That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary: 1961 When Professional Baseball Died in Cuba (Memories)

Former Washington Senator pitcher Pedro Ramos in his first uniform in 1955 now 85 years old who pitched for six Major Leagues teams between 1955-1970 is part of Amaury’s Commentary today (photo from en.wikipedia.org)

1961 When Professional Baseball Died in Cuba(Memories)

That’s Amaury News and Commentary

By Amaury Pi-González

I remember 1961 as I was arriving in the United States leaving behind Cuba. It was precisely that year for the first time that the Cuban-Communist government banned professional baseball, as well as all pro-sports.

The last year that there was professional baseball in the largest island in the Caribbean was the 1960-61 season, the old Cuban-Winter Professional League. The Cienfuegos (Elephants) won the season with a 48-24 record and finished 12 games ahead of the Tigres (Tigers) of Marianao.

Right hander pitcher Pedro Ramos won the MVP that year with Cienfuegos. Ramos threw side-arm had a nasty sinking fastball; he was a very popular player in Cuba as well as in the Major Leagues with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins.

Pedro Ramos (Pete) many called him Cuban Pete or the Cuban Cowboy was a colorful man that loved to wear cowboy boots. After one season I remember seen him in front of Union Radio a famous radio station next to Havana’s Central Park signing autographs and driving a shining brand new Cadillac with a pair of Longhorns at the front of the hood.

In the US Pedro Ramos was called a ‘hot dog’ something like another Cuban-born player today in MLB, Yasiel Puig. I always said and written about, there is nothing wrong if you are a ‘hot dog’ as long as you can play.

Ramos was a great athlete with great speed. There is a story that he once challenged Mickey Mantle in a sprint race in the outfield, prior to a game at Yankee Stadium when the Senators visited which he beat a young and very fast Mantle.

But I remember Pedro Ramos pitching next to another great Cuban pitcher, Camilo Pascual with a great curveball on those Cienfuegos teams of the old and famous league, considered one of the strongest outside the Major Leagues in the US.

Numerous American players participated in that Cuban winter league. I remember players like Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, Bob Allison, Al Cicotte, Bob Shaw, Jackie Brandt, Bobby DelGreco, Forest Jacobs, Bill Werle, Al Spangler, Rocky Nelson, Jim Bunning; my favorite US-born player in Cuba was Brooks Robinson, and many others. They will be scattered on rosters of the four teams that made that league: Cienfuegos, Havana, Marianao and Almendares with some great Cuban players like Minnie Miñoso saw him with Marianao Tigers, Luis Tiant with the Havana Lions, Chico Fernandez, shortstop with the Scorpions of Almendares, and I am just mentioning a few.

Cuba until Castro killed professional baseball was the #1 country sending talent to the Major Leagues. Baseball has always been the top sport in Cuba, after many decades of the actual Cuban dictatorship many Cubans have escaped the island in small man-made crafts, or defected with their teams when they were playing tournaments outside the island. As of today’s rosters there are approximately 20 to 25 Cuban players in the Major Leagues.

Bill Werle who pitched with Marianao, was born and lived here in the Bay Area was pitching last time that club won the Cuban title in 1956. He was a popular major league scout. I had many conversations with him when he was scouting here and he would tell me “during those years the best league outside the major leagues was that Cuban league and many of us players were lucky to be able to go and play winter ball there, where they also paid the best”. Bill Werle was born in Oakland, California (1920-2010) pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, St Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox.

The memories of baseball from Cuba to the US are precious to me and my family and no matter what happens in baseball, today or in the future, those 1950’s and 1960’s years are some of the best in the history of the game. The Castro governments took my family’s property and change our way of life, but the memories that I have from those years, nobody can take away from me.

Stay well and stay tuned.

Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the Spanish radio voice for Oakland A’s baseball on 1010 KIQI San Francisco and does News and Commentary each week at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

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