“Gary [Bell] has come up with a good nickname for Freddy Velázquez,” wrote Jim Bouton in Ball Four. “Freddy just sits there in the bullpen, warming up pitchers, and he never gets into a game and just looks sad. So, Gary calls him Poor Devil.”1 Although Velázquez saw action in just 21 major-league games for the 1969 Seattle Pilots and the 1973 Atlanta Braves, he appeared in more than 1,900 contests in the minors and winter ball during a professional catching career spanning more than two decades. He was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in his native Dominican Republic in 1993.
Federico Antonio Velázquez Velázquez was born on December 6, 1937, in Santo Domingo – then known as Ciudad Trujillo by order of Dominican dictator Rafael L. Trujillo.2 While his surname is often spelled “Velásquez,” he used a “z” when signing autographs, and on an early-career publicity questionnaire that he filled out by hand.3 Information about his parents and siblings (if applicable) is not available at present.
According to Velázquez’s contract card from The Sporting News archives, he played baseball for the semipro Luisa Ozema Pellerano team in 1954 and 1955 – named in honor of the early 20th century Dominican educator and womens’ rights activist.4 On an early career publicity questionnaire, he noted that he won two high school batting titles.5 There was no professional baseball in the Dominican Republic until he turned 13, however, and Velázquez didn’t dream of becoming a player while growing up. He aspired to a medical career or – failing that – working on his family’s farm just outside Santo Domingo.6 He spent one year at Colegio Santo Domingo studying to become a doctor.7 “But I quit,” Velázquez told the Atlanta Constitution in 1973. “There wasn’t any money in it. I mean it. Unless you come from a rich family, there isn’t any money in medicine in my country. Maybe $300 a month, that’s all. You work and study maybe 15 years and that’s all the money.”8
In late 1957, Velázquez was approached by Horacio Martínez of the New York Giants. “The scout asked me if I want[ed] to sign, and I figure[d] why not?” he recalled. “But I never thought of this to make a living.”9 That winter, Velázquez joined the Santo Domingo-based Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League and went 1-for-5 with an RBI in three games. In Escogido’s triumphant championship series against the Águilas Cibaeñas, he came off the bench twice to spell catcher Joe Pignatano, and singled in his only at-bat.
In 1958, the Giants assigned Velázquez to the Panama City Fliers of the Class-D Alabama-Florida League. Early in the season, he was hospitalized with pneumonia, but the team didn’t hesitate to press him back into service two days after his discharge. “They told me to play again,” he recalled. “They [gave] me [no] chance to rest.”10 When manager Joe Tipton was fired on July 6, 14 of the Fliers protested by refusing to travel to Fort Walton Beach for the next day’s game. Velázquez was one of only three who didn’t strike, and he wound up playing in 102 of 123 contests to rank second on the team.11 Although his 50 RBIs were also second on the club, he managed just a .223 batting average with two homers. Panama City finished last with a 39-84 record under four skippers.
That winter, Velázquez backed up Pignatano again. He appeared in just 12 regular season games, compiling a .235 average in 17 at-bats, and did not see action in Escogido’s playoff defeat to the archrival Tigres del Licey. In 1959, Velázquez went to spring training with the Giants’ Class-C St. Cloud (Minnesota) Rox affiliate, but he was released before Opening Day. Five years passed before his next professional game in the United States.
Velázquez continued to play for Escogido, though he saw action in just four games during the 1959-60 campaign, going 0-for-6. He was one of seven players fined after an apparent home run by teammate Matty Alou was deemed a foul ball by chief umpire Emmett Ashford’s overruling on November 29. Frank Howard was suspended after grabbing a third arbiter during the dispute, and Velázquez was penalized $25 for insulting an official.12
The following winter with Escogido, Velázquez improved to .243 in 25 games. When the Leones won their fifth championship in six seasons behind finals MVP Juan Marichal, Velázquez appeared in all seven playoff contests, usually joining all three Alou brothers – Felipe, Matty, and Jesús – in the starting lineup.
Following Trujillo’s assassination on May 30, 1961, the Dominican Republic entered an unstable period. The winter league baseball season wasn’t completed in 1961-62 and was canceled altogether in 1962-63. On December 11, 1962, Velázquez married María Luisa Castro Varón. They had three daughters together: María Sonsola, María La Paz, and Marily.13 Velázquez served nine months in the Dominican navy and worked as a bookkeeper.14
When the Dominican League played a full schedule in 1963-64, the Leones del Escogido were eliminated in the semifinals, but Velázquez was encouraged by his self-described “good year.” He played in 55 of 57 regular season games, batted .244, and ranked second on the team with 25 RBIs. On three occasions, he caught two future Hall of Famers – Marichal and Gaylord Perry – in the same contest.15 “Velázquez moved well behind home plate and gave pitchers a good target,” recalled Rubén Gómez, a former New York Giants hurler who joined Escogido just before the playoffs.16 In spring training 1964, Velázquez paid his own way to Daytona Beach, Florida to try out for the Dallas Rangers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, a Kansas City Athletics affiliate. “I chose the A’s because lots of my friends told me it was a good organization,” he explained.17
Velázquez was assigned to the Birmingham (Alabama) Barons of the Double-A Southern League. He batted .476 in nine games but was limited to 21 at-bats between two stints on the disabled list. When he was activated on July 8, he joined Dallas for the remainder of the season and hit .235 in 33 contests with the PCL’s worst team. He also played 33 games for Escogido that winter, splitting time with the Chicago Cubs’ Merritt Ranew and batting .250. Velázquez saw the bulk of the action in the playoffs, but the Leones fell to the Águilas Cibaeñas in the finals.
In 1965, the Athletics sent Velázquez to the Burlington (Iowa) Bees of the Class-A Midwest League. At 27, he was nearly four full years older than any of his teammates. “After they signed me, they told me I have to make my job helping the young pitchers,” he recalled.18 The Bees went 82-40 to win the circuit’s championship and, late in the season, staff ace Gordon Riese (14-2, 1.99 ERA) remarked, “It helps to have a good catcher like Fred Velázquez.”19 Velázquez led the circuit’s catchers in fielding, made the All-Star team, and batted .272 in his 88 games, while placing third on the Bees with 15 homers and 65 RBIs.20
Dominican League play was interrupted again that winter following the springtime intervention of 30,000 U.S. troops to prevent a civil war. Velázquez and countrymen Ricardo Joseph and José Vidal wound up with the Venezuelan League’s Cardenales de Lara. In 59 games, Velázquez batted .251 with six homers, tying Joseph for second on the team behind Vidal’s nine. Velázquez’s 30 RBIs were one fewer than club leader Ray Webster.21
Velázquez used his “catcher’s speed” to help another one of Kansas City’s Class-A clubs win a championship in 1966. The Leesburg Athletics stole 232 bases to lead the Florida State League – including 14 by Velázquez in 22 tries. He also legged out 10 triples to tie for tops in the circuit and made another All-Star team.22 By adding another steal and triple during a 10-game stint with the Class-A California League’s Modesto Reds in June, his respective totals of 15 and 11 nearly doubled his single-season output for any other year of his career. Overall, he batted .261 in 109 games. That winter, though, Velázquez slumped to .188 without any steals or triples in 33 contests for Escogido. In the Dominican League semifinals, however, his two-run, ninth-inning homer off Rob Gardner evened the series with the Estrellas Orientales at one game apiece, and his fifth-inning RBI double provided the winning margin in Game Three.23 Escogido advanced to the finals but lost to the Águilas again.
In 1967, Velázquez was assigned to a different Class-A affiliate, the Hampton, Virginia-based Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League. “I don’t know where I’ll go from one year to the next, but they know I’ll go,” he said that summer. On May 27, he was batting .269 and leading the team in RBIs when his throwing hand was broken by a pitch that bounced in the dirt. He hit safely in his first 10 contests after returning, commenced a club record 17-game hitting streak on July 19, and finished the season batting .312, with a team-leading 34 extra-base hits and 70 RBIs in 99 games. “I don’t care about the batting average,” he said. “It’s the RBIs I love.”24 He drove in another run with a double in the Carolina League All-Star Game.25
“Velazquez is the guts of this club,” raved Grays manager Gus Niarhos. “He’s a Bible hitter. A Bible hitter is a guy who believes the baseball ‘shall not pass.’” Although Velázquez drew only 14 walks, that was nine more than he’d managed in a similar number of plate appearances the previous year. “I swing at anything, almost,” he acknowledged. “I’m not trying to kill [the ball]. I’m satisfied to hit the ball anywhere.”26
That winter with Escogido, Velázquez hit .265 with just one homer, but his 21 RBIs in 47 games were second on the team. The Leones returned to the Dominican League finals but lost to the Estrellas Orientales in the decisive ninth game.
For the first time in four years, Velázquez played above the Class A level in the United States in 1968. Other than eight Triple-A PCL contests while Vancouver Mounties catcher Dave Duncan recovered from an appendectomy, he spent the season with the Birmingham A’s, and led all Double-A Southern League catchers with 15 double plays.27 Velázquez also swatted 16 homers in 354 at-bats to tie Jackie Warner for Birmingham’s team high.28 When Warner followed Velázquez’s 440-foot blast on August 5 by hitting the next pitch over the left-centerfield scoreboard at Clark Griffith Park, The Sporting News called the blows “two of the longest homers in history at Charlotte (North Carolina).”29
After the season, Velázquez was sold to the San Diego Padres – the Philadelphia Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate – on October 17. He never played for the Philadelphia organization, however. Just over six weeks later, Velázquez was selected by the expansion Seattle Pilots in the Rule 5 draft. In winter ball, he remained a fixture in Escogido’s lineup as the Leones won their first Dominican League title in eight years – and last for another 12.
On Opening Day 1969, Velázquez was the Pilots’ third catcher behind Jerry McNertney and Larry Haney. He debuted at White Sox Park on April 20, replacing Haney behind the plate with Seattle trailing, 13-0, in the bottom of the seventh inning. In his lone at-bat, he grounded into an inning-ending force out against right-hander Joe Horlen. Six nights later at Sick’s Stadium, Velázquez made his first start. In addition to catching Steve Barber’s 6-3 victory over the A’s, he collected his first hit – a two-out, two-run double off future Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter in the bottom of the seventh.
Velázquez’s next four appearances also came against the A’s, the last three in Oakland, where that franchise had relocated the previous year. Overall, he batted .125 (2-for-16) in six games before the Pilots waived him (to make room for Merritt Ranew) on May 21. The Iowa Oaks, an A’s farm club in the Triple-A American Association, then claimed Velázquez.30 Meanwhile, none of Oakland’s three big-league catchers were hitting their weight.31 On June 3, A’s owner Charlie O. Finley promoted Velázquez to the majors, figuring that having a fourth backstop on the roster would allow Oakland manager Hank Bauer to pinch-hit each time one was scheduled to bat. Bauer reportedly scoffed at the idea, however.32 Although Velázquez remained with the A’s for two weeks, he never appeared in a game.
Back at Iowa, Velázquez batted .295 with seven homers in 139 at-bats before July 27, when he dislocated his right wrist swinging at a pitch.33 The Montreal Expos selected him in December’s Rule 5 draft, while he was busy proving that he was healthy again by rapping 14 extra-base hits to lead a sub-.500 Escogido club, including six homers to tie Ricardo Joseph for the tops on the team. Prior to spring training, Velázquez traveled to Caracas, Venezuela with the Dominican League champion Tigres del Licey for the Caribbean Series. In the Dominican Republic’s first ever appearance in the tournament, he made history by taking Puerto Rico’s Wayne Simpson deep in the opening game.34
In 1970, Velázquez began the season with the Buffalo Bisons in the Triple-A International League. When poor attendance caused the club to fold in June and resurface in Winnipeg, he went south instead of north and joined the Jacksonville (Florida) Suns, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Double-A Southern League affiliate. After he slugged nine homers in 188 at-bats between the two teams, Velázquez switched employers for a third straight December when he was acquired by the Atlanta Braves organization in the minor league draft.
Velázquez finished his 1970-71 winter ball campaign on a hot streak. In the Dominican League semifinals, he went 9-for-14 with three homers to help Escogido return to the championship round, where they fell to Licey in seven games despite his .346 batting average. He then accompanied the circuit’s champions to another Caribbean Series and walloped the decisive two-run homer in the eighth inning of his country’s 5-4 opening-game victory over Venezuela.35 After the Dominican Republic took the title by going undefeated in six contests in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Velázquez returned home to a hero’s welcome. He was presented with the prestigious Order of Christopher Columbus medal by Dominican President Joaquín Balaguer.36
Following an assignment to the Triple-A International League in 1971, Velázquez started the season in a 0-for-24 slump with the Richmond (Virginia) Braves.37 “He could hit zero and still be a plus,” reliever Tom House insisted. Although Velázquez finished with just a .239 batting average in 99 games, he produced 16 homers and 57 RBIs to rank second on the club. “[Velázquez] has amazing strength,” observed Richmond manager Clyde King. “I was convinced of this in spring training when he was jammed and knocked the ball out of the park.”
Velázquez became Escogido’s manager for the 1971-72 campaign.38 He continued to catch the bulk of the games and paced the team in RBIs and homers. On November 5, his three-run blast with two outs in the bottom of the ninth forced extra innings, but Escogido fell to the Estrellas Orientales in the 10th.39 Later, in a 14-inning defeat to the Estrellas, he went deep twice and doubled.40 When Escogido’s record dropped to 19-24 in late December, Velázquez resigned as skipper and was reportedly relieved to be rid of the extra responsibilities.41 Three different managers handled the last-place club’s final 16 contests.
In 1972, Velázquez returned to Richmond and batted .199 in 59 games backing up Bob Didier. That winter, he joined Escogido’s archrival – Licey – and helped them win the Dominican League championship as a reserve behind Steve Yeager. In 1973, he was assigned to the Savannah (Georgia) Braves of the Double-A Southern League, where 19-year-old Biff Pocoroba did most of the catching. “I love this game,” said Velázquez, 35, in spring training. “That’s why I stay in it.”42
Often serving as designated hitter, Velázquez was leading the Southern League with 18 homers and 64 RBIs through July 16. That evening, Atlanta’s starting catcher, Johnny Oates, injured his left knee on a headfirst dive into first base.43 Suddenly, Velázquez was back in the big leagues, though he understood it was just a short-term opportunity. Regarding the prospect of going back to the minors, he said, “You have two choices. Either you quit or you go. Me, I go happy… It’s my job and I like my job… I know I’ll have to quit someday, but I don’t want to get out of baseball… I just love to play.”44
As it happened, Velázquez remained with Atlanta for the remainder of the 1973 season. “He’s great with kids,” said second-year pitcher Ron Schueler. “When you’re trying to learn, he’s always there to help you.”45 Velázquez appeared in 15 games, starting five, and batted .348 (8-for-23), including two singles off future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton of the Phillies on July 22. He cut down two of five baserunners that attempted to steal against him – including his fellow Dominican, César Cedeño of the Astros, then one of the game’s leading base thieves.
Following his sixth and final Dominican League championship, as a Licey reserve, Velázquez returned to Savannah and homered on Opening Day 1974.46 When he blasted Tom Johnson’s first pitch for a ninth-inning grand slam on May 23, it extended his hitting streak to 24 consecutive games.47 Velázquez went on to bat .293 with career highs in homers (21) and RBIs (83). On August 13, he doubled and homered to earn MVP honors in the Southern League All-Stars’ triumph over the Minnesota Twins. Jesús de la Rosa – a 20-year-old Astros prospect from the Dominican Republic who also went deep – opined that the Double-A players’ victory proved they could compete in the majors. But the veteran Velázquez countered, “Not over a 162-game season. The people in the major leagues are cool. They are steady and more experienced. If they make a mistake, it doesn’t shake them like it does some of the young kids.” Nevertheless, after appearing in his ninth showcase for minor league standouts, Velázquez said, “When an old man like me does something for his league, he has to be happy. It makes me proud of my age. . . I still like to play in these all-star games.”48
In 1975, Velázquez represented Savannah in the Southern League’s contest again.49 After connecting for another 21 homers, he was also selected as the All-Star catcher in a postseason poll of the circuit’s manager’s and media.50 He competed his 13-season United States baseball career in 1976 with 120 combined contests between Richmond and Savannah. Over 1,266 minor league games, he hit .262 with 152 homers and 699 RBIs. In the majors he batted .256 in 39 at-bats.
Velázquez wasn’t quite finished in his home country, however. During the last of his five seasons with Licey in 1976-77, he hit his final professional home run, off Cincinnati Reds prospect Mario Soto.51 The following winter, Velázquez returned to Escogido and appeared in 10 games. In 1978-79, he wrapped up his career by going 1-for-5 in two contests. In a Dominican League career that had started 21 years earlier, Velázquez played for six championship clubs and batted .250 with 29 homers in 609 games (including postseason). His uniform number 20 was retired by Escogido.52
No longer an active player, Velázquez scouted for the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. He divorced and settled in Guanito, a municipal district of Sabana del Puerto, in Villa Altagracia. Eventually, he married again, to Milagros Mejía, an attorney. They devoted themselves to social work and feeding the hungry through neighborhood councils and community associations. One Dominican newspaper described Velázquez as a cheerful man who only removed his red Leones del Escogido cap to sleep.53
Velázquez fractured his hip in a 2017 fall, limiting his mobility. Nevertheless, he attended a ceremony at an amateur baseball tournament the following year where he was honored with a plaque presented by his former Escogido batterymate, Juan Marichal.54 Velázquez was 81 when he died on May 21, 2019, in Villa Altagracia. He is buried at Cementerio Nacional Máximo Gómez in Santo Domingo.
The author would like to thank SABR colleagues Stephen D. Boren and Richard Cuicchi for research assistance.
This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Mark Sternman.
In addition to sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted www.baseball-reference.com and https://sabr.org/bioproject.
Fred Velázquez’s Dominican League statistics are from https://stats.winterballdata.com/players (Subscription service. Last accessed November 6, 2021).
1 Jim Bouton, Ball Four: The Final Pitch, (New York City: Rosetta Books, 2014): 144.
2 Cuqui Córdova, “Perdimos a Federico Velázquez,” Diario Libre (Dominican Republic), May 24, 2019. In this article, his name is shown as Federico Antonio Velazquez Velasquez.
3 Fred Velázquez, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, August 22, 1964.
4 Fred Velázquez, The Sporting News contract card, https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/43001/rec/1 (last accessed November 6, 2021).
5 Velázquez, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss.
6 Frank Hyland, “‘I Go Happy’ Velazques (sic) Says,” Atlanta Constitution, July 29, 1973: 4D.
7 Velázquez, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss.
10 Bob Moskowitz, “Vet Catcher Velásquez Brightens Grays’ Days with Red-Hot Hitting,” The Sporting News, September 2, 1967: 45.
11 “Panama City Players Agree to Play Again,” Atlanta Constitution, July 9, 1958: 26.
12 Fernando A. Vicioso, “Licey Comes to Life, Cops 7 Wins in 8-Game Stretch,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1959: 23.
13 Freddy Tapia, “Fallece Federico Velásquez a Los 81 Años de Edad,” Listin Diario (Dominican Republic), May 22, 2019, https://listindiario.com/el-deporte/2019/05/22/566528/fallece-federico-velasquez-a-los-81-anos-de-edad (last accessed October 16, 2021).
14 Velázquez, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss.
15 Tony Grullón, “Velásquez le Recebió a Dos Immortals en un Partido,” Listin Diario , May 23, 2019, https://listindiario.com/el-deporte/2019/05/23/566678/velasquez-le-recibio-a-dos-inmortales-en-un-partido (last accessed November 19, 2021).
19 “Riese Hands Out Bouquet to Defense and Catcher,” The Sporting News, August 14, 1965: 39.
20 Pilots Log Book, 1969: 30.
21 Venezuelan League statistics are from https://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/tem_equ.php?EQ=CDL&TE=1965-66 (last accessed November 7, 2021).
22 Pilots Log Book, 1969: 30.
23 Fernando A. Vicioso, “Elephants Release Adair as Manager in Losing Playoff,” The Sporting News, February 4, 1967: 39.
25 Tom Northington, “Slugger Walton Hero of Carolina All-Star Game,” The Sporting News, July 29, 1967: 39.
27 Braves 1971 Guide: 51.
28 “Southern League,” The Sporting News, May 4, 1968: 40.
29 “Long-Distance Homers,” The Sporting News, August 24, 1968: 37.
30 United Press International, “Ranew to Join Pilots Today,” Redlands (California) Daily Facts, May 22, 1969: 9.
31 Through June 2, 1969, starter Phil Roof was batting .176, and Dave Duncan, the primary backup, was at .098. Since replacing Jim Pagliaroni (.148 in 27 at-bats), rookie Gene Tenace was 1-for-10 in his first three major league games.
32 Ron Bergman, “A’s Experiment at Second Base,” Oakland Tribune, September 19, 1972: 40. At Finley’s insistence, the Oaks traded Velazquez and Marcel Lachemann for two players on the A’s major league roster.
33 “American Assn.” The Sporting News, August 16, 1969: 36.
35 Miguel Frau, “Well-Rested Dominicans Grab Early Lead in Series,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1971: 47.
36 Bill Deekins, “Veteran Velázquez a Steadying Influence on Richmond Pitchers,” The Sporting News, June 12, 1971: 39.
37 “International League,” The Sporting News, May 22, 1971: 42.
38 Roosevelt Comarazamy, “Victories for Escogido, Licey in D.R. Openers,” The Sporting News, November 13, 1971: 55.
39 Roosevelt Comarazamy, “Dominican Doings,” The Sporting News, November 27, 1971: 55.
40 Roosevelt Comarazamy, “Dominican Doings,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1971: 55.
41 Roosevelt Comarazamy “Velázquez Bows Out; Linares is Escogido Pilot,” The Sporting News, January 15, 1972: 55.
42 Wayne Minshew, “The Minors,” Atlanta Constitution, March 27, 1973: 1D.
43 Wayne Minshew, “Oates’ Injury Caps Braves’ Dismal Casualty Record,” The Sporting News, August 11, 1973: 15.
46 Marcus Holland, “Big Gate in Southern? It’s Up to Finley,” The Sporting News, May 4, 1974: 34.
47 “Slam Climaxes Streak,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1974: 39.
48 Bill Skutt, “Homers Boost Southern’s All-Stars Past Twins, 3-1,” The Sporting News, August 31, 1974: 42.
49 “Southern League,” The Sporting News, August 9, 1975: 39.
50 “Squires, Maneely Named Top in Southern Loop,” The Sporting News, September 13, 1975: 40.
52 Horacio Nolasco, “Jugadores con Números Retirados en el Invierno,” http://elpapadelbeisbol.com/jugadores-con-numeros-retirados-en-el-invierno (last accessed November 21, 2021).