By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
The original Caribbean Series from 1949-60, with countries such as Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Cuba that first appeared in the prestigious tournament. Labeled as a club tournament that does not earn World Baseball Ranking points through the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the Caribbean Series is operated by the Confederacion de Beisbol Profesional del Caribe.
The 1949 Caribbean Series was won Alacranes del Almendares, who went 6-0 during the event, and from the 1949 to 1960, Cuba won seven titles during the span of the first eleven editions series. From 1961 to 1969, no Caribbean Series was held due to the embargo leveled against Cuba by the United States.
But in 1970, the Caribbean Series was revitalized, and a year later, the Dominican Republic and then Mexico played in the 1971 series, broadening the landscape of the tournament. The Caribbean Series later was distilled down to four teams, with Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well participating alongside the D.R. and Mexico, until Cuba was invited back for the 2014 event, pushing the Caribbean Series to five teams. In 2019, Panama was invited back, and hosted the 2019 edition after the CBPC backed out of Venezuela because of the continued economic crisis in that country.
Colombia was added as an invitee for the 2020 Caribbean Series to balance the field with six teams. Cuba was again absent from the Caribbean Series until this year’s event in Venezuela, which will now feature eight teams and two venues from February 2-10.
Curacao will make its debut in the Caribbean Series for the first time this year in Venezuela. The eight-team field represents the huge landscape of international baseball in the Caribbean, and will only broaden the appeal of Caribbean baseball next year during the 2024 Caribbean Series, when the event will be held at Loan Depot Park in Miami.
World Baseball Network has come up with a list of the top 10 players that have ever played in the Caribbean Series. Some players you will see on this list did have Major League appearances throughout their careers that have participated in this historic international baseball tournament.
10. Luis Olmo, Player/Manager, Puerto Rico – Criollos de Caguas, Player/Manager, 1950; Cangrejeros de Santurce, 1951, 1955; Senadores de San Juan, 1952.
Olmo was a utility player during his playing career at the major league level. He began his professional career in 1938 playing for Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League before taking a contract in the Piedmont League during the 1939 season with the Richmond Colts. Olmo was signed and acquired from Richmond in 1942 by the Brooklyn Dodgers and later was assigned to the Montreal Royals after Spring Training. Olmo played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1943-45 and 1949, along with the Boston Braves from 1950-1951. During the 1951 Caribbean Series in Caracas, Olmo batted .416 with three home runs, earning MVP honors and helping Cangrejeros de Santurce win their first Caribbean Series and the first for the island of Puerto Rico. Olmo also helped Santurce win their third Caribbean Series in 1955 and played with Don Zimmer, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays. Olmo posted a .303 average with three home runs and 13 RBI with Criollos de Caguas during the 1950 tournament. During his career in the Caribbean Series, Olmo batted .303 with 23 hits, four home runs and 13 RBI in 76 at-bats. Olmo was elected into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2004.
9. Hector Villanueva, Catcher, Puerto Rico – Senadores de San Juan, 1990; Cangrejeros de Santurce, 1991, 1993, 2000; Indios de Mayaguez, 1992, 1997; Criollos de Caguas, 2001.
Villanueva was a journeyman player for most of his career, playing four Major League seasons during his best years and was a consistent hitter in the Puerto Rico Winter League during the early 1990’s. Villanueva played in the Caribbean Series in 1990, batting .333 with three home runs, eight hits, and eight RBI during the tournament. A few months after, he got a shot with the Chicago Cubs in 1990. During the 1990-91 winter league regular season with San Juan, Villanueva ended up winning the batting title and MVP. In his second appearance in the 1991 Caribbean Series, Villanueva played for Santurce, hitting .154 in only four games through 13 at-bats. In the 1993 Caribbean Series, Villanueva hit .455, and in seven games, he recorded 10 hits, two home runs and nine RBI, and won the MVP award for the tournament. The following year, Villanueva helped Indios De Mayaguez win the 1992 Caribbean Series for his first title, and he later won another Caribbean Series with Santurce in 2020, batting .667 appearing in over three games. Villanueva was a lifetime .282 hitter in the Caribbean Series and rapped 35 hits, eight home runs and drove in 34 runs. Villaneuva was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2015
8. Tony Armas, Sr., Outfielder, Venezuela – Leones de Caracas, 1973, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1990; Tiburones de La Guaira, 1983, 1986.
Armas played in nine Caribbean Series and has a lifetime average of .240. He was the all-time leader at the Caribbean Series with 11 home runs until Miguel Tejada broke his record in 2008. Armas played in 46 games and collected 41 hits in his Caribbean Series career, adding 34 RBI. He helped Leones del Caracas win the 1982 Caribbean Series in Hermosillo, Mexico, and was named to the All-Star team under manager and Venezuelan legend Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel. Armas also led the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional circuit in career home runs until Robert Perez broke his record during the 2006-07 season. During his Major League career, Armas was a two-time American League home run leader in the same season and two-time All-Star in 13 seasons. Armas was inducted to the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 1998.
7. Conrado Marrero, Pitcher, Cuba – Almendares Alacranes, 1949, 1950, 1954; Tigres de Marianao, 1957).
Marrero was part of the 1949 Almendares Alacranes that won the first Caribbean Series, beating Cerveceria Caracas of Venezuela. Marrero recorded the first win for Cuba in their first game of the Caribbean Series against Venezuela. His career ERA during the Caribbean Series is 1.59, and Marrero struck out 12 and walked five, pitching in five games. Marrero was a two-time Caribbean Series champion, winning again in 1957 with Tigres de Marianao. Marrero played in the Major Leagues for four seasons with the Washington Senators from 1950-54 and also was selected to the 1951 All-Star Game. Marrero was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2015.
6. Manny Mota, Outfielder/Manager, Dominican Republic – Tigres del Licey, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1977, 1983, 1984.
Mota appeared in six Caribbean Series as a player and manager, all with Tigres Del Licey. Mota’s major league career lasted 20 years, and he batted .304 during his time in the show, winning two World Series, first as a player in 1981 and then in 1988 as part of the Los Angeles Dodgers coaching staff. Mota began managing during the 1970 Caribbean Series as a player/manager, the first year the Dominican Republic appeared in the tournament. Mota was also on the 1971 Tigres Caribbean Series roster that went undefeated and won their first title. He batted .579, recording 11 hits and won the MVP Award. During the 1973 Caribbean Series when the Tigres were led by Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, Mota and Jesus Alou both batted .500 during the tournament, and Mota was named an all-star for the second time. He was on the undefeated Tigres team in the 1977 Caribbean Series managed by Buck Rodgers and played with notable players such as Alou and Rico Carty. Mota had a .362 average in 105 total at-bats with one home run, 16 RBI and 38 hits in his career during the Caribbean Series. Mota was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 1998.
5. Victor “Power” Pellot, First Basemen, Puerto Rico – Criollos de Caguas, 1950, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960; Senadores de San Juan, 1952; Cangrejeros de Santurce, 1953, 1959.
Before Pellot was signed by the Yankees in 1951, he played in the 1950 Caribbean Series with Caguas, losing in the championship game to Panama’s Carta Vieja Yankees. Pellot looked to continue the upward arc of his career, playing for Senadores de San Juan and hitting .217 during the 1952 Caribbean Series. The following winter ball season, Pellot helped Cangrejeros de Santurce win the 1953 Caribbean Series, which was held at Estadio Latino Americano in Havana. In the 1954 Caribbean Series, Pellot helped Caguas win on home soil at Estadio Sixto Escobar, as Puerto Rico went on to win their third championship. Pellot hit over .300 in four straight appearances in the Caribbean Series, hitting .417 in 1953, .346 in 1954, .304 in 1956, and .458 in 1958. During Pellot’s Major League career he was a six-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, batting .284 with 126 home runs and 658 RBI. Pellot was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2004.
4. David Ortiz, Designated Hitter/First Basemen, Dominican Republic – Tigres del Licey, 1999, 2004; Aguilas Cibaenas, 2000, 2001, 2003.
David Oritz built his legacy into Major League form playing in Liga de Beisbol Professional de la Republica Dominicana during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Ortiz’ lifetime batting average during the Caribbean Series is .347, and he’s won four championships in the Caribbean Series, two with Tigres in 1999 and 2004 and two with Aguilas Cibaenas in 2001 and 2003. Ortiz had 42 hits, five home runs and 29 RBI during the Caribbean Series. Ortiz was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2022.
3. Hector Espino, Outfielder, Mexico – Naranjeros de Hermosillo, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1982; Yaquis De Obregon, 1974; Venados de Mazatlán, 1977.
Espino is considered the Babe Ruth of Caribbean baseball, and leads the minor leagues with 453 home runs since Liga Mexicana de Beisbol is classified as Triple-A. Espino also was a minor leaguer in the United States for a short time with the Jacksonville Suns in the early 1960s. He was a great hitter during the Caribbean Series, batting over .300 in five of his nine tournament appearances, with a lifetime average of .297. Espino had 22 RBI and six home runs in the Caribbean Series during his 155 at-bats and helped Naranjeros de Hermosillo win the 1976 Caribbean Series, giving Mexico its first championship title. He won two MVP awards in the 1974 and 1976 events and was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 1996.
2. Miguel Tejada, Third Basemen/Shortstop, Dominican Republic – Aguilas Cibaenas, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007; Tigres del Licey, 2006, 2008; Leones De Escogido, 2013.
A six-time All-Star at the Major League level and the 2002 American League MVP, Tejada played in the Dominican Republic during the MLB offseason throughout his career. Tejada has the most Caribbean Series home runs, with 15 in his career, along with having 47 RBI. Tejada made the Caribbean Series All-Star team seven out of nine years playing in the event. Tejada won four Caribbean Series Championships during his career, three with Aguilas Cibaenas in 1998, 2003, 2007 and another with the Tigres in 2008. Tejada should be a strong candidate for the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame, where his performance enhancing drug use likely won’t be weighed against him as heavily.
1. Luis Polonia, Outfielder, Dominican Republic – Aguilas Cibaenas, 1986, 1987, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008; Leones de Escogido, 1988; Tigres del Licey, 1999.
Polonia was a seven-time Caribbean Series champion in 14 appearances, the most of any player in the history of the Caribbean Series. Polonia won five championships with Aguilas in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2007, another with Leones de Escogido in 1988, and again with Tigres in 1999. He batted over .300 eight times in the Caribbean Series, and his lifetime average is .301, with 94 hits, 37 RBI and two home runs in the Caribbean Series. Polonia is categorized as the all-time hits, runs scored and doubles leader at the Caribbean Series, and leads several offensive categories in Liga De Beisbol Profesional De La Republica Dominicana. During his 13-year Major League career, Polonia was a two-time World Series champion and batting .293 with 36 home runs, driving in 405 RBI and swiping 321 bases and was inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2016.