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Ruben Gomez, Puerto Rico’s Legendary Pitcher, Dies At Age 77

By Gabrielle Paese

July 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

He was the first Puerto Rican pitcher to see action at a World Series game, in 1954 when he pitched for the then-New York Giants in a 6-2 win over Cleveland. On July 26, 2004, Puerto Rican baseball legend Ruben Gomez died at age 77, after a long battle against cancer.

His major league career spanned 10 years and he closed it out with a 76-86 record and a 4.09 ERA. In addition to playing for San Francisco, Gomez did stints with Philadelphia, Cleveland and Minnesota. His last big league season was in 1967.

Although he had a successful major league career, he is perhaps remembered best in Puerto Rico for his playing days with the Santurce Cangrejeros. Gomez, who debuted with the Cangrejeros in 1947, helped the team to nine league championships, amassing a 174-119 career record with a 2.97 ERA. He closed out his career with the Bayamon Vaqueros in 1977 after 29 season, 28 of them with Santurce. Along with left-hander Terin Pizarro, Gomez formed the pitching duo most feared in winter ball in that era. He was nicknamed "El Divino Loco" (the Divine crazy one) because he could not be intimidated on the mound.

Gomez was the protagonist of the classic battles between the arch-rival Cangrejeros and the San Juan Senadores in the 1950s and Œ60s.

"I remember one time when he he swatted [former Negro Leagues star Terris] McDuffie's leg with a bat," said Luis Rodriguez Olmo. "This was over in Santo Domingo. McDuffie said something that Ruben didn't like. Ruben picked up a bat and whacked him in the knee. He didn't ask questions. But I can assure you he was the best right-handed pitcher in Puerto Rico."

Gomez belonged to a generation of ballplayers who did not earn millions, saw no reason to rest their pitching arms in the off-season and played all year round.

"A lot of the things Ruben Gomez did to make other players think he was crazy he only did so that later he could intimidate them from his pitcher's mound," said Luis "Tite" Arroyo. "He wasn't crazy at all. He was brilliant both as a person and with a baseball uniform on."

"He lived for the fans. My father never belonged to us [the family]," recounted his son, Rafael Ruben Gomez, at his father's viewing. "I shared him with the entire island. His daily bread was the island of Puerto Rico. He was proud to be a good athlete but he was even prouder to be a dignified Puerto Rican. That's why he always came back here [to play winter ball each year]. The fans were the gas that made my father go. The fans moved Ruben Gomez."

"Those were different times. You no longer see ballplayers like him. It didn't matter how many innings they had pitched in the United States, they came here without making any excuses," said former Mayaguez GM Carlos Pieve, Gomez's friend for the past 50 years.

"We have lost one of the greatest ballplayers in the Caribbean," said former Cangrejeros owner Reinaldo "Poto" Paniagua. "He was way ahead of his time. He could pitch, play the outfield or win the game with a home run. His nickname could not have suited him better. What he did on the field was really Œdivine.'"

Gomez was buried in Guayama, where he grew up.

U-21 basketball team competes in Halifax qualifier

Puerto Rico's U-21 basketball team, paced by recently signed Washington Wizards 7-foot center Peter John Ramos, is competing this weekend in an Americas zone qualifier for next year's U-21 World Championships. The top three teams advance and the competition includes the United States, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Canada y Argentina. The Argentineans are already classified, by virtue of being the host country for the Worlds. Venezuela, one of Puerto Rico's first-round rivals, already forfeited its first game versus the United States after its players were delayed on a flight from Cuba to Canada. According to Alberto Garcia, of FIBA-America, the Venezuelans were traveling via Cuba in order to avoid the long and difficult process of securing visas in the United States.

While the U-21 team battles for placement, Puerto Rico's senior team headed to the Olympics next month, racked up some valuable tune-up time this past weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., with scrimmage games versus the U.S. and New Zealand teams. So far, Puerto Rican coach Julio Toro has had trouble just keeping a fab five on the court. Toro's training regimen has already sidelined Utah Jazz guard Carlos Arroyo, Milwaukee Bucks center Danny Santiago and Bobby Joe Hatton all with back spasms.

"We'll be in training overload for the next 10-12 days so it's important to get used to this rhythm," Toro told his players after a recent practice. "We're trying to produce and do things right, even though we're tired."

According to Toro, the problem with the Puerto Rican team is that it doesn't have the mentality of training hard twice a day, but the veteran coach said he had no doubt the group would get used to the workload.

Following this training session, the Puerto Rican team heads to Spain for a second, equally challenging one. Puerto Rico's basketball team debuts in Athens on Aug. 15 versus the United States.

Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at

Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.

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