Sunday, February 27, 2011
Snider among last major leaguers to play in Cuba for 40 years
Before the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuban national team in a March 1999 exhibition game, it had been 40 years since a major-league team had set foot on Cuban soil.
In March 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds had played a pair of spring training games at Havana's El Gran Stadium and Duke Snider was there.
Snider, the Dodgers' Hall of Fame center fielder, died Sunday. He was 84.
Snider appears 12 seconds into the above newsreel video clip (from the 2000 PBS documentary Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball and the United States), standing next to teammate Don Drysdale at El Gran Stadium.
It was mere months after Fidel Castro had come to power on Jan. 1, 1959, and continuous rain in Florida prompted Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley to Bobby Maduro, the owner of El Gran Stadium, to set up a night game between the Dodgers and Reds.
"In a matter of hours," according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, the stadium was ready to host a game pitting Drysdale against then-Reds pitcher and former Dodger Don Newcombe.
In that game, Snider (shown with Cuban baseball writers Nelson Varela of Diario de la Marina, left, and Jorge Figueredo of Informacion) went 1-for-3 with an RBI, the Dodgers won 3-2 in front of 7,655 Cuban fans.
The next night, Sandy Koufax beat the Reds with relief help from Cuban pitcher Latigo Gutierrez.
This was not Snider's only appearance in Cuba.
As a 20-year-old Dodgers farmhand, Snider was trying to make the big club in the spring of 1947 when the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson -- who was with the organizations' Montreal Royals farm team -- trained in Cuba.
According to Beisbol Cubano: A Un Paso de las Grandes Ligas, 1878-1961, Snider played center field and batted clean-up for the Dodgers in an exhibition game against the Havana Cubans as the Dodgers defeated Conrado Marrero 1-0.