Saturday, January 13, 2018

Rudy Arias, member of the 1959 Go-Go White Sox, dies at 86

Rodolfo “Rudy” Arias, a member of the famed 1959 Go-Go Chicago White Sox, passed away on Friday January 12, 2018 in Miami, Florida according to a family member. The Cuban native was 86.

The lithe left-handed pitcher played only one season in the major leagues, but what a fine one it was. Signed by the White Sox in 1952, Arias fought injuries while working his way up to the American League pennant winners in 1959.

Rudy Arias Personal Photo

“I signed in 1952 and they sent me to Madisonville, Kentucky,” Arias told me in 2012. “My first year I came to the United States, I won 16 games. The owner of the Havana club came to my town in Santa Clara. They wanted me to go to Havana because Mike Gonzalez wanted to see me [pitch].”

While Arias was eager to make an impression for his spot on Cuba’s legendary Havana professional winter league team, his fortune changed quickly before he could even get on the field in front of Gonzalez. A freak accident while arriving at the ballpark derailed his chance for a spot on the Havana club.

“I broke my arm after I slipped on the concrete [at the ballpark] and they sent me home,” he said.

Despite his injury, Arias returned to the White Sox in 1954 and they promoted him to their minor league team in Waterloo, Iowa. He survived by only using his fastball for the next few years until his arm sufficiently healed to feature his signature curveball.

By 1958, he was knocking on the big league door at Triple-A in Havana. He impressed the White Sox brass when he threw a no-hitter against Rochester.

“The last out was a fly ball to the catcher,” he said. “They gave me $1,000 for that.”



In 1959, Arias got his big break with the White Sox, making their team out of spring training. His left-handed arm gave manager Al Lopez versatility in the late innings out of their bullpen. One of his first introductions to the unwritten rules of major league baseball was when Lopez directed the rookie to drill opposing New York Yankees pitcher Ryne Duren.

“Lopez called me on the phone and said, ‘Rudy, warm up real hard and when Duren comes to hit, hit him in the head,’” Arias recalled. ‘¡O dios mio! He had 20 pitchers and he used me, the small guy! When Duren comes to hit, I threw at his head and he moved. The next pitch, I knew he was going to move back, so I hit him right in the back. He came at me with the bat. I told Duren I didn’t mean to hit him. Kluszewski [ed. note - It was Earl Torgeson] stood right in front of me and told me not to run. He was a big guy!”

Rudy Arias with the author in 2012 / N. Diunte
He fondly recalled the rest of the battles that the White Sox had with the Yankees that season, citing them as their toughest competition en route to the American League pennant. He proudly told how he foiled Mickey Mantle on a bet from teammate Jim Rivera.

“Jim Rivera told me, ‘Rudy, when Mickey Mantle comes up, if you throw him a knuckleball, I will give you a six pack of beer.’ I throw it, Mantle waited and waited, and man he got a pop up to second base.”

Arias was on the roster for the 1959 World Series; however, he did not see any action against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He received a full share for his efforts. Over 50 years later, he marveled at both the spectacle of seeing over 90,000 people at the Coliseum, and the amount of his share if he played in the World Series now.

“I didn’t believe it,” he said. “All around, wow – 93,000 people! There was a lot of noise. It was different pitching there.

“Where’s the money now? Now they get a lot of money for that. They gave me $4,800. I didn’t believe it! That money is different now!”

In the off-season after the World Series, the White Sox traded Arias to the Cincinnati Reds. They sent him to Triple-A in San Diego in 1960. He spent three years in their minor league system and crossed paths with many of the Reds’ future stars including sharing a dugout with Pete Rose in Macon, Georgia.

“They sent me to Macon Georgia and I played with Pete Rose,” Arias said. “He was crazy!”

Arias had one last hurrah in 1961 while pitching for the Mariano team during the final season of the Cuban professional league. He had enough life in his arm to throw an 18-inning gem and lose! On the other side of the hill was a young Luis Tiant.

“Luis Tiant came in the 11th inning,” he said. “I pitched the whole game and lost it in the 18th inning. I do not believe it happened! Nap Reyes the manager, he never came to me and asked, ‘Rudy, how do you feel?’ I was throwing, throwing and throwing and he never told me nothing.”

Struggling with injuries, Arias never returned to his major league form; however, he played in the minor leagues and Mexico until 1967. He settled in Miami working in construction and later as a security guard before retiring.

He passed the family legacy to his son Rudy, who was a minor league catcher and a long-time major league bullpen catcher. One of his highlights included earning a World Series ring in 1996 with the New York Yankees.

In retirement, Arias received fan mail from fans all over the country, which he kept neatly in binders in his home. He marveled how they came from such far off places like Alaska.

“I get a lot of letters now from all over, more than when I played,” he said.

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