Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Castro Prepared Gene Mauch to Manage in Philadelphia

Gene Mauch had just completed an interesting year as manager of the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. At the end of each season the American Association champ would play the International League winner in the Junior World Series. In 1959, the series would feature the Millers against the Havana Cuba Sugar Kings, managed by Preston Gomez.

As told by Stew Thornley, author of On to Nicollet: The Glory and Fame of the Minneapolis Millers, an early Minnesota winter forced the series to be moved to Havana after two games. Students of history will remember that 1959 was not a great time to be in Havana. Fidel Castro had just successfully overthrown the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, who fled to Spain with a reported $300 million dollars.

Castro was in the process of forming a new provisional government, but that didnt prevent him from personally hosting the remainder of the Junior World Series. An incident in July underscored the danger of being in Cuba during 1959. The visiting Rochester Red Wings were batting when gunfire from a Rebel demonstration sent stray bullets onto the field and struck Rochester third base coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo (Chico) Cardenas. Verdi received only a minor wound, but the Red Wings flew back to New York state thereby canceling the series.

During one of the Millers/Sugar Kings contests, 3,000 soldiers, many armed, ringed the field and the dugouts. Castro himself attended the games. Did the Millers have reason to fear for their lives? Mauch's team received several not-so-subtle threats. Thornley describes the seventh game: At this point, Castro decided to get into the act. After entering the stadium prior to Game Seven, he made his way around the warning track to get to his box seat. According to the Miller's Lefty Locklin, as Castro passed the Minneapolis bullpen, he paused, looked at the players, patted a large revolver on his hip and said, 'Tonight, we win.' "

Well, the Sugar Kings did rally to win the series in seven games. While Gene Mauch did not go home with a Junior World Series championship, he went home with his team in one piece. More importantly, he became the most qualified manager in the free world to manage in the city of Brotherly Love.

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