BY ROBERT CASSIDY | Newsday.com
Connie Marrero once struck out Mickey Mantle three times in one game. Not bad for someone who learned how to pitch by throwing oranges on a farm in Cuba.
As with most of his stories, the Mantle anecdote is punctuated by Marrero’s dry sense of humor. This particular incident, he explains, started long before the actual three-strikeout punchline. Once, during a spring training exhibition against the Yankees, Marrero lined a sharp single to right field. Mantle, who was playing right that afternoon, fielded the ball and threw Marrero out before he could reach first base. Everyone laughed, including Marrero. But he warned Mantle after the game, “One day, I’ll get you back.”
And Mantle wasn’t the only star on the wrong end of one of Marrero’s famous sliders. The righthander, known as “El Premier,” pitched five seasons for the Washington Senators and was selected to the 1951 All-Star Game. He put up respectable numbers (39-40 and a 3.67 ERA lifetime) despite reaching the major leagues at the age of 38.
Playing for Washington didn’t help his stats, either. The Senators were perennial cellar dwellars and inspired the saying, “Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.”
Today, Marrero lives in a small apartment in Cerro, a neighborhood of Havana, not far from the famous “El Gran” stadium in which he dazzled opponents and delighted his countrymen. At the age of 96, he is the fifth oldest living major leaguer and the oldest former major leaguer in Cuba.
“He’s going to live forever,” said Gil Coan, a former teammate of Marrero’s with the Senators. “He was quite a character when we were playing in Washington. He was a lot of fun to be around.”
Marrero’s eyesight is failing, so he rarely leaves the apartment he shares with his grandson Rogelio, and Rogelio’s wife and children. Before his vision declined, he enjoyed getting out for a game of dominos. Now he finds pleasure from a good cigar and a chance to talk baseball. His wit and memory remains as sharp as the break on his slider. When he was asked when he might have been at his best on the mound, Marrero leaned forward in his green lawn chair and said, “Bueno.” Then he thought for a moment and answered, “1938.”
That was 12 years before he debuted for the Senators.
Born on a farm in Sagua la Grande… READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE
And be sure to watch the videos “A journey into Cuban baseball” and “Tommy Lasorda recalls his days in Cuba”