This is a story that falls into the category of “urban legend”. The story is that Fidel Castro was given a chance to join a major league baseball team in 1949 and didn’t. The story is based on a widely spread rumor and leads armchair historians to say “What if…”
Here is the story:
Castro had a try-out with a major league baseball team, either the New York Yankees or the Washington Senators, and was rejected.
How would the 20th century have been different if Castro had become a ballplayer in the US instead of the dictator of Cuba? Well, there’s no use in thinking about it, because the chance never existed. The story is completely false.
It was just a rumor that was blown out of proportion, but one reason why it was so appealing is that American major league baseball teams were actively scouting Cuba for players in the 1940’s. Also, US baseball teams have more Cuban players than any other foreign players, with the exception of the Dominican Republic.
Finally, it would have been convenient for Fidel Castro’s detractors to believe that he might have given up his entire revolution and ideology to toss a baseball in America for lots and lots of money. If this were true, it would damage the credibility of his cause. Maybe lots of people wanted to believe it.
It’s also interesting to note the two teams that are usually used in the story: The “Yankees”, (maybe because they rejected him, he spent the next 48 years going on tirades against them) and the “Senators”, the pro baseball team of the nation’s capital.
People and FACTS Magazine just released very interesting publication named The World’s Biggest Fidel Castro FACTS Collection at http://www.FidelCastroFacts.com
Among the hundreds of other little known facts – there are few that describe Fidel Castro’s never materialized pro baseball career.
So, here’s the truth:
Castro played for the University of Havana. Scouts from the Pittsburgh Pirates considered offering Castro a deal. They were in Havana looking for players and noticed Castro because of his curve ball. Pittsburgh Pirate Don Hoak played against Castro and told about it the rest of his life. He said that Castro threw such a great inside fastball that Hoak asked the referees to remove him from the game. The Pirates scouts, however didn’t see the same potential. They felt that he was not fast enough and not worth signing.
Castro claims that the Giants offered him $5,000 in the form of college aid and he refused it. It is impossible to verify this story, as different sources give slightly different details and none of them can be verified. However, Castro has always exploited the story for his benefit, saying that he turned down the offer from the American capitalists because he put his country first. Many Cuban players have followed in his footsteps, although many more have fled the country in order to play in the American major leagues.
Castro not only played baseball in his university days, he has been a die-hard baseball fan all his life. He asked Joe DiMaggio for an autographed baseball from him, and DiMaggio agreed to give him one, hoping it would help thaw out US-Cuba relations.
The fact that so many Cuban baseball players flee the country is a thorn in the dictator’s side. Stories of the players’ daring escapes from Cuba are told every time they are talked about, and it is a source of humiliation for Castro. These players are seen as bad examples for other Cuban kids who want to play baseball, and the images of America and baseball can’t be easily disentangled.
It is not true that the Yankees, Giants or Senators offered Castro a bonus to play for them, but it is quite likely that scouts for the Pirates were considering him. Still, considering his commitment to the cause of Cuba, it’s highly doubtful that he would have ditched it to go and play baseball in the United States. But, like all urban legends and rumors, a good story is a good story.