Obituary: Angel Mangual (1947-2021)

RIP to Angel Mangual, who was a part of three World Series championship teams in his 7-year career. He died in Ponce, Puerto Rico on February 16 at the age of 73. His death was announced on Facebook by his brother, former major leaguer Pepe Mangual. No cause of death was immediately available. Mangual played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1969) and Oakland Athletics (1971-1976).

Angel Luis Mangual was born in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, on March 19, 1947. His family has a very accomplished baseball pedigree. Jose “Pepe” Mangual, his younger brother, spent six years in the majors with the Expos and Mets from 1972 through 1977. Their cousin, Coco Laboy, was also with the Expos from 1969 until 1973. Mangual grew up idolizing Roberto Clemente and even got to meet him when he was 15 years old. He went to the ballpark in Ponce where Clemente was playing, but he didn’t have money for the admission. “Clemente, he came up himself and told me I could walk in with him and not to worry,” he recalled. Little did Mangual know the two would be teammates, briefly, in a few years.

In a 2018 interview with La Vida Baseball, Mangual talked about his baseball-centric upbringing “Because I didn’t go to school, I took advantage of the opportunities that I got from baseball. I fell in love with baseball, and [my life] was baseball and baseball. Because of the game, I understand English well, even though sometimes I have problems speaking it.”

Source Star Gazette, July 31, 1969.

As early as 1964, Mangual was playing for Ponce in the Puerto Rico winter league. The following year, he signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and began his career with the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League. The 19-year-old outfielder struggled in his first season in the U.S., batting just .228 in 80 games. He raised his batting average to .285 in 1967 with Class-A Raleigh, and he also added 7 home runs and 12 stolen bases. “He’s the most improved player in the league since the start of the season,” said his manager, Joe Morgan.

Mangual backtracked in 1968 as he moved up to the York Pirates of the AA Eastern League. He hit .249, and his power all but evaporated. His 1969 season came pretty much out of nowhere, as he hit 26 homers for York, drove in 102 runs and hit .318. He also had 15 steals and scored 88 runs. His fielding work in center field also took a big step forward, and he was one of the catalysts as the Pirates captured the Eastern League pennant. Mangual credited Morgan’s tutelage for the success, as well as switching to a lighter, 33-ounce bat. Then there were his mentors in the Pirates spring training camp.

“In the spring, the big club had Roberto Clemente, Felipe Alou and Jose Pagan work with me,” Mangual said. The improvement was stunning. The 22-year-old was a unanimous Eastern League All-Star selection. The Pirates brought him to the major leagues in September, and he appeared in 6 games. He was hitless in his pinch-hitting debut on September 15, but he doubled in his next at-bat, on September 16 against Phillies reliever John Boozer. He advanced to third base on an Al Oliver grounder and scored on a wild pitch. Mangual had 4 at-bats in those 6 games, and that was his only hit.

Mangual and Clemente worked together in the Pirates’ training camp in 1970. “I couldn’t help him too much in Puerto Rico,” Clemente said. “We played with different teams in winter ball. Now I can talk to him more often. He is a good one.” Mangual failed to make the team and spent all of 1970 with the Columbus Jets of the AAA International League. He showed his breakout season wasn’t a fluke by hitting .281 with 19 doubles and 20 homers, driving in 87 runs.

Along the way in his career, Mangual was given the nickname of “Little Clemente.” Mangual had modeled much of his game after his idol, down to his batting stance, and Clemente even admitted that Mangual looked like a younger version of him. It was tremendously unfair to saddle Mangual with that kind of comparison, though. He was a rookie with a handful of games in the majors and two excellent seasons in the minors, and Clemente was the greatest Latin ballplayer the game had seen. It may have been for the best that Pittsburgh sent Mangual to Oakland as the player to be named later in a trade that brought pitcher Mudcat Grant to Pittsburgh. Given the tragedy that was to come, it would have done Mangual no good to have to try and fill those shoes.

While in the Pittsburgh organization, Mangual had been blocked by the likes of Clemente, Matty Alou and Willie Stargell in the outfield. Things didn’t improve much with Oakland, as the A’s had Rick Monday, Joe Rudi and Reggie Jackson. Mangual managed to stick with the team as a fourth outfielder, and he appeared in 94 games in 1971. He eventually supplanted Monday as the center fielder and slashed .286/.324/.362. He hit 4 homers and 30 RBIs as well. One of them came in the bottom of the 20th inning on July 6, 1971, breaking a scoreless tie between the A’s and Angels. The game was noteworthy because it set record for most combined strikeouts in a game (43) and most strikeouts in a game by one team (26 for the Angels — A’s starter Vida Blue fanned 17 batters in 11 innings).

Mangual started all three games of the A’s AL Championship Series loss to the Baltimore Orioles. He had a double and triple in 12 at-bats, driving in 2 runs. Despite the fact that he played in only 94 games, Mangual finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote (Cleveland’s Chris Chambliss won it). He was penciled in as the starting right fielder in 1972, but his batting average fell to .246 in 91 games. The A’s made a return trip to the postseason, and Mangual lost playing time to George Hendrick. Mangual had three at-bats in the ALCS against Detroit, but he hit .300 in 4 games of the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. No hit was bigger than the one in Game Four on October 19, 1972.

The A’s entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing 2-1 with Pedro Borbon on the mound. Borbon gave up a 1-out single and was replaced by Clay Carroll. Gene Tenace and Don Mincher singled to tie the game, leaving Tenace on third and pinch-runner Blue Moon Odom on first. Mangual was sent to hit for reliever Rollie Fingers. On a 2-2 count, he hit a grounder through a drawn-in infield to score Tenace with an RBI single, giving the A’s a 2-1 win and a 3-1 lead in the World Series. It would take seven games, but Oakland won the World Series.

Reds manager Sparky Anderson didn’t take Mangual’s hit well. “Mangual didn’t even hit the ball,” he complained after the game. “That wasn’t a hit. The ball was right in on him. It knocked the bat out of his hands. He hit a seeing eye dog.”

Mangual agreed with him, in fact. “He’s right. You have to be lucky in this game. There are nine players out there. You have to hit the ball where no one is.”

Mangual is mobbed by his A’s teammates after driving in the winning run in Game Four of the 1972 World Series. Source: Lancaster New Era, October 20, 1972.

Mangual entered the 1973 training camp fighting for a spot in a crowded outfield, and he had to do it without his friend and idol, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was killed in a plane crash on December 31, 1972. Mangual got the news at 5 a.m. at his home in Ponce, and he drove more than an hour to Clemente’s home in Vera Cruz to be with Clemente’s family — except for his wife, Vera, who was grieving privately in a separate room.

“Any time I had a problem, I could phone him,” Mangual said. “If I needed something, some personal advice, he would help. Sometimes he would phone me. He always fought for the Latin player. He tried to give me confidence.”

Mangual did a little bit of everything in ’73 for the A’s. He played all three outfield positions and served as an occasional designated hitter. He batted .224 in 74 games and saw limited action in the postseason, as the A’s once again won the World Series — this time against the Mets.

Mangual played in a career-high 115 games in 1974, though he never really had a set position. He played 26 games in left field, 28 in center field, 29 in right field and 37 games as a designated hitter. He also pinch-hit 13 times and played third base once for a couple of innings. Mangual had a slash line of .233/.265/.367, with a career-best 9 home runs and 43 RBIs. The A’s marched to their third straight World Series championship, despite a increasingly fractured clubhouse. Vida Blue once noted that there were three cliques on the team, and you could see them all in the outfield. The outfield when he said it featured Rudi, Mangual and Jackson — three players, three ethnicities. Not that the friendships on the team were all based on race. Blue and Mangual shared an apartment in Alameda, and Mangual was grateful to all the players, including Jackson and catcher Ray Fosse, who showed him kindness. Mangual started one of the ALCS games against Baltimore and was 1-for-4. He had one plate appearance in the World Series and struck out against the Dodgers’ Mike Marshall to end Game Two — the only game that Los Angeles won in the Series.

A’s manager Al Dark used Mangual primarily as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement in 1975; he appeared in 62 games but made just 17 starts. He batted .220 with 1 home run. The team finished first in the AL West before losing in the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox, but Mangual never saw the postseason. He was waived by the team in early September to make way for veteran Cesar Tovar. The A’s re-signed him for the 1976 season, but he spent most of the season in AAA Tucson. He made his final appearances in the majors in June to replace Tovar, who was injured with a broken arm. Mangual had 2 hits in 12 at-bats before being sent back to Tucson. He finished his career playing in Mexico and Puerto Rico, with his last games coming with the Puerto Rico Boricuas in the short-lived Inter-American League in 1979.

Over parts of 7 seasons, Mangual slashed .245/.279/.346. He had 304 hits that included 44 doubles, 8 triples and 22 home runs. He had 125 RBIs and scored 122 runs. He also had a .156 postseason batting average in 20 games.

Mangual spent his retirement in Puerto Rico, though he frequently traveled back to the United States to take part in reunions, baseball clinics and other A’s events. He was one of 22 people arrested in Ponce in 1997 on charges of trafficking heroin and cocaine. A policeman, a prison guard and Mangual’s son were also arrested as alleged members of the drug ring. Mangual maintained his innocence, and I am unable to find any record of what happened after his arrest. He did make an appearance at a Puerto Rico SABR event in 2013 and visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with his brother in 2018.

Here is video of Mangual’s most famous hit, from the 1972 World Series.

For more information: The Mercury News

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