Happy # 72 to Tito Fuentes

tito-fuentes

Rigoberto “Tito” Fuentes was born in La Habana, Cuba and signed by the Giants as a free agent in 1962.  We believe that Tito Fuentes was one of the last players to leave Cuba before the doors were shut.

He broke with the Giants in 1965 at 21.   He was an infielder and enjoyed some good seasons with San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit.

In 1976, Tito made news when Detroit paid him $ 90,000 as their first free agent.   It was in Detroit that he earned a reputation for being a bit flashy and giving the media some great quotes:

“”They shouldn’t throw at me…I’m the father of five or six kids.”

His numbers were decent:   .268 batting average, 1,491 hits and a .307 on base pct.

Fuentes became a baseball announcer after playing.   He works in the Giants’ Spanish network.

1878: Pro baseball started in Cuba

 
On this day in 1878,  professional baseball started in Cuba.

The first game was between Habana and Almendares, the two teams that would be great rivals until Castro dissolved the league after the 1960-61 season.

The league had four teams in the 1950s:   Habana, Almendares, Marianao and Cienfuegos.

It was great and very passionate baseball.

Along the way, many major leaguers played winter ball in Cuba, from Willie Mays to Brooks Robinson.

Havana was also a AAA franchise, the Havana Sugar Kings in the Cincinnati organization.    Havana played in The International League with other teams in Montreal and Toronto.

We remember Zoilo Versalles

zoilo-versalles

Zoilo Casanova Versalles y Rodríguez was born on this day 1939 in Marianao.

He broke with the Senators (now the Twins) and became a pretty good shortstop in the early 1960’s.   His moment came in 1965 when he won the AL MVP and led the Twins to the World Series against the LA Dodgers.

Zoilo was really super that year and earned every bit of the trophy, as Peter C. Bjarkman wrote:

The MVP performance by Zoilo Versalles at the decade’s midpoint ranked at the time as one of the best offensive years ever enjoyed by a major league shortstop. Tutored perhaps even more by third base coach Billy Martin than by manager Sam Mele, Versalles that summer made a hefty contribution to revolutionizing not only the popular view of Latino middle infielders but also of shortstops universally.

Coach Martin’s new protégé topped the American League in seven categories: plate appearances (728), at-bats (666), runs scored (126), doubles (45), triples (12), extra-base hits (76), and total bases (308). He also appeared (as a sixth-inning sub for starter Dick McAuliffe) in his second All-Star Game alongside five fellow Twins, on their home turf in Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium.

On top of his offensive production, Versalles also claimed his second Gold Glove, even though he posted a career-high and league-leading 39 errors. Good offense apparently masks questionable defense, though more modern fielding metrics cast a better light on his play in the field.12

Overall, Zoilo easily walked off with nearly unanimous MVP honors.

Quite a honor for the young man from Marianao, and one of the many who played in the Cuban winter league and later in the majors.

He died in 1995.   In 2005, he posthumously honored by induction into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.

Happy # 78 to Chico Cardenas

leo-cardenas

Leonardo Lazaro (Alfonso) Cardenas was born in Matanzas on this day in 1938.   He made it to the majors in 1960 where he got the nickname of “Chico”.   He was also quickly known as “Mr. Automatic” because he was so good at playing shortstop.

Cardenas was a 5-time All Star.  He played 9 years with the Cincinnati Reds and 3 with the Minnesota Twins.    He replaced fellow Cuban Zoilo Versalles as the shortstop for the Twins.

Overall, he hit .257 over 16 seasons.    He is best remembered as the man who made everything look easy at shortstop.

We finally remember Cardenas as one of the surviving Cubans who played in the Cuban winter league and the big leagues.

We remember Chico Ruiz (1934-72)

Chico Ruiz stealing home 1964 against Phillies
Chico Ruiz stealing home 1964 against Phillies

We remember today one of the most interesting Cuban major leaguers.   He was not a super star but was involved in one of the most talked about plays ever.

Giraldo (Sablon) Ruiz was born in Santo Domingo, Cuba on this day in 1934.   He died in early 1972 in an automobile accident.

Chico Ruiz broke with the Reds in 1964.    He hit .240 over 8 seasons with Reds and later the Angels.   His numbers, and limited time, has to be understood in the context of playing behind fellow Cuban Leo Cardenas with the Reds and later Jim Fregosi with the Angels.

He is well known for stealing home in the middle of the 1964 National League pennant race.     This is the story:

Despite not being known as a big-time base stealer (he was only 34 for 50 in his career), Chico managed to steal one of the most improbable bases in the history of the sport. This occurred during a game on September 24, 1964, against the Philadelphia Phillies. After a one-out single, Ruiz found himself on third base with two outs. There were also two strikes on the batter — none other than five-time All-Star and former (and future) Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson.

Somehow, in Chico Ruiz’s mind, it made sense to try to steal home at this very moment. Remember, there were TWO strikes on Robinson, one of the most feared hitters in the game, so not only was the opposition concerned that big Frank could change the game with one swing, Chico had to have been concerned for his well-being. If Chico got a good jump and Frank swung at a pitch not knowing he was coming, Chico would have been in great danger. If Robinson swung and struck Ruiz with a line drive, not only would Chico have likely been injured, but he may also have been called out depending on whether he was within the base line. Finally, if Ruiz was thrown out trying to steal home with Robinson at the plate, the play may have gone down as one the biggest boneheaded plays the game has ever seen. An infield single would have scored Ruiz; so would a wild pitch.

It was the fact that Ruiz was successful that made this play so memorable. Phillies pitcher Art Mahaffey saw the runner breaking for home and hurried his delivery. That resulted in a pitch that could not be handled by his catcher and an easy run for the Reds. The run happened to be the only one of the game, as the Reds defeated the Phillies, 1-0, the first of ten straight losses by the (then) first-place Phillies.

And so it was “The day Chico Ruiz stole home” with Frank Robinson at the plate.

The great “Miñoso” was born in 1925

minnie-minoso

Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Miñoso was born in El Perico, Cuba, a town near La Habana, on this day in 1925.   He learned to play ball in the sugar cane fields.

Orestes made his debut in 1948 with Cleveland but became a regular in 1951 with the Chicago White Sox.   From 1951 to 1961, “The Cuban comet”, as he was known, was one of the most consisent hitters in the American League.   He led the AL in triples 3 times, once in hits, and 4 times in stolen bases.

Overall, he retired with a .298 career batting average and 1, 963 hits.   His average dropped under .300 because of his last 3 years when he was no longer the same hitter.

The great “Miñoso” died in 2015 and remains one of the most popular players in White Sox history.

Happy # 76 to the great Luis Tiant

luis-tiant

We say happy # 76 to the great Tiant.

Luis Tiant was born in Marianao in 1940.

His father was Luis Eleuterio Tiant, who pitched professionally in the old Negro Leagues in the US as well as in Mexico.   This is how they remember Tiant’s father at The Society for American Baseball Research:

The elder Tiant was famous for a variety of outstanding pitches (including a screwball, spitball, and knuckleball), a tremendous pickoff move, and an exaggerated pirouette pitching motion. As late as 1947, at the age of 41, Luis put together a 10-0 record for the New York Cubans and pitched in the East-West All-Star Game. Monte Irvin claimed that Luis would have been a “great, great star” had he been able to play in the major leagues

Tiant made his debut in 1964 with Cleveland:   10-4, 9 complete games, 3 shutouts and a 2.83 ERA.    He led the AL in 1968 with a 1.60 ERA!

We remember Tiant with Boston and specially the 1975 post-season.

Luis retired with 229 wins, a 3.30 ERA and 189 complete games.

In my opinion, he should be in The Hall of Fame.   Let’s hope that he is put in the next time around.

Happy # 83 Orlando Peña

orlando-pena

Orlando Peña was born in Victoria de las Tunas on this day in 1933.   He is part of a shrinking number of Cuban players who played in the island and the major leagues.

Orlando broke with the Reds in 1958 and was traded to the Kansas City A’s where he became a regular starting pitcher.

There were several other Cubans in the 1963 A’s:   Hector Martinez, Aurelio Monteagudo, Jose Tartabull, Joe Azcue & Diego Segui.

Unfortunately, the A’s had very bad teams but Orlando did win 34 games over 3 and a half seasons.   He had 184 strikeouts in 1964 to finish 6th in the AL.

He bounced around after that and I remember watching him with the Orioles in 1973.

Orlando won 56 games but had a very good 3.71 ERA over all of those years.

Happy # 83 Orlando Peña.

1975: Big day for Luis Tiant

We remember Luis Tiant’s career because he won 229 games in the majors.   He also led the AL in ERA in 1968 and 1972.

Today, we recalled that he pitched a brilliant 6-0 shutout against Cincinnati in game 1 of the 1975 World Series.    He did it against a lineup that included Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, fellow Cuban Tony Perez, David Concepcion, George Foster and a few others.   They were called The Big Red Machine for a reason!

Tiant came back and won game 4 with a complete game that featured 163 pitches!   He started game 6, after a few days of rain, but did not get a decision.  That was the game where Carlton Fisk hit the HR in the bottom of the 12th.

We remember the man they called “El Tiante” and his brilliant pitching on this day in 1975.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Happy # 73 to Jose Cardenal

We remember Jose Cardenal, a pretty good outfielder born in Matanzas, Cuba on this day in 1943.

Cardenal broke with the Giants in 1963 at age 19.   He played with the Angels, Indians, Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, Phillies, Mets and retired with the Royals.

His best years were with the Chicago Cubs 1972-77.   He had a 296 batting average and a .363 On Base Pct in 6 seasons.   Jose became a real fan favorite at Wrigley Field in the 1970’s, as we can see in this cover of Baseball Digest.

Cardenal retired with a .275 career average and 1,913 hits.  He made it to The World Series with Kansas City in 1980.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.