By the late rounds of La Selección, the excitement was well and truly past. The trusty veterans of the Fuerzas Insulares had left the board—in most cases, days ago—and flashy prospects were so scattered that their new teams seemed more resigned to the obvious gamble they were taking than anxious to test their talents. No surprise, then, that the assembled representatives spent these last two days plugging perceived holes in their rosters with a certain perfunctory grimness: a third (or fourth, fifth or sixth) pitcher here, a utility glove there, and—most critically—some backup catchers, because knees were fragile things, even in 1871, and someone had to sit back there.
Tibulo Gallegos was chosen in this spirit. He was only the second catcher of the four Dorado selected, and by some years the youngest.
Like many backup catchers of his era, he benefited from majestically low expectations, which he probably exceeded by answering the Guardianes‘ summons, let alone turning in a serviceable offensive performance in the 24 times he took the plate in that first season.
Tibulo Gallegos, 1871:
24 AB, 7 H (1 2B), 8 RsBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 HP, 1 K, .292/.346/.333 (114 wRC+), 0.0 WAR.
From there, Gallegos carved out a career whose length is almost as impressive as its complete lack of distinction. He never hit a home run, but he was hardly alone in that; he was a perfect thief on the basepaths, albeit because he only attempted to steal twice in his eight years of official service; and like many of his fellow backstops, he logged a few innings at first base, where he managed one error and one double play in seven chances.
Of his five years as a qualified fielder (four of which offer any real sample size) he was fairly reliable behind the plate, committing only nine miscues in over 800 innings and allowing only 90 passed balls over his career. That might seem problematic to modern eyes, but at the time, it was less than half the record for a single season. What little remains of commentary on games where he appeared implies that, as long as Gallegos did not have to make any particularly athletic plays, he could hold his own as a reasonably effective major-league catcher. Perhaps that’s why he lasted longer than almost all of the catchers selected in round 22.
|1658||San Juan||Cresencio Pérez||1846||1882||96||-8.4||.923||21.1%||78||3.18||0.3|
|1667||Aguas Buenas||Daniel Holguín||1841||1876||136||-3.1||.794||30.4%||32||4.63||0.6|
|1692||Sabana Grande||Julio Costello||1842||1877||76||-0.4||.978||50.0%||10||4.11||0.0|
|1699||Toa Baja||Emanuel de Luna||1843||1879||86||-15.5||.888||44.8%||295||2.04||0.7|
Like many of his brethren behind the plate, Gallegos went as his arm went. He threw out more than 40 percent of runners in two different seasons; coupled with his steady defense, many clubs would’ve considered that more than enough to name him the starter, or at least make him the consistent backup. Unfortunately for Gallegos, in most of his other campaigns, he was bullied in the running game, posting feeble percentages in the teens and twenties as he attempted to keep opponents from pilfering bases at will. Perhaps that humiliating experience is what made him such an effective base coach for the powerhouse Pescadores of the 1880s, whose championship offense was built on a combination of patience at the plate and preposterous brazenness on the basepaths.
In particular, in the 1871 season, when Gallegos most needed to prove his worth to the Limpios, Gallegos allowed five successful steals, throwing out just one runner in six attempts. Dorado’s starter, Melquíades Olivares, put up a pitiful 27% and committed five errors, but since he could hit his way out of a paper bag, his job was never threatened—or not by Gallegos, at least. Both of them would move down a rung on the catching depth chart when Gabriel Ayala appeared.
Yet, in one way, Tibulo Gallegos would leave an indelible mark on baseball history—and that may handily explain this labile aspect of his performance.
The Republic of Puerto Rico did not have the authority to issue a census until the Constitution of 1873 was ratified. Luckily, the revolutionary Estado Insular was unencumbered by such formalities, so Gallegos appears in the Informe General de las Fuerzas Insulares (1870) as a sergeant of grenadiers enrolled in the Regimiento San Antonio de la Tuna, whose soldiers came from the northwest of the island.
As occupations for future catchers go, it does not get more stereotypical. Most regular grenadiers became pitchers, given the arm strength and capability for independent decision-making the specialty implied, but grenadier corporals and sergeants—who could both throw and lead men, and who often learned to use less instant explosives that required more babysitting, which meant they spent plenty of time squatting and kneeling uncomfortably while setting up ambushes—were natural candidates to sit behind the plate.
Beyond that, the Informe General mentions that Gallegos was twenty-five years old, born on the family estate of Nuevo Asís in Camuy; other sources mention that Propercio Gallegos, who owned the plantation in question, was considerably wealthy but eschewed local politics, preferring to spend his time managing his estate, ordering books from Europe, and conferring with those friends he apparently considered sufficiently intellectual.
Propercio had multiple daughters, but Tibulo—as the only male heir of such a classically-minded patriarch —would have been educated through some mix of private tutors and, perhaps, even time at schools in the United States, Spain, or France, where many richer citizens of the Spanish Caribbean sent their boys. The Informe General, focused on practical questions of military importance, confirms only that he could read and write, but there are clear signs that the younger Gallegos had a fairly broad base of knowledge.
Nothing gives more pleasure to Gallegos than quoting Cato the Old in the clubhouse. Among his favorite sayings, particularly after the giving of an ill-timed signal, is a sentiment attributed to the great Roman historian by Plutarch: “I can pardon everyone’s mistakes except my own.”
— “Peces gordos” (Félix Villares Zapata, Boletín Deportivo del 1890)
Naturally, this invites the question of why Gallegos, despite all his classical learning, was a mere sergeant in the Insular Forces. There are two probable causes here: first, despite his privileged upbringing, Gallegos was an ardent abolitionist who had joined the Insular Forces in part due to his father’s refusal to free the people enslaved by his family, and who took special pleasure, when Camuy joined the Revolution, in informing the elder Gallegos that he would personally carry out the emancipation of Nuevo Asís. An unconfirmed rumor has it that one of the former men held in slavery at Nuevo Asís later became Cariduros third baseman Andrónico Gallegos.
Second, all the information regarding the Insular Forces’ disposition before the Informe General makes it clear that this was an officer-heavy army, at least until the Treaty of Orocovis united the Insular Government with most of the other revolutionary factions on the island. A man with no connections to the main revolutionary leaders, however educated he might have been, had little hope of achieving high office except through distinguished service.
“It is possible that the Spaniards have more men, but we have more generals.”
— Francisco Ramírez Medina, President of the Insular Government
When the Regimiento San Antonio was separated into three battalions, Gallegos was assigned to the Batallón del Capitán Correa, which formed part of the Eastern Campaign’s heaviest hammer against the Spanish. It was that battalion that drove Spanish troops into hiding in El Yunque and once the more conspicuous resistance had been subdued, it was that battalion that was sent to inform the planter class of the northeastern island that their worst nightmares had come true: they would no longer be allowed to own other human beings.
Their reward—a personal gift from General Rojas—was to report to Arecibo, where their home soil would see them bolster the beleaguered Ejército Norteño as it held the Spaniards off from their last attempt at a beachhead. Gallegos kept his promise to his father during these days, and after he was predictably disowned, received an appointment to the extremely ad hoc posting of municipal lieutenant of Camuy, charged with overseeing the town patrols and ensuring the militia stood ready against any possible Spanish incursion. More than likely, this is where he picked up baseball: the battalions in the Eastern Campaign largely eschewed the game, since they were constantly on the move, but it was a near-constant pastime for the soldiers on the Arecibo front.
He must have cut a rather dashing figure, for he attracted the eye of Adelina, the eldest and most eligible daughter of Aurelio Téllez, a local planter with whom Propercio Gallegos had had some business in the past, and for whom the younger Gallegos’ politics had presented the only impediment to joining their families. Now, however, needing to salvage his wealth and reputation, Téllez was willing to let his daughter marry an officer of the victorious Republic.
As a present, Tibulo sent his bride-to-be a volume of poetry: selected works of his namesake, Albius Tibullus, translated into Spanish and imported from Europe at his personal expense—much greater now, as he did not have the resources of Nuevo Asís to call on. These are only slightly risqué works: Propercio Gallegos would have never named his son after one of the more openly erotic Roman poets.
Perhaps, given what happened next, his son would come to be grateful for that.
“Sr. A. Téllez, resident of La Estrellada in this community, asks the forgiveness of his friends and neighbors after the unfortunate occurrences of Saturday night. Sr. Téllez was freed on his own recognizance. No charges have been filed.”
— “Anuncios,” Nuevas norteñas (January 16th, 1871)
It is worth noting here that, since Gallegos could not yet have left to work with the Guardianes, he would have been the one to file those charges against his future father-in-law. Clearly, and understandably, he chose instead to follow a conciliatory path, though it likely took some forceful convincing to draw such a public apology from a member of the local gentry.
Municipal records from Gallegos’ tenure as the local lieutenant are long since gone, but there are references from later reports about brawls being peor que cuando Téllez fue al cuartel. That, and the fact that Gallegos cited his eventual successor for bravery in his recommendation, suggests that the incident was rather memorable.
So does the fact that, the same day Téllez begged the forgiveness of his community, a very different document arrived at a building in San Juan. It had once been the headquarters of the shipping firm Narváez y Roldán, and would one day house the National Athletic Museum.
In those days, its function was quite different—and yet, somehow, this particular slip of paper has been preserved just as carefully as any other historical artifact. It can still be seen at the Museum:
Tibulo Gallegos, catcher, has a fractured wrist.
— Message from the Guardianes de Dorado to Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña headquarters (January 16th, 1871)
By all accounts, Gallegos led a life of perfect contentment with Adelina Téllez, whom he credits with spurring him to rejoin the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña after a failed bid to join the Chamber of Deputies, and who was later a founding member of the Ladies’ Association, the arm of the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña that provided spouses and children of players and coaches with support during the longer seasons of the late 19th century. The elder Gallegos, and Aurelio Téllez with him, belonged to a previous generation of Puerto Ricans whose political and economic principles were untenable under the Republic, and both disappear from the historical record shortly after the wedding of their children on March 28th, 1871, shortly before the beginning of the first season of professional baseball played outside the continental United States.
The one article extant about the wedding does not discuss the state of Gallegos’ wrist, but even in those days, it is likely that he was fully healed by then.
Yet, even if it was Gallegos’ premarital woes that led to his volatility behind the plate, and perhaps even kept him from having a successful career as a backstop, they proved completely unable to stop him from finding success as a coach or a husband—and, in fact, gave him an irrevocable place in baseball history, as the first player in Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña history to be officially injured.
Rarely has a broken wrist been so significant.