By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Remembering Armando Vazquez
NEW YORK — Few will forget the lively conversations and poignant laughter of Armando VÃ¡zquez when he told his memorable stories about his native Cuba, the Negro Leagues and its celebrated figures — Hall of Famers Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson.
How many former players can say they played against so many Hall of Famers?
Armando VÃ¡zquez would have told you he saw it all from the very beginning. And, for the most part, he did.
Amazingly, even in his 80s, he remembered every detail. Like an old sage, he had made history part of his being. On March 16, VÃ¡zquez died at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 86.
His career was prolific, playing throughout the Americas. Most notably, VÃ¡zquez played with the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues. That was 60 years ago, though it seemed like yesterday to him.
He also played with the Indianapolis Clowns, Havana la Palomas, Brandon Greys and in the Mexican League. The reason he came to the United States, he would admit, was to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero, the legendary Dihigo.
With the integration of black players into the Major Leagues came dwindling attendance at the Negro League games, making the league increasingly difficult to sustain. Sadly, it would fold.
Although other black teams continued to play into the 1950s, it wasn’t the same as their stars jumped to the Major Leagues. VÃ¡zquez would eventually travel north to Canada and play in the Canadian League with the Brandon Greys.
Finally, his career came to a close after a brief stint with the Mexico City Tigers.
As interest in the Negro Leagues revived decades after his retirement, VÃ¡zquez made himself available at a number of Negro League events throughout New York and the country.
He attended the annual Pop Lloyd Weekend in Atlantic City, N.J., which recognized the outstanding contributions of Negro League players while reaching out to Atlantic City youth.
The New York Mets could always count on VÃ¡zquez at their annual Negro Leagues Night at Shea Stadium or KeySpan Park. He was often seen, along with his dear friend Jim Robinson, who played with the Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs, signing autographs for fans in the pregame ceremony.
For close to 15 years, VÃ¡zquez was a devoted supporter of the Harlem Little League. He believed that every child should be given the opportunity to learn the game of baseball. His involvement was a testament to his dedication to a sport that had given him a place in history, even when society had not.
If you asked VÃ¡zquez his recollections of the Negro Leagues, he would slowly kick his head back and begin by saying one of his catchy monikers, “Mira Chico” or “Chacho.”
At that moment, you were pulled into his life, the 1940s, waiting to hear about the player that did something extraordinary. Every story was an event. Every analysis was a lesson. This particular time it was Josh Gibson, “The Black Babe Ruth.”
“You know Josh Gibson hit a ball so hard that when it hit the outfield wall, it ricocheted back to second base,” VÃ¡zquez said.
His laughter was full of admiration and a residue of disbelief.
“The ball came right back to me,” he said.
Did Armando VÃ¡zquez play against the finest during an era of bigotry and segregation?
VÃ¡zquez left the Negro Leagues in 1949 and played in Canada for three years. Upon returning to The States, he resumed playing with the Clowns as a first baseman. There was a young, spirited shortstop who eventually would be known for his quick wrists when hitting the long ball. VÃ¡zquez would tutor this hard-working pupil.
His name was Henry Aaron.
In 2006, VÃ¡zquez would once again travel north to Canada for his induction into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame. He proudly showed off his award, which he displayed in his apartment along with a number of citations he received throughout the years.
He traveled to Memphis, Tenn., last March to be a part of MLB’s inaugural “Civil Rights Game.” While at the game, he spoke with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, a vice president with the Padres. Winfield invited VÃ¡zquez to San Diego to take part in the team’s Negro League festivities at PETCO Park. Other invitees included Monte Irvin, Don Newcombe, Luis Tiant and Jim Robinson.
VÃ¡zquez would also be a part of a historical documentary, “The Legacy of 21,” on Roberto Clemente, created by Latino Sports Ventures and the production team of Byron Hunter, Julio Pabon and George Alverio. The documentary is being shown around the country to help promote the effort to retire Clemente’s number throughout baseball.
Upon hearing the news of VÃ¡zquez’s passing, Robinson talked about their unique friendship.
“Armando was a heck of a friend and soul to everyone,” Robinson said. “He shared his life with everyone, and for that, I’m grateful. What one can identify as a friend, he was truly one to me.”
Don Motley, the executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, would simply say what so many have already expressed about Armando VÃ¡zquez, “He was my buddy.”
VÃ¡zquez was a member of the Negro League Baseball Players Association. On the message board on their Web site, someone posted some heartfelt words dedicated to the memory of this unbelievable player and human being:
“Armando was a great family friend. He and my father played on the New York Cubans together. The one thing I remember about Armando is that when I was small and would sit in the dugout, he would sing to me between the innings. He will be missed.”