Cangrejeros beached opposition in 1954-55 Puerto Rican winter league
Coming off of two years of service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, the New York Giants outfielder led all of Major League Baseball in batting average and slugging percentage. He capped off the year with “The Catch” in Game 1 of the World Series, a Fall Classic title and his first MVP award.
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The Cangrejeros won the Puerto Rican League championship in Clemente’s rookie season and one year later, on Feb.19, 1954, the young outfielder signed a deal with the Dodgers. He traveled north soon after, and played for the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers minor league team, but returned to Santurce again for the 1954-55 season.
A little over a month into the Cangrejeros’ season, Clemente made news stateside when the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him from the Dodgers during the Rule 5 Draft. “Every club which was shopping had his name at the top of its list,” reported the New York Daily News. “He hit only .257 for Montreal but he is a sensation in the Puerto Rican league now with Santurce, where he is hitting .380.”
But Clemente wasn’t the only sensation in Puerto Rico that season. The Cangrejeros de Santurce were a juggernaut, earning the nickname “Escuadrón del Pánico,” or “The Panic Squad.” They swept the league championship and powered their way to the Caribbean Series in Caracas, Venezuela.
“Mays, Thurman and Clemente played the outfield. People laugh when I tell them that. They say, ‘No!’ I say, ‘Yes, that was our outfield’...That was a great club.”
The 1954-55 Santurce Cangrejeros are still widely regarded as one of the greatest Caribbean clubs of all time, and for the two future Hall of Famers on the team it was just a precursor of the baseball glory to come. Clemente made his major league debut that season, embarking on a legendary 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, while Mays built upon his big league excellence, playing 19 more seasons in the majors, including reprising his MVP honors in 1965.
The two Compañeros de equipo de los Cangrejeros were both ultimately reunited in Cooperstown, with Clemente posthumously inducted in 1973 and Mays inducted in 1979.
Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum