By Peter C. Bjarkman*
HAVANA TIMES, April 27 – One of Cuba’s grandest baseball legends reached another significant milestone on Saturday when Conrado Marrero (born April 25, 1911) turned a robust ninety-eight.
The last living Cuban big leaguer from pre-revolution days has been quietly residing at the modest Havana apartment of his granddaughter for most of the past decade. While well into his late eighties, the indefatigable island legend was still serving as a part-time pitching coach for the Cuban League team in Granma Province.
His last notable public appearance came when he tossed a ceremonial first pitch for the landmark May 1999 Team Cuba-Baltimore Orioles exhibition match in Havana’s equally venerable Latin American Stadium.
Marrero’s milestone places him among a small collection of baseball’s most durable veteran survivors. Society for American Baseball Research member David Fleitz has made a hobby of tracking ballplayers that have lived near or beyond the century mark, and a careful check of recent Fleitz research (on “David Fleitz’s Baseball Page” at www.wcnet.org) reveals only two ex-major leaguers whose current age surpasses that of Cuba’s Marrero. Cup-of-coffee Brooklyn Dodgers infielder Tony Malinosky (born on October 5, 1909) is senior to the colorful Cuban icon by less than 18 months. And former Cincinnati Reds infielder Lonnie Frey was born in August 1910 (compared to Marrero’s April of 1911). All three are now locked in a tight race to become baseball’s sixteenth-ever living centenarian.
To North American fans, Marrero is remembered exclusively for his five brief seasons with the American League also-ran Washington Senators, the team he joined in 1950 as a grizzled 39 year-old rookie.
It has often been reported that Washington owner-manager Clark Griffith erroneously believed Marrero was born in 1919 instead of 1911 at the time he signed him on, but that part of the legend is probably only apocryphal. Marrero was nonetheless anything but a novelty act during his Washington years, featuring one of the league’s most devastating curves and claimed repeatedly by manager Bucky Harris to be the most valuable “stopper” on an otherwise lamentable Washington mound corps.
“Connie Marrero had a windup that looked like a cross between a windmill gone berserk and a mallard duck trying to fly backwards,” once noted Felipe Alou.
But it was always the issue of his age (as well as his huge cigars and funky delivery) that remained the Cuban’s most recognizable calling card.
To read the complete article on Conrado Marrero click on http://www.baseballdecuba.com/EngnewsContainer.asp?id=1420
For Bjarkman’s Havana Times World Baseball Classic Diary see: http://havanatimes.org/?p=5062