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By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
Most great baseball teams display fancy batting stats, featuring long-balls galore. Such was not the case for the Miami Sun Sox of 1952. On this squad, no regular batted over .280 or hit more than five home runs. What this team did feature was a stifling pitching staff that held opponents at bay long enough to win the pennant, albeit by the slimmest of margins.
Professional baseball in Miami got its start in 1927 when a team named the Hustlers joined an already existing Class D circuit, the Florida State League. In a split-season format, they finished last (18-49) in the first half, but won the second half with a record of 39-20. In the ensuing playoffs, they lost to the Orlando Colts, four games to three. However, the Hustlers existence was brief as they closed up shop, along with the whole league, midway through the 1928 season.
Twelve years later, a new team from Miami joined the new Class D Florida East Coast League. Here, the club, which was known as the Wahoos or Seminoles, failed to cross the .500 threshold from 1940 to 1942. On May 14, 1942, the league announced it was suspending operations. Like many other minor league circuits, it couldn’t maintain itself during World War II.
In 1949, the Sun Sox finished second, but were dusted in the first round of the playoffs. The following year, the team also finished second but went on to defeat Miami Beach and Havana to win the playoffs. In 1951, with a record of 77-51, Miami dropped to third and lost in the finals to St. Petersburg. Little did any one expect that the Sun Sox would improve by nearly 30 wins the next year.
| Max Macon|
In 1952, with former major-leaguer Max Macon at the helm, the Sun Sox broke quickly out of the gate. During the summer, closely pursued by the Miami Beach Flamingos, Miami played close to .700 ball. When the dust settled at season’s end, the Sun Sox found themselves in first place with a 104-48 mark, one thin game ahead of the Flamingos. The narrow difference could be traced back to a game on August 7. On this date, Miami Beach apparently won a contest against Miami. Later, the victory was overturned, and a forfeit was given to the Sun Sox, before the game was tossed out altogether. If the Flamingos’ win had held up, the two teams would have finished the season in a tie. In the playoffs, the two teams (Miami and Miami Beach) met in the finals where the Sun Sox edged their neighbors, four games to three.
The Sun Sox hitting attack was decidedly mediocre. The team hit .238, third in the league, and averaged only 3.6 runs per game. Their leading hitter was 33-year-old, 13-year veteran outfielder Paul Armstrong, who batted .279, followed by shortstop Chico Fernandez, who hit .261 and led the league in stolen bases with 46. The team hit just 21 home runs. Outfielder Bud Rotzell led the team with five and was tops in RBI with 60.
The Sun Sox excelled on defense. They led the league in fielding with a .971 percentage, turning in 156 double plays in 152 games.
Miami’s pitching staff was one of the most effective in baseball history. Of their 104 victories, 42 were complete-game shutouts. It is probable that no two pitchers on the same team ever had lower ERAs than Billy Harris (0.80) and Gil Torres (0.83). Harris (25-6) led the league in wins, percentage (.806) and complete games (29), holding opposing batters to a feeble .172 average. Torres (22-8) completed 28 of 30 starts and pitched a 1-0 no-hitter against West Palm Beach on July 10. The pair tied for the new league record of 12 shutouts each. They were a study in contrasts. Harris, 21, was a 5’8”, 185 -pound right-hander from Marysville, New Brunswick, Canada, in his second year of pro-ball. Torres, a 6’2”, 165-pound righthander from Havana, Cuba, was a 37-year-old veteran who had broken in with Milwaukee (American Association) back in 1935. He was an infielder with Washington in 1944-45 and in the latter season led American League shortstops in putouts and was second in total chances.
The Sun Sox third baseman was Dick Gray, who became a part of major league history in 1958. Gray was the starting third baseman in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ opening game at San Francisco and was the first Dodger player to hit a home run at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Second baseman Jimmy Bragan is the younger brother of former major league manager, National Association president and Texas Rangers executive Bobby Bragan. Jimmy, who passed away in June, had a 40-plus year career in baseball, retiring in 1994 after 14 years as president of the Southern League.
Harris, Torres, Bragan, Fernandez and Armstrong all made the Florida International League All-Star team. In addition to Gray, Harris (who pitched in two games for the Dodgers in 1957 and 1959) and Torres, Fernandez also played in the majors, eight seasons with Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Detroit and the New York Mets, 1956-63.
The manager and regular first baseman for Miami was ex-major leaguer Max Macon. Macon had been a left-handed reliever for the famed St. Louis Cardinals Gashouse Gang in 1938, pitched for Brooklyn in 1940, 1942-43, and switched to first base with the Boston Braves in 1944. This was his second consecutive season managing one of Minor League Baseball’s top 100 teams. In 1951 he had led Hazard, Kentucky, to the Mountain States League pennant.
The Miami Sun Sox played another two years in the Florida International League before the loop disbanded after the 1954 season. Two years later, a team called the Marlins joined the Class AAA International League for a five-year stint beginning in 1956. After a brief interlude, a team also called the Marlins joined the Florida State League in 1962 and stayed for 30 years. In 1993, the major leagues came to Miami, honoring its minor league heritage by also taking the name Marlins.
A few years earlier, the city of Miami participated in a bold minor league experiment. In 1979, a new team called the Miami Amigos became a charter member of the experimental Class AAA Inter-American League, featuring teams in the United States, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela. After a half-season, this unwieldly arrangement ground to a halt. The Amigos, under the tutelage of big league manager Davey Johnson, finished the abbreviated season in first place with a 51-21 record.
The 1952 Miami Sun Sox will be remembered as a team with one of the greatest pitching staffs in minor league history. Though playing in a good pitching league, any team that boasted two starters with ERAs lower than 1.00, should be memorable for that reason alone.
|1952 Florida International League Standings|
|MIAMI BEACH||103||49||.678||1||W. PALM BEACH||68||85||.444||36.5|
|ST. PETERSBURG||84||70||.545||21.0||FT. LAUD/K. WEST||40||111||.265||63.5|
|1952 Miami Sun Sox batting statistics|
|Little Joe Kwiatkowski||OF||122||422||44||100||26||8||2||1||51||42||10||.238|
|Rene Solis (Key West)||1B,P||63||160||13||44||20||7||1||1||10||21||0||.275|
|1952 Miami Sun Sox pitching statistics|
|Rene Solis (Key West)||8||15||.348||31||21||16||3||205||182||95||72||2.85|