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Vic Power passes away at 78

Source: AP (via Yahoo)

Power had one of my favorite write-ups in The New Historical Baseball Abstract, where Bill James ranked him 81st at first base.

Power was a spectacular defensive first baseman, an acrobat who would dive for ground balls half way to second base; he had the athletic ability we normally associate with a very good second baseman, but had applied it to playing first base. Power had the same problem as Siebern and McQuinn: he came along in the Yankee farm system at a time when the Yankees were not exactly desperate for help. He had two additional problems: one, that he would be a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium, and two, that he was a dark-skinned Latin player before the Yankees had broken the color line. In 1952 he played for Kansas City in the American Association, at that time the Yankees' top farm club. He hit .331 with 40 doubles (leading the league), 17 triples (leading the league), 16 homers and 109 RBI. The Yankees already had Joe Collins and Johnny Mize at first base, plus the Kansas City team also had Moose Skowron, who hit .341 with 31 homers and 134 RBI the same year, playing the outfield. Power returned to Kansas City in 1953, leading the American Association in batting (.349) and hits (217).

One odd thing about Power is that his power zone was right between his eyes; if you threw at his head (which a lot of people did) he was liable to line the knock down pitch into the left field bleachers.

He hit .300 several times in the majors (.288 or better six seasons as a regular), hit 14-19 homers a year, led the league in triples one year, won seven Gold Gloves at first base, and would have won two or three more before that, but they didn't start giving the award until the middle of his career.

Power was an emotional player, great sense of humor, always laughing, joking, cutting up, playing practical jokes, but he was also a sensitive man with a hair-trigger temper. He would get "hurt angry" rather than "fighting angry," not that he didn't get into his share of fights, but sometimes he would take things the wrong way. Bigots just couldn't stand him. In the vernacular of the 1950s, Power was one of "them" who "didn't know his place." He was a showboat, and he was an uppity n-word who dated white girls.

Ask any player in the American League who's the biggest showboat and, chances are, you'll get the lightning answer "Vic Power." The rollicking Puerto Rican is upstage most of the time for the Kansas City Athletics, hamming up the most elementary situation at first base. He baits the crowds by making one-hand circus catches of the easy bull's-eye pegs, and sometimes succeeds in nauseating his fellow athletes. - James Ellis, Baseball Digest, August, 1956

After his playing career, Power was active in youth sports programs in San Pedro de Macoris. He is one of the key reasons - perhaps the key reason - why this village became the world's richest source of baseball talent.

My favorite Vic Power story... Vic Power in a restaurant in Syracuse, 1951. An embarrassed waiter shuffles up to him and explains, "I'm sorry, sir, but we don't serve colored people."

"That's OK," says Power. "I don't eat colored people."