Monday, December 22, 2008

Carlos Santiago, baseball player (1926-2008)

Two years after Jackie Robinson integrated the Montreal Royals, Carlos Santiago signed a professional contract to become the first black Puerto Rican in Organized Baseball.

Mr. Santiago followed Mr. Robinson to Canada, playing infield for the Farnham Pirates, based in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The short-lived team played in the Class-C Provincial League.

Celebrated for his glove, but not his bat, Mr. Santiago hit a poor .195 for the Quebec team.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound infielder was known as the “King of the Double Play” in his native Puerto Rico, where he was named to the island’s professional baseball hall of fame in 1993.

Mr. Santiago played for the Mayaguez Indians in his hometown before representing Puerto Rico with an all-star team at the 1944 Caribbean World Series. He was just 18.

He played for the Atlanta Black Crackers and the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues after being discovered on a barnstorming tour of the United States.

His signing with the Stamford (Conn.) Pioneers of the Colonial League in 1948 was seen as blazing a trail for other black players from the Commonwealth such as Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Clemente.

Mr. Santiago’s baseball career was interrupted for two years when he served in the U.S Army during the Korean War. After being discharged with the rank of sergeant, he returned to baseball. The closest he got to the major leagues was a season spent with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Red Devils), two levels below the big leagues.

He later worked as a baseball coach and a scout for the California Angels in Puerto Rico.

“Baseball is a way of life to our young boys,” he said in an interview in 1973.

His death by heart attack was confirmed by his son, Carlos Manuel Santiago Feliciano, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Carlos Manuel Santiago was born on March 2, 1926, at Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. He died at his home in that city on Dec. 21. He was 82. — Tom Hawthorn

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