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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fernandez was winding down his best big league season, posting a 16-8 record with a 2.86 ERA. The hard-throwing right-hander set a franchise record with 253 strikeouts this season, and his 12.49 strikeouts per nine innings rank tops in the Majors. Fernandez’s path to the big leagues is inspirational. Three times he tried unsuccessfully to defect from his native Cuba before arriving in the United States at age 15. He settled in Tampa, Fla., and became a sensation. Fernandez was Miami’s first-round pick in 2011, and at age 20 he broke into the big leagues, becoming an All-Star and the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013.
Sandalio Simeon (Castellon) Consuegra was born in Potrerillos, Cuba in 1920. He was drafted by the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) after pitching for Havana in the Florida International League in 1949-50.
Sandy broke in the majors in 1950 and started 18 games. He played for Washington and Chicago White Sox for a few more years.
“Consuegra was a swingman, a role that has vanished with five-man rotations and specialized bullpens. He started 71 times in 248 appearances in the majors. He had only 26 saves, since that was not the focus for relievers in his time. He got batters to put the ball in play.
In 809 1/3 innings pitched, he struck out just 2.1 men per nine innings – but his walk ratio was 2.7, he allowed almost exactly one hit per inning, and he kept the ball in the park, giving up just 43 homers.
Les Moss, who caught the Cuban with the White Sox in 1955-56, offered further insight. “Little Sandy Consuegra [he was 5’11” and 165 pounds] was a pretty good pitcher who fooled batters with an array of pitches, including an effective slider, and motions.”
Consuegra also won 52 games with Cienfuegos of the Cuban Winter League in the late 1950’s.
He married Blanca Ramos on July 28, 1943. They had three children: Rogelio, Silvia, and Norma.
Consuegra and wife left Cuba and was active in youth baseball in Miami. He died in 2005.
Herrera began his baseball career in 1954 with La Habana in the Cuban Winter League. His manager was the legendary Adolfo Luque, a major leaguer from the 1920’s.
The Philadelphia Phillies signed him in 1955 (their first black Latino player) and he spent the next few years between the minors and the Cuban league. He played with fellow Cubans, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Taylor and Octavio Rojas in the Phillies’ organization.
He came back with 13 HR in 1961. He was sent back to AAA in 1962 and hit 32 HR but never got another chance to play in the big leagues. In retrospect, that’s hard to believe because Herrera proved that he could hit and expansion brought 4 new teams in 1961-62.
After the majors, Panchon played for various seasons in Mexico. He led the league with 39 HR in 1969. They remember him as one of the great power hitters in Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico! He was a big favorite there with Mexican baseball fans.
Herrera died in Miami in 2005. We remember him as one of the last Cuban players to play in the US and the old Cuban Winter League.