#CardCorner: 1972 Topps Preston Gómez
Preston Gómez never had a winning season in his seven years as a big league skipper. But as the first Latin American-born manager of a big league team on Opening Day, he helped blaze trails for managers who followed – and left a compelling legacy as a talent evaluator and trusted friend.
Born April 20, 1923, in Central Preston, Oriente, Cuba, Gómez was named Pedro but acquired his nickname from his hometown – located in fertile sugar cane land of the island nation. Gómez played baseball in college in Cuba and was signed by the Washington Senators as one of the earliest Latin American players scouted by that organization.
Gómez appeared in eight games as an infielder with Washington in 1944, collecting two hits in seven at-bats. It would be Gómez’s only big league games during a player career that lasted until the mid-1950s – with stops throughout the minor leagues around North America.
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In Cuba, Gómez was mentored by Mike González, who became the first Latin American manager in big league history with the Cardinals midway through the 1938 season and served as a St. Louis coach for years.
“Mike told me many things,” Gómez told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1970. “One that was priceless was: ‘Be calm, observe and don’t say much.’”
Gómez earned his first managerial job with Fresnillo of the Mexican League in 1957 at the age of 34, then took over the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League from 1957-58, leading the team to two winning seasons.
In 1959, Gómez managed the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League, leading a team flush with former and future big leaguers – including Carlos Paula, Luis Arroyo, Cookie Rojas and Mike Cuellar – to the Little World Series, where the Sugar Kings defeated Minneapolis of the American Association in seven games.
The final game was played in Cuba, which had just experienced its revolution with Fidel Castro coming to power.
“In the deciding game in Havana, Fidel came to the bench and asked who I was going to pitch,” Gómez told the Associated Press. “He said: ‘If you need any help, just call me.’”
Gómez was hired by the Dodgers following the 1959 season and assigned to manage the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Spokane, Wash. With a roster featuring future Dodgers stars Willie Davis and Ron Fairly, Gómez led the Indians to the Pacific Coast League title, then managed in Venezuela and Mexico following 1960 season.
Ninety games into the 1980 season, the Cubs – who stood at 38-52 – fired Gómez. He returned to Los Angeles, this time with the Angels as their third base coach in 1981. After four seasons, Gómez moved into the front office as a special assistant to the general manager.
He remained a constant among the Angels’ brass until he was struck by a pickup truck at a gas station in Blythe, Calif., on March 26, 2008. Gómez, who was on his way home from Spring Training, suffered head injuries and passed away 10 months later at the age of 85.
Gómez, who spent 64 years in baseball, finished his managerial career with a record of 346-529. But his legacy remains that of a teacher – one who bonded with Latin players through a common language and whose baseball knowledge has been passed on to multiple generations.
“How you run a ball club is in what you do in a clubhouse,” Gómez said. “When my players come in, no matter how early, I want the lineup posted. I don’t want a player to ever ask another or even wonder: ‘Am I in the lineup?’
“As Mike Gonzalez used to say over a beer in his clubhouse office back there in Havana Stadium: ‘A good pool shooter has to hang around the pool table.’
“The ballpark is a pretty good place for a baseball man to improve himself, too.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum