Showing posts with label Almendares. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Almendares. Show all posts

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Why Tommy Lasorda Once Used A Rifle To Protect His Cuban Teammates

Tommy Lasorda celebrating the 1958-59 Almendares championship

Tommy Lasorda’s mighty curveball took him many places during his 14-year playing career, including Canada, Panama, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The tenacious southpaw’s fiery personality played right into the spirit of the Caribbean Winter League, making him a popular choice among the fans. 

During the 1958-59 Cuban Winter League season, Lasorda’s 8-3 record helped propel Almendares to the championship. They dominated in the Caribbean Series, going 5-1 with their pitching staff completing five of the six games. Lasorda was the lone starter not to go the distance, throwing 3.1 scoreless innings against Panama. 

While Almendares’ near-flawless championship would have been the highlight of any baseball season, another event during the 1958-59 campaign dominated anything that happened on the baseball field. 


On New Year’s Eve in 1958, one American baseball player noticed there was an uncomfortable quiet during the day. As John Goryl rode to the ballpark with Cienfuegos teammate Bob Will, there was an eerie silence on the road. 

“We were driving into Havana,” Goryl said during a 2011 interview. “We lived eight or nine miles outside of the city. We were driving down this main thoroughfare, and it was New Year’s Day. We were driving down the highway and not a soul in site. No traffic. All the windows when we got close to town were boarded up, curtains were down, and shutters were down.” 

When they arrived at the stadium, his Cuban teammates quickly updated Goryl on what was happening. There was a drastic change coming. 

“When we got to the ballpark, all of the Cuban ballplayers were gathered in one corner in the ballpark,” he said. “I took Pedro [Ramos] aside and he told me, ‘They think Batista left the country, and Castro will be coming in.’ I asked, ‘Are we gonna play?’ He said, ‘It doesn’t look like it, but they haven’t made that announcement.’ About 30 minutes later, an announcement was made, and we would be told when we would be able to play again.” 

With the inevitable change of power from Fulgencio Batista to Fidel Castro, chaos ensued. It was a long ride back to their protected beach compound at Club Náutico where the foreign players stayed. 

“All hell broke loose when we left that ballpark,” he said. “People tore down parking meters to get money, looting, and everything else.” 

Goryl thought his family was safe at the compound; however, one American player thought otherwise. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked out his window and saw Tommy Lasorda out front armed with a rifle. 

“We were living in a compound that was completely surrounded by water with guards,” he said. “I had a wife who had a small baby and was pregnant. I looked out the window one morning down to the street and there was Tommy walking around with a .22 rifle trying to protect everybody. It was the damndest thing I'd ever seen.”

Friday, May 19, 2017

Why Martin Dihigo is remembered as a 'God' by one Cuban ballplayer

Martin Dihigo is widely regarded as one of the most talented and versatile players in the Hall of Fame. Whether he was on the mound, in the field, or at the plate, Dihigo stood out among the mere mortals that played alongside him.


Cholly Naranjo, a star pitcher for Cuba's Alemendares ball club in the 1950s who later made the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956, had a special connection with Dihigo. Naranjo is the nephew of Ramon Couto, DiHigo's catcher both in Cuba and with the Cuban Stars of the Negro Leagues.

The now 82-year-old Naranjo is one of a handful of players alive that saw Dihigo up close and personal. Speaking with Naranjo in May 2017, he explained what it was like to have contact with "El Inmortal," at an early age.

"Man you should have seen that guy, he looked like a God!" Naranjo said.

In the rest of the interview, which is linked below, Naranjo discusses watching Dihigo play as a youngster and how he was a top line player as both a pitcher and a batter. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Jose 'Tony' Zardon, eldest living Cuban major leaguer passes away at 94

Jose Zardon, a native Cuban who was the last living member of the 1945 Washington Senators, passed away March 21, 2017 in Tamarac, Florida. He was 94.

Affectionately nicknamed "Guineo," for his blazing speed that was akin to the local hen in Cuba, he first played in the United States in 1944 when the legendary scout Joe Cambria signed him to the Washington franchise. After playing one season in the minor leagues, the Senators minted the fleet-footed outfielder as a major leaguer in 1945, seeking to take advantage of his ability to cover the vast depths of Griffith Stadium. 

Jose Zardon at his home in 2012 / N. Diunte
With major league rosters depleted due to World War II enlistments, Zardon and his Cuban teammates with the Senators became pioneers of sorts, giving the club in the nation's capitol an integrated team a year prior to the Brooklyn Dodgers signing Jackie Robinson. While there were other Cubans who preceded Zardon in the major leagues, their solid performance further opened the pipeline for his countrymen to follow.

In his only major league season, Zardon batted .290 in 131 at-bats, while making some tremendous catches in the outfield. Throughout the remainder of the 1940s and early 1950s, Zardon spent his winters playing for the Almendares and Havana clubs in Cuba, as well as two seasons in Venezuela. He remained active in the minor leagues, spending another ten seasons as both a player and a manager before retiring in 1955.

Great detail of Zardon's career is profiled in the SABR book, "Who's on First: Replacement Players in World War II." In 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Zardon at his Florida home to discuss his career, where in his jovial fashion, he shared a story about how he stole first base after a famous Cuban sportswriter doubted his hitting abilities. The video, which is linked below, is a taste of Zardon's warm character which was appreciated by all who met him. 

* Ed Note - In the above SABR interview, Zardon admitted that his birth year was 1922, not 1923 as listed in the official baseball database.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vicente Lopez, Cuban pitcher for Almendares dead at 83

Former Cuban League star and Brooklyn Dodger farmhand Vicente Lopez passed away Wednesday at the age of 83 in Miami. Lopez was signed by the Dodgers after an outstanding Cuban amateur league career in 1948. He won 18 and 20 games in 1949 and 1950 for their Class B Miami Sun Sox team.

Vicente Lopez
All signs pointed towards Lopez quickly advancing towards the major league level. During the winter league season of 1950-51, Lopez was the target of scrutiny by the Dodgers scouts. During a winter league game against another Dodger prospect Joe Black, Lopez battled for 10-innings during a 2-2 ballgame. After his brilliant display in front of the Dodgers brass, Lopez realized that he threw his arm out in the process. He would never regain the life on his fastball to supplement his knee buckling curve to become a major league prospect.

Lopez pitched for 13 seasons in the minor leagues, Mexico, and Cuba before settling in Miami. After his baseball career, he worked as a clerk in a food warehouse while operating Los Cubanos Libres, a baseball academy alongside fellow Cubans Julio Moreno and Sandy Consuegra.

* Ed Note - Lopez founded Los Cubanos Libres and operated the baseball academy with Julio Moreno amongst other former players. He did not work at Carlos Pascual's Academy as previously reported.

More Info -
El Lanzador - Vicente Lopez was almost the Cuban Koufax - Miami New Times
Muere en Miami el ex lanzador cubano Vicente López - Diario Las Americas



Saturday, April 3, 2010

Orioles pitching ace Mike Cuellar dies at age 72 (1937-2010)

The sad news of Mike Cuellar's death from stomach cancer on Friday caused me to reminisce about our meeting in Florida last August which was captured in the above photo. Cuellar, standing proudly in the center in his red shirt and fancy hat was in a joyous mood surrounded by his fellow teammates and countrymen.

The native of Santa Clara, Cuba began pitching for Almendares in 1957, and would later help lead them to the Carribean Series championship in 1959. That would be the same year that Cuellar would make his Major League debut with the Cincinnati Reds. He made his debut in April, and was quickly sent back down to Havana after pitching just 4 innings.

Cuellar's career didn't end there, and it is a story of perseverance. He would not return to the big leagues for five seasons. After bouncing around AA, AAA and Mexico, the screwball tossing lefty resurfaced with the Cardinals in 1964 and would spend the next 14 season playing with the Astros, Orioles and Angels. It is with the Orioles where at the age of 32, Cuellar had his resurrection.

In 1969, Cuellar won 23 games en route to winning the Cy Young award and leading the Orioles to a World Series appearance. Cuellar would help to drive the Orioles to the World Series the next two years, winning 24 and 20 games during each of those seasons. At the age of 37 in 1974, Cuellar won 22 games, making him a four-time 20 game winner.

Cuellar most recently lived in Orlando, and spent the last few months of his life hospitalized after suffering a brain aneurism, followed by the removal of his gall bladder, all of which preceded his stomach cancer. Adorned by many, I choose to remember the strong man I met during a warm summer day surrounded by members of his Cuban baseball family. Rest in peace Mike Cuellar.

More Articles on Mike Cuellar -

El béisbol cubano está de luto: Murió Mike Cuellar - Terreno de Pelota
Baseball Legend Struggling in Orlando Hospital - Orlando Sentinel
Steady Cuellar, A Master of the Screwball - ESPN.com
Cuban Pitcher Mike Cuellar passes away - Orlando Sentinel
Former Baltimore Orioles Ace Mike Cuellar dead at age 72 - ESPN.com

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tommy Lasorda inducted into Cuban Sports Hall of Fame

MLB Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda was inducted into the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday in Miami. This makes for the 16th Hall of Fame of which Lasorda has been enshrined. To read the details on Lasorda's induction, click here.