Monday, April 28, 2014

Latinos Making History Week Ending Sunday April 27

This past week was a historical one for Latinos in the Major Leagues. Let's not waste time and jump right in.

- Albert Pujols Reaches the 500 Homerun plateau
Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim slugger Albert Pujols looks like he's back to form in dealing with a couple in injury filled seasons in California. Pujols became the 26th and youngest player to reach the 500 homerun club. At age 34, Pujols hit both homerun 499 and 500 against Washington Nationals starter Taylor Jordan on April 22. He is the first player to hit both homers 499 and 500 in the same game. El Hombre is back!!!

- Jose Abreu sets the rookie RBI record for the month of April
Cuban slugger Jose Abreu is certainly making his mark on the Majors in his first month with the Chicago White Sox. Abreu has set the major league rookie record for RBIs with 31 through April 27. Abreu is batting .262 with a league leading 10 homeruns and 31 RBIs. He still has three games to add to his rookie record for RBIs in the month of April with one game against the Tampa Bay Rays and two against the Detroit Tigers. Let's see where he ends up. Jose Abreu courtesy of the blogpage White Sox Cards. Check them out.

- Blue Jays Set Record with 6 Dominicans in the Starting Lineup
I'm not sure when Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons filled out his lineup card on April 27 against the Boston Red Sox he realized that he was making history. By slotting Jose Reyes (SS), Melky Cabrera (CF), Jose Bautista (LF), Juan Encarnacion (1B), Juan Francisco (DH) and Moises Sierra (RF) into the starting lineup, this would mark the first time that six players from the Dominican Republic were in the starting lineup at the same time.

Hearing about this brought back memories of a post I wrote concerning the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 1, 1971. In my post The First All Black-Latino MLB Starting Lineup from September 1, 2011, Pirates manager Danny Murtagh filled out his lineup card with all players of color including pitcher Dock Ellis. Now can we ever get a lineup entirely made up of Dominicans on a Major League diamond? Only time will tell. =)

Hasta la próxima, no dejamos de jugar el Beisbol,
Baseball Sisco

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conrado Marrero 1911-2014

The oldest living Major League, Conrado "Connie" Eugenio (Ramos) Marrero passed away on April 22, 2014, just two days shy of this 103rd Birthday. Born on April 25, 1911 in Sagua La Grande, Villa Clara, Cuba, Marrero would become one of the most successful Baseball players as an amateur in Cuba before reaching the majors at the almost ancient age (for a ballplayer to be a rookie in the pros) of 39.

Peter Bjarkman wrote an article on Marrero for the New York Times entitled Bridge to Cuba’s Baseball Past on August 13, 2011, a few months after Marrero's 100th birthday where Marrero states that his road to the pros started in the following manner:
In those days, the all-white Cuban amateur circuit was much more popular than the racially integrated professional winter league based in Havana. The amateurs played games only on weekends, and they received well-paying token employment from enterprises that sponsored their clubs.
Photo Credit Cuba Collectibles

“I earned great fame pitching for the Cienfuegos club, and they paid me good,” said Marrero, who was known in the United States as Connie. “With the national team in 1939, I was the first Cuban to beat the Americans in the amateur world series. I had no need to be with the pro clubs in Havana. I never wanted to sign a contract.

“But then on two occasions, they suspended me from the Amateur Athletic Union league. It was because I was playing in some exhibition games on the side, which was against the rules. I had won 123 and lost only 39 in seven seasons, but they threw me out. I didn’t have any choice, and then Reinaldo Cordeiro gave me a contract with the Chihuahua team in the Mexico League, and I went there in 1945 and won 28. That was how it started with the pros.”
As Bjarkman states, Marrero spent three seasons with the Havana Cubans of the Class B Florida International League, where he had 70 victories, a no-hitter and a sub-2.00 earned run average. On April 21, 1950, four days shy of his 39th birthday, Marrero would make his debut for the Washington Senators with 0.2-innings pitched against the New York Yankees in Old Yankees Stadium. Marrero would give up 1-hit to the three batters he faced. This is his career line for the five seasons he played for the Senators (Courtesy of Baseball

The Cold War era politics between the United States and the Fidel Castro led Cuba caused many a former major league to stay behind in Cuba when Castro closed the borders to the United States. This was no different for Marrero. In wouldn't be until 1999 when Marrero would be heard from again by Baseball Fans here in the United States.

During the first game of the 1999 exhibition series at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban National team on March 28, 1999, Marrero would steal the show with his throwing out of the first pitch. Richard Goldstein in his obituary for Marrero Connie Marrero, Popular Pitcher in Cuban Baseball, Dies at 102 describes the scene:
When the Baltimore Orioles played exhibitions against the Cuban national team in Havana in 1999, Marrero was selected to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. He was so enthusiastic that he could not stop. After he hurled several pitches, with the Orioles’ Brady Anderson standing at the plate, officials finally called a halt to his unofficial comeback.

At age 87, Marrero could be excused for imagining that he was back in his prime, when, in the words of Felipe Alou, the longtime major league player and manager, he confounded batters with “a windup that looked like a cross between a windmill gone berserk and a mallard duck trying to fly backwards.”

When Marrero put on his pitching performance against the Orioles, the sportscaster Bob Wolff, who had broadcast Senators games during Marrero’s time with them, remembered how “Connie was one of the Senators’ all-time popular players.”

“He was a wily, chunky guy, always with a cigar, even on the bench,” Wolff told The New York Times. “He could really make the ball do tricks. He was an excellent pitcher on a lousy team.”
Marrero would live out the rest of his life in Havana with his grandson. Now, as in June 1951, Life magazine dubbed Marrero “The Senators’ Slow-Ball Señor.”, the Slow-Ball Señor is throwing his trademark off-speed pitches in Baseball Heaven. En Paz Descanse Conrado.

Here is Conrado "Connie" Marrero celebrating his 102nd Birthday:

Hasta la próxima, no dejamos de jugar el Beisbol
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access the article A Cigar With the Oldest Living Former Major Leaguer by Tom Hawthorne from the website dated March 4, 2011
- Click Here to access the article Going to bat for the Slow-Ball Señor by Tom Hawthorne from The Globe and Mail website dated April 26, 2011 and updated on September 10, 2012

Friday, April 4, 2014

Latinos at the 1965 All-Star Game Part I

I was recently looking for pictures online for the Wayback Wednesday and Throwback Thursday albums on the Facebook Baseball page: Baseball Sisco Kid Style and came across the following photo and decided to shed some light on some of the players. 
From Left to Right: Felix Mantilla (Puerto Rico), Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico)
Tony Oliva (Cuba), Cookie Rojas (Cuba), Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic),
Zoilo Versalles (Cuba), Vic Davalillo (Venezuela) and Leo Cárdenas (Cuba)
This photo was taken at the 1965 All-Star Game that was played at Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As you can see from the caption there are players representing four Latino markets: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. We all know about the two Hall of Famers in the picture: Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal. I wanted to focus on the other six players in the photo (going from left to right).

1. Felix Mantilla
The starting second baseman for the American League was Felix Mantilla of the Boston Red Sox. Mantilla was born on July 29, 1934 in Isabella, Puerto Rico. The Boston Braves signed him as a free agent in 1952 and he would make his debut with the Milwaukee Braves on June 21, 1956. Mantilla would play for six seasons with the Braves before being drafted by the New York Mets (from the Milwaukee Braves) as the 12th pick in the 1961 expansion draft. As a member of the original 1962 Mets, Mantilla had one of his best seasons. Mantilla batted .275 with a slash line of .330/.399/.729 with 128 hits in 466 at-bats. He drove in 59 runs with 17 doubles, 4 triples and 11 homeruns. After the 1962 season, Mantilla was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Al Moran, Pumpsie Green and Tracy Stallard.

Mantilla would play a total of three seasons with the Red Sox with the 1964 and 1965 seasons being his most successful. In 1964 Mantilla hit .289 with a slash line of .357/.553/.910. He would put up 123 hits with a career high 20 doubles and 30 homeruns with 1 triple and 64 RBI's. Mantilla would follow that season with a 1965 campaign where he batted .275 with a slash line of .374/.416/.790 with 147 hits in 534 at-bats with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 18 homeruns and a career high of 92 RBI's while making his only All-Star appearance. Mantilla would be traded to the Houston Astros during spring training in 1966 and would be released by the Astros after the 1966 season. He would sign with the Chicago Cubs in 1967 and would be released later on that season after not playing for the Cubs.

2. Tony Oliva
The next player in the picture is one that many feel should be a Hall of Famer. Tony Oliva is a beloved player in the Minneapolis area and by the Twins faithful. Oliva was born on  July 20, 1938 in Pinar del Rio, Cuba and was signed by the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in 1961. Oliva would make his debut on September 9, 1962. Oliva was one of the most prolific hitters in the American League. Oliva led the American League in batting three times (1964, 1965, 1971), hits five times (1964-1966, 1969-1970) and doubles four times (1964, 1967, 1969-1970).

Oliva won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1964 with a .323 batting average and a slash line of .359/.557/.916 with 109 runs scored, a league best 217 hits with 43 doubles, 9 triples and 32 homeruns with 94 RBI's. Oliva was an eight time All-Star from 1964-1971, a Gold Glove winner in 1966 and was in the top ten of the American League MVP race five times. Oliva would retire after 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins after the 1976 season.

3. Cookie Rojas
The next player is the only Latino in this picture that would manage in the Major Leagues. Octavio Victor (Rivas) Rojas aka Cookie Rojas was born on March 6, 1939 in La Habana, Cuba. Rojas was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs as an amateur free agent in 1956 and would make his debut on April 10, 1962. After playing briefly for the Redlegs in 1962, Rojas was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jim Owens. Rojas was a very dependable player for the Phillies. Rojas played each outfield position, second, shortstop, third, catcher and even pitched once in his seven seasons in Philadelphia. He would be an All-Star for the Phillies in 1965 when he batted a career best .303 with a slash line of .356/.380/.736 with 158 hits, 25 doubles, 3 triples 3 homeruns and 42 RBI's.

Rojas would be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in arguably the most important trade in Baseball history. On October 7, 1969 Rojas was traded along with Dick Allen and Jerry Johnson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Byron Browne, Curt Flood, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver. Flood would refuse to report to his new team. On April 8, 1970, the St. Louis Cardinals would send Willie Montañez and later Jim Browning (on August 30, 1970) to the Philadelphia Phillies to complete the trade.

If you don't know, in refusing to accept the trade to the Phillies, Flood in effect ended his career by suing Major League Baseball. The result of that lawsuit would be the end of the infamous Reserve Clause and the ushering in of free agency to Major League Baseball. For more information on Curt Flood, I recommend reading the article How Curt Flood Changed Baseball and Killed His Career in the Process by Allen Barra from The Atlantic website dated July 12, 2011. Back to Rojas.

Rojas' stay with the Cardinals would be brief. On June 13, 1970 Rojas was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Kansas City Royals for Fred Rico. It was in Kansas City that Rojas would be the most successful. Rojas would make four consecutive All-Star appearances with the Royals from 1971-1974 averaging a .276 batting average, 138 hits with 23 doubles, 2 triples and 5 homers with 60 RBI's a season during that stretch. Rojas would play his last game for the Royals after the 1977 ALCS loss to the New York Yankees.

Rojas would later go into coaching and would manage the Calfornia Angels for one season, leading the team to a 75-79 record in 1988 before being removed from the head coach position with eight games left in the season. In doing so, Rojas became only the third Cuban-born manager in major-league history after Mike Gonzalez (1938, 1940) and Preston Gomez (1969-1972, 1974-1975, 1980).

For part II, I'm going to focus on the remaining three players in the picture Zoilo Versalles, Vic Davalillo, and Leo Cárdenas.

Until Then Play Ball,
Sisco Kid.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

¿Quien Es Leslie Anderson?

Photo Credit
Japanese Baseball Cards
Every year I try to keep an eye on the Latino players that play abroad in the Asian baseball leagues. This year a former Tampa Bay Rays farmhand and former Cuban National Team player Leslie Anderson (Stephes) caught my eye.

During the opening game between the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants, Leslie Anderson hit back-to-back homeruns with Jose Lopez against Tigers reliever Naoto Tsuru. Annoucer Ed Cohen stated that Anderson was a member of the Cuban National Team that represented Cuba in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the 2006 World Baseball Classic tournament, Anderson went 0-5 with 1 strikeout. In the 2009 World Baseball Classic he performed better going 2-9 with 1 double and 3 strikeouts.

After defecting from Cuba to Mexico in 2009, Anderson would end up signing a four-year, $1.725 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.

Though it seems that Anderson was productive in the minors for Tampa, especially at AAA Durham, he never seemed to be able to catch the break of a call-up. This is where I'm a little confused. Tampa Bay is an amazing organization when it comes to evaluating talent. So looking at Anderson's minor league numbers, it seems that he performed decently enough to at least get a September call-up. Especially at the first base position that has seemed to be a revolving door for the Rays in recent years. Here are Anderson's offensive statistics courtesy of

Anderson shows improvement on a yearly basis especially in AAA when his batting average rises from .277 in 2011 to .309 in 2012. Though it drops from .309 to .292 in 2013, his plate discipline improves in the form of walks. In 2013 he waked 50 times while in 2011 and 2012 combined, he walked 57 times. He remained consistent in the form of strikeouts and was steady in terms of his offensive production especially in the form of doubles and homeruns. Looking at his defensive statistics, you can see that he played first and all three outfield positions and in three seasons playing the majority at time at first he had 10 errors from 2011-2013. That doesn't seem to be too much of a negative issue.

In searching online, I found an article by Cork Gaines entitled Tailgating With The Rays: Why Didn’t The Rays Call Up Leslie Anderson Or Henry Wrigley? from the Rays Index website dated August 31, 2012 that stated the following concerning Anderson:
Leslie Anderson is 3rd in hitting in the IL, and Henry Wrigley would be in the top 15 if he had enough at bats. Clearly the Rays need offense and both can DH or play 1B. So why weren’t they called up along with Reid Brignac and the others?
The simple answer is that they are not on the 40-man roster. But MLB transaction rules are like the tax code, so let me try to explain. For those not familiar: teams have a 25-man roster (the guys we see every night) and a 40-man roster (the 25-man roster plus 15 others that are usually minor leaguers). To be in the big leagues, you have to be on the 40-man roster. There can be up to 15 guys in the minors on the 40-man roster and these guys are kinda like backups. So if somebody on the Rays gets hurt, one of those would be called up to take his place. And in September, anybody on the 40-man can be called up.
Anybody in the minors can be added to the 40-man roster. BUT, if there is already 40 guys, somebody must be taken off. And to do that, that player must be placed on waivers. This is where it gets complicated for guys like Anderson and Wrigley who are not on the 40-man roster. Calling up guys like Brignac is easy. He is already on the 40-man roster, so in September, just promote him. But for Anderson or Wrigley, the Rays would have to risk losing a player to waivers. So it is more like making a trade. And the Rays hate losing pieces if they don’t have to. So at this point, it looks like the Rays have decided that there is nobody already on the 40-man roster that is worth losing for what might end up being 50 at bats from either Anderson or Wrigley. Is that the right decision? I don’t know. But that does appear to be the decision they have made…A NUMBERS GAME AND THEY LOST
I understand that placing a player on waivers, losing them and having the call-up not perform can be a tremendous blow to an organization with limited financial resources like the Rays. But that really sucks for a prospect to feel as if they are performing adequately and won't ever get the chance at the big leagues. But so is the life of a minor league baseball player. Regardless, the Rays granted Anderson his release after the 2013 season so that he could pursue career options abroad.

On December 28, 2013, the website posted that: 
The Yomiuri Giants announced that they finalized a deal with Leslie Anderson (31).  He has been assigned the number forty-two.  He is scheduled to arrive in Japan in late-January...According to Nikkan Sports, the two sides agreed to a one-year deal worth an estimated total sixty million yen.   
Hopefully Anderson can find success in Japan that he couldn't seem to find here in the minors. I'll look back at him a few months from now.

Until Then Play Ball
Baseball Sisco