Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chuck Connors helped Mike Sandlock land in Cuba one winter

Looking to identify players in this poster of the 1948-49 Almendares team, the unexpected words lept from the caption: el hijo de Sandlock, "Sandlock's son."

Sandlock's son, Mike -- he's the then-6-year-old boy sitting on the ground, wearing a Montreal Royals uniform -- had come across this blog weeks earlier and offered to put me in tough with his father, former major-league catcher Mike Sandlock (shown standing, second from the right).

I expected to find the elder Sandlock among various images of that championship team, just not the 6-year-old who spent the winter of '48-49 playing on a Havana beach with Chuck Connor's dog and being adopted as a quasi-mascot by the Cuban League team, which included Hall of Famer Monte Irvin (standing, second from left).

"They (the players) played with that kid all the time that he was around," the Elder Sandlock said in a telephone conversation this week from Tennessee. "It was so nice of them, kind of welcoming. It was nice (of them) accepting him at the ballpark."

It was Chuck Connors (top left), who went onto a successful Hollywood career, who called Sandlock to ask his teammate with the Dodgers' Montreal farm team if he would be interested in playing in Cuba.

Sandlock, who played five seasons in the majors with the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates, played only that one season in Cuba, as a third-string catcher behind Gilberto Valdivia and Andres Fleitas  with Almendares.

But he batted .311 in 15 games -- according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961 -- as Almendares captured the Cuban League pennant before helping the Scorpions win the inaugural Caribbean World Series.

For his part in Almendares' championship, Sandlock, like his other teammates, received a $600 bonus.

"I’m glad of that because that helped me," Sandlock said. "I was rebuilding my house. My wife said, 'You know all we got left is a $100 in the bank.' ... That’s when we got a nice call. The man upstairs was very nice. I got this job with Almendares and I made a few dollars. It kept me out of the red."

The younger Sandlock said his father, 95, is the seventh oldest, living former major league player. The oldest is former Dodgers infielder Tony Malinosky, 101.

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