I’ve been fascinated by a photograph in The Ballpark Book by Ron Smith, published by The Sporting News in 2000. On page 300, in the history of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., a photograph of a nearly empty grandstand – I counted approximately 45 people in the lower deck (not counting ushers and police) and 14 fans in the upper deck – contains no information in the caption about the game. Research found the date of the game and the box score, but also led me to an interesting character, the second oldest living former Major League player (almost 100 years old).
The game between the 6th-place Washington Senators and 7th-place Philadelphia Athletics on September 7, 1954, set a record for the lowest attendance for the original Senators: 460. The A’s line-up included Forrest “Spook” Jacobs (now 85 and certainly the last holder of that nickname), Joe DeMaestri and Slovakian-born Elmer Valo, who was spelled by Vic Power in right field. The starting pitcher was Al Sima, who is on the mound in the photograph. The A’s manager, Eddie Joost, is the 14th oldest living ex-Major Leaguer at 94 years old. Senators in the line-up were Mickey Vernon, Eddie Yost, Pete Runnels and Carlos Paula, the Senators’ first black player who made his Major League debut the previous day. Roy Sievers pinch-hit for the starting pitcher, Connie Marrero. My post now had a different subject: Conrado Eugenio Ramos "Connie" Marrero, a fascinating link to baseball’s fairly distant past in two nations.
Connie Marrero was born August 11, 1911, in rural Sugua La Grande, Cuba. He’s listed as being between 5’5” and 5’7” and approximately 155 pounds. He did not play professional baseball until the 1946-1947 season, when he finished in the Cuban League for Almendares. He was a teammate of Buck O’Neill and, later Monte Irvin. His opponents included Minnie Minoso, Hank Thompson (see “Hank Thompson: The Third Man”) and Murray Franklin, my father’s Phi Ep brother at the University of Illinois. Marrero continued to play in Cuba during the off-seasons through 1958.
Almendares, Cuban League
The Washington Senators signed Marrero to a minor-league contract with their Havana Cubans farm club, where he pitched from 1947 to 1949. The first obviously light-skinned Cubans played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1911, and the Senators used several Cuban players to fill their roster during World War II. Marrero made his Major League debut on April 21, 1950. The diminutive right-hander threw mostly slow stuff – curve balls, sliders and sinkers – and his funky delivery helped him strike out Mickey Mantle three times in one game. He pitched a one-hitter in 1951, when he was selected for the All-Star team but did not play.
Washington Senators, 1951
Ironically, Connie Marrero’s last Major League game was his 3-inning stint as the starter in the sparsely attended game vs. the A’s. The Senators came back to win 5-4, leaving Marrero with a no decision. He finished with a 39-40 record, not bad for a guy who didn’t make the big leagues until age 38. But the story doesn’t end with the 99-year Marrero relaxing in air-conditioned comfort in Miami’s Calle Ocho, for he never left Cuba.
Topps baseball card, 1953
Following his retirement, Marrero became a coach with the Havana Sugar Kings under manager Preston Gomez. Several Havana players made it to the Major Leagues, including Mike Cueller and Cookie Rojas. The Sugar Kings defeated the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, 4 games to 3, in the 1959 Little World Series. Because of the Cuban Revolution, Secretary of State Christian Herter (I once shoved horse manure on his daughter’s farm outside Boston) pressured Commissioner Ford Frick to move the team to Jersey City in the middle of the 1960 season. Marrero elected to stay in Cuba, where he currently resides with a relative. Major League Baseball refuses to pay him a pension.
Courtesy Jennifer Ettinger and Max Weder
I stumbled across the Connie Marrero story after seeing a photo of him taken in 2008 by a person on a CubaBall Tours (http://www.cubaballtours.com/) visit to the island. The tour features a visit with the still-sharp Marrero, who regales visitors with stories about his big-league career. He’ll be turning 100 after the All-Star break. I hope ESPN or some other network does a feature on the man; he’s certainly one of a kind.