Fidel Castro resigned the Cuban presidency yesterday. In so doing, he also relinquished the coveted title of WMBOD, which of course is short for world’s most baseball-obsessed dictator — a lofty perch for which he had no serious competition.
Although Castro dabbled in a number of sports, including table tennis, basketball, golf, and boxing, his first love was always baseball. The oft-repeated story about him supposedly having gotten a tryout with the Washington Senators is total bunk, but it’s true that he long harbored a fantasy of playing for the Yankees (where El Duque and Jose Contreras would no doubt have greeted him by saying, “Dude, did you defect too?!”).
Baseball-related photos of Castro — and there are a lot of them — break down into three primary categories:
1. Castro in a baseball uniform. Most of these date back to the late 1950s through the mid-’60s. As you can see, his stirrup style left a bit to be desired, and I think we can safely say he wasn’t doing steroids, but dig those eyeglasses! And El Presidente had the whole facial hair thing going on long before before Rollie Fingers’s ’stache was a glimmer in Charlie Finley’s eye.
2. Castro in military fatigues. Loads of these pics floating around. Fidel loved to throw out the first pitch or take the ceremonial first swing (a quaint Cuban custom, not unlike slaughtering a chicken upon the birth of your neighbor’s first child). El Comandante also appears to have gotten some actual game action whilst attired in olive drab, as seen here, here, here and here. (Those last two shots, of course, are from Castro’s little-known beatnik phase, when he was prone to reciting painfully bad poetry and reading Jack Kerouac.)
3. Castro looking like your grandfather who belongs on the shuffleboard court, not the baseball diamond. More recent photos document El Jefe Maximo’s descent into baseball self-parody. Like a meddling team owner who can’t resist the urge to play dress-up, he’s donned all manner of embarrassing get-ups, sometimes while in the company of other world leaders. If only the Bay of Pigs plan had succeeded, we could have been spared this.
(It’s worth noting that Fidel also tried his hand at managing the Cuban national team in an exhibition game against Venezuela in 1999. But as reader Eric Trager points out, “Of course, among Latin American dictators, Castro barely holds a candle to Hugo Chavez, who pitched four semi-stirruped inings in that same game.” A rematch in 2000 was embarrassing for all concerned.)
Two best Castro pics I found: Fidel checking out a young prospect, and checking out a really young prospect. I believe he was telling the tyke, “No signing bonus for you, kid — that’s only for capitalists. And don’t even bother learning the words ‘free agency.’ ”
Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em: Yesterday’s entry on smoking prompted a flood of good responses. The very first one came from Todd Radom, who pointed me toward this game-used Earl Weaver jersey, complete with a little cigarette pouch sewn into the inner lining! “Examine photos of him over the years and you’ll see the seams on the exterior of his jersey,” says Todd. Later on, Paul Wiederecht sent this shot, with the pack of coffin nails visible in Earl’s inner pocket.
Turns out this was a Baltimore phenomenon: Eric Stengel sent pics of a Cal Ripken Sr. jersey with the same pocket accessory and clearly visible outer stitching. Eric also notes that according to a small note on this page, Jimmy Dykes used to have a cig pocket as well, which means at least three O’s skippers had this secret compartment. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Baltimore, humidor to the American League.
Also of interest: T.J. Zaremba checked in to inform me that Mexican soccer coach Ricardo Lavolpe’s smoking habits actually earned a FIFA rebuke in 2006.
Meanwhile, here’s a whole respiratory ward’s worth of additional smokers (many featured in yesterday’s comments): Red Auerbach, Dave Parker, James Hunt, John Daly, Angel Cabrera, Pirates-era Jim Leyland, Babe Ruth (rolling his own!), some unidentified cyclists, a rogue’s gallery of MLBers, Paul Hornung (and holy shit do I want that jacket!), Roger Maris again (I’ll take that Yoo-Hoo T-shirt, too), Jerry Coleman, Bob Cousy, Mario Cipollini, Derek Sanderson, Sparky Anderson, Vince Lombardi, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan, Ricardo Mayorga (who I mentioned yesterday, but I didn’t have a photo), Nellie Fox (who appears to be smoking while also chewing!) Joe Torre, Phil Bengtson (could someone please get me that patch?), Pee Wee Reese, Jack McKeon, Ugueth Urbina, Yogi Berra, Bobby Cox, Fuzzy Thurston, Miikka Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf (“as well as a few puck bunnies,” in Jeff Ives‘s words), and Frick and Frack.
Although it doesn’t actually show any athletes smoking, this 1959 Marlboro commercial features some truly amazing NFL content. If you haven’t already seen it on the Kissing Suzy Kolber site, where it was recently featured, stop whatever you’re doing and watch it right now. Trust me.
And as a bonus, here’s a young Ernie Banks lighting his father’s stogie. Hell, it’s such a nice day, let’s smoke two.
(Big thanks and an iron lung to the many readers who contributed pics on this one.)
Uni Watch News Ticker: More than a decade after the fact, the Ravens’ original logo is still generating litigation. … Andy Chalifour notes that Clay Buchholz has the Texas flag inside the heel of his glove. … Bizarre line of helmet-styled woolen ski hats available here (with thanks to Andy Castle). … The Chicago Rush are looking for fan input on a new uni design (with thanks to Matt Olson). … Sean Millican plays on an adult baseball team with Colt .45s-inspired uniforms. He says they’re getting white jerseys this year. … The Army hockey team traditionally wears white at home and black on the road, but on Friday they wore a gold third gold jersey,” writes Ryan Yanoshak. “The three stars on the sleeve and the star on the shoulder are different than the home and away jerseys, as is the third logo on the chest. Director of Hockey Operations Tom Doran and Head Coach Brian Riley helped design the unis.” … Lots of interesting details in this photo of the Judge Memorial Catholic High School girls’ hoops team in Salt Lake City, as described by Jon Alviani: “First, it says ‘Catholic’ underneath, which isn’t on any of the school’s other uniforms. Second, there’s the cross at the neckline. Next, the ‘WE’ on the waistband. And finally, No. 25 either has a well-placed fold or she’s missing an ‘I.’ ” … An old pair of Pepper Martin’s pants is Cooperstown-bound (thanks, Vince). … Cool. … Took me a while to find photos of this, but the Sabres wore green buffaslug helmet decals on Sunday, as part of an environmental initiative. … Classic spring training sights: Josh Fields wearing one of those little no-pocket gloves, to improve his fielding skills (with thanks to Scott Schaaf), and Ian Kinsler wearing one of those paddle mitts. … Matt Englander‘s parents recently dug up an old summer camp photo of him wearing a Phillies jersey and an Expos cap. “Be kind with your comments,” he says, “those were some awkward years.” … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: As you know, MLB base coaches will have to wear helmets this season. According to the “Helmets” section of this page, they’ll have the option of wearing earflaps or going flapless. … Another MLBer wearing someone else’s glove: Francisco Cordero, with glove on loan from Juan Castro (good spot by Michael Smith). … Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov took a slapshot in the mask the other night, which broke part of his cage (here’s an isolation view) and left him with a gash on his nose (screen grabs courtesy of Paul Cook). … The Capitals will be wearing autism awareness jerseys on Sunday. Details here (with thanks to Michael Alper). … Yesterday’s Ticker item about military ribbons reminded James Yeh of an unusual element in British military uniforms: the stable belt, as seen here. … I really hate the prevealing trend of animal mascots being depicted in fierce, brow-furrowed poses. Case in point: South Dakota State’s new logo, which was unveiled yesterday. I mean, come on — a tough, badass jackrabbit? Just make him look cool and smart (like Bugs Bunny!) and call it a day. Actually, that’s what the old logo looked like. … Jean Beliveau is auctioning off an old jersey (with thanks to Jon Hanson) … Yankees without pinstripes! … According to a little quiz that ran on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day, the first U.S. president to wear trousers instead of knee breeches was James Madison, which means we may ultimately have him to blame for the pajama look on the baseball diamond. … Here’s a good close-up view of this year’s Giants sleeve patch (with thanks to Mark Snider). … From yesterday’s comments: Check out Gregg Zaun’s backplate. … The Mavs’ new players will wear these numbers. … I was looking at some photos of old ballparks the other day and noticed an odd zigzag-ish chalk pattern in between the baselines and the dugouts in several of the images. Check out these shots of Crosley Field, the Polo Grounds, and South End Grounds — what is that? It’s sort of like an exaggerated coach’s box, but the contours make no sense. Anyone..? … Ontario Hockey League teams are wearing an “18″ memorial decal in honor of Windsor Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud, who died on Monday. Details here (with thanks to Brian Thompson). … Jason Maggiora scored a pair of Nick Swisher’s cleats at a memorabilia charity sale. “It seems the A’s had to take a decidedly low-tech approach to customizing their trademark white shoes,” he writes. “As you can see in these close-ups, they used a yellow marker/highlighter to color in the trim.” … The Texas Rangers, who’ve never been able to decide whether their primary color is red or blue, are considering going back to red, at least according to the third major item on this page. … Ben Nickerson and I both want to know what the deal is with the weird little black-and-white sideway NBA logo shoulder patch that appears on many NBA practice jerseys. … The new $5 bill goes into circulation later this month. Click on the “See back” link and you’ll discover why I’ll be using five singles instead of a fin from now on (that depressing news brought our way by Marcus Ramsey, who adds, “Remember when money was green?”).