We’ve always loved lists in the sports business, and more so in the ESPN era. We can argue endlessly over Mount Rushmores. And the Michael-or-LeBron argument is so stale that, when asked for an opinion on basketball’s GOAT, the answer is, “Earl Manigault.”
Look it up.
Here’s another list to discuss, but it only goes one deep. Greatest Day in Minnesota Sports History: April 11, 1961.
That’s the day that the left side of the front page of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune carried the headline: “We’re Major Leaguers Today.”
And then came the wonder of that grand day:
Twins 6, Yankees 0, under the hallowed columns of the original Yankee Stadium, on a three-hit shutout by Pedro Ramos, outlasting future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford in a scoreless duel going into the seventh inning.
A duel in the baseball sense, although it could have been a real duel in the mind of Pistol Pete Ramos.
“Pedro walked in the clubhouse one day, in a full cowboy outfit, and with guns in two holsters,” Jim Kaat said. “He pulled a gun out and was waving it around and [outfielder] Bob Allison went nuts, telling him to put it away. Couldn’t blame Bob, because with Pedro, those guns mighta been loaded.”
I’ve wondered at times, but never pursued an answer, on why manager Cookie Lavagetto went with Ramos over Camilo Pascual to start that historic opener.
No mystery, as it turns out: The large difference in production between Pascual and Ramos occurred once the franchise moved to Minnesota, not while in Washington.
Pascual was 20 when be debuted with the Senators in April 1954. Ramos was eight days shy of 20 when be broke in with the Senators in April 1955. Their records suffered by playing for horrible teams, although Ramos established himself as a starter while Pascual struggled, often in relief.
Ramos pitched the Presidential Openers for the Senators in 1958 and 1959, winning both games. Pascual had his first outstanding season — 17-10 and 238⅔ innings — in 1959, getting him the honor for the 1960 opener, the last for the Griffith organization in Washington.
Kaat, Hall of Fame-worthy as both a pitcher and broadcaster, was a rookie with the Senators at the start of the 1960 season.
“That was President Eisenhower’s last opener,” Kaat said. “He would throw the ball from the box and we all would dive in the pile trying to come up with the ball. Clyde McCullough, one of the coaches, got out of there with it, through a lot of attempts to steal the baseball.”
Ted Williams hit a sizzling home run to center into a gale in the second inning off Pascual. “You could see Camilo get mad,” Kaat said. “He didn’t give the Red Sox anything after that, and struck out 15.”
Pascual had a shoulder problem that season and was limited to 151⅔ innings. Ramos pitched a career-high 274 innings, noble work that gave him Game 1 in 1961.
Ramos was among the Cuban ballplayers upset by what was taking place with Fidel Castro’s rise to power through revolution. Pedro had a cigar business back home that was being confiscated by the state.
Tom Briere, the baseball reporter for the Morning Tribune, demonstrated a ball writer’s knack for tying anything to the action: “Ramos, talking in spring about going home to fight with anti-Castro forces, fought the Yankees with a fastball, a curve, a slider-type slower curve and a change of pace.”
Ramos’ postgame euphoria included: “I got No. 1 today. For the first time, I think I’ll win 20. Watch me.”
The Twins were off Wednesday, rained out Thursday and next played in Baltimore on Friday. Pascual went nine and struck out 12 in a 3-2 victory.
Pascual and Ramos had been teammates not only in Washington but also in Havana, playing for Cienfuegos in the four-team winter league that started in late October.
“In the winter of 1958-59, I pitched 145 innings in Cuba, then pitched two more complete games in the Caribbean Series, then pitched maybe 30 innings in spring training, and then pitched over 230 innings for the Senators,” Pascual said. “No wonder I had shoulder problems for a lot of my career.”
How about Ramos?
“True rubber arm,” Pascual said. “Pedro could pitch every day.”
Pascual won 174 games in the big leagues. Ramos was a 20-game loser, not winner (11-20) in 1961, and was traded on Opening Day in 1962 to Cleveland for Dick Stigman and Vic Power. He had some decent moments as a reliever after that, but flamed out prematurely.
“I was Pedro’s road roommate in Washington and Minnesota,” Pascual said. “I did not see him that much.”
Jimmie Reese, Babe Ruth’s former roommate, said he roomed with The Babe’s suitcase.
“That was me,” Pascual said. “And then I roomed with Dave Boswell. Crazy kid. Pedro and Bos … I roomed with two suitcases.”
Ramos got caught up in the “Cocaine Cowboys” days of Miami, was arrested on a drug offense and spent three years in federal prison in the early 1980s.
“He lives in Nicaragua, at least for the last 10 years,” Pascual said. “Pedro visits Miami once in a while, and we get together. Many stories.”
Including some about the afternoon of April 11, 1961. “Yes,” Camilo said. “We were very proud of Pedro that day.”
As was all of Minnesota. One shining afternoon of saying, “Look out Yankees, here we come.”