One of Cuba’s grandest baseball legends reaches another significant milestone when Conrado Marrero (born April 25, 1911) turns a robust ninety-nine in the spring of 2010. The last living Cuban big leaguer from pre-revolution days has been quietly residing at the modest Havana apartment of his grandson Rogelio 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 birthday milestone placed him among a small collection of baseball’s most durable veteran survivors. Cup-of-coffee Brooklyn Dodgers infielder Tony Malinosky (who reached the century mark on October 5, 2009) is senior to the colorful Cuban icon by less than 18 months. Other centenarian major leaguers include Chester (Red) Hoff (107), Bob Wright (101), Karl Swanson (101), Johnny Daley (101), Bill Otis (100), Milt Gaston (100), Ralph Miller (100), Ed Gill (100), Charlie Emig (100), Ralph Erickson (100), Ray Cunningham (100), Howard Groskloass (100), Rollie Stiles (100), and Bill Werber (100). If the ancient Cuban survives another year he will become only baseball’s sixteenth-ever living centenarian.
To aging 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 when 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 Dominican slugger Felipe Alou. But it was always the issue of his age (more even than his huge cigars or funky delivery) that remained the Cuban’s most notable calling card.
For stateside partisans whose memories stretch back a full half-century, it is nearly impossible to separate Marrero from nostalgic memories of one of the Fabulous Fifties’ most charismatic yet inept teams. Marrero seemed, in fact, to epitomize Clark Griffith’s entire stable of sad sack Washington Senators. There was plenty of raw talent to be sure in the magical arm of the fire-plug-shaped Cuban right-hander–as there was in those of fellow countrymen and Washington teammates Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos–but the more entertaining story for beat writers and their readers was always in the end his oversized Havana cigars, his laughter-provoking slaughtered-English phrases, and his whirling-dervish high-kicking delivery while launching the league’s most tantalizing slider and curveball.
The stogie, the thick Spanish accent and the elaborate windmill windup were trademark realities that merged rapidly into all-too-familiar stereotypes. In the large scheme of things Conrado Marrero was little more than a blip on the screen of baseball’s golden age fifties so dominated by names like Mantle, Musial, Williams, Spahn, Mays and Banks. But from yet another perspective, the American League Washington Senators and the whole enterprise of big league baseball were themselves, in turn, but a mere blip in the baseball-playing career of the seemingly ageless and remarkably durable Conrado Marrero.
For the complete story on the life and legend of Cuba’s Conrado Marrero, visit my detailed Marrero biography published on the SABR BIOGRAPHY PROJECT website: