Friday, April 01, 2005

April 1st, 1949

Fidel Castro Cut From Washington Senators

Editor's Note: This is a work of fiction--note the publication date--and virtually all facts contained herein, with the exception of a few minor ones regarding the '48 Senators, should be regarded as such.

This is a story that has been covered up for many, many years but can finally be told, thanks to the efforts of Juan el Bromista, a Cuban historian who only recently made his escape from Cuba after repeated efforts and managed to find the remaining evidence he needed to prove that Castro came to America and pitched. Although el Bromista has not yet found a publisher for his work, tentatively titled Cuento de un Tonto, certain members of SABR's Cuban Baseball Chapter were provided with copies of the manuscript and one passed it on to me.

It is widely passed off as fact that although rumors abound of Fidel Castro having a try-out with either the Washington Senators or New York Yankees, there is no basis in fact for this and that Castro in fact did not even possess the talent necessary to attract the attention of scouts in Cuba, let alone pitch in the Major Leagues. As el Bromista has discovered, this was part of a determined effort between the
United States and Cuban governments, along with Major League Baseball, each with their own motivations for covering up the Cuban's Major League activities.

Castro never did pitch in an official Major League game, but that is not to say he never pitched against Major League hitters. In the winter of 1948-49, the Senators' Cuban scout Guillermo Mentira spotted the twenty-two year old Castro pitching for a semi-professional team outside of
Havana. Mentira was impressed the youngster’s poise; although he lacked the velocity of big-league hurlers Castro made up for it with a variety of breaking and 'junk' pitches that kept both righties and lefties off balance. Mentira offered the young Cuban a chance to come to camp with the Senators and see what he could do.

Naturally, the baseball mad Castro took up Mentira on his offer and went to camp with the Senators. The 1948 Senators had lost ninety-seven games, finishing with a team ERA of 4.65, better than only two others in the American League. Manager Joe Kuhel was therefore intrigued by the young hurler who was able to keep his hitters puzzled so long as he remained ahead in the count and was not forced to throw his mediocre fastball for a strike, where it would typically be hammered. Although Kuhel was impressed by Castro's collection of pitches, he finally came to the conclusion that the Cuban needed more time to develop either greater control of his breaking pitches to allow him to pitch ahead in the count more consistently, or an improved fastball so he could throw it with confidence when behind in the count. With this in mind less than three weeks before the season was to start, Kuhel explained to Castro that the team was looking to send him down to the minors until they thought he was ready, hopefully later that season.

Showing the spark that would eventually led the young man to bigger things, Castro was furious and refused his assignment, instead deciding to go home to
Cuba. He finished his law degree at the University of Havana and went into private practice, and down the path that would land him, a little over ten years later, to overthrowing Batista and taking over Cuba.

So why has this story so long been covered up? Well, each of the parties had their reason. For the Cuban government, the notion that their leader would not be leading the revolution but rather playing baseball, for salary, in
America, was hardly the kind of image of Castro they wanted to present. For the United States, the thought that given a certain twist of fate and Cuba might never be a Communist country, that the Cuban Missile Crisis would remain the realm of doomsday naysayers, that Castro could be on their soil, playing their game was something best left to conspiracy theorists. Lastly, Major League Baseball wanted to do all they could to disassociate themselves from the Communists; remember, this is a league that had one of its teams rename itself (the "Reds" became the "Redlegs") out of fear of being mistaken for Communist sympathizers.

Thanks to the amazing work of Juan el Bromista however, the truth can finally be told. He has managed to turn up multiple records of Castro's pitching in
Cuba that had long been considered legend and has done so at considerable personal risk. He has spoken to the son of Joe Kuhel who has what is believed to be the only undoctored photograph of the Senators in early spring training, one that clearly shows Castro with the team, wearing number fifty-nine and has, despite his short time in America, located a previously classified FBI document listing all Senators who might have come in contact with Castro and advising the cover story for each. If there is any justice, el Bromista will soon find a publisher and this amazing story will be told.

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