The Washington Post
Saturday, December 25, 1999; Page D10

Major Leagues, Cuba Share a Baseball Connection

                  New Book Explores Island's Exodus of Talent

                  Associated Press

                  Ex-pitcher Fidel Castro, the Casey Stengel of Cuba, returned to the
                  dugout recently to direct an exhibition victory over a visiting team from
                  Venezuela. Then, like Red Auerbach in fatigues, he probably lit a cigar to

                  There is little Castro enjoys more these days than puffing away on Cuban
                  stogies and watching the continuing success of his country's baseball
                  program. Frequent Olympic and Pan American Games winners--Cuba is
                  defending champion in both those competitions--the country has long been
                  a bonanza for baseball talent.

                  Outfielders Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida were the first ones in
                  this century, arriving from the island together in 1911 to play for the
                  Cincinnati Reds. Marsans spent eight years in the majors and Almeida
                  stayed for three.

                  They began a proud if sometimes limited exodus of talent, all of it examined
                  in a new Total Sports book, "Smoke, The Romance and Lore of Cuban
                  Baseball," by Mark Rucker and Peter C. Bjarkman.

                  The arrival in America of the two Cuban outfielders was not without
                  controversy, coming at a time when baseball was still an all-white
                  operation, systematically turning its back on players of color.

                  There is the story in "Smoke" of how Cincinnati officials, moving carefully
                  to avoid any controversy, demanded evidence from Cuba that these two
                  mysterious players were not black.

                  "We will not pay any Honus Wagner price for a pair of dark-skinned
                  islanders," Reds president Garry Herrman cheerfully declared.

                  Satisfied that their origins met his standards, Herrman sent for the players.
                  Imagine his shock when he went to meet them at the rail station and the
                  first persons to hop off the train were a pair of porters, both of them very
                  dark-skinned. Much to his relief, the Cubans turned out to be acceptably

                  A year later, catcher Mike Gonzalez arrived with the Boston Braves. Like
                  Marsans and Almeida, he was light-skinned enough not to offend
                  baseball's tenuous status quo. Gonzalez put in time with Boston, Cincinnati,
                  St. Louis, Chicago and the New York Giants, sticking around for parts of
                  17 seasons.

                  He was also a savvy enough baseball man to coach third base for the St.
                  Louis Cardinals in 1946. This is significant because Gonzalez is the guy
                  who, quite sensibly, held up a stop sign for Enos Slaughter in the seventh
                  game of the World Series. Slaughter, taking off from first base on a single
                  by Harry Walker, ran right through the stop sign to score the Series'
                  winning run.

                  The Cuban exodus remained rather constant, never a torrent of players but
                  enough of them to leave an impression. Among the exports was Adolpho
                  Luque, who pitched for 20 seasons in the majors and was 27-8 with a
                  1.93 earned run average for Cincinnati in 1923. Luque, working in the
                  Mexican League, taught expatriate New York Giants pitcher Sal Maglie
                  that close shaves did not occur only in barber shops.

                  The best Cuban player of his time was Martin Dihigo, whose dark skin
                  relegated him to baseball's Negro Leagues, but whose accomplishments
                  there earned him a place in the Hall of Fame.

                  By 1949, with baseball's color line shattered by Jackie Robinson,
                  Cleveland had no problem importing Orestes "Minnie" Minoso, who unlike
                  the early Cuban imports, was not close to white.

                  Minoso played for 17 seasons and appeared in four decades, although his
                  cameo appearance in 1976 was more a token than anything else.

                  Because baseball loves nicknames, Minoso quickly became Minnie. It
                  seemed like a sensible play off his last name, but like so much else
                  connected with Cuban baseball, it comes with a story and, in fact, several

                  First, teammate Joe Gordon and then manager Lou Boudreau were
                  credited with attaching the name to Minoso. The player, however, offered
                  a more intriguing origin to it.

                  In his autobiography, Minoso claimed he was in his dentist's office when he
                  heard the doctor call out for Minnie. That must be me, he thought, heading
                  straight for the chair.

                  Only afterward did Minoso learn that the office receptionist's name was

                               © Copyright 1999 The Associated Press