The Cuban and the catch that beat the Yankees

Edmundo “Sandy” Amorós Isasi was born in Havana, Cuba 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, and 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. Two years late, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.

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Happy #89 to Camilo Pascual

The great Camilo Pascual was born in Havana, Cuba, on this day in 1934. As a young kid, Pascual was my favorite Cuban baseball player. He pitched most of his career for the original Washington Senators, who became the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

As a Senator, Pascual pitched for very bad teams. It got better when the team moved to Minnesota and the Twins became a perennial contender with a young Harmon Killebrew, power hitter Bob Allison, the very good lefty Jim Kaat, and fellow Cubans Tony Oliva and Zoilo Versalles.

His numbers were great with the Twins: 20-11 in 1962 and 20-9 in 1963. He led the league in strikeouts 3 years in a row. In other words, he was one of the best right-handed pitchers in baseball. Overall, he won 176 games with a very good 3.63 career ERA and would have easily won 230 games with a better team!

We say happy birthday to one of my heroes. I don’t know what Camilo is doing these days, but I read a few years ago he was scouting for the Twins in Latin America.

Happy birthday to the great Camilo. I hope that you really enjoy your birthday!

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How Curt Flood inspired today’s Cuban players

Curt Flood was a pretty good baseball player.  He was born on this day in 1938, a career .293 hitter and an important piece of the St Louis team that won 3 National League pennants in 1964, 1967 and 1968.  Curt’s teammates included Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda, Tim McCarver and quite a few others. He died in 1997.

However, he made “labor history” many years ago:

“On June 19, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court rules against Curt Flood in Flood v. Kuhn, denying Flood free agency as a baseball player. Flood was trying to break the reserve clause that had tied baseball players to one franchise since the establishment of professional baseball.”

In other words, he was denied an opportunity to become a free agent and negotiate with several teams. Eventually, the players’ union won the “free agency” fight in 1976 after 2 work stoppages and several court appeals.  The net result is that “Free agency” changed the game and blew up the owners’ monopoly.  Flood never got to make the big bucks, but he had a lot to do with the benefits that the players enjoy today.  He was the one who challenged the system and took a bullet for the union.

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Leo, Tony, and Zoilo

Pre-Castro Cuban professional baseball, “la liga de invierno,” produced many future major leagues. This month, we remember 3 of the best.

We remember Zoilo Casanova Versalles y Rodríguez was born on December 18, 1939 in Marianao, Cuba. He broke with the Senators (now the Twins) and became a pretty good shortstop in the early 1960’s. In 1965, Versalles won the AL MVP and led the Twins to the World Series against the LA Dodgers. He was an All Star all the way: .273 with 19 HR & 77 RBI’s plus 42 doubles, 13 triples and 126 runs scored. Zoilo died in 1995. In 2005, he was posthumously honored by induction into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.

We remember Tony Taylor, who was born on December 19, 1935 in Central Alava, Matanzas, Cuba. He died today in 2020. Tony broke with the Cubs in 1958 hitting .235 in 140 games. He was traded to the Phillies and enjoyed a very good career: 2.007 hits, a .261 average, 234 stolen bases and 1,005 runs scored. Tony had a couple of seasons with 700-plus plate appearances, a test to his durability. Taylor retired in 1976.

We say happy # 84 to Leonardo Lazaro (Alfonso) Cardenas was born in Matanzas on December 17, 1938. He made it to the majors in 1960 where he got the nickname of “Chico” and “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. Along the way, he hit 20 HR & 81 RBI’s in 1966 and 18 HR & 75 RBI’s in 1970. Back then, those were huge power numbers for a shortstop. Cardenas played in the 1961 World Series with the Reds and in the 1969 & 1970 ALCS with the Twins. He is best remembered as the man who made everything look easy at shortstop.

Like some of you, I grew up watching some of these players on TV or at the stadium. I got to see Versalles and Cardenas with the Twins. I saw Tony Taylor on TV and did catch him at the end of his career.

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We remember Hall of Famer Orestes Miñoso

We remember Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso and can finally say Hall of Famer Miñoso. He went in this year along with another great Cuban player, Tony Oliva.

He was born in Cuba on this day in 1925 and died in Chicago in 2015. As a boy growing up in Cuba, and later in the US, I remember hearing Miñoso stories from my father . Orestes, as he was known in Cuba, played for Marianao and was a top draw in the Cuban winter leagues.

We say thank you to Minnie Miñoso. He was more than a baseball player for his fans in Latin America.

He retired with a .298 average, 186 HR, 1,963 hits & 1,023 RBI in 1,835 games. His best years were in Chicago: 304 in 12 seasons with the White Sox.

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Happy #82 to the great Luis Tiant

We say happy # 82 to Luis Tiant. The great Luis Tiant was born in Marianao, Cuba on this day in 1940. His father was Luis Eleuterio Tiant, who pitched professionally in the old Negro Leagues in the US as well as in Mexico.

Tiant made his debut in 1964 with Cleveland: 10-4, 9 complete games, 3 shutouts and a 2.83 ERA. A few years later, Luis led the AL in 1968 with a 1.60 ERA! By the late 1960s, El Tiante was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Suddenly, he suffered a series of arm injuries in 1970-71, was released and passed up by several teams who thought that he was finished.

Everything changed when the Red Sox gave him a chance in 1972: 15 wins and a AL leading 1.91 ERA. Tiant won 81 games over the next 4 seasons and became the darling of Fenway Park

We remember Tiant and the 1975 post-season. He shut down the A’s in game 1 of the ALCS, beat the Reds in games 1 and 4 of the World Series. And his aforementioned father had a chance to watch him pitch. It was a wonderful post season for father and son.

Luis Tiant 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 goes in the next time around.

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Luis Tiant: 163 pitches and a complete game in game 4 of the 1975 World Series

It was quite a 1975 World Series for the amazing Luis Tiant. He pitched a Game 1 shutout of the Reds, which, by the way, took only 2 hours and 27 minutes. In other words, we used to play quick games before anyone thought of adding a clock to the game.

And in game 4, Tiant came back and beat the Reds, 5-4. He threw an amazing 163 pitches and got out of trouble several times in the game. It also tied the series at 2-2.

What an effort by “El Tiante,” one of the great Cuban pitchers of recent memory.

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We remember Ossie Álvarez (1932-2008)

We remember Ossie Alvarez who was born in Matanzas, Cuba on this day in 1932. Ossie was a promising middle infielder, primarily known for his speed and defensive skills. He was in the Washington Senators’ farm system and led the minors twice in stolen bases.

In 1958, Ossie played the whole season in the majors, hitting .269 in 88 games. He was traded a couple of times in the off season and played only 8 games for Detroit in 1959. He was traded for Billy Martin, another infielder and future manager.

Alvarez spent the rest of his career in the minors and later the Mexican League. Of course, we are talking about the pre-expansion era or only 16 teams in the majors. It was a lot more difficult to advance to the majors back then. I have no doubt that Ossie would have enjoyed a much longer career in today’s game because of his speed and defense. Ossie would have been a valuable defensive replacement or pinch runner in today’s game.

Alvarez died in Mexico in 2008. He worked as a Pirates’ scout after leaving baseball.

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A father and son story in the middle of the 1975 World Series

As any baseball fan knows, the 1975 World Series was one of the greatest ever, from Carlton Fisk to Pete Rose to Johnny Bench to Joe Morgan. It was also a great story about a father and his son.

Today, we remember Luis Tiant. He won 229 games in the majors and led the A.L. in ERA in 1968 and 1972. Along with Juan Marichal, he was one of the best right-handers from Latin America. We also remember his father, one of the best pitchers in Cuban history and the Negro Leagues. Luis Sr. pitched in the U.S., Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, as well as touring with teams from 1926 through 1948.  Unfortunately, he never got to play in the Major Leagues.

Many years ago, a proud father watched his son pitch a World Series beauty, 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 Concepción, 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.

Tian’s father died in 1976, but it must have been a very emotional moment to watch his son pitching in the Major Leagues for the first time!

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Mike Cuellar and the Orioles won game 5 and the 1970 World Series

On this day in 1970, Santa Clara, Cuba native Mike Cuellar pitched a complete game and the Orioles took the World Series in 5 games.

During his brilliant career, he won 185 games, a 3.14 ERA and completed 172 starts! Without question, one of the best Latino pitchers ever. Cuellar won 68 games over a 3-year span and pitched well in the post season for the Orioles.

Mike died in 2010. He was voted #27 in the Top 40 Orioles of all time.

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