April 25, 2011 marks the 100th birthday for Conrado Eugenio “Connie” Marrero, the former Cuban hurler for the Washington Senators. With his centennial celebration, Marrero has reached a milestone achieved by only 15 other major league players. Marrero’s birthday is being celebrated by the Society of American Baseball Research, which features some excellent articles regarding his career and legacy.
Residing in Cuba, the cigar-chomping “junkballer” is currently the oldest living major league alumnus. Breaking in to the major leagues at 39-years-old, Marrero posted a 39-40 record with the woeful Washington Senators from 1950-54, making the American League All-Star team in 1951. He pitched until the age of 46 with the AAA Havana Sugar Kings of the International League.
Marrero was a legend in Cuba prior to his career with the Washington Senators. He was a mainstay for the powerful Almendares Alacranes for a decade. He earned MVP honors for the 1947-48 winter league season, posting eight shutouts and with a dominant 1.12 ERA.
After his baseball career ended, he was one of the few Cuban major leaguers to remain in Cuba after Castro’s revolution. Marrero was heavily involved with the development of the Granma Province Cuban League ballclub. Remarkably, at the age of 87, he was still throwing batting practice to a then-developing Alfredo Despaigne, who is one of the brightest stars on the island.
Despite his blindness and scant ability to hear, Marrero remains mentally sharp and has been able to communicate with his former teammates through the efforts of Kit Krieger. Krieger, a Canadian baseball fanatico, organizes trips to Cuba through his Cubaball tours. It is through these expeditions that he has developed a relationship with Marrero. Marrero, who does not receive a pension from MLB, nor assistance from B.A.T., is helped by Krieger soliciting donations for Marrero, as well as getting payments for getting Marrero’s signature on items for collectors.
Krieger has also brought Marrero a bevy of letters from his teammates and competitors describing their memories of “El Guajiro.” Marrero has responded to each of his teammates with crisp detail of his experiences playing with and against them, recalling details from 60 years ago as if they happened yesterday.
Over the past few years, I have interviewed Marrero’s teammates and opponents, and they have left with me with the following memories of Marrero.
- Ed Fitzgerald was Marrero’s catcher with Washington during the 1953-54 seasons. In a 2008 interview, Fitzgerald fondly remembered his batterymate. “Connie was about 40 years old when I came there. He was a good pitcher. He had a good curveball. He threw it kind of underhand so it moved up. He had great control. He didn’t throw hard, but he could beat the Yankees!”
- Len Okrie was also a catcher for Washington Senators from 1950-51. He recalled the following in a 2008 interview about catching Marrero. “With Marrero, he had a good slider. He couldn’t understand the signs. I used to just tell him, ‘Go ahead and throw, I’ll catch anything you throw.’ They had a lot of Cubans; Joe Cambria brought all of those guys. Pretty good bunch of kids, they could throw well and were pretty smart.”
- Gil Coan was a speedy outfielder for the Senators when Marrero joined the club in 1950. After watching Marrero operate, he was firm in his belief that the major leagues missed the best Marrero had to offer, saying in 2008, “He would surely have been a big winner had he debuted earlier.”
- Jerry Snyder was an infielder with the Senators alongside Marrero from 1952-54. In 2009, he described his view at second base as batters flailed at Marrero’s offerings. “He did not throw hard, but they could not hit him. His fastball would rise and he was very successful in Washington. He really frustrated hitters.”
- Eddie Robinson was the first baseman on the Senators in 1950 when Marrero made his debut. He would later face Marrero as a member of the White Sox. Robinson described how Marrero often had his number. “Connie remembers me and I remember him because he could get me out pretty damn good! When I was with the White Sox he used to get me out all the time. He didn’t throw hard. He was like Eddie Lopat, he’d change speeds. He had a little slider he’d throw over the outside corner of the plate. He’d get two strikes on me and then throw me two inside. I’d pull them foul and then he’d hang that little slider outside and I’d ground out to second base. It was infuriating.”
- Bob Ross was a pitcher with the Senators from 1950-51. In a 2009 interview, Ross described Marrero as he saw it from the bullpen. “He was wise and tough. He got the most out of his “stuff” and body. He could be funny. Although he didn’t speak much English, he was friendly with everyone,” said Ross. He made special note of Marrero’s relationship with Ted Williams. “He had a good relationship with Ted Williams. Ted had trouble hitting Connie.”
- Hank Workman was a teammate of Marrero’s during the 1950-51 winter league season with Almendares. In a 2008 interview, Workman relayed an anecdote about Marrero’s craftiness on the mound. “Conrado Marrero. He pitched about six inches in front of the rubber and would get away with it. He was a cagey guy.”