever.
While I wouldn’t describe the passing of the Cangrejeros as significant as the demise of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants or the Philadelphia Athletics, it’s nevertheless a serious blow to baseball history.
But Rubén Gómez, a marginally successful pitcher with the New York and San Francisco Giants, was Santurce and the Winter League’s most dominant player. Over his amazing 29-year Puerto Rican career, Gómez posted a 179-119 mark while striking out 2,488. Both Gómez’s win total and strike outs are all-time records.
At 46, Gómez had enough left in his tank to shut out bitter cross-town rival San Juan.
Gómez attributed his durability to his outstanding athletic ability conditioning. Nicknamed “El Divino Loco” (the Divine Madman) because he used the tricky Sixto Escobar Stadium winds to his advantage, Gómez earned a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Puerto Rico and starred on the baseball and track teams.
When asked later in life about how his arm withstood all the innings pitched, Gómez said: “I lifted weights at home on a daily basis and at the university I would made 50 long throws of close to 400 feet from the outfield to home plate. That’s why my arm never bothered me. Even at 65, I didn’t have arthritis.”
Originally signed by the New York Yankees, the Bombers suspended Gómez for playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Eventually Gómez signed in 1953 with the Giants. One of the first Puerto Ricans to make his mark in the major leagues, Gómez broke in with a respectable 13-11 mark. He went 17-9 with a 2.88 ERA in 1954 and, with Johnny Antonelli and Sal Maglie, led the Giants to the World Championship over the heavily favored Cleveland Indians. In the third game, Gómez went the distance, pitching a four-hitter to dominate Indians’ starter Mike Garcia, 6-2.
Another Gómez performance was one for the ages. In 1958, the San Francisco Giants’ debut year after leaving the Polo Grounds, manager Bill Rigney tapped Gomez to pitch the first major league game ever played on the west coast. Gomez overwhelmed the Los Angeles Dodgers and Don Drysdale in a complete game masterpiece at Seals Stadium, 8-0.
Although Gómez last pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies in a cameo appearance in 1967, he was still a stand out in Puerto Rico. By the time his Winter League career ended a decade later in 1975-1976, Gómez had been on nine Santurce championship teams.
Gómez died in 2004 after a prolonged bout with complications from cancer.