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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1873: For Once, Then, Something

April 7th, 1873
Recinto Atlético de Coamo
1

For the sporadic doubt every baseball fan must experience as to the value of pitching (a coping mechanism so thoroughly attested that it formed the basis of a highly-regarded dissertation in the Universidad Autónoma Capitolina’s Department of Psychology), here is the most drastic remedy we can present: a comparison of the sides from Aguas Buenas and Coamo, who ended the nineteenth century with the same batting average over their twenty-seven seasons.

The logo of the Mulos de Aguas Buenas: a thick red "A" bordered in white on a black circle streaked with white spots, bordered in white-red-white.
Aguas Buenas
The logo of the Termales de Coamo: a pale golden "C" in thick block type on a white circle bordered in pale gold, black, and pale gold again.
Coamo
ESTABLISHED18711871
GAMES PLAYED31643165
WINS12511742
LOSSES19131423
WINNING PERCENTAGE.395.550
BATTING AVERAGE.266.266
EARNED RUN AVERAGE3.723.00
CHAMPIONSHIPS01
PENNANTS01
DIVISION BANNERS013
WILD CARDS05
THIRD-PLACE FINISHES250

This disparity, as with many others, originated in the cutthroat economics of the early Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña, when team sponsors derived most of their profit by hiring out their rosters to the Insular Government, who employed them to build the infrastructure of a Republic in its birth throes, unable to afford neither patience or restraint.

By its third season, due to its immediate success, the Coamo ballclub was among the handful of teams in the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña successful enough to have attracted secondary sponsorships. As agreed with La Central, Delmar Rascón would continue to put up his players in rooms he owned. He would feed, clothe, and equip them with supplies he bought, and it would be on horses and in coaches he hired that they would travel about the island, but he would now be responsible for providing only half the team’s payroll.

In gratitude for the local magnates who had now enabled them to increase each player’s compensation, the team became the first in Puerto Rico to take on a name beyond its municipal affiliation. They would henceforth be known as the Club Termal de Coamo, honoring the hot springs whose operators had become their newest benefactors.

An advertisement in Spanish for a coach company named La Coameña, which takes people to and from the baths in Coamo. It advertises charter coaches at all hours to and from Ponce, Juana Díaz, Aibonito—all towns in the south—or the baths at the hot springs in Coamo, which are more central to the island. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday a coach goes from Coamo to Ponce at four in the morning (if there are passengers) and returns at 4 in the afternoon. You have to send a telegraph to "Escalera, Coamo," which reaches the agency of Don Tomás Escalera in Coamo or the Café Las Delicias in Ponce.
Boletín mercantil de Puerto Rico (July 22, 1885), p. 1. Accessed at the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project.

Four towns away, an entire antithesis. Miguel Chávez, who had purchased the right to arm and sustain the players in Aguas Buenas, certainly had the resources to furnish his audiences with an equally talented roster—but that would have required Miguel Chávez to do something to which he was notoriously averse: spend money.

This was, at least in part, because the hot springs in Coamo furnished their proprietors with sufficient revenue that there were too many pennies for seemly pinching, whereas the Aguas Buenas of the early Republic struggled to find its economic footing, as its coffee plantations had sorely suffered during the War of Liberation. Chávez had made his fortune in dry goods, which left him relatively unaffected by this devastation, but was within enough range to allow him the pretense of avoiding unnecessary risks.

That is how Aguas Buenas’ front office, who had been linked to multiple top-flight free agents over the past few years, found themselves slotting in Uriel Juárez—one of the least effective starters, by almost any measure, in the entire league—for their first game of the season.

RHP Uriel Juárez

A cameo portrait of Uriel Juárez, the Mulos pitcher, in a modern uniform: a white jersey with black panels on the shoulders and a black hat with the Aguas Buenas "A" superimposed. His image is placed on a black background with slashes of various shades of red.
  • Born: 06/23/1838, in San Germán, PR.
  • Batted: Right.
  • Threw: Right.
  • Selected: Round 8, Pick 575.
  • Played: Aguas Buenas, 1871-80.
  • Retired: 1880.

At a time when almost every team had selected at least one reliable arm in La Selección, Aguas Buenas was in such dire straits after 1871 that they took a chance on Juárez, who rewarded their vote of confidence with a slightly more stable pitching line . . . and nonetheless led Liga Betances in games lost. It was the first of many dubious distinctions he would earn in the course of his career.

When the Coamo lineup discovered their opposing pitcher, they thought a prayer had been answered.

By the time they had all faced him, they wondered whose prayer it had been.

After the first inning, when Juárez allowed only a single from the top four of the Coamo lineup, the players realized that he had changed his approach: he was waiting them out, throwing more pitches in order to coax worse results.

The Termales decided to be more aggressive in the second and third innings—and were set down in each within eight throws. The only one to reach base through nine outs had done it on a lined single that caught its wind over the second baseman’s head.

The most repellent drop to brim this particularly unthinkable glass: thanks to a lucky single that found its way behind the shortstop, when Juárez closed the first third of the game, he had as many hits as the entirety of the Coamo lineup.

By this point, the grumbling from the benches had become audible uproar. This was the same man they had faced a year ago, when they had forced him off the mound after six innings. Yes, all ten of their runs had been caused by Aguas Buenas’ comically porous defense, but as their skipper liked to say, in the standings every run was clean.

One man from the second bench seethed in particular annoyance. He knew, beyond any doubt, that he could do better than his teammates, and yet there he sat, in perpetual reserve.

C Emilio Marte

A cameo portrait of Emilio Marte, the Termales catcher, in a modern uniform: a white jersey with a golden stripe around the collar, worn over a pale golden undershirt, and a white hat with the Coamo "C" superimposed. His image is placed on a white background with slashes of various shades of pale gold.
  • Born: 04/09/1842, in Bayamón, PR.
  • Batted: Switch.
  • Threw: Right.
  • Selected: Round 7, Pick 531.
  • Played: Coamo, 1871-74, 1877.
  • Retired: 1877.

For a man with an utterly quotidian career at the plate and exactly one season as the starting catcher in Coamo, Marte holds a peculiar distinction: while he was one of four players to achieve five hits on the very first day of the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña, he was the only one to turn those five hits into five times crossing the plate—considered the first official single-game record for runs scored.

As both teams entered the midgame locked in scoreless battle, the Termales nonetheless felt encouraged. Aguas Buenas was notorious for the tendency of its fielders to miss slow lobs from their colleagues, or watch in horror as a ball defiantly skipped off their hands and into the damnable distance of the outfield. Sooner or later, blood would be drawn.

Unsurprisingly, it was. Surprisingly, Teócrito Torres—the man whom Aguas Buenas had the gall to continue lining up at shortstop, where he was flagrantly overmatched—had nothing to do with it.

It was his opposite number who muffed what should have been an inning-ending double play, and before his teammates could absorb the full scope of the atrocity he had just committed, another error and a right-side gapper had allowed three runs to score.

1234RHE
The logo of the Mulos de Aguas Buenas: a thick red "A" bordered in white on a black circle streaked with white spots, bordered in white-red-white.000

3

3

5

0
The logo of the Termales de Coamo: a pale golden "C" in thick block type on a white circle bordered in pale gold, black, and pale gold again.000001

2

Two years ago, this very field had become a charnel house for the Cidra pitching staff, who had been forced to recur to a left fielder and a catcher to keep someone on the mound for all twenty-seven outs.

The Termales had superpleted the box score that day, scoring more by themselves than some games had seen from both teams combined.

Four of those hits, and four of those runs, had come from the bat of the man who now returned to his bench thoroughly chastened, hoping his teammates could finally deploy a proper offense against a pitcher who should have begun to falter long ago.

His nonplus was understandable. The Termales usually benefited from others’ defensive incompetence, after all.

SS Ernesto Martín

A cameo portrait of Ernesto Martín, the Termales shortstop, in a modern uniform: a white jersey with a golden stripe around the collar, worn over a pale golden undershirt, and a white hat with the Coamo "C" superimposed. His image is placed on a white background with slashes of various shades of pale gold.
  • Born: 03/13/1844, in Bayamón, PR.
  • Batted: Right.
  • Threw: Right.
  • Selected: Round 11, Pick 843.
  • Played: Coamo, 1871-84.
  • Retired: 1884.

Relative to the average ballplayer, Martín would never again provide the kind of outsized productivity he achieved in 1871, when he looked like the best all-around shortstop in Betances. Something from that year made him a bit too eager at the plate, though his defense remained very sharp even into his late thirties—for the most part.

Coamo’s fearsome nine would fare no better over the next two innings, although they forced Juárez to work to a full count to end the fourth, and then the fifth.

A minor fall, to be sure, in the steady pattern Juárez had established, but a dangerous one. He was only halfway through the game. The major lift was still ahead of him.

In the sixth and seventh he allowed a hit apiece—both singles—with no further damage, and in the eighth denied the Termales even that much.

Meanwhile, Coamo’s lineup despaired of ever stemming their opponent’s attack. No one was more affected than their outfield marshal, who found himself running down more frequent and longer fly balls, hit off fatigued curveballs and flattened sinkers with each inning.

CF Homero Gárnica

A cameo portrait of Homer Gárnica, the Termales centerfielder, in a modern uniform: a white jersey with a golden stripe around the collar, worn over a pale golden undershirt, and a white hat with the Coamo "C" superimposed. His image is placed on a white background with slashes of various shades of pale gold.
  • Born: 11/11/1845, in Ponce, PR.
  • Batted: Right.
  • Threw: Right.
  • Selected: Round 2, Pick 94.
  • Played: Coamo, 1871-84.
  • Retired: 1884.

While Gárnica had neither the absurd field skills nor the sonorous bat of later LNP center fielders, he was good enough that it is easy to see why Coamo’s management felt he was a key player in 1873, and he would reward them ten days after this game by becoming the twenty-second player to log six hits in a single Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña game. It is less easy to see how they felt that way in the latter part of the decade, as both his fielding and hitting regressed precipitously.

In the eighth, Gárnica’s attempt to enter the annals of defensive immortality through a running catch-and-throw left, instead, a ball provolving merrily through the short outfield grass and Aguas Buenas’ Séptimo Reséndez safely at second, when he should have been held to a single base.

His second attempt, when the next batter launched a ball on a high arc to the deepest part of left-center, instead allowed Reséndez to trot home with a run he absolutely did not deserve to score.

12345678RHE
The logo of the Mulos de Aguas Buenas: a thick red "A" bordered in white on a black circle streaked with white spots, bordered in white-red-white.0003000

1

4

9

0
The logo of the Termales de Coamo: a pale golden "C" in thick block type on a white circle bordered in pale gold, black, and pale gold again.000000000

3

4

In the ninth, Reséndez again came up to bat; again he drove the ball into center field, although with less punch this time; and again Gárnica’s attempt to keep him at first misfired. Not only did this allow Reséndez to take second, but it scored one of his teammates, ensuring one of baseball’s odd symmetries.

In that infamous 1871 inaugural where Coamo had scored 27 runs against Cidra, Leví Martínez had allowed five runs, though only two had been earned.

In the inaugural of 1872, against Aguas Buenas, Martínez had allowed five runs, and once again, only two had been earned.

Today, in the inaugural of 1873, only one run had been clean—but Martínez, or rather Martínez’s fielders, had now held the pattern strong by once again allowing five total scores.

RHP Leví Martínez

A cameo portrait of Leví Martínez, the Termales pitcher, in a modern uniform: a white jersey with a golden stripe around the collar, worn over a pale golden undershirt, and a white hat with the Coamo "C" superimposed. His image is placed on a white background with slashes of various shades of pale gold.
  • Born: 12/07/1838, in San Juan, PR.
  • Batted: Right.
  • Threw: Right.
  • Selected: Round 1, Pick 16.
  • Played: Coamo, 1871-78.
  • Retired: 1879.

In an era that had actual standards for defensive performance, Martínez might have been a more effective pitcher: he could control his free passes, and did not allow a single home run after 1874. Unfortunately, given the climate of the 1870s, he depended on a well-stocked offense to keep his record on the winning side.

In the bottom of the ninth, Getulio Villarreal led off with a double—the first hit of the entire game, by either team, to naturally result in more than one base—but it was not a sequible start for a Termales offense that had been kept off-balance the whole game.

The next three batters flew out in short order, including Gárnica, who ended the game with a deep fly to his opposite number.

Undaunted by being shut out in their inaugural, the Termales would finish the season with 50 wins, becoming the fourth team to reach that mark, and enter the torneo as the top seed in Betances, reaching the Interdivisionales.

Despite the fortified finances that granted them a new name, it was the last time they would rule Betances with so little challenge.

Without the services of a corporate name for their club, Aguas Buenas would finish the season at 37-39. That was the closest they would ever come to a .500 season in the nineteenth century, a feat every other team in Betances managed at least once during the same period. Obviously, they did not participate in the postseason.

Nor would they in any of the next 24 years, from time to time fielding talented players in spite of their management by Chávez, who never sought or received any of those coveted secondary sponsorships.

It remains an open question whose stubbornness it was—the players’, in taking the field thousands of times in an interminable run of bleak seasons, or their sponsor’s, in refusing to devote enough resources to make them competitive—that would win for them, by popular acclamation, the name of Mulos.

Final Box Score,
as reported in the 1873 Almanaque

123456789RHE
The logo of the Mulos de Aguas Buenas: a thick red "A" bordered in white on a black circle streaked with white spots, bordered in white-red-white.0003000115120
The logo of the Termales de Coamo: a pale golden "C" in thick block type on a white circle bordered in pale gold, black, and pale gold again.000000000046

For two reasons, there were no major changes for the scoring system used in 1873, at least externally. First, the Administrative Council had learned from its implementation of the doble ciclo that, in the field of baseball, one year was insufficient to determine the viability of any particular policy. Second, the cost of housing, feeding and retraining the growing corps of scorers and umpires was determined to be an unsustainable expense for the Liga’s then-meager central budget, although that crisis would soon be remedied.

AGUAS BUENAS

o.

r.

h.

p.

a.

e.

COAMO

o.

r.

h.

p.

a.

e.

Buzán, center302600Villarreal, left202300
Torres, short500140Leal, first3011101
Márquez, right312100Ramírez, third301050
Figueroa, second311420Gárnica, center400503
Pérez, first112900Espinosa, right300400
Reséndez, left223500Martín, short300221
de Luna, catcher400100Tijerina, catcher300100
Salazar, third201050Santiago, second300121
Juárez, pitcher401010Martínez, pitcher300010
TOTALS2751227120TOTALS270427106
  1. Title from For Once, Then, Something,” by Robert Frost. ↩︎

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