By; Amaury Pi-Gonzalez
I remember the old Cuban winter league in the late 1950’s as a kid. My father would take me every Sunday to watch the four teams that made that league. Leones del Habana (Havana Lions), Alacranes (Scorpions) del Almendares, Tigres (Tigers) del Marianao, and Elefantes (Elephants) del Cienfuegos.
Every Sunday, there was always a double-header. The first game Cienfuegos vs. Marianao, and then in the second game, the “eternos rivales” (eternal rivals, sort of like the Yankees and Red Sox), which was the Havana Lions vs. the Scorpions del Almendares.
There was a plethora of Cuban-born and American players: Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, Brooks Robinson, Jackie Brandt, Lew Burdette, Bob Skinner, Bob Shaw, Miguel “Mike” Cuellar, Camino Pascual, Al Spangler, George Altman, Pedro Ramos,Sandalio “Sandy” Consuegra, Jim Bunning, Mike Fornieles, Luis Tiant, and dozens more,which I remember. After the season ended, they went to Cuba during the winter.
William “Bill” Werle a left handed Major League pitcher, born in Oakland, California, who pitched for the Pirates, Cardinals and Red Sox in the mid-1950’s. He also pitched for the Marianao Tigers in Cuba in 1956. That was the last time that team won the Cuban Professional Winter League title.
As a Major League scout later in life, Bill told me: “Most of the Major League players, we went to Cuba, not only because of the proximity to the US, but because they paid the best in all Latin America.”
Back then, players did not have the strong union like they have today, so they had other jobs to supplement their income after the regular MLB season.
Back then,there was a lot of speed and a lot of strategy deployed by managers. Pitchers went nine innings and more. The guys in the bullpen where mediocre pitchers than didn’t have the talent to be starters. There were professional pinch-hitters, stolen bases, lots of speed, hit and run, bunts galore and even the suicide squeeze was evident in close games when one run was all that you need it.When a player struck out, it was shameful and fans would boo, and yes, games were under three hours with frequency.
Today, it is 2019 and a totally different type of game.
– The game is all about power
– The Home-run is king,there is less creativity
– Strike outs are common,on way to record
– The Hit and Run is an endangered play
-A Bunt is “Breaking News”
-The Professional Pinch Hitter doesn’t exist (not even in the National League,where there is no DH)
-Intentional Walks continue to diminish each year
-The pitchers throw harder and ‘bat speed’ was replaced years ago by ‘launch angle’
-Tampa Bay was the first team to use the now popular “opener,” a guy whose mission is to pitch the first inning
As of today,we are on a pace to hit over 6.000 home-runs for first time in a season. The Oakland Athletics recently became the first team in their franchise history to have 10 players with 10 or more home runs.
If Bill Werle came back to life today, he would see this game and would not recognize it.
It is what it is. Today’s technology has replaced strategy. Baseball still a great game ,but those of us who witnessed the “old school” style of baseball, that was the way it was meant to be played. I actually miss all the strategy and gamesmanship in the greatest game ever invented by humans.
¿Que Pasa?=What’s happening? Answer: Pasa mucho.
Amaury Pi-Gonzalez is the Oakland A’s Spanish play-by-play announcer on KIQI 1010 San Francisco and does News and Commentary each week at http://www.sportsradioservice.com