Happy #83 Joe Azcue

José Joaquín Azcue López was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on this day in 1939. Like so many others, from Minnie Miñoso to Mike Cuellar to Camilo Pascual to Pedro Ramos, he played in the pre-Castro Cuban league and then the majors.

“Joe”, as he was known, broke with the Reds in 1960 and developed a reputation as a good defensive catcher. In 1963, Joe was traded to Cleveland where he enjoyed some good seasons including a trip to the 1968 AL All Star team. By the way, Azue joined fellow Cuban teammate Luis Tiant who started and won that game.

Azcue hit .252 over 909 games and retired with the Brewers in 1972.

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Remembering my father now that Oliva and Miñoso are in the Hall of Fame

Last Sunday, Tony Oliva and Minnie Minoso finally made it to Cooperstown.  I got to see it on TV.  My late father, and lots of Cubans, probably got to see it up in heaven.

As a very little boy in Cuba, my father used to take us to watch baseball games.  It was the four-team Cuban winter league, or the cream of the crop in Caribbean baseball.  My father saw a young Brooks Robinson, Lefty Tommy Lasorda, and aspiring Major-Leaguers who knew that a good Cuban winter league session would get them noticed in spring training.

It was also the league to catch the Cuban stars like Minoso, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos, Cookie Rojas, etc.  I don’t remember all of the details, but there was a lot of cigar smoke in the air and intensity whenever Orestes “Minnie” Minoso would come to the plate.  Later, my father told me that Minoso was booed if he didn’t slide hard or dive for an outfield fly ball.  Cuban fans heard about his stolen bases up here and wanted the same down there.  My guess is that the White Sox did not really want to see their star player play winter ball in Cuba, but the pressure on Minoso was overwhelming.

Years later, our family took a weekend trip to Minneapolis to watch Oliva and the Twins.  They were a great team and had four Cuban players: A.L. MVP Zoilo Versalles, the great curve ball artist Camilo Pascual, back-up outfielder Sandy Valdespino, and Oliva.  It was such a treat to catch our first Major League game and see Tony Oliva hit a line drive to the wall.

They are now in Cooperstown, and that’s exactly where they need to be.

Saturnino Orestes Armas Miñoso was born in Perico, Cuba, a sugar plantation.  It was very common for plantations to have baseball teams in pre-Castro Cuba, and the rest is history:

The White Sox quickly put Miñoso in their everyday lineup, where he finished the season with a .326 batting average, 112 runs scored and an American League-best 14 triples and 31 steals. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote to Gil McDougald of the Yankees, and fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.

Miñoso quickly demonstrated he could play baseball as well or better than almost anyone else around. Between 1951 and 1957, Miñoso led the league in triples three times, stolen bases three times, scored 100 or more runs four times and recorded at least 100 RBI three times. In those seven years, he was named to five All-Star teams, finished in the top 10 of the AL MVP voting four times and won a Gold Glove Award for his play in the outfield in 1957 — the first year Gold Glove Awards were presented.

Pedro Tony Oliva was born in Pinar del Rio and learned to play baseball on his father’s farm.  He was spotted by a Twins scout, and they got him of Castro’s Cuba with his brother’s passport.

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July and some of our favorite Cuban baseball players

We remember today a few Cubans who excelled in the major leagues in the month of July.

Before Luis Tiant became the darling of Boston fans, he was a pretty good pitcher with the Cleveland Indians.  As you may remember, Tiant pitched some rather good post-season baseball in 1975. He beat the A’s in game 1 of the ALCS and then won 2 games against the Reds in the World Series. His complete Game 4 performance is still talked about in Boston. 

Back in July 1968, Luis Tiant was just awesome19 Ks in 10 innings as Cleveland beat Minnesota 1-0!  A couple of weeks later, Tiant was the AL starter in the 1968 All Star game. He pitched 2 innings and gave up the game’s only run.  The NL beat the AL, 1-0

Tiant finished the 1968 season: 21-9, a 1.60 ERA, 264 strikeouts and 19 complete games.    Unfortunately for Tiant, Denny McLain won 31 games that year and ran away with the AL Cy Young award.  Tiant’s excellent pitching put the Indians in 3rd place behind Detroit in the last season before divisions.  Overall, Luis Tiant won 229 games, with a 3.30 ERA and 187 complete games

On July 23, 1960, 3 Cubans playing for the Washington Senators made baseball history.   They were involved in the only Cuban to Cuban to Cuban triple play.   I’m sure that it is the only “all latino” triple play too.   I couldn’t find any other example of 3 latinos turning a triple play. This is the story:

Kansas City OF Whitey Herzog hits into the only all-Cuban triple play in major league history. Herzog hits into a triple play when his line drive is snagged on the mound by Pedro Ramos, who tosses it to first baseman Julio Becquer to double up the runner, and the third out of the play is made by relaying the ball to shortstop Jose Valdivielso getting the runner returning to second base. The win, however, goes to reliever Chuck Stobbs as the Nats take an 8 – 3 decision. Harmon Killebrew has a two-run homer.

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Happy #84 to new Hall of Famer Tony Oliva


We say happy #84 to Tony Oliva, the latest member of The Baseball Hall of Fame. It took a bit too long but he is in. I hope that Luis Tiant (229 wins & 3,30 ERA) joins him in the near future.

Tony won batting titles in 1964, 1965 and 1971.   Unfortunately, injuries cut short his career in the 1970s. He finished his career with a .304 average, 1917 hits, 220 Hrs & 947 Rbi.  

What if he had played 2,500 games rather than 1,676? The answer is 3,000 hits and probably one or two more batting titles.    

One of the greatest Cuban players in major league history!

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1967: Tony Perez wins the All Star Game

It happened on this day in 1967 in Anaheim, California. Millions watched and saw one of the greatest All Star Game pitching duels ever. In this game, all three runs came on solo homers by third-basemen: Dick Allen, Brooks Robinson and Tony Perez. It was also the longest game in All-Star history, a mark tied in 2008.

The 1967 rosters included 21 future Hall of Famers: Tony Perez, Tom Seaver, Don Drysdale, Fergie Jenkins, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Hunter, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Joe Torre, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Rod Carew, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Tony Oliva, Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski.

It was a great night for Tony Perez of Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Tony replaced Dick Allen in the 10th. He struck out against Catfish Hunter in the 12th, then hit the game-winner to deep left field with one out in the top of the 15th. Mike Cuellar, also from Cuba, represented Houston.

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July 3, 1968: Super Tiant Day

Before Luis Tiant became the darling of Boston fans, he was a pretty good pitcher with the Cleveland Indians. As you may remember, Tiant pitched some rather good post-season baseball in 1975. He beat the A’s in game 1 of the ALCS and then won 2 games against the Reds in the World Series. His complete Game 4 performance is still talked about in Boston. 

On this day in 1968, Cuban-born Luis Tiant was just awesome19 Ks in 10 innings as Cleveland beat Minnesota 1-0! A couple of weeks later, Tiant was the AL starter in the 1968 All Star game. He pitched 2 innings and gave up the game’s only run.  The NL beat the AL, 1-0

Tiant finished the 1968 season: 21-9, a 1.60 ERA, 264 strikeouts and 19 complete games. Unfortunately for Tiant, Denny McLain won 31 games that year and ran away with the AL Cy Young award

Tiant’s excellent pitching put the Indians in 3rd place behind Detroit in the last season before divisions. Overall, Luis Tiant won 229 games, with a 3.30 ERA and 187 complete games

On this day in 1968, he was awesome.

P.S.  You can listen to my show.

‘Los Cubanos’ and Jim Bunning’s perfect game on Father’s Day 1964

Happy Father’s Day and here is one that you can share with your “papi” or “abuelo”

Before he became Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, he was a very good major league pitcher winning 224 games with 2,855 strikeouts and a superb career ERA of 3,27. On Father’s Day 1964, Jim Bunning of the Phillies threw a perfect game. We were living in Cuba but I remember hearing about this perfect game later in the year when we arrived in the US.

My uncle was the one who told me that there was a Cuban connection to the game:  Tony Taylor played second base and Cookie Rojas was the shortstop. Taylor scored 2 runs.  Both went 1 for 3 that day.

Octavio “Cookie” Rojas made his debut in 1962 and retired in 1977.    His best season was 1965 when he hit .303 and made the NL All Star team.  He was traded to Kansas City and remains one of the most popular Royals’ players ever.   He was well known as a clutch hitter and had a great glove at second base.  Rojas won a batting title in the Cuban winter league.  His son Victor is a major league broadcaster.

Tony Taylor made his debut in 1958 & retired with 2,007 hits and a .261 career average.  He was well known for his defense.   His best season was 1963 when he hit .281, stole 23 bases and scored 102 runs.   He stole over 20 bases several times in his career.

My guess is that this is the only time that a couple of Cubans played up the middle in a MLB perfect game.

Happy Father’s Day!

P.S.  You can listen to my show. 

We remember Mongo Santamaria (1917 – 2003)

Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría Rodríguez was born in Havana, Cuba on this day in 1917. He died in Miami in 2003. According to his obituary, he moved to New York City in 1950:

After establishing himself as a professional musician in his hometown of Havana, performing at the famous Tropicana Club with Conjunto Matamoros and Conjunto Azul, he toured Mexico with a dance team. In 1950 he arrived in New York and began working with Gilberto Valdés, playing charanga music, with its recognizable, courtly flutes-and-violin mixture in the frontline. Soon after, he worked with the popular bandleader Peréz Prado, and then for six years with Tito Puente, trading fireballs of percussion with the timbales-playing bandleader during the height of the mambo craze in New York City.

At the end of the 1950’s Mr. Santamaria left Puente’s band to join Cal Tjader, the San Francisco-based jazz vibraphonist, who was beginning to mix jazz and Latin music. With Tjader, Mr. Santamaria made the album ”Mas Caliente,” among others; it was a new, mellower Latin-jazz sound, popular among jazz audiences and another affirmation of the wide applicability of Cuban music.

In 1963, he put “Watermelon Man” in the Top 10 of Billboard USA. The rest is musical history and many of us danced to his recordings for a very long time.

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1977: The great Dihigo and Cooperstown

We remember today that Martin Dihigo was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame this week in 1977.  He was born Martín Magdaleno Dihigo Llanos in Matanzas, Cuba in 1901 and died in Cienfuegos in 1971.

Dihigo played in the Negro Leagues from 1923-47:

“Martin Dihigo was perhaps the most versatile player in baseball history.
Known as El Maestro, he played all nine positions skillfully. Dihigo became a national institution in his native Cuba but also starred in many other countries, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela and also spent 12 seasons in the Negro leagues.

Playing in the Mexican League in 1938, he went 18-2 and led the league with a 0.90 ERA, while also winning the batting crown with a .387 mark.”

Dihigo was 42 by the time that Jackie Robinson broke “the color line” in 1947. We do know that Buck Leonard, the legendary player and manager of the Kansas City Monarchs said this: “He was the greatest all-around player I know. I say he was the best player of all time, black or white. He could do it all.”

He hit .304 over a 12 year career in the Negro Leagues.

P.S.  You can listen to my show.   

The Cuban who lives in the hearts of old Brooklyn Dodgers fans 

On Sunday, I always say hello at church to a couple of old-time Brooklyn Dodgers fans.  Like many others, they moved to Texas years ago but cannot stop talking about their old team, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  They know that I was born in Cuba and can’t help to remind me of that Cuban who made one of the greatest postseason catches in baseball history.

Edmundo (Isasi) Amoros was born in La Habana on this day in 1930.  He died in Miami in 1992.

Sandy Amoros, as he was known in the majors, broke with the Dodgers in 1952. He was a part-time outfielder, a platoon hitter facing primarily right-handed pitchers.  Amoros was also a late-inning defensive replacement. Amoros also played in the Cuban winter league.  I remember my father speaking about him.

His biggest moment was Game 7 in the 1955 World Series.  Amoros made a running catch and then threw back to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who then doubled off a Yankee runner at first base.  It killed the rally and preserved the eventual 2-0 shutout and the only Brooklyn Dodgers World Series victory. It turned the Cuban outfielder into one of the biggest heroes in Brooklyn baseball history.

This is how they recall the play at The Society of Baseball Research:

On October 4, 1955, outfielder Edmundo Amorós helped “Next Year” arrive at last for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His racing catch off Yogi Berra near the left-field line at Yankee Stadium saved the Bums’ 2-0 lead in Game Seven of the World Series. Johnny Podres held on for the remaining three innings to bring Brooklyn its only title. The grab by Amorós still stands as one of the greatest in Series history, and it was the defining moment of the Cuban’s career.

Amoros played seven years and retired with a .255 career batting and did hit 16 HR in 114 games in 1956.  Nevertheless, he was King Kong one afternoon in Yankee Stadium, and the Dodgers finally won the World Series.

Hey, Sandy — they don’t stop talking about you whenever old Dodgers fans recall their legendary history.

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