SABR

Vic Power

This article was written by Joseph Wancho.

The game meant nothing. Well, virtually nothing. The Detroit Tigers were ending a three-game series in Cleveland looking for a sweep after taking the first two contests. But that was all that Detroit was playing for on August 14, 1958. The Tigers and Indians were playing out the string, holding down fourth and fifth place respectively in the American League standings. Detroit was a distant 15½ games behind first-place New York. Cleveland was 18 games behind.

But even games played between noncontenders can bring excitement and record-worthy performances. Such was the case that Thursday afternoon, witnessed by a minuscule total of 4,474 fans in cavernous Cleveland Stadium.

The Tigers looked well on their way to sweeping the Tribe, after building a 7-4 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. Rocky Colavito led off the frame with his second solo home run of the game. Pinch-hitter Gary Geiger walked. Next, Vic Wertz was summoned from the bench to bat for pitcher Morrie Martin. Wertz came through and homered to tie the game.

Vic Power singled home Bobby Avila, then went to second on an error by catcher Charlie Lau. On a wild pitch by Tigers hurler Bill Fischer, Power moved to third base. Third-base coach Eddie Stanky told Power to “go if you can get the jump.”1 Go Power did, swiping the plate and turning a three-run deficit into a two-run lead at 9-7.

Indians stopper Ray Narleski could not hold the lead and the Tigers scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning to send the game into extra innings. With one out in the bottom of the tenth, Power and catcher Russ Nixon each stroked a single. Nixon was forced at second on a groundball off the bat of Minnie Minoso. Larry Doby was intentionally walked, and up stepped Colavito with the bases full and two outs. This time, Stanky instructed Power “to play it safe and see what happens.”2 Power had been bluffing his way down the third-base line, and Tigers pitcher Frank Lary was paying him no attention. “I told Eddie, ‘I think I can go,” Power said in the clubhouse after the game. “He say nothing so I go.”3 A startled Lary tried to hurry the throw home from his windup, but Power slid home, beating the throw easily. “Those were head plays, not leg plays,” said Cleveland skipper Joe Gordon. “Vic isn’t particularly fast, but he’s got baseball instinct. He bluffed the pitchers beautifully – rushing up the line, pausing long enough to make them relax and then, poof – streaking all the way in.”4

Power’s feat of stealing home twice in one game had been done just ten times before in the major leagues. He was the first to turn the trick since 1927, and, more than a half-century later, the last player to have done it. How many bases did Power steal in 1958? Three.

Victor Felipe Pellot (Pove), who spent the month of September 1964 playing for the Phillies, was born on November 1, 1927, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. (The second family name in most Spanish-speaking countries is the mother’s maiden name.) He was the second youngest of six children born to Regino and Maximina Pellot (pronounced “pay-oat”). A monolingual first-grade teacher changed Maximina’s last name, Pove, to Power. The teacher, thinking that the illiterate Maximina was spelling her name wrong, changed the “v” to a “w” and added an “r” at the end. “Pove” was transformed to “Power,” a mistranslation that Maximina had no choice but to accept. The name of the mother and the player was imposed, with no ancestors, and no lineage.5

Regino Pellot, who worked at a sugar mill, died from tetanus when Victor was 13. Maximina Pellot took in work as a seamstress. Quincy Trouppe, a veteran of the Negro Leagues and the Latin American leagues, had seen Power playing on the sandlots around Arecibo, befriended the young man. Trouppe signed the youngster to play for Caguas of the Puerto Rican Baseball League. At the age of 15, Vic headed off to play professional baseball for a salary of $100 a week. Trouppe took the young Power under his wing, acting much like a second father to him.

In 1949 the Drummondville (Quebec) Cubs, a team in the independent Provincial League, was searching for talented ballplayers for the summer. The Puerto Rican league had folded for financial reasons, and many players, Power and Trouppe included, made the trek north. For both seasons with the Cubs, Power played in the outfield. While there he changed his name, at least as used on the baseball diamond. “I used to write Victor Pellot Power. But the French Canadians would say ‘La Pellot,’ with an ‘L’ sound rather than a ‘Y’ sound. That sounded similar to a French sexual term and everyone would laugh. [Pelote means he who paws or pets women]. So they started calling me Vic Power instead.”6

New York Yankees scout Tom Greenwade had seen Vic play in Puerto Rico years before, and dispatched scout John Neun to look him over in Drummondville. Neun reported back positively. No matter how Power was pronounced, Greenwade signed Power based on his solid performance.

Power’s meteoric rise through the Yankees farm system began with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs of the International League in 1951 and continued for two years with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. He was clearly one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ chain. At Kansas City Power mostly played the outfield; Bill “Moose” Skowron blocked his way at the position he desired, first base. Skowron had the power that the Bombers wanted to add to their lineup and he hit for average as well. But it was Power who led the league in hitting in 1953 with a .349 batting average and in hits with 217. In addition, he hit 16 homers, one more than Skowron.

There was mounting pressure on the Yankees to add a black player. The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had been integrated for years. Special-interest groups were picketing Yankee Stadium, demanding racial equality for Power. Despite the numbers Power put up in Kansas City, the Yankees were unfazed. “My information is that Elston Howard, Negro outfielder with Kansas City, has a better chance to come up than Power,” said Yankees president Dan Topping. “Our scouting reports rate Power a good hitter, but a poor fielder.”7 Topping also said Blues manager Harry Craft had benched Power for lack of hustle.8

General manager George Weiss was more direct – and prejudiced – in his views: “Maybe he can play, but not for us. He’s impudent and he goes for white women. Power is not the Yankee type. The truth is that our box-seat customers from Westchester County don’t want to sit with a lot of colored fans from Harlem.”9

Fan expectations had been building to see Power play in New York. But management found a way to discredit Vic. They planted a story with New York sportswriter Dan Daniel, who wrote, “Power is major-league material right up to his Adam’s apple. North of that location he is not extraordinary. He is said to be not too quick on the trigger mentally.”10

There was little racial prejudice in Puerto Rico, and Power did not realize the extent of the bigotry he faced in the United States. “Here we were all together,” he said of his native Puerto Rico. “We went to school together. We danced together. A lot of black Puerto Ricans marry white woman. When I got there – the States – I didn’t know what to do.”11 Power often used sarcastic humor to defuse a racial situation. “They say they didn’t call me up because I was going out with white women, “said Power. “I told them ‘Jeez, I didn’t know white women were that bad. If I knew that, I wouldn’t go out with them.’ ”12

Power was flashy on the field, making one-handed grabs and often making a sweeping motion with his glove, which looked to some fans like grandstanding. “They called me a showboat, but it was just the way I did it,” he said. “I told them, ‘The guys who invented the game, if they wanted you to catch with two hands they would have given you two gloves, and I only had one glove.’ ”13 While at the plate, the right-handed hitting Power would swing the bat in his left hand, pendulum-style, awaiting the pitch. It was another trademark of Power’s that caused people to call him a “showboat” or a “hot dog.”

The Yankees purchased the contracts of Power and Howard in October 1953. But on December 16 Power was dealt as part of an 11-player swap with the Philadelphia Athletics. In 1955 the more reserved and conservative Howard became the first African American player to wear Yankee pinstripes.

Power settled in as a rookie for the Athletics in 1954. As black players did then, he faced discrimination during spring training in Florida. He and the other black player on the Athletics, Bob Trice, were forced to bunk down about two miles from the training facility. They were not allowed to ride in taxis, so they walked to and from camp every day. Power played in 127 games, mostly in the outfield. His average for the season was a career-low .255. “The moment I came to Philadelphia they took my bat away from me,” Power said. “Wally Moses, the batting coach, told me the bat (36 ounces) I was using was too heavy.”14

If New York was considered an American League oasis, Philadelphia was the dregs. Since 1940 the A’s had finished in last place seven times, and they posted losing records two other years. They were a far cry from Connie Mack’s dominant teams of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The team was in financial straits, and Shibe Park was a slightly shabby old stadium in a rundown neighborhood. Visitors had to contend with old facilities, poor transportation, and bad parking. The other franchise owners in the American League griped about the low gate receipts when their teams visited Philadelphia. The once-downtrodden Phillies had won the pennant in the National League in 1950. They established themselves as the people’s choice in the City of Brotherly Love.

After the 1954 season, the Mack family sold the team to Arnold Johnson, a businessman from Chicago. A year earlier Johnson had purchased Yankee Stadium and Blues Stadium in Kansas City. Knowing that the Athletics could not compete with the Phillies in Philadelphia, Johnson gained league approval to move the franchise to Kansas City.

The switch of scenery did not improve the Athletics’ performance; they continued to finish in the bottom half of the American League standings year after year. Manager Eddie Joost and his coaches, including Moses, were let go. Lou Boudreau took over the reins, attempting to change the A’s losing ways. He installed Power as the everyday first baseman. Power responded by leading the league peers in putouts (1,281), assists (130), and double plays (140) in 1955. He picked up his old 36-ounce war club and hit .319, second in the league only to Al Kaline of Detroit (.340). Power got the first of his seven selections to the All-Star Game. He went hitless as a pinch-hitter.

“Vic never lacked confidence,” said Kansas City catcher Joe Astroth. “He knew he could play the ball and he knew he could hit the ball. He always had a favorite expression when he’d go up to hit in spring training. He would look out there with that big bat and the way he’d swing and in his Spanish accent he would say ‘Hey peecher, I have a ‘prise’ for you. I’m going to get a heet.’”15

“Right now, he is the best-fielding right-handed first baseman in the league,” said Boudreau, “and within the next two years, if he continues to show progress, I will take him over any first baseman, right-handed or left.”16

Because of team owner Johnson’s connection to the Yankees, the Athletics soon became a dumping ground for New York. The Bombers would trade players past their prime – or players who would never have a prime – and cherry-pick top talent from the Athletics. In spite of Boudreau’s fondness for Power, that did not stop the A’s from acquiring first sackers, notably from the Yankees. In 1956 they picked up an aging Eddie Robinson, who had been in the 11-player trade two years earlier. Robinson started 47 games after the midseason swap, and Power moved to second base. He hit .309. The next season, Robinson departed and the Athletics picked up Irv Noren from New York.

On December 19, 1956, Power married the former Idalia Albarado. The couple had three sons, Jerry, Eddie, and Dennis.

Although Power’s batting average slipped to .259 in 1957, he showed that he could play first base with few equals. He had a 69-game errorless streak. For the season he made only two errors and led the league’s first basemen in assists with 99, and in fielding percentage, at .998.

Boudreau was fired during the 1957 season and replaced by Harry Craft, Power’s skipper at Syracuse. Power had the reputation of being a clubhouse lawyer, a malcontent. But Boudreau and Craft, while agreeing that Power could be temperamental, also thought him an ideal teammate.

Cleveland general manager Frank Lane coveted Power. Lane, who made trades at a dizzying pace, talked at length with Kansas City about acquiring Power and outfielder Woodie Held. At first Lane offered Rocky Colavito, but soon settled on Roger Maris. Maris was one of the brightest prospects in the majors, but Lane chose to keep Colavito. Lane packaged pitcher Dick Tomanek and infielder Preston Ward with Maris. The trade was well received by Indians manager Bobby Bragan. “We’re building the type of club we want,” he said. “A player like Power can hit-and-run and steal a base. Maris has the potential to be a star. Power is one already.”17 Power was looking forward to the address change, as Kansas City was still a segregated city. He felt Cleveland would be a better fit for him, both personally and professionally.

But not everybody was on board with the trade. Tribe pitcher Mudcat Grant, who later would become friends with Power, commented “That was a bad deal for us, because Roger was better than both players we got for him. The guy was a star!”18

At the time of the deal, Power was hitting .302, and was in the midst of a 22-game hitting streak, that season’s best in the major leagues. Cleveland manager Joe Gordon, who replaced Bragan 11 days after the trade, used Vic all over the infield. Power fielded all of his positions at a .992 clip, committing only six errors on his way to claiming the first of seven straight Gold Gloves.

Cleveland infielder Billy Moran recalled of Power: “Nobody could play first base better. He was also an offensive threat. He hit to all fields and always made contact. He had a big old bat. Vic was a smiling jovial person and didn’t cause trouble in the clubhouse.”19

Power was right about the move to Cleveland being better professionally. In 1959 the Indians were in the thick of the pennant race with Chicago and New York. But they dropped a crucial four-game set at home to the White Sox in late August. They never recovered, finishing in second place, five games out of first. When second baseman Billy Martin was struck in the face with a pitch in August, Power took his place at the keystone position and performed well.

Power was a likeable sort of fellow who liked to laugh, but could show a temper as well. He told a story about playing second base, and gaining the respect of Maris. “I was playing second and Maris slid very hard with his spikes high and caught me in the ribs. I warned him that the next time he slid like that I was going to give him an eye for an eye. I had seen how Jackie Robinson would jump over a sliding runner and land on top of him with his spikes, and that’s what I had planned for Maris. And the next time he slid hard into the base, I jumped into the air. But he slid past the base and I realized that I was about to come down directly on his face. It would have looked like an accident if I came straight down, but I quickly split my legs and landed with my spikes on both sides of his face. I didn’t hurt him, but I did teach him a lesson.”20

Mudcat Grant recalled a time when Power took his frustrations out on his glove. “I remember once when he missed a popup down the right-field line. After the game, he took his glove into the clubhouse and cut it into little bitty pieces. He said, ‘I don’t need that glove anymore.’”21

The Indians had a new manager in 1962, Mel McGaha, who told Power that he intended to platoon him at first base with Tito Francona. Francona was a left-handed hitter who played the outfield for most of his career. He also fielded left-handed, which is considered a necessity by some managers. Power thought that McGaha was surely joking because Francona was certainly not the fielder or the hitter that Power was. Power suspected he might be traded, because he was too good to sit on the bench. But just before the start of the season, he and pitcher Dick Stigman were dealt to Minnesota for pitcher Pedro Ramos. Minnesota manager Sam Mele was pleased with his new first baseman. “In one of the first games he played for us,” said Mele, “there were runners on first and third and somebody hit a shot to him and he had to dive for it. He got up on his knees, looked home, decided he couldn’t make it there, and still on his knees, threw to second for the force. There isn’t another guy in the business who wouldn’t have gone for the sure play at first base. But he never does.”22

Power played perhaps the deepest first base of any of his counterparts. He often liked to have the other infielders throw the ball to the base, rather than to him. He defied the conventional way of arriving at the bag and straddling it before the ball was thrown. Some of the younger Twins infielders, like third baseman Rich Rollins, would pump and pump, hesitating to throw the ball to an empty base. After the season, Rollins told Power, “You must’ve saved me 25 errors this season.” The good-natured Power responded to the young third sacker, “That’s OK. Next year, you give me half your pay.”23

In 1964 Power was traded twice. On July 11 he was moved to the California Angels as part of a three-team deal with Los Angeles and Cleveland. On September 9 the Angels traded him to the Phillies. First baseman Frank Thomas had broken his thumb, and the team was looking for a veteran first baseman to platoon with the left-handed hitting John Herrnstein. Thus Power was able to witness firsthand the biggest meltdown in professional sports at that time. On September 20 the Phillies were sailing along with a 6½-game lead over Cincinnati and St. Louis. But they dropped the next ten games, and finished the season tied for second place, one game back of the pennant-winning Cardinals. Years later Power was asked what he thought was the reason for the Phillies’ collapse. “I think Gene Mauch panicked down the stretch,” he said.24 Between September 10 and October 4, Power made 11 starts at first base for the Phillies and also played in seven other games. He hit .208 (10-for-48).

In the offseason the Phillies sold Power back to the Angels. In 1965 he hit .259 as a part-timer, and then retired as a player. In 12 seasons, he finished with a .284 batting average, 126 home runs, and 658 RBIs. His career fielding percentage at first base was .994.

In retirement, Power scouted in Puerto Rico for the Angels. He also set up baseball clinics for youngsters. He continued to manage Caguas of the Puerto Rican Baseball League, extending a long relationship he had with the team, first as a player and then for years as a manager.

In 2001, while the Cleveland Indians were celebrating their centennial, a panel of baseball writers, executives, and historians chose the team’s 100 greatest players. Power was one of nine first basemen selected.

Power died on November 29, 2005, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, after a long bout with cancer.

Major-league first baseman Willie Montanez, who hailed from Catano, Puerto Rico, played 18 seasons in winter ball, mostly for Caguas. “Whatever I learned about playing first base came from Vic Power,” Montanez said. “He is the person I am in debt for all he did – fielding tips, hitting left-handers, confidence factor.”25

Contemporaries also admired the flashy first baseman. “Power plays 15 feet farther back than me or anyone else and takes the throw on the dead run,” said Moose Skowron right after Power died. “He can do it because his reflexes are so great and because he has the best glove hand in baseball.”26

 

This biography is included in the book "The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies" (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Sources

http://sabr.org/

http://www.retrosheet.org/

http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=cle

http://minors.sabrwebs.com/cgi-bin/index.php

 

Notes

1 Cleveland Press, August 5, 1958.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Peter C. Bjarkman, Baseball With a Latin Beat: A History of the Latin-American Game (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994), 95.

6 Peter C. Bjarkman, Ragtyme Sports, May 1955, an article with material from Baseball With a Latin Beat.

7 The Sporting News, August 15, 1953, 4.

8 Ibid.

9 Roger Kahn, The Era 1947-57 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 45.

10 David Halberstam, Summer of ’49. (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1989), 183-184.

11 David Maraniss, Clemente. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 33-35.

12 Ibid.

13 Hall of Fame Archives, Vic Power player file.

14 Rich Marazzi and Les Fiorito, Baseball Players of the 1950’s (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2004), 311-312.

15 John Peterson, The Kansas City Athletics: A Baseball History (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2003), 56.

16 Baseball Digest, July 1955, 25.

17 Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 15, 1958.

18 Tom Calvin and Danny Peary, Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 97.

19 Danny Peary, We Played the Game (New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 1994), 407.

20 Calvin and Peary, 101.

21 Douglas Grow, We’re Gonna Win Twins (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 18.

22 Hall of Fame Archives, Vic Power player file.

23 Hall of Fame Archives, Vic Power player file.

24 Hall of Fame Archives, Vic Power player file.

25 Thomas Van Hyning, Puerto Rico’s Winter League: A History of Major League’s Launching Pad (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2004), 103.

26 New York Times, November 30, 2005.

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