Connie Marrero - A Cuban Baseball Legend
August 25, 2011
by William Szczepanek
Conrado Marrero sits in his grandson's apartment in Havana, Cuba smoking a stogie, like he did in the 50s, reminiscing about his achievements playing baseball in Cuba. He shows visitors his two most prominent baseball cards, the 1952 and 1953 Topps cards issued while he played for the Washington Senators. His age has always been a controversial issue. His 1953 Topps #013 card shown here listed his birthplace and birth date as Las Villas, May 1, 1915. His true date of birth would be established later as April 25, 1911 in Sagua La Grande. It is rumored that in order to pitch in the majors he took a decade off of his real age. At the time of this writing Connie is 100 years old and has a lot of stories to tell as the oldest-living Major leaguer. To most Americans his achievements are somewhat mediocre at best. For Cuban fans Marrero is a legend. He looks back with a smile when he talks of his career as he puffs away on his Cuban cigar.
In 1938 at age 26 he pitched for the Cuban Amateur League. He was sponsored by a local department store where he worked. He won 123 games from 1938 through 1945. He pitched for the Cuban National Team and led them to championships in 1939, 1940 and 1942. He was the Amateur World Series MVP in 1940.
In 1945 Marrero while pitching for Cienfuegos in the Amateur League was given an indefinite suspension for pitching in a non-league game. Rather than argue, he decided to turn pro and pitched in the Cuban League from 1946 through 1958 when he retired. He holds the single season Cuban league record for shutouts with 8 in 1947/1948 along with the record for lowest ERA, 1.12. He pitched for the Caribbean League World Series Champions in 1949 when Cuba swept the series with Marrero contributing a one-run, four-hit, complete-game victory in the only game he pitched. He returned in 1957 to help win again. Despite not pitching in the Cuban League until he was 35 years old, his 69 victories ranks 10th on the Cuban League all-time list.
He looks back fondly at the spring of 1947, when, as part of a Cuban All-Star team, he pitched against major league teams in Havana during spring training. He beat the Yankees in a 7-inning game called by rain, allowing one run and four hits. A week later he lost 1–0 to the Dodgers, allowing four hits and striking out eight.
These records are all well and good, but he had a part-time job between 1950 and 1954 when he pitched for the Washington Senators in the American League. His lifetime record of 39 wins and 40 losses are not much to brag about, unless you consider that he was the oldest player in the Major leagues when he finished his career at age 43. That made him a 39 year old rookie in 1950.
In 1951 Marrero led the Senators in wins, going 11–9 over 187 innings with a 3.90 ERA. On April 26, 1951, he pitched a one-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics, winning 2-1. The only hit was a home run by Barney McCosky in the 4th inning.
He went 11–8 in 1952 with a 2.88 ERA (9th in the league). The next year he was 8–7 with a 3.03 ERA. In 1954 he was the oldest player in the major leagues with a 3–6 record and a 4.75 ERA. He was released in 1955. Just to keep busy from 1947 to 1957 in the years he was not pitching in the Majors he pitched in the International League in Havana and compiled a record of 80 - 29 with an ERA of 1.81.
Not ready to stop pitching at the tender age of 45 Marrero signed with Marianao for the 1956/57 season, where he pitched 19 innings in seven games with a 1.37 ERA. The 45-year-old pitcher pitched only 45 innings and went 3–1. His only loss was to an even older pitcher, Miami's Satchel Paige. He won the pennant and pitched in the Caribbean Series, going 3-1/3 innings against Panamá in a game that was eventually won by his fellow team member, Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning.
Marrero was a junk ball pitcher who mixed up curve balls with change-ups and knucklers. "Connie Marrero had a windup that looked like a cross between a windmill gone berserk and a mallard duck trying to fly backwards," ─ Felipe Alou.
Many of Marrero's stories are exaggerated. While statistics can be boring, it is reported that in Marrero's first encounter with Ted Williams in a spring training game he struck out Ted on four curve balls. Later in the season Marrero asked Ted to autograph the ball that he struck him out on. Ted begrudgingly obliged. Later that day, they met again in a game and Ted drove one of Marrero's curve balls into the bleachers. As Ted rounded third legend has it he said, “Why don’t you see if you can find that one and I’ll sign IT for you too!”
For more on the legend check out articles by Peter C. Bjarkman's in the Havana Times.
You can check out Marrero's stats at Baseball-Reference.com.