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.