Conrado "Connie" Marrero, the oldest living major league baseball player, died just two days short of his 103rd birthday on Wednesday at his home in Havana. The curveball specialist didn't make his major league debut until he was 39 in 1950 with the Washington Senators, yet still managed to pitch five seasons in the major leagues. He earned an All-Star selection in 1951 and finished with a career record of 39-41.
His long amateur career in Cuba is well chronicled by historian Peter C. Bjarkman, and much interest in his career was sparked as he turned 100, due to the efforts of SABR member Kit Kreiger. Kreiger developed a special relationship with Marrero in his advanced age, making annual trips to visit the forgotten star.
Over the past few years, I have interviewed Marrero's teammates and opponents, and they shared wonderful memories of one of baseball's elder statesmen.
"He was 45 [sic] years old at that time. He was my roommate all year. He was great. If you don’t learn from Marrero, you don’t learn from anybody. He was a pitcher that came to the major leagues at 40 years old and still managed to win games in the major leagues and pitch five years. ... He was so smart. He had such great control of his breaking pitches. He just told me about the hitters, how to pitch to them. He was always talking about pitching. That was great and it really helped me."
Ed Fitz Gerald was Marrero's catcher with Washington during the 1953-54 seasons. In a 2008 interview, Fitzgerald fondly remembered his batterymate.
"Connie was about 40 years old when I came there. He was a good pitcher. He had a good curveball. He threw it kind of underhand so it moved up. He had great control. He didn't throw hard, but he could beat the Yankees!"
Irv Noren joined the Senators at the same time as Marrero in 1950. During a 2012 interview at his home in California, Noren recalled how a conversation they had one day in the outfield paid dividends when he was traded to the Yankees.
"One time, we’re talking in the outfield, he said, 'Noren, you go on another team and I know how to pitch you, right here (points to chest). You good low ball hitter, I’ll throw a slider right here.' I got traded to the Yankees and he was pitching against us. I said, 'That son of a gun. He’s going to throw me that slider up in here.' I finally got it and I hit a home run off of him. I rounded the bases and he’s looking at me, and I go (touches chest), and he started laughing. Someone talked to him a couple of years and they asked him about me and he said, 'Oh yeah, he hit a home run off of me.' It’s funny how guys remember some things."
Gil Coan was a speedy outfielder for the Senators when Marrero joined the club in 1950. After watching Marrero operate, he said in a 2008 interview that he was firm in his belief that the major leagues missed the best Marrero had to offer.
"He would surely have been a big winner had he debuted earlier."
Jerry Snyder was an infielder with the Senators alongside Marrero from 1952-54. In a 2009 interview, he described his view from second base as batters flailed at Marrero's pitches.
"He did not throw hard, but they could not hit him. His fastball would rise and he was very successful in Washington. He really frustrated hitters."
Eddie Robinson was the first baseman on the Senators in 1950 when Marrero made his debut. He later faced Marrero as a member of the White Sox, with the Cuban often winning the battle.
"Connie remembers me and I remember him because he could get me out pretty damn good! When I was with the White Sox he used to get me out all the time. He didn't throw hard. He was like Eddie Lopat, he'd change speeds. He had a little slider he'd throw over the outside corner of the plate. He'd get two strikes on me and then throw me two inside. I'd pull them foul and then he'd hang that little slider outside and I'd ground out to second base. It was infuriating."
Bob Ross was a pitcher with the Senators from 1950-51. In a 2009 interview, Ross told of the camaraderie they shared even though there was a language barrier.
"He was wise and tough. He got the most out of his 'stuff' and body. He could be funny. Although he didn't speak much English, he was friendly with everyone," Ross said. He made special note of Marrero's encounters with Ted Williams. "He had a good relationship with Ted Williams. Ted had trouble hitting Connie."
Hank Workman was a teammate of Marrero's during the 1950-51 winter league season with Almendares. In a 2008 interview, Workman relayed an anecdote about Marrero's craftiness on the mound.
"He pitched about six inches in front of the rubber and would get away with it. He was a cagey guy."