Ted Williams makes a swing at the ball, but cannot find it. It is the third strike and while the best batter in history walks to the dig-out, the man who just dominated him, Pedro Ramos, amidst the excitement, asks the batboy to tell Ted to sign the ball for him.
The fearsome Boston slugger, was pleased, but won’t forget the insult. The night is young and a couple of innings later he takes revenge with a homerun by a mile
As he does a lap of the square, after passing third base, he shouts to the pitcher: “hey, Pedro, find that, I’ll sign it too.”
More than for his results, for fifteen long years in Major League Baseball, Pedro Ramos is remembered for one of the most mentioned anecdotes in the MLB.
“I faced Ted Williams many times throughout my career, and had been unable to him strike him out. We two had good relations. He always told me: ‘when we batsmen are getting old, you young pitchers try to pass straight by’. And I answered: ‘you’re not old, nor am I going to throw a straight, because although I throw 98 miles, you will hit it. So I’m going to throw a breaking ball, if you can get it, and if not, you’ll go to first ‘.
“I never threw my best straight ball, until that day, after I struck him out on first turn, I tried to surprise him, and I wiped the board”.
At 81, the star ex-pitcher remembers it clearly. He is the only Cuban pitcher who has hit 15 home runs in the majors, and the first who wore the emblematic uniform of the New York Yankees.
After 55 years of absence, he has returned to Cuba to be reunited with his memories. He has almost no remaining relatives here, but nostalgia has prompted him to return. “I wanted to see my people and my land. No matter the years you live away from it, one always yearns for the place where he was born,” he says.
It began, as most players of his era, playing on scrubland, with balls made with a stone, lined with wire for stringing tobacco.
“I liked playing baseball since childhood, I used to bunk off to play.”
At that time, after school, Peter had to sell cigarettes and coffee in a little box, to help the house income, in El Corojo, in the Pinar del Rio municipality of San Luis. As he grew older, he had to work in the field, but whenever he had a free moment, he would escape and began practicing.
When he was about 12 or 13 years old, he joined his first team, the Club Valdes El Corojo, and then he played in other local selections, until in 1953 a scout discovered him and took him to play the United States.
In his first season in the Minor Leagues, he did not fare well, but the next year he won twenty games and this earned him an invitation to participate in the MLB spring training.
“In a game against Cincinnati, with the bases loaded and losing by more than 10 runs, they put me out to pitch. I struck out two batters and the third hit a foul fly to first base.
“When I finished the innings, people started clapping. At that stage I still didn’t speak English, I didn’t know not know against who we were playing, so when I got back to the bank I asked what had happened to Camilo Pascual, who had been there longer, and he said that those men whom I had dominated hit more than 40 home runs every year”.
That performance earned him a contract with the Washington Senators in the highest level of baseball. He stayed with the team for seven seasons. After that he played with the Cleveland Indians for three years and in September 1964 went to the New York Yankees. For Ramos, that was one of the most important moments of his career.
“I was a starter, but the Yankees needed me to close. They were in a very difficult situation, because they had to win every game in order to rank, and I helped them do it.
“In 22 innings I struck out 21 men, I didn’t give bases for bowls, I saved 8 sets and won one. It was an almost perfect performance that helped the Yankees remain champions and they went on to talk fight at the World Series. “
Despite being a key player, Pedro could not accompany them. His passage from Cleveland to New York was finalised on September 5, and the regulation provided that anyone who was not on the roster of the team the first day, could not attend the World Series. In the next two years, he saved 32 games for the Yankees, however, an elbow injury, due to overwork, when playing in Puerto Rico’s league, marked the decline of his career.
From the New York club he went to Philadelphia, to Cincinnati, Pittsburg, and concluded his performance in the MLB in 1970 with the Washington Senators, the same team with whom he had made his debut fifteen years ago.
If he was in the MLB, why did he have to participate in other leagues when the season ended? Did he need money?
All Latinos who played in the big leagues did it. I came to have years of pitching more than 500 innings, and that’s a lot, but I cannot say that what drove my heart was money. I wanted to play and get better.
In addition to his 98 mph fastball, Pedro Ramos stood out because of the speed of his legs.
Is it true that once challenged Mickey Mantle to a race?
I challenged everyone to a race. Our catcher was the promoter. He challenged players from other teams and made bets. He said I have my horse, my horse will beat you.
I never lost. The most emotional race was against Roberto Clemente around the grounds, which is about 440 yards.
I never got to face Mickey Mantel. Once, when he was with Cleveland, he said he wanted to run with me and that we should bet $1,000. But I did not earn much money and as I could lose, I told the manager of the team.
He advised me to tell Mikey that he bet 2000 he on my legs, and I did, but he recanted.
Later, when I came to the Yankees, I asked him why he had not wanted to run, and I replied that first he did not need to earn 2000 dollars, he could lose his reputation if I defeated him, and that could have hurt and cut his career short. Reasons enough, right?
You are the only Cuban pitcher who has hit 15 home runs in the majors. Do you like pitchers batting or do you prefer someone designated?
Ever since childhood I liked batting. If they did not bat I wouldn’t play, or I took the ball. I think that if the pitcher doesn’t bat it takes the essence out of the game. I would like baseball to go back to its original state. There are nine men and the nine bat.
Have you been aware of Cuban baseball in all this time?
I met the teams that went to play in Nicaragua or Colombia, when I was coaching there. And now I follow it on television, on the International Cubavisión channel.
I like to see Moinelo’s left handed pitching and I love Yosvany Torres. He has great character and is very confident in himself.
Unlike you, who was noted for his speed, Torres is a slow pitcher, he doesn’t hit 90 mph.
To get outs you don’t have to throw at 100 miles, you have to be smart.
Would you have liked to be part of the Cuban team in Olympic Games or world championships?
Whenever I went to the Caribbean Series representing Cuba I liked it. We all wanted to win and do well, so I think I would have also liked to represent the country in those other competitions.
Do you feel the same when you play for a club as you do when play for your country?
No, it is not the same. When you go abroad, representing your country, your heart throbs a little faster. It’s nice, and I know I’m not the only one who thinks so.