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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cuban Baseball Histories: The Sixties (Second Part)

Por Fidel Orihuela

Baseball in Cuba has been a passion since the Nineteenth Century, when in the year of 1864 it was introduced on the island by Nemesio Guillo, who brought a bat and a ball from the Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Since then, with the teachings of Esteban Bellan, a pioneer in the knowledge of the bases of this sport due to his studies in Saint John’s College of Fordham, New York, the baseball game in Cuba only grew more and more, with a prosperous professional stage until the year of 1961, in which professional baseball was abolished by the revolutionary process that was taking place in the country with Fidel Castro leading it.

1966: In a nine days’ lapse, the pitcher Aquino Abreu gave two consecutives no hit no run (the first ones in the National Series) wearing the uniform of the Centrales team, something that no one else has achieved in our Championships. His chain started at the Sandino Stadium, in Santa Clara, on January 16, 1966, when he ran over Occidentales (10-0); after that, on January 25, he defeated Industriales 4-0. Abreu equaled Johnny Vander Meer’s feat, pitcher of the Cincinnati Reds, who also had two consecutive no hitters in the MLB on June 11 and June 15 of 1938.

1967: In a competition for the leadership of the tournament that extended till its very end, Orientales finally stopped Industriales’ winning streak of four consecutive years. The first team counted with the power of Elpidio Mancebo and Fermin Laffita and Miguel Cuevas as leader in RBI (38). They also had the amazing combination of the second baseman Andres Telemaco, an expert in the inside pivot and the short stop Agustin Arias, a cannon arm player. Besides, from the mound Roberto Valdes impressed with his five shutouts, while Manuel Alarcon put the distinctive signature of his iron arm when he completed 11 games.

1968: This was the first National Series with more than 90 games, so it left records for the history of baseball in Cuba. The 52 stolen bases of Juan Diaz, Elpidio Mancebo’s 87 walks, the 86 RBI of Miguel Cuevas and the eight shutouts of Carlos Galvez and “Changa” Mederos remained as untouchable marks until the decade of the nineties and the beginning of this century, when they equaled or surpassed. Besides, this was the season with the biggest amount of no hit no run, six in total, achieved by Leopoldo Valdes (Habana), Jesus Perez (Industriales), Jose Antonio Huelga (Azucareros), Orlando Figueredo (Oriente), Florentino Alfonso (Camagüey) y Raul Alvarez (Pinar del Rio). But something that caught our attention about this year were the three home runs in the same game of the player from Industriales Raul Reyes, with two grand slams among them.

1969: After Manuel Alarcon achieved for the first time in the history of the National Series the 200 strikeouts, “Changa” Mederos, from Industriales, raised the number to 208. That was the highest score in our baseball since the 206 gotten in the Professional League by Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell in 1956, with the Leones de La Habana. This was an irrefutable proof of Changa’s ability to put batters out of their game. Since the left-handed pitcher from Havana established the record in the year of 1969, no other Cuban pitcher surpassed the 200 strikeouts in the last century.