His batting average of .259 was quite respectable for a shortstop of that era, or a time when most of them were known for their glove and legs rather than bat.
He played in 7 post-season series. He was always in the middle of everything as Charlie Finley said:
The highest praise for Campaneris may have come from his old boss and antagonist, Charlie Finley, who said in 1980, “You can talk about Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Sal Bando, all those great players, but it was Campy who made everything go.
Octavio Victor (Rivas) Rojas was born on March 6, 1939, in Havana, Cuba.
According to The Society of Baseball Research, his mother gave him the Spanish nickname “Cuqui”, meaning charming or adorable, when he was young. Eventually “Cuqui” became “Cookie” when he got to major league baseball.
Rojas broke with the Reds in 1962 but was traded to the Phillies. In 1964, Rojas was at shortstop when Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day. In 1965, Rojas made the NL All Star team and hit .303! He actually got many votes for the NL MVP award that year. He spent the rest of the 1960’s with Philadelphia.
In 1970, Rojas got a second chance with the expansion Kansas City Royals. He became a team leader and one of the most popular Royals ever. He represented the Royals in the AL All-Star Game four consecutive years, 1971-74.
He retired as a Royal in 1977 with a .263 career batting average, 1,660 hits and a reputation for being a great influence with young players in the clubhouse.
Rigoberto “Tito” Fuentes was born in La Habana, Cuba and signed by the Giants as a free agent in 1962. We believe that Tito Fuentes was one of the last players to leave Cuba before the doors were shut.
He broke with the Giants in 1965 at 21. He was an infielder and enjoyed some good seasons with San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit.
He broke with the Senators (now the Twins) and became a pretty good shortstop in the early 1960’s. His moment came in 1965 when he won the AL MVP and led the Twins to the World Series against the LA Dodgers.
The MVP performance by Zoilo Versalles at the decade’s midpoint ranked at the time as one of the best offensive years ever enjoyed by a major league shortstop. Tutored perhaps even more by third base coach Billy Martin than by manager Sam Mele, Versalles that summer made a hefty contribution to revolutionizing not only the popular view of Latino middle infielders but also of shortstops universally.
Coach Martin’s new protégé topped the American League in seven categories: plate appearances (728), at-bats (666), runs scored (126), doubles (45), triples (12), extra-base hits (76), and total bases (308). He also appeared (as a sixth-inning sub for starter Dick McAuliffe) in his second All-Star Game alongside five fellow Twins, on their home turf in Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium.
On top of his offensive production, Versalles also claimed his second Gold Glove, even though he posted a career-high and league-leading 39 errors. Good offense apparently masks questionable defense, though more modern fielding metrics cast a better light on his play in the field.12
Overall, Zoilo easily walked off with nearly unanimous MVP honors.
Quite a honor for the young man from Marianao, and one of the many who played in the Cuban winter league and later in the majors.
He died in 1995. In 2005, he posthumously honored by induction into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.
Leonardo Lazaro (Alfonso) Cardenas was born in Matanzas on this day in 1938. He made it to the majors in 1960 where he got the nickname of “Chico”. He was also quickly known as “Mr. Automatic” because he was so good at playing shortstop.
Cardenas was a 5-time All Star. He played 9 years with the Cincinnati Reds and 3 with the Minnesota Twins. He replaced fellow Cuban Zoilo Versalles as the shortstop for the Twins.
Overall, he hit .257 over 16 seasons. He is best remembered as the man who made everything look easy at shortstop.
We finally remember Cardenas as one of the surviving Cubans who played in the Cuban winter league and the big leagues.
He is well known for stealing home in the middle of the 1964 National League pennant race. This is the story:
Despite not being known as a big-time base stealer (he was only 34 for 50 in his career), Chico managed to steal one of the most improbable bases in the history of the sport. This occurred during a game on September 24, 1964, against the Philadelphia Phillies. After a one-out single, Ruiz found himself on third base with two outs. There were also two strikes on the batter — none other than five-time All-Star and former (and future) Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson.
Somehow, in Chico Ruiz’s mind, it made sense to try to steal home at this very moment. Remember, there were TWO strikes on Robinson, one of the most feared hitters in the game, so not only was the opposition concerned that big Frank could change the game with one swing, Chico had to have been concerned for his well-being. If Chico got a good jump and Frank swung at a pitch not knowing he was coming, Chico would have been in great danger. If Robinson swung and struck Ruiz with a line drive, not only would Chico have likely been injured, but he may also have been called out depending on whether he was within the base line. Finally, if Ruiz was thrown out trying to steal home with Robinson at the plate, the play may have gone down as one the biggest boneheaded plays the game has ever seen. An infield single would have scored Ruiz; so would a wild pitch.
It was the fact that Ruiz was successful that made this play so memorable. Phillies pitcher Art Mahaffey saw the runner breaking for home and hurried his delivery. That resulted in a pitch that could not be handled by his catcher and an easy run for the Reds. The run happened to be the only one of the game, as the Reds defeated the Phillies, 1-0, the first of ten straight losses by the (then) first-place Phillies.
And so it was “The day Chico Ruiz stole home” with Frank Robinson at the plate.
Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Miñoso was born in El Perico, Cuba, a town near La Habana, on this day in 1925. He learned to play ball in the sugar cane fields.
Orestes made his debut in 1948 with Cleveland but became a regular in 1951 with the Chicago White Sox. From 1951 to 1961, “The Cuban comet”, as he was known, was one of the most consisent hitters in the American League. He led the AL in triples 3 times, once in hits, and 4 times in stolen bases.
The elder Tiant was famous for a variety of outstanding pitches (including a screwball, spitball, and knuckleball), a tremendous pickoff move, and an exaggerated pirouette pitching motion. As late as 1947, at the age of 41, Luis put together a 10-0 record for the New York Cubans and pitched in the East-West All-Star Game. Monte Irvin claimed that Luis would have been a “great, great star” had he been able to play in the major leagues
Tiant made his debut in 1964 with Cleveland: 10-4, 9 complete games, 3 shutouts and a 2.83 ERA. He led the AL in 1968 with a 1.60 ERA!
We remember Tiant with Boston and specially the 1975 post-season.