|Francisco "Pancho" Coimbre Atiles|
January 29, 1909|
Coamo, Puerto Rico
|Died: November 4, 1989
Ponce, Puerto Rico
|LBPPR: 1928 for the Leones de Ponce|
|Career highlights and awards|
Francisco "Pancho" Coimbre Atiles (29 January 1909 – 4 November 1989), more commonly known as Pancho Coimbre, was a Puerto Rican professional baseball player. He was born in the municipality of Coamo and moved to Ponce early in his life. It was in Ponce where he would begin to actively participate in sports, both in sprinting and baseball. Coimbre played thirteen seasons in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League (LBPPR), with the Leones de Ponce. During this period the team won five league championships. He finished his career with an average of .337, and had an average of 2.2 strikeouts per season, this included four consecutive seasons from 1939 to 1942, without any strikeouts. Coimbre also won two LBPPR batting titles and the league's Most Valuable Player Award in 1943.
Coimbre traveled to New York City, after completing his first professional season in Puerto Rico, where he joined the Porto Rico Stars baseball team of the Negro Leagues.[A] He was contracted by the New York Cubans, while playing with the Porto Rico Stars. He joined the NY Cubans and played several seasons for them. Coimbre's batting average remained over the .300 mark, including two seasons where he batted over .400. While playing in the Negro leagues he was selected to play in the league's East–West All-Star games twice, where he played with several players who in the future would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He also played with teams established in Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Following his retirement Coimbre worked as a coach and manager of teams in both the professional and amateur leagues of Puerto Rico. Coimbre, who was eighty years old, died because he was unable to escape the flames of a burning building in which he lived.
Francisco Coimbre was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico, to Guillermo Coimbre and Zoila Atiles. Upon his birth, he was inscribed as a resident of Arroyo in his birth certificate, following a common practice at the time. In 1922, he moved to Ponce along his mother, in order to live closer to his sister, Angela Coimbre. There he began playing baseball under the training and supervision of Miguel Caratini and Antonio Gordan, two hall of famers in the local league.
His first accomplishments in sports where in track and field, where he competed in the 50-yard dash, eventually developing his skills in other aspects of the sport. He continued practice this sport while attending high school. Later he was transferred to another educational institution in Caguas, Puerto Rico, but when he tried to participate in an athletic competition he was denied permission because he was classified in a different division on the records of Puerto Rico's Instruction Department.
This event led to a court case which marked the first time in Puerto Rico that a court hearing was scheduled for case involving a sports. He subsequently transferred to Ponce High School, where the Instruction Department tried to have him removed of the athleticism team based on allegations that he had received payment as a student athlete. Judge Roberto Tood Jr. determined that the evidence against Coimbre was insufficient during the hearing and the case was dropped.
In high school, Coimbre played in a school league in the positions of pitcher and second baseman. His incursion in organized baseball came about when he was recommended by a member of the Leones de Ponce, to the team officials. The Leones de Ponce was the local team of the Puerto Rican amateur league who was to play in a series against the San Juan Athletics. During that season the team needed additional players and he was selected by the team's owner, Pipo Maldonado. He debuted in a game that took place in Ponce, where he was given the position of right fielder and he had four hits in five at bats. He continued in the team and in 1928 participated in a championship series between his team and the team of Guayama, where Ponce won on six games. In the last game of this series Coimbre pitched and won with a final score of 5–3, in a game where the team almost lost following an error.
Coimbre's first performance outside Puerto Rico was in the Dominican Republic, where he played with a team named Sandino in Santiago de los Caballeros in 1927. He was accompanied by several Puerto Rican players during this stay. In 1929, he played for the "Magallanes" a team in Venezuela where he played as a pitcher and outfielder. Four of his teammates, who now had homes in Caracas, had played with him in the Puerto Rican league. After having a solid performance in the 1930 season of the amateur league, he was recruited by the Tigres del Licey team to play in the Dominican Republic, which was coached by Charles Dore. Following that season, he continued alternating between both leagues, playing with Santo Domingo in 1931.
After the Puerto Rican league season came to an end in 1932, Coimbre went to work as a security guard in a penal institution and only played with a semi-professional team. Shortly after, he was offered a contract to play in La Guaira, with a team called Santa Marta. The season concluded with Buchipluma, a second team owned by Santa Marta's proprietor winning the league's championship. Following his participation with Santa Marta, he continued playing, both in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. While playing with Licey, the team developed a rivalry with El Escogido, which gave Coimbre an opportunity to establish relationships with several players, from both countries. During this period the team continued to be coached by Dore, and included several known Dominican players. The team would win the league's championship once, but Coimbre decided not to assist the ceremony where the trophy was awarded choosing to stay in his hotel room instead. Dore took the cup to Coimbre so that he could have it in his possession some days, but he rejected this and suggested that it be filled with money for a donation.
In 1935, he moved to Maracaibo where he played for Pastora, in Zulia's Stadium. The team reached the league's final series but lost to Magallanes. Prior to this series, the team had to travel to Caimbas, an industrial city where the games where scheduled. The usual way of traveling there was by boat, but following Coimbre's advice the team was transported there by airplane. After the season was over he moved to La Victoria, Aragua, where one of his friends resided in a hacienda. There he played in a series that served to determine what the final roster of Concordia, a team that was going to travel to Puerto Rico that year, would be. Coimbre participated in the series, but choose to play with Ponce instead of Concordia. In 1937, he returned to the Dominican Republic and his team won the league's championship in what he described as the "most powerful team in his memory".
Formation of the LBPPR and participation in Negro league baseball
Later that year, when he returned to Puerto Rico, Coimbre discovered that the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico (LBPPR) was being organized. When the league was organized they elected Teófilo Maldonado, a press writer, as their president. Coimbre joined the Ponce-Kofresí team, that represented Ponce. The team was coached by Isidro Fabré and owned by Juan Luis Boscio and the team's roster included several players that were known by the local fanbase, After the season's conclusion, Coimbre traveled to New York for the first time in his life, after being invited by a close friend. Coimbre's original intention was to visit his sister instead, with whom he lived while in the city. In New York, he met Santiago Bartolomei who was the owner of a team named Puerto Rico Stars (also known as "Puerto Rican Stars"). Bartolomei visited Coimbre along a group of players and offered him a contract to play with the team. He accepted and joined the team that included players from Puerto Rico and Cuba.
While he played for the Porto Rico Stars, Alejandro Pompéz called him and made him an offer to play with the New York Cubans, which at the time he owned. Pompéz became interested in Coimbre after hearing several reviews of his work, but he was skeptical of these claims and therefore he was hesitant to contract him at first and didn't do so until a group of players recommended him. He debuted in a game against a team named Buschwick, in a game that took place in Brooklyn, New York. In his first two games with the team he connected four hits, three singles and a double. Following this performance Pompéz informed him that he was going to stay with the team. After the season concluded he was instantly offered a second contract with the Cubans, which by this time where playing in the National League of the Negro League. He also participated with Ponce during the 1940–1941 season of the winter league and concluded the season with a batting average of .401 and no strikeouts. During his second season with the Cubans he had an average of .409, and was included in the league's All-star Game for the first time in his career.
Following this, he returned to Puerto Rico and had an average of .372 with his team. This season marked the first time that Ponce won the LBPPR championship. The next season Coimbre won his first batting championship in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League, finishing with an average of .342 after he connected hits in 22 consecutive games. In 1943, he had his best season in the Negro leagues in the United States, when he was selected to the East's All-Star team for a second occasion and had an average of .428, the highest one in his career with the Cubans. That year Coimbre received a tribute in the Yankee Stadium, where hundreds of Puerto Ricans reunited and awarded him a scroll and a ring recognizing his performance. That same year, he led the LBPPR in runs batted in, scoring 27 RBIs. He was subsequently invited to play in the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (Mexican Baseball League) for the first time in his career, where he joined a team called Puebla. In the beginning, he had problems adapting to Mexico's climate however, his average improved over the course of the season, eventually finishing as one of the league's leaders. Coimbre experienced a similar pattern in the 1944–1945 LBPPR season, where he was unable to score a hit in the first games, but finished winning his second batting championship.
Later that year, he joined a team named El Torices, which was organized in Barranquilla, Colombia. His participation with the team mostly consisted of managing work since he was unable to play due to a previous injury. During his time of inactivity, he worked in the Administration of Parks and Recreation, supervising softball games organized by local businessmen. Another injury product of an accidental pitch ended Coimbre's participation in the 1946 LBPPR season, the injury's treatment required hospitalization and recovery treatment. After recovering from the injury he traveled to New York in 1948, originally with the intention of joining the Baltimore Elite Giants or the New York Black Yankees. During this visit he was contacted by Chebrook, a team of the Canadian league to play in the right field position.
Coimbre was not able to play in his full capacity because he still experienced problems with the injury on his knee. He ended the season batting an average of .316, in a season where the team won the league's championship. Coimbre spent the 1948–1951 working as a designated hitter in the LBPPR. His final season in the league was in 1952, when he was reassigned to play in the right field and was the fourth player in the batting lineup. His last game was against the Cangrejeros de Santurce, where a wild pitch re-injured his knee, prompting Coimbre's decision to retire as an active player.
Retirement, death and legacy
Following his retirement Coimbre began working as the coach of the Leones de Ponce, leading the team to two championships as well as extending his work to the Caribbean Series, a tournament where the champions of each Caribbean league participate. He received an invitation from the team owner of the Caguas-Guayama team, which was established in Panama, to work as the team manager. Coimbre also worked in the administration of the Indios de Mayagüez, when the team traveled to play in Havana, Cuba. He subsequently decided to work as a coach in the amateur league, while continuing his participation with the professional Ponce team and began coaching a team that represented Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico.
Coimbre began promoting an idea that focused in the performance of the team, instead of the success of individual players. In his first day as an amateur coach, Coimbre summoned the players to a conference, where he noted that if all of them felt like "stars" and played for statistics their collective performance would suffer. He won a national championship with the team, but decided to leave it and work with the Cachorros de Ponce, where he won another championship. During this time he also worked as a talent scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a scout he was directly responsible for the hiring of Roberto Clemente, when he urged the Pirates to draft him in the first draw of the Major League Baseball Draft, even though Clemente was under a minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Coimbre died on November 4, 1989, when he was trapped in a house fire. The fire originated in the house's kitchen while he was cooking, consuming the structures wooden frame. When Coimbre tried to escape he was unable to open the front door, because he had locked it with a padlock.
The City of Ponce honored the memory of Coímbre by naming its sports museum the "Museo Pancho Coímbre". The museum, which contains a large collection of sports memorabilia, is located on the Calle (Street) Lolita Tizol. Also, in Ponce, he is honored at the Park for the Illustrious Ponce Citizens. Also the building housing the Secretaría de Recreación y Deportes on Avenida Las Américas in Ponce is named "Francisco “Pancho” Coímbre". The town of Coamo also honored Coimbre by naming a sports complex "Complejo Deportivo Francisco Pancho Coimbre Park" after him.
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- Negro league baseball statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference (Negro leagues)