The logo of the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña: a big sky-blue circle, bordered in red and white, surrounding a smaller circle of darker blue with white borders, superimposed on which is a red-and-white nautical star that hosts the acronym "LNP" in black block letters.

Gaceta de la Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña

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1871: Some Work of Noble Note

April 4th, 1871
Campo Municipal de Luquillo
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By his third at-bat, Ricardo Taño must have seriously pondered the exact confluence of events that had so jumbled the expected course of his life.

There would have been ample opportunity to observe the other players strut about in affected self-assurance, like any man performing a task he in theory understands but has never actually attempted.

He would have watched Luquillo repeatedly slap the baseball into the midfield shallows, where his teammates had let them drop, perhaps out of a greater fear of colliding with each other than of losing the game.

Perhaps he reflected on how he, like many other men whose main distinction in the Insular Forces had been avoiding even the appearance of combat, had still been convinced to head to the strange little campground outside of the capital and swing a weird stick a few times, for the benefit of men in suits who nodded and scratched their chins and walked away in professional silence.

Taño had deserted the capital during the last year of the War of Liberation. Unlike decorated scout and fellow capitoline Roberto Solorzano, who attested that they had worked together on the harbor for years, Taño was unable to overcome the municipal stain of being from “Spanish” territory. He was assigned to a patrol unit requiring the services of a man with strong arms and a vehement opposition to firing his rifle, and sent to keep the upper class of the eastern Cordillera Central as resentfully cowed as possible.

Afterwards, Solorzano had evidently convinced him to join the crowd of veterans who had chosen to parlay the talents they had gained on the improvised fields of Mayagüez, or Ponce, or Arecibo into an uncertain new career. There is no record of Taño playing during his days in the Insular Forces. Patrol units were assigned to cover far too much territory, and as more soldiers were pulled to counter Spanish advances, their bailiwicks were repeatedly latified.

Nonetheless, it is not hard to see how Taño was persuaded. By then, Solorzano knew he would be selected by the Naguabo side, who were slated to choose first in each round of the massive project known as La Selección—and who, perhaps, should have foreseen the logical response that would invite from the other teams, whose eclects’ work in the days leading up to their assembly in Narváez y Roldán’s inadequate courtyard had been so disdained.

Still, it took until the third round for the Rebellion of the 77 to ignite. Naguabo was therefore able to engage the services of René “Corazón de León” Hernández—the man who, by general consensus, was considered the best pitcher of the bounteous crop of men available to the half-trained scouts of the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña—and his counterpart as a striker, Samuel Valle, monikered “La Gárgola” for his peculiar stance on the basepaths.

By the seventh round, when Solorzano was finally selected, the sobriquets had become less fearsome: he was known simply as “Suave,” likely in reference to the inhospitable environment his cheeks presented to any density of facial hair.

Taño, who had no desire to return to a life of loading ships in San Juan Harbor and had not even been able to learn his letters during his lonely service in the Insular Forces, had to wait until the twenty-fourth round to be given his new assignment. Solorzano had kept his word, and with all due luck, they would do nothing more than sit on the second bench, travel around the island, and drink with their fellow former soldiers.

A cameo portrait of René Hernández, the Navegadores pitcher, in slightly modernized road grays and a hat with dark sides and the Navegadores "N" in a circle at the front. His image is placed on a sapphire blue background with golden slashes of various shades.A cameo portrait of Samuel Valle, the Navegadores player, in slightly modernized road grays and a hat with dark sides and the Navegadores "N" in a circle at the front. His image is placed on a sapphire blue background with golden slashes of various shades.A cameo portrait of Roberto Solorzano, the Navegadores pitcher, in slightly modernized road grays and a hat with dark sides and the Navegadores "N" in a circle at the front. His image is placed on a sapphire blue background with golden slashes of various shades.A cameo portrait of Ricardo Taño, the Navegadores player, in slightly modernized road grays and a hat with dark sides and the Navegadores "N" in a circle at the front. His image is placed on a sapphire blue background with golden slashes of various shades.
NAMERené HernándezSamuel ValleRoberto SolorzanoRicardo Taño
NICKNAMECorazón de LeónLa GárgolaSuave
POSITIONRHP2BRHPLF
AGE26272933
ROUND12724
GAMES416125422918
FINAL SEASON1881188518771871
RETIRED1882188518821876
WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT52.742.915.40.2

By April, Taño would have remembered how exhausting it was to tramp around in the hilly country of northeastern Puerto Rico; that the kind of man who left his hometown and family behind to play a professional sport for a few months had appalling taste in liquor; and that the benches that adorned most of the first Puerto Rican baseball parks teemed with devious splinters.

Meanwhile, Solorzano had already been disabused of his certainty that he and Taño would be surplus to requirements, because Hernández’s valiant efforts on the mound had been for nothing. Naguabo’s defense, apparently cobbled together from a troupe of incompetent jugglers, had managed to drop seven balls.

Solorzano gave it his manful best, but if the heroic Corazón de León could not prevent Luquillo from reaching base, a mere mortal had no hope of accomplishing the feat.

As for La Gárgola, his contribution on the attack had consisted of reaching first on a dropped throw and stealing second base.

By the sixth, the game likely felt much more one-sided than its score.

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The logo of the Navegadores de Naguabo: a gold "N" set off against a diamond pattern of sapphire blue and black, bordered in navy-gold-navy.1004038
The logo of the Soles de Luquillo: a dark red "L" in fancy curlicue font on a background of gold with black spheres, bordered in black and then white.02502211

Taño’s turn to despair came in the seventh, when Luquillo’s manager, clearly burdened by a surfeit of conscience, put in his own second-bench arm. Like the man he was replacing, Rodrigo Sánchez was from Comerío—the very town within whose borders Taño had spent his time in the Insular Forces.

Cristóbal Torres, Naguabo’s own skipper, turned to Taño and ordered him to ready his bat.

Surely one of the other men on the second bench would have been a better choice. Surely one of them had played baseball in the Forces, or at least wanted to play baseball now.

When the opposing moundsman flung the ball on a straight course for his outstretched elbow, Taño flailed. The terrified arc of his bat struck the ball well enough to almost drive it through the Luquillo infielders.

Almost.

Jesús Dávalos, Luquillo’s shortstop, found the sudden grace to sprint to his left, sliding his bare hand along the packed dirt to grab the ball as it streaked towards him, and lob it to his colleague, who did not even do the oncoming runner the decency of waiting for him before stepping on second base. It was a dexterous play from a man who did not often produce them.

By then, Taño had heeded his skipper’s orders to run to first, so the inning continued—for eight more pitches. He watched six of them from the bench, once he too was out at second.

In the next half, he watched from left field as Álvar Rodríguez, Luquillo’s most celebrated player, struck a majestic triple into right-center, and scored on the next base hit to put more distance between their teams.

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The logo of the Navegadores de Naguabo: a gold "N" set off against a diamond pattern of sapphire blue and black, bordered in navy-gold-navy.10040308
The logo of the Soles de Luquillo: a dark red "L" in fancy curlicue font on a background of gold with black spheres, bordered in black and then white.025022

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Somehow, that run finally roused Naguabo’s bats. By Taño’s next turn, they were down by only a run, with Huerta on third and only one out.

The Luquillo pitcher, considerably more tired than the last time they’d faced off, scattered his throws. Taño dribbled the first into foul territory, but the next two were nowhere near him.

Then the pitcher must have remembered who Taño was. He hurled the same pitch he had last time.

For his part, Taño remembered the pitch so well that he again panicked, and again drove it into the teeth of the Luquillo infield for the second out of the inning.

What both pitcher and striker forgot was that this time, there were two men on base, and one was on third. Huerta was sliding onto home plate before any of the Luquillo field could throw there.

Corazón de León couldn’t keep the Soles off the bases, and the formidable Gárgola couldn’t get on base without assistance from the enemy, but a thirty-three-year-old stevedore with a hangover and spreading pain in his backside had just tied the game.

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The logo of the Navegadores de Naguabo: a gold "N" set off against a diamond pattern of sapphire blue and black, bordered in navy-gold-navy.1004030

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The logo of the Soles de Luquillo: a dark red "L" in fancy curlicue font on a background of gold with black spheres, bordered in black and then white.0250221012

Naguabo scored a run in the top of the ninth, only for Álvar Rodríguez to erase that lead in the bottom half with a well-placed shot that split the right side of their infield.

So here Taño was, in the top of the tenth inning, on his third at-bat of a season that had only been made possible by his being promised zero. His teammates—nimble Huerta at second this time, plodding Cholico at third—were a respectful distance off their bases.

All he had to do was wait for that pitch, which came immediately. This time, he did not panic.

He sized it up, swung the bat upwards to meet it—and it broke towards his feet, entirely unaffected by his attempt at a swing. Strike one.

Taño watched two more pitches sail clear of his responsibility to engage with them. He made contact with a third, though it dribbled to his left and was declared foul.

The fourth was not the pitch he’d been seeking. It was aimed at his waist, and as it neared him dropped further, threatening to hit the ground before it could be struck or caught.

He shifted his arms, brought his bat up, and for the first time in his baseball career would have heard the crack that signalled a well-struck ball. It sheared the infield grass, bouncing onto the dirt and away from Álvar Rodríguez, who could only watch as it rolled into center field.

Cholico raced home from third, not just to score the leading run for Naguabo, but to give the speedier Huerta a chance to follow him from second.

Ricardo Taño had never wanted to swing a bat for money.

Unlike many of his teammates, he did not have a fearsome nickname or a sterling baseball reputation. He had allowed himself to be recruited because his friend had promised him entertainment and adequate pay.

He had already tied the game in his last turn at the bat, and he had just given Naguabo a two-run lead in the tenth.

Luquillo would once again acquit themselves brilliantly in the bottom half. They took advantage of a well-struck hit and a ball that bounced away from the catcher to pull within two, and Álvar Rodríguez drove in Luquillo’s fifteenth run with his fifth hit of the game.

2B Álvar Rodríguez

A cameo portrait of Álvar Rodríguez, the Luquillo second baseman, in slightly modernized pinstriped home whites and a hat with the Soles "L" in a circle at the front. His image is placed on a golden background with red and black slashes of various shades.
  • Born: 06/02/1843, in San Juan, PR.
  • Batted: Right.
  • Threw: Right.
  • Selected: Round 2, Pick 118.
  • Played: Luquillo, 1871-83.
  • Retired: 1884.

In his own time, Rodríguez was less famous for being one of the most exciting hitters of the chaotic early Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña—a time when many names were made by taking advantage of unsuspecting pitchers—and more for his ability to combine that sustained production with skilled glovework at second, which made him a genuinely rare bird among the second basemen chosen at La Selección.

With that having been said, we should nonetheless acknowledge that Rodríguez was terrifyingly prone to five-hit performances.

  • April 4th, 1871, against Naguabo.
    • First five-hit game in Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña history.
    • XBH: 1 triple. Batted in: 3. Scored: 2.
  • April 14th, 1871, against Salinas.
    • XBH: 1 triple. Batted in: 3. Scored: 4.
  • May 10th, 1871, against Arroyo.
    • Batted in: 1. Scored: 1.
  • May 4th, 1872, against Guaynabo.
    • Ninth six-hit game in Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña history.
    • XBH: 2 triples. Batted in: 5. Scored: 3.
  • July 25th, 1874, against Cidra.
    • XBH: 1 double. Batted in: 1. Scored: 3.
  • June 9th, 1875, against Hatillo.
    • Batted in: 2. Scored: 1.
  • April 18th, 1881, against Río Grande.
    • Scored: 1.

Unfortunately for them, thanks to one of their own errant throws, Naguabo had scored a sixteenth run in the top half of the inning.

The last Luquillo batter popped up over second base, threw down his frustrated bat, and walked back to his quieted benches.

Naguabo had built their team around two of the best players from the Insular Forces. Neither had mattered today.

In their first victory, the credit went instead to a man who would represent them in all of eighteen games, none of which he started, and during which he accrued a total of sixteen innings in left field, where he apparently acquitted himself well enough.

Except for one or two seasons towards the end of his career, René Hernández never fulfilled the towering expectations inherent in a nickname like “Corazón de León.”

La Gárgola, for his part, was almost the only spot of hope in a Naguabo lineup that remained otherwise distressingly bereft of sonorous bats. He would bat .300 every season of the 1870s (and, in the one campaign where he failed to reach the mark, .299), and though he never managed to pilfer 100 bases in a season, he twice made it within striking distance.

In 1883, during his last full season as a starter, Samuel Valle stole 82 bases out of 101 attempts. This accomplishment is perhaps made more notable with the added context that he did so on legs that had walked the Earth for forty years.

After the 1871 season was over, Ricardo Taño would never again play baseball in a professional capacity. He stayed in Naguabo for a few years, tasked with keeping the team’s rooms safe and clean while they were away, and when his services were no longer required there, took up caring for the park itself.

In doing so, he fulfilled the same two noble purposes that had driven him to play a sport he had never heard of before: adequate pay for adequate work, and the happiness of a dear friend.

Final Box Score,
as reported in the 1871 Almanaque

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The logo of the Navegadores de Naguabo: a gold "N" set off against a diamond pattern of sapphire blue and black, bordered in navy-gold-navy.100403041316167
The logo of the Soles de Luquillo: a dark red "L" in fancy curlicue font on a background of gold with black spheres, bordered in black and then white.025022101215229

At the time, box scores in the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña followed the precepts set down by famous baseball scribe Henry Chadwick—but unfortunately, in the first year of the league’s operation, mistakenly took their cues from box scores Chadwick had written in the earlier 1860s, which tracked outs made (rendered in Chadwick’s still-cricketish tabulations as “hands lost”) and runs. By the end of the season, when this score was composed, errors were increasingly a standard part of the formula.

NAGUABO

o.

r.

e.

LUQUILLO

o.

r.

e.

Arias, short, center230López, right320
Medina, third212Ramírez, left411
Solorzano, pitcher210Cortez, first322
Valle, second401Rodríguez, second120
Cholico, first230L. García, catcher613
Tirado, left, right111Cabrera, third123
Huerta, right020Luján, center320
Collado, catcher212Dávalos, short23
1
Abad, right120Navarro100
Taño, left200M. García, short100
I. García, center202Martínez, pitcher200
Ríos, short310Salazar100
Hernández, pitcher300R. Sánchez, pitcher202
A. Sánchez, third110
  1. Title from Ulysses,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. ↩︎

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