Pancho Coimbre

"It's a shame [Coimbre] couldn't play in the major leagues due to the color barrier. I've always insisted he would have been one of the best ever!"

--Roberto Clemente, quoted in the book "Puerto Rico's Winter League," by Thomas E. Van Hyning

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

May, 2007

Francisco "Pancho" Coimbre

Born: Jan. 29, 1909 in Coamo, Puerto Rico
Died: Nov. 4, 1989 in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Ht:5'-8", Wt: 175
Batted right and threw right
Position: outfield
Years: 1926-1951
Teams: Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Negro Leagues: New York Cubans

Was there ever a better baseball player to come from Puerto Rico than Roberto Clemente?

Probably not, but Pancho Coimbre came mighty close. Clemente, who grew up watching Coimbre in his homeland, said many times that Pancho was a better hitter than he was, and available stats show that there might be some truth to this assertion.

From 1939-1942, Coimbre didn't strike out in Puerto Rican League play, during the 1948-49 winter season he struck out once in 239 at bats, and in 13 seasons in Puerto Rico struck out only 29 times (an average of 2.2 times a season!). What makes this feat even more incredible is that Coimbre was a slugger! In his best seasons, Coimbre usually batted from .330-.425, and slugged over .500. Coimbre won two Puerto Rican batting titles, came in second once, and was in the top 10 almost every season.

Like Clemente, Coimbre had a touch of regalness, always carrying himself with confidence and class, and was a leader on and off the field.

During his years with the Ponce Lions, Coimbre helped the team to five championships, batting a combined .367. Ponce's best team may have been its 1941-42 club, which also boasted Howard Easterling, Sam Bankhead and Raymond Brown from the Negro Leagues, and Puerto Rican pitcher Juan Guilbe.

Coimbre was a tremendous athlete, and was a track star of some acclaim in Puerto Rico, specializing in sprints and the high hurdles.

Coimbre used his blazing speed to lead the league in stolen bases with 46 in 1941-42, despite a the season being about half as long as a Major League season.

In the 1942-43 season Coimbre batted .342 and won the league MVP, and in the 1944-45 season Coimbre batted an incredible .425!

During his Puerto Rican career, Coimbre's biggest rival as the top player on the island was Perucho Cepeda, a hard-hitting shortstop and the father of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda.

Coimbre's .337 career average in Puerto Rico has been bested only by Hall of Famer Willard Brown.

Besides playing in Puerto Rico, Coimbre played in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and, of course, the Negro Leagues.

Coimbre played several seasons with the New York Cubans in the Negro National League, never batting below .330, and besting .400 twice. He was selected for two East-West All-Star games. Despite the stars on the East's squad in 1944, Coimbre batted third, in the middle of four Hall of Famers: Cool Papa Bell batting first, Ray Dandridge second, Buck Leonard cleanup and Josh Gibson batting fifth. In 10 East-West at bats, Coimbre failed to hit safely--one of the few times in his life he struggled at the plate.

Coimbre played all outfield positions, but, like Clemente, was most suited for right field where he could show off his incredible arm.

After the 1951 season, Coimbre retired and was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a Major League scout, a job he kept for 25 years. When Roberto Clemente was left unprotected by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954, Coimbre urged the Pirates to draft him, which they did, uniting the two greatest players in Puerto Rican history.

Coimbre, a Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Famer, died in a house fire in 1989 at age 80.