The Castro MLB myth is just that, a myth

November 26, 2016

“Lots of enthusiasm. Not much of an arm. Suggest he goes into another business.”

That’s a quote attributed to Major League Baseball scout Harry Callahan, and it was allegedly his evaluation of a young Cuban pitcher named Fidel Castro.

As the story goes, Castro had tryouts with two or three Major League teams, including the Pirates, and not getting a contract offer caused him to become violently anti-American.

We all know how that turned out.

Castro, who died Friday, went on to become the worst and longest tenured dictator in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

There has always been a theory that the lives of millions of people would have been saved or enriched if he had played baseball.

That, as it turns out, is a myth.

Castro wasn’t that good, never pitched professionally and probably never had a tryout. But, you’ll never guess who may have contributed to that myth.

Myron Cope.

Yep. The guy who invented the Terrible Towel was a tremendous writer long before he became synonymous with the Steelers.

Myron’s name popped up last year in a story by Daily Kos writer Lenny Flank, who was dispelling the myth that history could have been changed by a baseball scout.

“It’s not known how the Fidel as American baseball star myth first began. But by 1964 it was widely-enough known and believed that in June, 1964, a story appeared in Sport Magazine titled, “The Day I Batted Against Castro”, written by Pirates star Don Hoak along with Pittsburgh Steelers announcer Myron Cope.”

Hoak was runner-up to Dick Groat for National League MVP in 1960 and played a major role in the Pirates winning the World Series.

Flank writes, “According to Hoak’s story, in 1951, before he had joined the Major Leagues, he was playing in Cuba as part of the winter leagues there when, during a game between the Cienfuegos and Havana teams, a group of radical students from the law school who were protesting the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, ran out and took over the field while Hoak was at bat, declaring that they wanted to play against the American yanquis. A law student named Fidel Castro took over the pitcher’s mound, and, according to Hoak’s story, fired several wild pitches at him before being removed from the field by the Park Police.”

Flank goes on to point out that the incident couldn’t have happened because, when Hoak played in Cuba in 1953, Castro was in prison.

As recently as 2014, the myth was still alive, including one story that had Castro turning down a $5,000 offer to sign with the New York Giants.

Castro obviously loved baseball as much as he hated the United States but, as you hear and read the reactions to his death, especially the ones from the idiots who try to romanticize his reign of terror, don’t believe the world could have been spared if only a baseball scout had recognized his talent.

If only the Cuban people had been so lucky.

• Maybe the Steelers aren’t all that bad. There was quite a bit of angst in these parts when they dropped to 4-5 after losing to the Cowboys two weeks ago. And nobody was impressed with their win over the Browns last week. But they are 6-5 and leading the Ravens by a half game going into today’s games.

They lose the tie-breaker with the Ravens right now because of a loss to them three weeks ago, but they play in Pittsburgh on Christmas day.

The Cowboys are considered the best team in the NFL right now and the Steelers lost to them in the last 30 seconds. They also have a loss to the Patriots - still considered the best in the AFC – but Landry Jones was their quarterback that day.

The loss at Miami looks a lot better today than it did back on October 16 because the Dolphins haven’t lost since.

The win over the Redskins in Week 1 looks a lot more impressive since the Redskins have lost three games since then by a total of eight points, with two of those losses coming to the Cowboys. They also tied the Bengals.

The Steelers can still finish 11-5 if they run the table and two of the teams on the table are the Browns and the Bengals, who will be playing without their best wide receiver and their best running back.

It’s way too early to write them off. Let’s see where they are after they play the Giants at home next week and a follow with a tough road game in Buffalo the next week.

It says here, by the way, that the Steelers will win the AFC North.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday sports column for the Observer-Reporter.

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