The man known the world over simply as Fidel has ruled the island nation of Cuba for over 50 years. Castro’s regime remains one of the most controversial in the history of Latin America. Some estimates of his regime estimate well over 100,000 casualties as a result of his rule. He was born Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz on August 13, 1926. Fidel’s father was a Spaniard who had emigrated to Cuba and had a relationship with a woman, Lina Ruz González who was a household servant and 30 years his junior. Fidel was the third child born and was given the mothers surname of Ruz rather than his father’s because he had been born out of wedlock. When Fidel was a young man he grew up and was educated at a Jesuit school near Santiago Cuba. During that time he had shown great proficiency as a baseball pitcher under the tutelage of a brother Javier. There is a baseball trivia question and makes its way around press boxes involving Fidel Castro as a young prospect for Major League Baseball. It seems that two scouts had gone to Havana to watch the Lefty throw his nasty curves and sinkers in an aggressive Latin competition. Yet as we know Fidel would pursue a political career instead.
In July 1952 Castro decided to form a group known as the movement advocating violent action to bring down the corrupt Cuban government. In a famous speech in March 1953 before the infamous Moncada attack he said: “in a few hours you will be victorious or defeated, but regardless the outcome-listen well, friends this movement will triumph. If you win tomorrow, our aspirations will be fulfilled sooner. If we fail, are actionable nevertheless set an example for the Cuban people, and from the people will rise fresh new men willing to die for Cuba. They will pick up our banner and move forward, we will give the first cry of liberty or death!” From this point on Castro saw himself as the leader of the independence movement in Cuba that would lead to national liberation. He was subsequently imprisoned for a year, then travel to Mexico, and with the aid of his brother Raul Castro and friend Che Guevara, he assembled together a group of Cuban revolutionaries, the July 26 Movement. Returning with them to Cuba he led the Cuban revolution and a successful guerrilla war against the existing government and seized power in 1959.
We now know that in 1961 Castro proclaimed himself a socialist and subsequently aligned with the Soviet Union and communism. Castro is a controversial and divisive world figure. For over 50 years he has been a dictator whose authoritarian administration has overseen numerous human rights’s abuses. Nevertheless he has had significant influence on the politics of her number of other world leaders and is admired by some because of his resistance to imperialism. Writer Servando González has called Castro a “corrupt tyrant”. Accusations of Castro maintaining huge accounts in Swiss banks in claiming his personal net worth at some $550 million have been denied by the Cuban dictator. No matter where you stand on Fidel Castro one thing is for sure, that is for over half a century he has had an impact on us all.What if Fidel Castro had decided to concentrate on baseball and had been a little better and much more dedicated to career in baseball. This story is a counterfactual alternate history of his life.
As Alex Ruz stood ready to accept his induction to Baseball’s Hall of Fame he was beginning to well up. Thoughts of his deceased mother and flashes of his childhood in his native Cuba filled his head and touched his very soul. He was now age 47 and a wealthy man who had much to do with changing the face of baseball in America, but here at Cooperstown in 1973 all he could think of was Cuba and a little boy who was alone and afraid.
As a poor little boy whose family lived in poverty he thought how lucky he was that he got into trouble when he was a child. Because he was always in trouble was the reason that authorities plucked him for home and sent him to live at Colegio Delores a Jesuit academy where boys could be rehabilitated. It was here at this Jesuit Academy where young Alejandro would begin to hone his pitching skills. The year was 1941 and young Alejandro Ruz was discovered by Brother Javier who had a great love and knowledge of the game of baseball. Brother Javier’s interest in the young man was seemingly endless as he relentlessly worked with Alejandro. Brother Javier’s own background involved an interest in baseball, but he was never the player that young Ruz was.
Young Alejandro was a natural lefty with great speed and loved to pitch. He became an avid student of the game of baseball and a great student all around as well. Brother Javier had been a pitcher in his younger days and he worked with Alejandro to teach and perfect his technique. By the time Alejandro was ready for college in 1945 he had developed the best fastball, curve and slider on the island of Cuba in youth leagues sponsored by the Catholic Church. So in the fall of 1945 Alejandro started his studies at Havana University where he would study the law and history which had been passions of his as well.
Alejandro Ruz was passionate about the betterment of his people in his homeland and the establishment of democracy. That desire was second only for his love of baseball and his dream of becoming a major league pitcher someday. His hero was the great Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez, who he dreamed he could one day be like. As a pitcher for the New York Yankees in the 1930s, Baseball Hall of Famer Vernon “Lefty” Gómez was a major force in helping the Yankees win five American League Pennants and five World Series Championships.
The Yankees purchased Lefty Gomez from his hometown San Francisco Seals in 1929 for $35,000. Two years later the slender 6’2″ Gomez with his high leg kick and smoking fastball won 21 games for the Yankees with the support of teammates like co-members of the Hall of Fame Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. After a winning game the outspoken Gomez was quoted saying: “I want to thank all my teammates who scored so many runs and Joe DiMaggio, who ran down so many of my mistakes.”
When Ruz attended The University during the years of 1945 and 1949 he played with the school team as well as the Havana Sugar Kings in the summer. The Havana Sugar Kings were a minor league organization that had an affiliation with the Washington Senators. In fact this culminated with Alejandro being offered a shot to pitch with the Senators after he graduated from college in 1949. He spent the balance of 1949 with the Sugar Kings and at the end of that season was offered a signing bonus of $5000 which was unheard of in 1950. So he did sign and would join the Washington Senators for the 1950 season.
His agent was a man named Joe Crimpa who convinced Alejandro Ruz to change his moniker to Alex in order to make him seem more familiar to the American spectators. Alejandro was fine with this, after all he knew who he was and anyway who cared he was getting paid to play baseball. His boyhood dream was now coming true as he donned his Washington Senators uniform. Joe Crimpa did a lot for Alex Ruz including helping him get some of the best pitching deals in history back in those days. After a ho hum first year with the Senators, Crimpa had gotten the Yankees to take a flyer on the 24 year old southpaw. So in 1950 Casey Stengel would become the Manager for who is arguably the best pitcher in the history of the New York Yankees, well at least a match for the great Whitey Ford.
In 1951 Alex went 18 -6 with the Yanks as they reached the World Series against the New York Giants in a six game series that the Yanks won. Alex was 1-1 in the series losing game 3 in a close contest and winning game 6 in a blow out finishing with a 0.87 ERA and being runner up for World Series MVP. Ruz pitched brilliantly in the series striking out 16 batters in 16 innings in the series. Soon he was becoming a favorite of manager Casey Stengel.
In 1952 Alex became a twenty game winner with a record of 20 – 6 and an ERA of 2.81. Again the Yanks were in the series this time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yanks would triumph in a seven games. Alex would go 1 – 1 in the series with a 3.26 ERA. He was living the good life and enjoying minute of being a New York Yankee. By this point Alex was settling into his role as the number one pitcher for the Yanks.
In 1953 Willy Miranda joined the Yankees as a utility infielder; he was a compatriot of Alex’s from Cuba. Willy was the same age and had played a few years in the minors. For the next few years Willy and Alex would become close friends. Although Willy would have little real success breaking the starting lineup he got his playing when he could and usually made the most of it. After a few years Miranda was traded to the Baltimore Orioles which worked out well for him in terms of playing time and becoming the starting short stop for the Orioles from 1955 through 1959. They would maintain a lifelong friendship and commonality with one another even though they played on separate teams.
Another Cuban player named Minnie Minoso became friends with Alex and would remain close for their lifetime. He had earlier been a standout third baseman in the Negro Leagues, and would later play several seasons in Mexico. He was nicknamed “The Cuban Comet” as well as “Mr. White Sox”, and while playing in Mexico was “El Charro Negro” — “The Black Cowboy”. He is one of just two players in Major League history to play in five separate decades (1940s-80s), the other being Nick Altrock. With brief appearances with the independent Northern League’s St. Paul Saints in 1993 and 2003, Miñoso is the only player to have played professionally in seven different decades. He was also the last Major Leaguer to have played in the 1940s to play a Major League game.
Miñoso was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent in 1948. Between 1949 and 1964 he played for the Indians (1949, 1951, 1958–59), Chicago White Sox (1951–1957, 1960–61, 1964, 1976, 1980), St. Louis Cardinals (1962) and Washington Senators (1963). On May 1, 1951, in a game against the New York Yankees in Comiskey Park, the speedy Miñoso became the first black player to wear a White Sox uniform. In his Major League career, Miñoso hit for a .298 batting average, with 186 home runs, 1023 RBI, 1136 runs, 1963 hits, 336 doubles, 83 triples, 205 stolen bases, 814 walks and 192 hit by pitch. His career ended with a .389 on base percentage and a .459 slugging average, combined for a solid .848 OPS. He was a nine-time All-Star. For his excellence in left field, he received the Gold Glove Award three times. He led his league in triples and stolen bases three times each. He was also the league leader in being hit by pitches an amazing ten times; Miñoso is 9th all-time in the category. Over the course of both their lives Minoso and Ruz would maintain their friendship and mutual admiration.
In Alex’s baseball career he was outstanding and remained for the rest of his career with the New York Yankees. Ruz won 250 games for New York (career 250-110), still a franchise record. Red Ruffing, the previous Yankee record-holder, still leads all Yankee right-handed pitchers, with 231 of his 273 career wins coming with the Yankees. Among pitchers with at least 300 career decisions, Ruz ranks first with a winning percentage of .692, the all-time highest percentage in modern baseball history.
Ruz’s 2.78 earned run average is the lowest among starting pitchers whose careers began after the advent of the Live Ball Era in 1920. Ruz’s worst-ever ERA was 3.27. Ruz had 48 shutout victories in his career, including seven 1-0 wins.
Ruz pitched in 11 World Series between 1951 and 1966. He is the only pitcher to start four consecutive Game Ones, a streak he reached twice. Ruz had 13 World Series victories, more than any other pitcher. He also leads all starters in World Series losses (10) and starts (26), as well as innings, hits, walks, and strikeouts. Ruz also appeared in 10 consecutive All Star games between 1953 and 1964.
As Alex Ruz snapped back to the wings of the stage at Cooperstown he was just be introduced by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and announced as the next inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame waived the five year waiting period for induction, as Roberto Clemente was posthumously enshrined after dying in a plane crash in the off-season while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The BBWAA also inducted Warren Spahn, while the Veterans Committee elected George Kelly, Mickey Welch and former American League executive Billy Evans. The final inductee was Monte Irvin, selected by the Negro Leagues Committee. Hall of Famers in attendance included Casey Stengel, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller.
As Alex began his acceptance speech his voice cracked as he thanked Joe Crimpa his long time agent, the New York Yankees, Casey Stengel his nearly career long manager. He also thanked the other inductees with a particular tip of the hat to Warren Spahn who was the most incredible pitcher that he said he ever saw play the game. Alex’s friends Willy Miranda and Minnie Minoso were also on hand to support their friend on this special day. He spoke glowingly of Roberto Clemente and the mutual love they had for the Latin American people who they both devoted much of the off season time, energy and wealth to aiding.
When Alex spoke of his mother he became weepy as he spoke her name Lina Ruz González (September 23, 1903 – August 6, 1963). His father who had not married his mother until after he was born and while his six siblings did take his name Alex had not. Now however after 47 years of carrying his mother’s name he would reunite with his family in Cuba by taking his paternal name and current family name of Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. From this day forward he would be known in order to honor his brother Raul the famous Cuban politician as Fidel Castro.
So while he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame as Alex Ruz that life was now over as he would turn his life over to the cause of democracy in his home country of Cuba. He would remain devoted to his brother Raul Castro who in 1975 would become President of Cuba and Fidel would join him as a special advisor to the President. Fidel Castro was insistent in his brother the president agreeable that many reforms needed to take place in Cuba.
In Cuba since the 26th of July Revolution a democratic government had been established with Manuel Urrutia a liberal Cuban lawyer and politician as President. Urrutia campaigned against the Gerardo Machado government and the second presidency of Fulgencio Batista during the 1950s, before serving as president in the first revolutionary government of 1959. Urruitia formed his government with the help of Raul Castro and others. An important turning point was that Che Guevara was purged from the revolution. By removing Guevara from the equation this allowed Cuba to establish itself as a democracy.
Manuel Urrutia was a leading figure in the civic resistance movement against Batista’s government during the Cuban Revolution, and was the agreed choice of future president among 26th of July Movement as early as April 1958. In 1957 Urrutia had presided in court over a case in which members of the movement had been charged with “anti-government activities”, ruling that the defendants had been acting within their rights. A year later, Urrutia visited the U.S. to gain support for the Cuban revolution, successfully lobbying for a halt of weapons shipments to Batista’s forces. It was considered that the choice of Urrutia, an educated liberal and Christian, as president would be welcomed by the United States.
The Cuban Revolution gained victory on January 1, 1959, and Urrutia returned from exile in Venezuela to take up residence in the presidential palace. Urrutia’s new revolutionary government consisted largely of Cuban political veterans and pro-business liberals including José Miró, who was appointed as Urrutia’s prime minister and Raul Castro as Foreign minister. As time went on Raul Castro would eventually become President in 1975 after Manuel Urrutia now at age 74 felt it was time for a change. So now the 44 year old Raul Castro would become the second President of the Cuban Republic.
Also in 1975 Fidel Castro the former Alex Ruz would as special advisor to his brother help to institute massive reforms throughout the country. His good friend and former major league player Willy Miranda would become the General Manager of the minor league Havana Sugar Kings that year. Eventually Miranda would move onto becoming a majority owner of the team in 1979. When Miranda passed away in 1996 after a fatal heart attack at age 70 Castro performed a spectacular eulogy in his honor of his lifelong friend.
By taking advantage of tax revenue from legalized gambling and brothels the entertainment industry provided a steady stream of government revenue that Both Raul and Fidel would use to build Cuba into the envy of Revolutionary government. Each sector of the Cuban economy and life began to be impacted in a positive way. The school system soon became the envy of the third world. Hospitals began to become modern and cost effective for everyone. During the administrations of John Kennedy relations had grown very close between the two countries. In fact from 1961 through 1969 some of the best U.S. – Cuban relations ever in history occurred then. The fact that Kennedy was a catholic made him extremely popular in this catholic nation.
Cuba had another advantage of not needing a large military which allowed it to flourish as the entertainment capital of North America. One of the main priorities of Fidel Castro who was appointed Special Envoy to the President was a major league franchise in Havana. The Havana Sugar Kings had remained in the AAA international league since the 1946. In 1977 baseball was again expanding and Havana was on her list. When push came to shove however Seattle was given the green light and the franchise and thusly the Seattle Mariners were born. Fidel was upset by not getting the franchise for his beloved Cuba and he was determined to prove it. His vision was that he could help establish a Caribbean league that could rival American baseball. Castro felt that the talent pool was massive throughout the Caribbean and that he could help develop and capitalize on it.
Fidel had convinced his brother Raul to withdraw the Sugar Kings from the International league and declare a newly formed Caribbean Baseball League. Starting play in 1979 with teams in Havana, Santiago, Guantanamo and Santa Clara all in Cuba, professional baseball was now a reality. Then there were six other teams located in San Juan, Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, Kingston in Jamaica, Nassau in Bahamas, Port au Prince Haiti and San Pedro Dominican Republic. With lots of talent coming from all over Latin America the CBL took off like a rocket. In 1981 Fidel Castro accepted the position of Commissioner of the CBL and at age 55 he was once again returning to baseball. He did so after completing service to the Cuban government that brought financial security to the Republic of Cuba as never before in a period of just five years his mark was indelible on his homeland. In 1982 Fidel Castro was named Time’s Man of the Year for his role in helping the poor not only in Cuba but throughout Latin America. He would famously meet with American president Ronald Reagan who called Castro “a true and real friend of democracy”. Although the two men managed to become friends Castro felt that the United States could do more to foster better relations throughout Latin America.
Minnie Minoso would become the majority owner of the Santiago Little Giants in 1981 and begin a lucrative career as owner of a successful CBL franchise. The Little Giants would win six CBL championships during the 1980s and Minoso became known as one of the very best baseball owners worldwide. Eventually in 1995 he would completely sell out his share for nearly 25 million dollars and retire quite happily in his native Cuba.
In 1992 when Fay Vincent was overthrown by Major League Baseball as Commissioner Bud Selig took over. Bud Selig was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and as acting Commissioner he began talks with the CBL and Fidel Castro. Selig had long been a fan and admirer of Alex Ruz (Fidel Castro) and wanted to try to forge a special relationship between their two leagues. Meetings were held in 1992 between the two men on two occasions and although no agreements were forged they were hopeful.
Bud Selig had made it very clear that he had no desire to remain on as the permanent Baseball Commissioner. In the fall of 1992 he had set up a meeting with the owner of the Texas Rangers George W. Bush who was also the son of President George HW Bush of the United States.
The owner of the Rangers was very willing to entertain the idea of becoming Commissioner of Baseball but not until after his father’s reelection campaign in November.
The new Commissioner of Major League Baseball was announced in January 1993 as Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush. In announcing the acceptance of the job Bush commented that “ I see the time coming very soon when Major League baseball will grow and expand welcoming our Latino neighbors with open arms.” This was a purposeful and obvious reference to The CBL and Castro as well. Likewise Bush had enormous respect for Castro and with both Bush’s father George HW Bush a former President and Raul Castro Cuba’s current President they felt a kinship together. Bush and Castro developed a tremendous working relationship almost immediately. The two men seemed to see eye to eye concerning the vast talent pool throughout Latin America for baseball.
Finally in July of 1994 the CBL agreed to a complete merger with MLB in America and the merger resulted in the biggest shift of Latin American players to MLB in history. In fact it could very well be said that because of George W. Bush and Fidel Castro that baseball is what it is today. So in 1995 at the age of 69 Fidel Castro would become the Assistant Commissioner of Baseball and director of international relations and possibly the most visible spokesman for professional sports the world over. In fact in his capacity as the Assistant Commissioner of Baseball he did travel the world especially to Japan to forge better baseball relations around the world.
In 2000 when Governor of Florida Jeb Bush was campaigning for President of the U.S. as the Republican candidate, his brother the Commissioner and Fidel were both very helpful and influential to Jeb’s election as President over Vice President Al Gore by a strong margin. This was largely due to the Latino vote going strongly for Jeb Bush in helping him get elected to the presidency. George W. Bush continues as the Commissioner of Baseball over a period of tremendous prosperity and growth for Major League Baseball. US president Jeb Bush would go on to serve a second term as president and remain close friends with Castro.
In 2001 at age 75, Fidel Castro and Alex Ruz both retired from baseball and public life on July 26, 2001. His mark on baseball and his country will forever be celebrated. Yes whether you know him as Alejandro or Alex Ruz or you know him as Fidel Castro you know that when you are in his presence you are in the presence of greatness.
So we see that lives can intersect one another and cause great affect and impact on one another as well. We see that a man like Castro could be destined for greatness in an alternate possibility for in this case his love of baseball. Not to mention the effect that Castro’s counterfactual life impacted and intersected with George W. Bush. Lives can change and they can turn on a dime. People’s paths can cross and change circumstances as circumstances can change people. They say that everything happens for a reason and I believe that even the smallest incidents can have dramatic impact over the span of one’s lifetime.