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Monday, April 30, 2018

Cuban Baseball Histories: The Eighties (First Part)

Por Fidel Orihuela

The eighties were the golden years of Cuban baseball. Those were the times in which there were, both at the national championships and the national selection, great renown stars by their performance in former decades and a rising generation of new players that gave the island countless international titles. Antonio Munoz, Braudilio Vinent, Agustin Marquetti, Juan Castro, Pedro Medina and Rogelio Garcia crossed their paths with Orestes Kindelan, Antonio Pacheco, Omar Linares, Javier Mendez, Lazaro Vargas and Juan Padilla to make a dream team. They had all the athletic qualities to succeed in baseball and they combined these talents with dedication and commitment to the fans.

1980: Everyone remembers the recent successes of the Santiago de Cuba team, nicknamed “La Aplanadora”, but the first title ever got by the Santiago team was 40 years ago, with manager Miguel Miyar leading a selection in which he gathered a group of excellent pitchers and some very good batters. Modesto Larduet, Evenecer Godinez and Fermin Laffita formed a solid central battery while Braudilio Vinent, Jose Luis Aleman and Orlando Figueredo were part of a mound corps that drove the team from the eastern part of the country to the very first of their eight national titles.

1981: After a decade in the national Series, Antonio Munoz, aka “El Gigante del Escambray”, added his seventh leadership in walks, and later in his career he would add other two leaderships in this category, in which he is the historic leader with 1551 walks. Munoz was always a feared hitter, the first Cuban to achieve the 200 and 300 homers, up to 370.

1982: The great manager Jose Miguel Pineda won the championship with the Vegueros team in 1981. Next year, his successor and apprentice Jorge Fuentes, would honor his steps and got the title with this same team. This was the first title for the manager from Pinar del Rio, who later would win other four championships and who remains as the most awarded manager in the National Series with five titles. Besides, Fuentes is the mentor that has more wins (974) and the only one to have achieved two Olympic titles (1992 y 1996).

1983: The Villa Clara team, successor of the Azucareros achievements, had in the 22nd National Series the highest win-and-lost average, with 837, due to a win-loss record of 41-8. That mark was about to be broken in the 2017 by the team from Matanzas, who ended up the first round of the 56th National Series with 42-3 record and a win-and-lost average of 933. However, in the second round they finished with 28-17 record with a total of 70-20 record and a win-loss average of 778, inferior to the one gotten in 1983 by the manager Eduardo Martin with Villa Clara.

1984: In times of iron arms and very little specialization of the pitchers, Mario Veliz, from Las Villas and Felix Nunez, from Orientales, pitched 20 innings in the same game, on March 21, 1984. In a game that faced the players from Las Villas against the team from the Eastern region of the country, both pitchers got into a mound duel that seemed endless. Three years later, Roberto Hernandez, a pitcher from Henequeneros, stayed in the hill for 20 innings as well, against Industriales, but as a relief pitcher.

1985: Without being twenty years old, Omar Linares became the first Cuban baseball player to be a batting champion with AVG superior to .400(.409). That would be the first of his five batting titles. In this season, he also would lead in runs scored (65) and triples (9), a demonstration of his consolidation as the best player of his time and probably of the Cuban baseball after 1959. Linares ended up his career as the historical leader of AVG with .368 and was among the top three in almost all of the offensive categories. Twelve years after his first batting title in 1985, he became the third Cuban baseball player with four home runs in the same game.