Sunday, July 31, 2016

Meet the Brewers #30: Roberto Peña

As GM Marvin Milkes began shuffling the cards he was dealt in 1970, one of the casualties was John Donaldson, who spent most of 1969 with the Seattle Pilots after coming over to the Pilots in a trade for Larry Haney, a catcher who came back to the organization in 1977 to play briefly and then stayed for well over a decade as a coach. Donaldson came to the Pilots from Oakland, and it was back to Oakland in 1970 for him in exchange for Brewer #30, Roberto Peña

To Oakland, Peña became expendable once Bert Campaneris got back into the lineup starting around May 1 and, at the same time, got his bat back -- in the 14-game stretch bookending Peña's last two appearances with Oakland, Campaneris pushed his numbers from .184/.212/.265 to .252/.302/.402. 

Dell Today's 1971 Milwaukee Brewers
Peña was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1960 at the age of 23 years old by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. It would appear that the Pirates thought that Peña was actually 20 years old, and that is the age he claimed at that time. This is based off the fact that, when looking at news stories from later in his career, Peña is credited as being 30 years old when he joined the Brewers when, in reality, he was 33. 

Peña moved up the chain slowly, spending a full season in Class D, a season and a half in Class B, nearly two full seasons in Class AA before spending parts of three seasons in Triple-A.  He did not reach the major leagues until 1965 at the age of 28, meaning that he literally was always older than the average age of players in the leagues in which he was playing.

The Cubs gave Peña his chance in 1965 in what amounted to a challenge trade for Andre Rodgers. Neither team really won the challenge as neither man really did much for their new teams. The one notable event that did occur, though, was that Peña hit homers in his first two major league games, something that did not happen again until 1980. Peña ended up getting set down to the minors early in the 1966 season, and it did not look good for him having a major league career.

1971 Topps
And yet, he stuck with it and, after the 1966 season, he was drafted out of the Cubs organization by the Philadelphia Phillies and handed the starting shortstop job. He had a superficially acceptable season at the plate -- .260 batting average, but with only a .307 OBP and a .300 SLG -- though he was second in the National League in errors committed with 32.

All that was not enough to convince Philadelphia to protect the Dominican from the expansion draft. This was especially true because Philadelphia had a hotshot young prospect that they believed was ready to play -- a guy by the name of Don Money.

The Padres decided to pluck Peña off the Phillies expansion list as the 48th pick of the National League expansion draft. Once again Peña was a regular, but once again Peña's performance led his employer to think, "you know what, we need to upgrade at shortstop." That is why Peña was in Oakland -- having been traded there in spring training in 1970.

Milwaukee plugged the now 33-year-old into its lineup nearly immediately on his arrival. Over two seasons with the club, Peña didn't hit all that well -- .238/.281/.316, an OPS+ of 67 -- but he did fill in at a number of different positions. To tell you how awful those early Brewer teams really were, Peña actually played 52 of his 113 games (only 62 starts total, mind you, but still...) at first base. Yes, a 5'8" first baseman who hit anemically for a shortstop.
1994 Miller Brewing Commemorative
1971 proved to be the end of the line in terms of Peña's major league baseball career. After the Brewers cut bait on him, no one else in the major leagues decided to see if there was anything left in his tank. Peña decided to keep playing, though, and signed on for two seasons with Tampico in the Mexican League followed by one final season with Yucatán in 1974.

I can't find much of anything about Peña after his playing career ended. All I can say, though, is that he died very young -- at the age of just 45 years old -- on July 23, 1982 in Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic. I also don't know how accurate this website is, seeing as it is only available through the Wayback Machine on, but according to, Peña died due to alcohol poisoning.

Peña appeared as a Brewer -- or, rather, was featured as a member of the Brewers -- on just five cards or items. These include the three I've shown here that I own. In addition, I do not have Peña's 1971 O-Pee-Chee card, nor do I have the black-and-white photo that the Brewers recycled above for the Miller set that they also used in 1971 for their team picture pack.

Thanks for stopping by. 

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