04/02/2022 - Once the Caribbean Series 1995 in San Juan ended, I took my flight back to Venezuela. During the flight I began to meditate on the series that had just ended; on Urbina's bases on balls; the disaster of our pitcher’s Era, until I came back to the sad reality, it was impossible to beat that team. I had never seen a baseball team like the Dream Team before.
During the hour and a half flight from San Juan to Caracas, I went back in time 40 years before and I remembered the VII Caribbean Series held in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Series took place on February, as usual, of 1955 when I was just 10 years old. At my young age, I was already a rabid baseball fan. I had already collected two albums of cards, the first of the 1953-1954 Rotary Championship, and the second of the 1954-1955 which I almost complete. Only few cards were missing, the cards of Don Bessent, Morris Mozalli and Leonard Yochin.
Magallanes was the team representing Venezuela led by the cuban Lázaro Salazar who builded an armored team including the best Venezuelan players of the moment.
The Magallanes roster was formed by "Güi Güi" Lucas (C), Bob Skinner (1b), Jack Lohrke (2b), Alfonso Carrasquel (SS), Camaleón García (3b), George Wilson (CF), Bob Lemon (LF), Pablo Garcia and Dalmiro Finol (RF), and the pitching staff was formed by: José Carrao Bracho, Emilio Cueche, Ramón Monzant, Joe Margoneri, Bill Kennedy....
The Alacranes del Amendares, champions of the Cuban Winter League, and their slogan: "whoever beats the Almendares, dies". Managed by Bobby Bragan and armed to the teeth with Ricky Nelson, Gus Triandos, Angel Scull, Willy Miranda, Lino Donoso, Salivita Sánchez, Roger Bowman... to our good fortune, that year Orestes Miñoso, Camilo Pascual, Mike Fornieles and Sandalio Consuegra were banned by the MLB from playing in the winter leagues.
The Puerto Rican Cangrejeros de Santurce came to this series as the big favorite. They used to be called the Panic Squad or The Perfect Machine.
Herman Franks was the Puerto Rican manager, and this team was so solid that they have taking the luxury of not using any reinforcements, as was the tradition in this series.
For me, I think this team was one of the greatest teams that have ever played in the Caribbean basin.
Pedrín Zorrilla, owner of Santurce, had managed to convince the New York Giants to allow Willie Mays (1951 rookie of the year and 1954 National League batting leader) to play in the Puerto Rican winter league.
Players as Roberto Clemente (RF), Don Zimmer (SS), Luis "el jibaro" Rodríguez Olmo, Harry Chitti (C), Ronnie Sanford (2B), Buster Clarkson (3B), Bill Greason, Sam Jones, Jorge "Garabato" Sackie, Rubén Gómez and others were alongside with Willie Mays.
Without any doubt, the man of this series was Willie Mays, the protégé of Giants.
NY manager Leo Durocher, who stated:
"he can do the five things you have to do to became a baseball superstar: hit, power, run, pitch and field. But Mays has other magic ingredient: charisma. he lights up a room when he comes in. It’s pure joy to be around him. Willie is simply the best.”
On February 13th 1955, my day began as it was every Sunday, in the morning I attended church at 8 am and in the afternoon I went to the Paraiso Cinema to see the Flash Gordon series. That day, I left the movie theater (which was located just 200 meters from my house) so I could listen to the ball game on my little radio that I had at home.
Ramón Monzant, from Zulia team (also a prospect of the New York Giants) was the pitcher schedule by Lázaro Salazar (Magallanes) to face the Panic squad, while Herman Frank gave the ball to RHP Sam Jones.
As in 1995, Venezuela opened the score with a lead run in the first inning. Santurce then countered with a run right in the bottom of the 1st inning. In the second inning, the same thing happened and the score was even 2-2. The game was tied until the eleventh inning. Both starting pitchers, Monzant and Jones kept on pitching and looked good on the mound.
In the bottom of the 11th inning, the 3rd baseman Roberto Clemente hit a drive line to the left field, and Willie Mays came up to bat. At that moment, Mays was 0 for 13 in the series. Under the booing of the crowd, Mays walk slowly to the batting box looking right to the pitchers eyes.
Suddenly there was stony silence. The pitchers threw a fastball and Mays with a big swing went deep through the wall and the ball never came back for a walkoff home run.
I said to myself - "All crash down with that swing". The Santurce team won championship and Magallanes got a well-deserved second place.
After that home run, Willie Mays showed no mercy hitting 12 hits for 25 (.462 average). First baseman of Almendares: Rocky Nelson was the batting leader hitting for .471.
Since then, in Venezuela, the phrase was coined in the creole language with the saying: "don't be Willie Mays”, which means “don't fool with me".
Years later, in 1973, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the world series. During the celebration, a reporter asks Roberto Clemente - do you think Pittsburgh is the best team you ever played for?
- No, the best team I have ever played for is called the Santurce Cangrejeros, the Panic Squad that attended the VII Caribbean Series, held in Caracas in 1955.
It is difficult to choose between panic and reverie.
Written by: Lalalo Rodriguez Cedeño
Photo credits: www.beisbol101.com/