Oldest ex-Major League Baseball player dies in Cuba at 102

Wed Apr 23, 2014 6:14pm EDT
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Conrado Marrero, at 102 the oldest former Major League Baseball player and a patriarch of Cuban baseball known for his quick wit and goofy pitching delivery, died on Wednesday at his home in Havana.

Marrero, who played for the Washington Senators, was two days short of his 103rd birthday. He had been in declining health for weeks and was unresponsive for some time on Wednesday before dying, his grandson Rogelio Marrero said.

After an outstanding career in Cuba in the 1930s and 1940s, Marrero debuted in the Major Leagues with Washington in 1950, four days before his 39th birthday. He quickly became a wisecracking cult hero, with an elaborate windup, thick Cuban accent and ever-present cigar.

Smart and funny, he lacked a good fastball but got Major League hitters out by changing speeds and hitting spots with his slider, a relatively rare pitch in those days. He was highly regarded in Cuba for choosing to stay in the country after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Though mostly bedridden since breaking his hip in 2011, Marrero kept chewing on cigars until his final days.

"He still takes his cigars and red wine, and if I brought him women he'd take that, too," Rogelio Marrero said in March. "Those were always his great vices."

The oldest living former major leaguer is now Mike Sandlock, 98, who played for the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates between 1942 and 1953.

Author and Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman said when he first met Marrero in 1999, the former ballplayer, then in his late 80s, was sitting by the pool at nine in the morning, drinking rum and smoking a cigar.   Continued...

Cuban veteran baseball player Conrado Marrero (L) stands next to Humberto Rodriguez, president of the Cuban Sports Federation, after receiving the Hero of the Cuban Republic medal during the opening ceremony of the XXXV Baseball World Cup in Havana, in this October 12, 2003 file picture. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files