Saturday, July 6, 2013

Luis Marquez subject of '52T-style custom

After spending 1952 with the Milwaukee Brewers, Luis
Marquez was in spring training with the Milwaukee
Braves at Bradenton, Fla., when this photo was taken.
For many years I had a special fascination with Luis Marquez.

I first became aware of him in the very early 1980s when I bought a group of 33 black-and-white 8x10 glossies of Boston Braves players. Those photos were taken at spring training in 1953 when the Braves were transitioning from Boston to Milwaukee; all the players are shown in their Boston caps.

Most of the players I recognized from their baseball cards of the 1950s . . . a couple of the photos were  even the ones used on cards.

One player I didn't recognize, however, was identified on back as Luis Marquez. In subsequent years I learned all I could about Marquez -- at least prior to the days of, and my acquisition of Sporting News microfilms.

Marquez had begun playing pro ball at age 18 in the winter Puerto Rican League. He was Rookie of the Year in the 1944-45 season with the Mayaguez Indians.

He led the league in 1945-46 with 10 triples. The following season he topped the circuit with 27 doubles, 14 home runs and 69 runs scored. He also led the league in stolen bases in 1947-48 (20) and 1948-49 (29), the year Mayaguez won the PRL championship.

While playing in his native Puerto Rico during the winters, Marquez also played three seasons in the Negro National League. He was with the Baltimore Elite Giants (by the way, did you know that Negro Leagues teams with Elite in their names generally pronounced it "ee-light"?) and the Homestead Grays in 1946. In 1947 he led the league with a .341 average for Homestead. He was playing for Homestead in 1948 when the league folded and his contract reverted to the Elite Giants, which joined the Negro American League.

Marquez became a sought-after commodity among major league teams, with both the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians courting him during the winter of 1948-49.

In late November, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck paid Seeford Posey, secretary of the defunct Grays, $25,000 for a 120-day option on Marquez's contract. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees paid the Baltimore $10,000 for Marquez's contract; half down and half if he made the roster of their AAA International League team at Newark. Marquez was the first black player ever signed by the Yankees organization.

On March 14, 1949, Marquez reported to Newark's spring training site at Haines City, Fla. When Newark opened the IL season on April 21, Marquez was in the Bears' lineup, along with Panamanian Negro second baseman Frankie Austin.

A sportswriter described Marquez as “fleet-footed, has a fine throwing arm, covers a wide range of territory in center field and has a great competitive temperament.”

Newark manager Buddy Hassett was looking for Marquez to hit around .280, noting that when he had left the Puerto Rican League to join Newark in spring training he had been batting .330.

Marquez’ stated goal with Newark was to play well enough to get a spring training tryout with the Yankees for 1950. 

In an unprecedented ruling in early May, however, Commissioner Albert B. Chandler ruled that Cleveland’s option on Marquez was valid when New York bought him from the Elite Giants. Chandler ordered New York and Cleveland to make a trade, the Indians’ Artie Wilson for the Yankees’ Luis Marquez.  

In 18 games with Newark, Marquez was batting .246 with a homer and three stolen bases.

Devastated at being taken from the Yankees' organization, Marquez threatened to return to Puerto Rico, but Veeck was able to persuade him to report to Portland in the Pacific Coast League. 

Marquez finished the season with the Beavers batting at a .294 clip. He had 32 stolen bases and no doubt would have contended for the PCL lead if he'd been there for the league's complete 187-game season. Marquez did take the steals title in 1950, with 38 swipes. He also led the league with 19 triples and hit .311.

In the Rule 5 draft after the 1950 season, the Boston Braves claimed Marquez. The Braves had visions of creating the fastest outfield in the majors by pairing Marquez with Sam Jethroe. If nothing else, the addition of another black player gave Jethroe a roommate on the road. 

Major league competition was too fast for the speedy Marquez, however, and he was never able to earn a regular spot in the Braves' lineup. He appeared in 68 games, often used as a pinch-runner. He hit only .196 and just 4-for-8 in stealing bases.

The Braves returned Marquez to the minors for 1952. He was integral to the Milwaukee Brewers' winning the American Association championship in '52, batting .345 (third-best in the league) with 14 HR and 99 RBI. 

Marquez played with the Braves' top farm
club at Toledo in 1953-54.
When the Braves moved their AAA club to Toledo for 1953, Marquez once again teamed with Sam Jethroe as the Sox again won the AA title. 

In the Rule 5 draft, the Cubs claimed Marquez for 1954. In six weeks he batted just .083 with Chicago, who traded him to the Pirates in mid-June. Marquez fared little better with Pittsburgh, batting .111 before the Bucs turned him back to the Braves and he was once again sent to Toledo. He never returned to the majors. 

Marquez continued to play in the high minors through the 1963 season. In 1959 with Dallas, he led the American Association with a .345 batting mark.

He remained active in Puerto Rican League ball, playing some 20 seasons in all. He retired as the league's all-time leader in hits (1,206), runs (768) and doubles (235). After his professional playing days, he served as a coach. The municipal baseball stadium in his home town of Aguadilla, Estadio Luis A. Canena Márquez, is named for him.

In 1988, during a family dispute, he was fatally shot by his son-in-law.

Now that I've presented the reasons why I've chosen to create a custom card of Luis Marquez, I'll have to wait until Monday to give you the nuts and bolts of the card's creation.

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