Ramón Avilés (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Ramón Avilés

This article was written by Sam Gazdziak

Ramón Avilés (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Ramón Avilés was frequently written off as a good-field, no-hit infielder with little chance of making it in the major leagues. Not only did he reach the majors with the Boston Red Sox (1977) and Philadelphia Phillies (1979-81), he became a valuable backup for the Phillies as they won the 1980 World Series. He contributed even more to the game as a minor-league instructor and manager for decades after his playing career ended.

Ramón Antonio Avilés1 Miranda was born in Manatí, Puerto Rico. Baseball-Reference.com and other sources list his birthdate as January 22, 1952. However, his family has clarified that he was born in 1949 and lowered his age when he entered professional baseball.2 His father, Ramón Antonio Avilés Olivares, was a policeman in various Puerto Rican towns. His mother, Rosa Candida Miranda Marqués, had three other children. They included a brother Gilberto, a sister Silvia, and a younger brother, Angel Antonio, who died at age 16.3 Edgar, a half-brother,4 had a son, Mike Avilés. Mike had a 10-year career in the major leagues as well.

Like many Puerto Rican children of the era, Avilés idolized Roberto Clemente. “I never saw him play in the big leagues, but he was a hero to me and every other kid in Puerto Rico,” Avilés said in 1978, five years after the legend’s death in a plane crash. “Of course, I saw him play in the winter league here when I was a kid. However, I think I remember him most for doing so much for so many people. He always was helping somebody, especially the kids. You never hear a bad word said about him in Puerto Rico.”5

As he was growing up, Avilés wanted to be a doctor, but eight years of medical school was more than his father could afford.6 Avilés could play baseball, though, and was an excellent infielder for Fernando Callejo High School in Manatí. Juan Beniquez, was a friend and a rising prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization. He convinced Avilés to attend a tryout. Avilés impressed scout Milt Bolling so much that the Sox signed him after his high school graduation.7

Avilés turned pro at home with the Arecibo Lobos of the Puerto Rican Winter League in the winter of 1968-69. He made his USA debut with the Class-A Greenville Red Sox in 1970 and hit .296 in 94 games. He was primarily a shortstop but also played seven games at second base. His fielding percentage at either position was in the .920s. Over the offseason, the Red Sox had Avilés and several other infield prospects, including Beniquez, work on playing third base, shortstop, and second base. The idea was that the versatility would help improve their chances, as well as the club’s.8

Life in South Carolina for a young Puerto Rican ballplayer in the early 1970s wasn’t easy. Avilés later recalled that he had to sleep on the team trainer’s table in the clubhouse for a month, because he couldn’t find an apartment. He also had to pay the manager’s wife $5 to cut his hair, because neither the black nor the white barbers in town would touch his hair.9

While playing in Greenville, Avilés met his future wife, Betty Jo Richey. He had learned some English in Puerto Rico, but she taught him the language so well that Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan noted that he spoke the language better than many American players.10 They would have a daughter, Amy.

Avilés was promoted to the Winston-Salem Red Sox to start the 1971 season, and he batted .250 in 33 games. He struggled to make even the most basic plays at shortstop, though. He was moved back to Greenville in late May, as the two Class-A teams swapped shortstops – Avilés for Rick Burleson.11 In his first game back in Greenville, Avilés had five singles and an RBI and, ironically, made some good plays at shortstop. He took part in two double plays and ranged far to his left to make a nice play in the ninth inning.12 Avilés batted .294 in 91 games for Greenville. He also walked 43 times against just 26 strikeouts.

Both Avilés and Burleson ended up on the Double-A Pawtucket Red Sox in 1972. Avilés moved to second base. The position change proved extremely beneficial, as Avilés committed just 16 errors at second, a .969 fielding percentage – far and away his best defensive work to that point. Unfortunately, his offense regressed as much as his defense progressed. He slashed .183/.277/.198. He hit 57 singles and five doubles in 106 games. It wasn’t just Avilés who struggled at the plate for Pawtucket. During a stretch in August, the team was no-hit three times in three weeks. In the last no-hitter, thrown by Elmira’s Bob Eldridge, Avilés came the closest to getting a hit, slapping a ground ball up the middle in the ninth inning. Shortstop Rob Belloir had to grab the ball behind second base to throw him out and preserve the no-no.13

Avilés spent a total of three seasons in Double-A, playing both 1973 and 1974 with the Bristol Red Sox. Both his hitting and fielding improved during this time, and Bristol moved him between second base, third base and shortstop. He also played the odd inning in the outfield. Avilés’ hitting improved to .224 in 1973 and then .247 in 1974. He also started hitting the ball with more authority, with 15 extra-base hits – 12 doubles and three triples – in 1974. Avilés got off to a great start in 1974 and was one of six Bristol players named to the Eastern League’s All-Star Team.14

Avilés committed 32 errors at shortstop in 1974, but one of them was good news for manager Stan Williams. Following injuries to some of his pitchers, the 38-year-old ex-big-leaguer activated himself to make an emergency start against Quebec City. He threw a 9-0 no-hitter. The play that saved his no-hitter was a grounder that Avilés grabbed and then couldn’t get out of his glove. The official scorer ruled it an error, preserving the first regular-season no-hitter of Williams’ 20-year pitching career.15

There were signs that the Red Sox were losing patience with the infielder. By 1974, Burleson had already made the major leagues and finished in fourth place in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Avilés, meanwhile, was moved to the bench for a month because Boston had signed prospect Eddie Ford (son of Hall of Famer Whitey Ford16) out of the University of South Carolina and promoted him directly to Bristol. After a month and a .160 average, Ford was moved to Class A, and Avilés was given his starting role back.17

Avilés, now 26 (per his family’s account), moved up to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in 1975, but not as a starter, initially. He was a utility infielder. The Red Sox were interested in starting Steve Dillard. Dillard, though, was injury-prone and didn’t hit well when he was healthy, so Avilés appeared in 123 games and hit .220 while slugging .258. Avilés hit the first home run of his professional career, too. It came on August 26, 1975, against Rochester and was a three-run blast off Red Wings lefty Mike Willis.18

There was an element of bad luck in his low numbers, he told Hartford Courant columnist Owen Canfield. “I’m starting to hit with the hot weather, but they’ve been catching them on me, too,” he said. “One stretch I was nothing for eleven, but I hit eight line drives.”19

In his second straight year of Triple-A ball in 1976, Avilés put together a solid campaign for the Rhode Island Red Sox (as the Pawtucket club was known that year), with a .257/.331/.325 slash line. He had 17 doubles and homered twice while playing a steady shortstop. After the season, the Red Sox added Avilés to the 40-man roster.20 He was on track to make the 1977 Red Sox Opening Day roster until a freak accident cost him his chance. Avilés and outfielder Jim Rice slammed into each other chasing the same pop fly on March 16 in Fort Lauderdale. Avilés hung on to the ball to make the play, but he separated his shoulder and spent the rest of camp with his arm in a sling.21 He was sent back to Triple-A Pawtucket, as questions remained about his condition.

Avilés never got on track once he started playing in Pawtucket. In spite of a batting average near .200, the Red Sox brought him to the majors on June 24 after first baseman Jack Baker was demoted to the minors.22 Then, for the most part, manager Don Zimmer apparently forgot he was on the roster. He made his one and only appearance in a Red Sox uniform on July 10 in an 11-inning 8-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. He pinch-hit for Bernie Carbo in the top of the seventh inning and laid down a sacrifice bunt against Bob McClure. He played two innings at second base without touching the ball and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning.

Avilés stayed in the majors for another couple of weeks, as well as a September call-up, but never got into another game. Despite the lack of playing time, he was happy to be in the majors. “We are in the pennant race and the manager has to go with the regular guys. I’m not disappointed. I’m glad to be here,” he said. “I don’t feel bad being the backup to the best shortstop in the American League [Rick Burleson]. As a matter of fact, I’m proud of it.”23

The next time he played in the majors, Avilés was wearing a Phillies uniform. The Red Sox sold his contract to Philadelphia in April 1978, and he spent all of 1978 with the Phillies’ AAA team in Oklahoma City. He did well when he played (.270 average and 3 home runs), but he was competing for playing time against prospects like Jim Morrison and Todd Cruz.

Avilés got his big opportunity on May 2, 1979, when Phillies second baseman Manny Trillo broke his forearm after being hit by a pitch. Avilés, hitting near .400 in Oklahoma City at the time, was brought to the majors one day later. The following day, he hit a two-run single off the Dodgers’ Charlie Hough for his first major-league hit. Then Avilés just kept hitting, as the right-handed part of a second base platoon with Rudy Meoli. Through May 18, Avilés had at least one hit in every game where he came to bat and was hitting a scorching .480 with 8 RBIs. The first nine times he came to bat with runners in scoring position, he drove them in seven times. After a frustrating decade in the minor leagues with only a cup of coffee with the Red Sox to show for it, Avilés was making the most of his opportunity.

“I am stubborn,” Avilés responded when asked about his baseball career to that point. “I never thought I was kidding myself. If I had gotten a shot in the major leagues and hadn’t made it, then it would be very easy to quit. But I never had a chance up here. So why give up unless you know for sure you can’t make it?” He credited Betty for keeping him going during the times when things got so bad that he thought of quitting.24

“I know what’s gonna happen when Manny Trillo comes back,” he said. “He’s gonna play because he’s the best second baseman in the National League. I’m not fighting him for his job. I’d be very happy to stay here as his backup.”25

Pitchers eventually adjusted to Avilés, and he was sent back to the minors in mid-June. Still, he batted .279 in 27 games with 12 RBIs and played very well in the field.

It happened again, in almost the exact same way, in 1980. Avilés started the season in Triple-A, and then Manny Trillo sprained his ankle on April 20 and went on the disabled list.26 Avilés went to Philadelphia and hit well as the temporary starter. This time, however, he wasn’t sent back to the minors when Trillo got healthy. Instead, Avilés became a valuable utility infielder, staying with the Phillies through the end of the season, as well as their postseason run that culminated with a World Series win over the Royals.

Though he didn’t play in the World Series, he was part of a key inning in the NL Championship Series. With Nolan Ryan pitching, the Houston Astros were leading the Phillies 5-2 in the top of the eighth inning of Game Five. Ryan allowed three singles and a bases-loaded walk before giving way to the bullpen. Avilés pinch-ran for Keith Moreland after Moreland grounded into a force play. He advanced to second on a Del Unser single and scored on a triple by Trillo. By the time the inning was over, the Fightin’ Phils had turned a 5-2 deficit into a 7-5 lead. The Astros came back to tie the game but eventually lost 8-7.

Avilés hit his first big-league home run off Mario Soto of the Reds on May 21,1980. Whenever Trillo or shortstop Larry Bowa needed a day off, Avilés was there, playing steady defense and hitting well. He played in a total of 51 games and had 28 hits in 101 at-bats for a .277/.336/.396 slash line. “Ramon’s a pro,” said his manager, Dallas Green. “We know we can go to him at any time, and that’s why he’s in our organization.”27

Avilés didn’t have the same kind of luck in 1981. He started the season with the Phillies, but he struggled badly with the bat and was hitting .133 when the players went out on strike in June. When play resumed after the strike, he raised his average to .214, playing mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement. His average in 19 appearances after the strike was .308 (4-for-13). He had one plate appearance against the Expos in the ’81 NL Division Series and drew a walk.

After the 1981 season, Avilés was traded to Texas for pitcher Dave Rajsich. The Rangers didn’t seem to have room for another infielder, either at the major league or Triple-A level. Avilés was never seriously considered for a roster spot in spring training, and he barely played for their minor-league team in Denver. Avilés asked for a trade, and Texas sent him back to the Phillies organization on May 1, 1982. By then, his marriage to Betty had ended in divorce.

“I have had some setbacks, but not enough to get me down,” he said.28

Avilés’ playing career wasn’t over yet, but the Phillies were grooming him to take over the oversight of the team’s Latin American operations. That job was held by Ruben Amaro, until he left the organization to become a coach for the Chicago Cubs.29 Avilés spent 1983, his last year of professional baseball, as a player-coach for the Triple-A Portland Beavers, the Phillies’ new Pacific Coast League affiliate. He hit .256 in 69 games and worked to prepare infielder Juan Samuel for the majors.30

In parts of four major league seasons, Avilés appeared in 117 games and slashed .268/.341/.347, with nine doubles and two home runs among his 51 hits. He had 24 RBIs and scored 21 times. He also had a .247 average through 13 seasons in the minor leagues.

Avilés played winter ball in Puerto Rico for 16 seasons, through 1984-85, primarily with Arecibo but also with Ponce and Mayagüez. He hit .225 in his winter ball career but was an All-Star in 1977-78 with Mayagüez.31

For the next 20 years, Avilés served as a manager or a traveling instructor in the Phillies organization. He began his managerial career with the Bend Phillies in the Northwest League in 1984 and because the first manager of the new Clearwater Phillies in 1985.

Throughout his tenure with the Phillies, Avilés also worked as a manager and general manager in the Puerto Rican winter league, becoming a Caribbean legend in the process. He became the first Puerto Rican to win a Caribbean Series as a player, manager and general manager, according to a 2006 profile in Florida Today. He won a total of 25 championships in professional baseball as a coach and player.32

Avilés influenced several generations of young Phillies as they started their careers in the minor leagues, including Chase Utley, Scott Rolen, and Jimmy Rollins. He could be a hard-nosed manager while working with kids who were relatively new to the ways of professional baseball. He once fined a player $25 for talking with a friend on the opposing team.33 However, Avilés also had a soft side and admitted that he never knew he could care so much about people who weren’t relatives. “I really care about these guys,” he said while managing the Clearwater Phillies. “Sometimes I can’t sleep because I worry about how I can make this guy a better player.”34

“You can teach kids on this level,” he said in 1992, while managing in the New York-Penn League. “They haven’t gotten to that stage where they think they know it all.”35

Through his time as a manager and roving instructor, Avilés had become invaluable to the Phillies in helping the team’s prospects start their careers off on the right paths. Bill Giles, team president, made Avilés’ value plain when he said, “We want Ramon Avilés in our organization in any capacity that’s available. Avilés has done a great job. We’re very high on him.”36

Avilés managed at the highest level of his career when he was named interim manager for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 1996. He was pressed into service when manager Butch Hobson was arrested on May 4 for cocaine possession and subsequently fired. The roster was in a constant state of flux, but Avilés kept the team in playoff contention up to the end of the season.

He acknowledged that he had dreams of being the first Puerto Rican to manage in the major leagues.37 However, he was so invaluable as an instructor that he was returned to that role after the ’96 season ended.

Avilés managed extensively in Puerto Rico in the winters. During the 1987 Caribbean Series, he moved up from a coaching role to replace Tim Foli, after Caguas had lost two of its first three games. The Criollos proceeded to win four straight to capture the tournament. For the 1989-90 season, Avilés won the PRWL’s Manager of the Year award.38

Avilés was also the general manager for Puerto Rico’s “Dream Team” in the 1995 Caribbean Series in San Juan. The team featured Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Baerga, and Edgar Martinez, to name just a few of its stars.

In 2005, Avilés moved to the Milwaukee Brewers organization, just in time to manage a young Ryan Braun with the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League. His last managerial assignment was in 2008 with the Burlington (Vermont) Lake Monsters of the New York Penn League in the Washington Nationals organization. His final coaching role in the U.S. appears to have been in 2009, when he was the hitting instructor for the Hagerstown Suns.

As recently as 2018, Avilés was still active in Puerto Rican baseball. He died in his hometown of Manatí on January 27, 2020, at the age of 71. Avilés was suffering from complications of diabetes and high blood pressure and was scheduled to begin dialysis treatment in early February.39 He is buried in the Cementerio Municipal Histórico de Vega Baja in Puerto Rico.

 

Acknowledgments

An earlier version of this article appeared on the author’s website, RIP Baseball, www.ripbaseball.com.

Thanks to Bill Nowlin and Tony Oliver for their help with this biography, which was reviewed by Rory Costello and Bruce Harris and fact-checked by Henry Kirn.

 

Sources

Baseball statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Béisbol 101.

 

Notes

1 Note that the accent is on the final syllable of the paternal surname in Spanish. This is confirmed by Thomas Van Hyning’s book Puerto Rico’s Winter League (see note 38), as well as his obituary (see note 39) and other Puerto Rican sources. The Sporting News Baseball Register for 1982 gives the pronunciation as AH-vee-less.

2 All family information, as well as Ramón Avilés’ actual birth year, courtesy of an interview with his sister Sylvia, conducted by Tony Oliver, November 5, 2020.

3 Fernando Ribas Reyes, “Fallece el Exgrandesligas Ramón Avilés,” https://www.primerahora.com/deportes/beisbol/notas/fallece-el-exgrandesligas-ramon-aviles/.

4 Mike Aviles entry on www.bostonball.com.

5 “Bosox Remember Clemente,” The Berkeley Gazette, March 21, 1978: 17.

6 Bill Handleman, “Ramon Aviles Teaches More Than Hitting,” Asbury Park Press, April 9, 2002: D1.

7 Hal Bodley, “Aviles Finally Has Made It,” The News Journal (Wilmington, DE), May 13, 1979: B1.

8 Peter Gammons, “Majoring in the Minors: Sox Farmlings Getting Variety,” Boston Globe, September 10, 1970: 35.

9 Handleman, D1.

10 Bob Ryan, “’77 Red Sox – Ramon Aviles,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1977: 78.

11 Jim Walser, “Miller Slams Two; G-Sox Roll 16-7,” The Greenville News, May 21, 1971: 38.

12 Walser, 38.

13 Al Mallette, “Elmira’s Eldridge Joins Pawtucket’s No-Hit Foes,” The Sporting News, September 9, 1972: 41.

14 “Eastern League,” The Sporting News, August 3, 1974: 40.

15 Charles Hibbert, “Stan Williams Proves Gem as Manager,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1974: 40.

16 “Baseball Draft: Bosox Pick Ford,” Hartford Courant, June 6, 1974: 7C.

17 “Speedster Reggie Niles Proves Value in Outfield,” Hartford Courant, July 21, 1974: 6C.

18 “Rochester Holds 1st,” News Leader (Staunton, VA), August 27, 1975: 18.

19 Owen Canfield, “Eight Years of Trying,” Hartford Courant, May 25, 1975: 7C.

20 “Bristol’s Ford, Vosk Promoted by Red Sox,” Hartford Courant, November 7, 1976: 2C.

21 “Tiant Signs, Feeling Good,” Bangor Daily News, March 24, 1977: 24.

22 “Aviles, Coleman Called up by Sox,” Bangor Daily News, June 25, 1977: 22.

23 Ryan, 78.

24 Bill Lyon, “Ramon Aviles Awaits His Fate,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 22, 1979: C1.

25 Tim Cushman, “The Phillies Subs Are Playing a Major Role,” Philadelphia Daily News, May 22, 1979: 71.

26 “Trillo Placed on the Disabled List,” Lancaster New Era, April 28, 1980: 19.

27 Jack McCallum, “Aviles Plays a Big Role in Phils’ 10-5 Win over Braves,” The Morning Call, (Allentown, PA), May 7, 1980: C3.

28 Ted Silary, “Setbacks Don’t Get Aviles Down,” Philadelphia Daily News, August 20, 1982: 106.

29 Ray Finocchiaro, “Amaro to Coach for Cubs,” The News Journal (Wilmington, DE), October 23, 1982: B1.

30 Jayson Stark, “Ready or Not – Samuel Tears up Triple-A While Phillies Wait,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 1, 1983: D1.

31 Luis Rodriguez-Mayoral, “Ramon Avilés: Caballero y Soldado del Béisbol,” Béisbol 101, https://www.beisbol101.com/ramon-aviles-caballero-y-soldado-del-beisbol/.

32 Scott Brown, “Manatees Manager Loves Life at Ballpark,” Florida Today, June 14, 2006: 1D.

33 Phil Gulick, “Phils’ Fortenberry Gets His Grip after Early Outfield Adventures,” Tampa Bay Times, May 15, 1986: 4.

34 Darrell Proctor, “Aviles Handles Phila with Care; Always on Call to Players,” Tampa Bay Times, June 16, 1985: 4.

35 Scott Pitoniak, “Next Stop Watertown,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), July 12, 1992: 1E.

36 Paul Sokoloski, “Hobson’s Star with Barons Rises and Falls Quickly,” Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA), August 11, 1996: 5C.

37 Larry Holeva, “‘Interim’ Label Fits Aviles,” Times Tribune (Scranton, PA), May 12, 1996: D10.

38 Thomas E. Van Hyning, Puerto Rico’s Winter League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2004), 183.

39 Ribas Reyes, “Fallece el Exgrandesligas Ramon Avilés.”

Full Name

Ramón Antonio Avilés Miranda

Born

January 22, 1949 at Manatí, (P.R.)

Died

January 27, 2020 at Manatí, (P.R.)

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