Connie Marrero: Pitcher who became one of Cuban baseball’s most successful exports to the United States in his thirties

As is well known, Cuba and the United States have their differences. But at least one thing unites them, the game of baseball. And no one symbolised that shared affection better than Connie Marrero, one of his island’s most successful exports to America, who made his debut in the major leagues at an age when most players are well into their retirement.

Marrero grew up in rural Cuba working on sugar plantations. But his baseball talent, first as an infielder and then a pitcher, was soon apparent. In 1939 and 1940 he led the country’s amateur team to two world championships, becoming a national hero in the process, before turning professional.

In 1947 he was signed up by the Washington Senators and spent three years in the Senators’ minor league team in Havana – at that time Cuba was an unofficial American province and Fidel Castro was no more than a troublesome but little-known student activist (and also, it might be added, a decent baseball player). Finally, at the ripe old age of almost 39, Marrero was called up to the big time, across the Strait of Florida.

Back then the Senators were a terrible team. “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League,” ran the joke about Washington DC, but Marrero was an exception to the rule. Quickly, the combination of his playing ability and colourful habits turned him into a cult hero for Washington fans who had little else to cheer.

His exact age was part of the mystery. So was his height, officially 5ft 5 in, diminutive by baseball standards then and now, and which led one sportswriter of the day to describe him as “a muscle-bound little gnome.” Then there was Marrero’s erratic command of English, and the large Cuban cigar forever wedged between his teeth, even in the dug-out, that earned him yet another nickname, “The Havana Perfecto”.

Finally, there was his pitching style. According to Life magazine, he was “the most implausible ball player in the US,” who threw the ball “like an orang utan heaving a 16-pound shot.” Another observer, the celebrated player and manager Felipe Alou, described Marrero on the mound as “a cross between a windmill gone berserk and a mallard duck trying to fly backwards.”

But it worked. He didn’t throw especially hard, but he had immaculate control and a baffling variety of pitches. In the five years he played in Washington his victims included such legendary hitters as Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams, who once paid him the rueful compliment that he “threw everything except the ball.” Overall, Marrero compiled a win-loss record of 39-40 and an earned run average of 3.67, more than respectable on a permanently struggling team.

But even Connie Marrero, pitching just one day in seven, could not defy the advancing years indefinitely. On 7 September 1954, at the age of 43, he made his last appearance for the Senators and was released by the organisation in early 1955. Shortly afterwards he returned home, devoting himself to nurturing young Cuban baseball talent.

In 1959 Castro, now revolutionary leader, swept to power at the head of a Communist regime. Marrero however stayed, content with baseball and safe in his country’s affection, but saddened by the political estrangement with Washington.

“I’m Cuban and I came back to the place where I was born,” he said in an interview in 2012, “but I wish our countries could be united again, just like the way they used to be.” With his death in Havana, two days before his 103rd birthday, baseball in America lost its oldest surviving major leaguer.

RUPERT CORNWELL  

Conrado Eugenio Marrero Ramos, baseball player: Born Sagua la Grande, Cuba 25 April 1911; pitcher, Washington Senators 1950-1954; died Havana 23 April 2014.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week