From left to right, Scott Horstmeier, HHBMHOF Representative, Leo Cárdenas and George “Buzz” Guckenberger, Biographer. (Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame Cincinnati Ohio photo)
That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary
By Amaury Pi-González
Leonardo (Leo) Cárdenas was born in Matanzas, Cuba on December 17, 1938 and arrived in the major leagues in 1960 with the Cincinnati Reds. An excellent shortstop from the same country that produced such major league shortstops as Willie Miranda, Dagoberto Blanco (Campy) Campaneris, Zoilo (Zorro) Versalles, Humberto (Chico) Fernández, Alexei Ramírez, Rey Ordoñez, José Iglesias plus others.
He would play in the major leagues from 1960 to 1975, his first nine years with the Cincinnati Reds, later with California Angels, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, a total of 16 years, mostly as a shortstop.
In the year 1956 Cárdenas was signed at the age of 17 by a Reds scout and was sent to Tucson, in the minor leagues where he hit .316 with 23 home-runs, but his specialty, from the start, was his glove. The next two years he was part of a great double-play combination with fellow Cuban second-baseman Octavio (Cookie) Rojas at Savannah in the Sally League.
In 1959 played for the International League (AAA) Cuban Sugar Kings and next season, 1960 with Jersey City. Finally arriving to the Big Show on July 25, 1960, where he plays in 48 games with the Cincinnati Reds of manager Fred Hutchinson.
The Lost Bullet: On July 25, 1959. During a game he was playing with the Cuban Sugar Kings at Estadio de El Cerro in Havana, against the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, a riot broke between Fidel Castro’s supporters and the opposition when shots were fired from the stands, and one bullet grazed Cardenas sparing his life.
It was mayhem on the field, people running all over the place, umpires, players, military soldiers, fans. They were not shooting at the shortstop, but he was almost an accidental victim. A victim of the moment, when Castro had not yet established his dictatorship.
On August 8, 1966 with his first and original team, the Cincinnati Reds, he hit 4 home runs in a double-header against the San Francisco Giants. His 6th and 7th homers of the season and two (2) of those were against Giants ace Juan Marichal.
That year the slick-fielding Cuban shortstop ended the season with 20 home-runs. For a shortstop to hit 20 home runs during those years was quite astonishing, there were not very many shortstops named Ernie Banks.
First time I saw Leo Cárdenas was in the old Cuban Winter Professional League with the Elefantes del Cienfuegos ballclub (Cienfuegos Elephants) in 1960. My father would take me to the games every weekend at Estadio de El Cerro, in Havana.
Camilo Pascual a curveball specialist was also with that Cienfuegos team, as well as other Cuban and American-born players who participated in what was called the best professional baseball league after the major leagues at that time. American major league players like Brooks Robinson, George Altman, San Maglie and even Cool Papa Bell (they were some American-born players with Cienfuegos) who played in Cuba in the winter.
At that time the players did not have any representation/Union in the major leagues, and most needed another job in the off-season, and Cuba played the best among all pro-leagues in Latin America, it was a prestigious and very famous league. However and sadly, 1961 would be the last year Leonardo Cárdenas played in his homeland.
Soon after the Fidel Castro government would eradicate all professional sports in the island, as its government declared itself a communist country and took control confiscating American and Cuban interests (private businesses) including all the sports. If you played baseball in Cuba, you only had one employer, the Cuban government.
The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame inducted Leonardo Cárdenas and presented him his HHBMHOF plaque on September 27, 2016 at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Field representatives of the museum Scott Horstmier and Rich Walls Director of the Cincinnati Reds Museum did the honors. Cardenas was one of the first established regular position players from Cuba and Latin America in major league baseball.
Cardenas played on the 1961 World Series with Cincinnati against the New York Yankees and as a member of the Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series of 1969 and 1970. Leo Cárdenas had a 16 year major league career, participating in 1,941 games, 7,402 plate appearances a .257 batting average with 118 Home runs and 689 runs batted in. He was an excellent defensive shortstop.
Leonardo Cádenas is available for speaking engagements and baseball shows https://www.athletespeakers.com/speaker/leo-cardenas
Stay well and stay tuned.
Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the Oakland A’s Spanish lead radio play by play announcer on 1010 KIQI San Francisco and does News and Commentary at http://www.sportsradioservice.com