Preston Gomez, the longtime Angels scouting consultant who had been third-base coach for the Dodgers when they won the 1965 World Series, died Tuesday, nine months after being seriously injured in a freak accident at a Blythe, Calif., gas station. He was 86.
Gomez, who became the second big-league manager who had been born in Latin America when he was hired by the expansion San Diego Padres in 1969, and later managed the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, died at St. Elizabeth Healthcare Center in Fullerton with his wife, Betty, and stepdaughter, Claudia, by his side, the Angels announced.
The cause of death was not immediately specified, but those close to him said he never fully recovered from the injuries he suffered in the accident.
Known as one of the warmest and friendliest figures in the game, Gomez spent 64 years in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager, scout and consultant.
"The Angels family has lost one of its invaluable members and one of baseball's truly great ambassadors," the team's general manager, Tony Reagins, said in a statement. "His influence and impact on so many throughout the industry is impossible to measure. Though he will be missed, Preston's legacy will forever remain a part of this organization."
On March 26 -- the day of the accident -- Gomez had been driving home from the Angels' spring-training complex in Tempe, Ariz., when he and Betty stopped for gas along the Arizona-California border.
Gomez had just finished fueling his vehicle and told his wife he was going for a walk when he stepped around the end of the gas pumps and into the path of a Dodge pickup truck being driven by Jesse Mashore, 31, of Concord, Calif.
Gomez, who had been in excellent health, suffered a major head injury and bruises on his arms and legs.
Mashore was field-tested for sobriety, and no alcohol or signs of drugs were detected. No charges were filed.
The driver of the pickup turned out to be the first cousin of Damon Mashore, who played briefly with the Angels in 1998 and will be a coach this season with the team's Class-A affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga.
Gomez spent 27 years with the Angels. Though his title was special assistant to the general manager, he also served as a confidant and mentor to manager Mike Scioscia and liaison from Scioscia and the organization's general managers to the Angels' Latino players.
Gomez was an ongoing and influential voice of reason in the club's decision-making process and, as Scioscia told The Times in 2005: "He is a storehouse of baseball knowledge capable of cutting through any debate."
Said Gomez at the time: "I'm here for Mike, the coaches and the players. Sometimes people may not like what I say, but I'm going to express my mind."
Gomez was born in Central Preston, Oriente, Cuba, on April 20, 1922, according to his family. He began his career in 1944 as a 22-year-old shortstop with the Washington Senators. He batted .286 in eight games before spending the rest of his playing career in the minor leagues.
"I really wasn't ready, and when all of the U.S. players returned at the end of the war, there were fewer opportunities," Gomez told The Times in 2005. "I was a good fielder with a strong arm, but I never learned how to hit until it was too late. I had a little power and made the mistake of thinking I had a lot of power."
After his playing career ended, Gomez managed in the Mexican Winter League and served as third-base coach for the Dodgers from 1965 through 1967. He also coached for the team in 1977-79.
In 1969, he was hired to manage the expansion Padres, and after being fired in 1972 he briefly managed the Houston Astros (1974-75) and Chicago Cubs (1980).
Until Gomez joined San Diego, the only other manager born in Latin America was a fellow Cuban, Miguel Angel "Mike" Gonzalez, who led the St. Louis Cardinals on an interim basis in 1938 and 1940, according to biographical sources. Hall of Famer Al Lopez, who managed the Chicago White Sox to the 1959 World Series, was born in Florida to parents who had emigrated from Cuba.
Gomez compiled a 346-529 record as a manager and was probably remembered most for removing two pitchers from games in which they were throwing no-hitters, San Diego's Clay Kirby in 1970 and Houston's Don Wilson in 1974.
The Padres trailed, 1-0, when Kirby was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning at San Diego. A chorus of boos and catcalls greeted the announcement, and one fan was so upset he leaped the rail, ran into the Padres dugout and was ejected by ushers. San Diego lost the game, 3-0.
In the other game, the Astros were trailing Cincinnati by a run when Gomez lifted Wilson in the eighth inning for a pinch-hitter. The Reds had scored twice on a fifth-inning throwing error and won the game, 2-1.
Gomez joined the Angels in 1981 as a third-base coach, a position he held for four seasons before becoming a special assistant to the general manager in 1985.
In addition to his wife and stepdaughter, Claudia Astorga, he is survived by his daughter Elia, son Pedro, adopted son Carlos Becerra, brother Jose Gomez, sisters Rachel Valz and Sara Raspall, and two grandchildren.
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