SABR

Fausto Miranda

This article was written by Rory Costello.

Fausto Miranda was the dean of Cuban sportswriters. Miranda’s writing showed just how elegant the Spanish language can be. Yale University professor Roberto González Echevarría, author of the Cuban baseball history The Pride of Havana, said, “He was a journalist who wrote with vigor, grace and agility.”i Baseball, as Cuba’s national sport, naturally accounted for much of Miranda’s output. He was also known for his coverage of boxing and other sports, however, as well as non-sporting subjects.

Miranda’s accumulated wisdom underlay his skill as a writer. Felo Ramírez, a fellow Cuban and longtime voice of the Miami Marlins, called Miranda “an all-time pillar of Cuban sports journalism with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball.”ii One tribute after Miranda’s death led with the Spanish line, “Vamos a ver que dice Fausto” – “Let’s see what Fausto has to say.” Val Prieto, founding editor of Babalú Blog, explained, “That’s what my grandfather would say whenever a sporting event or story needed clarification or explanation.”iii

Fausto Teodoro Miranda Pérez was born on July 4, 1914, in Central Chaparra, Cuba. A central, in Cuba’s now-distant past, was a giant sugar mill complex. The operations were linked with other plantations by rail. Miranda’s father, Teodoro “Pilo” Miranda, was a railroad engineer who had studied for a time in the United States. After his return to Cuba, he was put in charge of small train stations in Oriente, the easternmost of the nation’s former six provinces. The main business was loading operations for the sugar mills. Central Chaparra was near the city of Puerto Padre, which today is in Las Tunas province. The family later lived in Velasco, a very small town in what is today Holguín province.

Fausto was the eldest of seven children born to Pilo Miranda and his wife, Isolina Pérez. Isolina was a local girl who stayed at home with the children after marriage. A sister named Aïda came after Fausto, followed by Teodoro Jr. (“Puri”) and Irma. The fifth child – Guillermo “Willy” Miranda – epitomized the “good field, no hit” shortstop in Cuba and the major leagues during the 1940s and ’50s. The youngest brother, Raúl (1929-1985), was also a noted sportswriter. Last was another girl named Isolina (“Chicha”).

Miranda called himself a “very bad athlete. . . very bad in everything.” As a young man, he dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but he could not afford the tuition for law school. Instead, he worked in the sugar industry as a stevedore and weigher for just 30 pesos a month, equal to US$30.iv During his lifetime in Cuba and in exile, Miranda held a wide array of jobs: street vendor, prison guard, trumpeter, orchestra manager, doorman, cleaning person, music critic, social chronicler, and political reporter.v

Despite his lack of athletic skill, Miranda had a passion for the world of sports and enjoyed participating. He found his true calling, however, before the age of 20. While working as a scorekeeper, one day he passed his notes on to a journalist named Emiliano Espinosa. Espinosa wrote for Diario de Cuba, one of the country’s major newspapers, serving the eastern city of Santiago. The next day, the article on the baseball game that appeared in the Diario was signed by ‘Fausto Miranda, Special Correspondent.’ Years later, he recalled, “The night the newspaper came out and I saw the article with my name, I did not sleep.”vi

Miranda moved to Cuba’s capital city, La Habana, in 1933. He started writing a column called “Stardust,” which soon brought him further writing assignments for the newspapers El Crisol, Información, Diario de la Marina, and Alerta. He also became a sports commentator for Havana’s Radio COCO.vii

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues on April 15, 1947, Miranda was in attendance at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.viii The Dodgers had held spring training in Havana that year. That spring Miranda also got to go to Yankee Stadium, home of the team that he and his brother Willy loved growing up. “It was like an arrow shot,” he recalled in 2002. “I had to pinch myself to realize that it wasn’t a dream.”ix He returned there to see the World Series in 1953, at the invitation of Willy, who was backing up Phil Rizzuto at shortstop for the Yankees. Their father was also on hand, but Willy did not get into any of the six games.

The Cuban humorist Guillermo Álvarez Guedes said, “Fausto Miranda is a journalist of extreme versatility, as much in the costumbrista article as in sporting chronicles.”x Costumbrismo, in Hispanic writing, is the interpretation of local everyday life and customs. One fine example came in the October 1950 edition of the Cuban magazine Bohemia. It was an article called “The Great Tragedy of Buying a Jalopy.” Author Richard Schweid quoted an especially graceful passage in his book Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile. “Fausto Miranda wrote about a secondhand car market filled with unscrupulous hucksters, and he described the situation of their prey.

“‘When a small business, or good job, liberates an individual from worry and doubt, when a person arrives at that happy moment of economic independence in which there is a guaranteed three or four hundred dollars in the bank each month after filling the refrigerator, that is when one begins to get interested in buying a car. The bus, full to bursting, a torture, it makes a person desperate. The friend who lives at the corner does not have the problem: he bought a car. Why not do the same? . . . The alleged victim, the future car owner, has been bitten by this cruel microbe.’”xi

If they paid very close attention, U.S. readers caught glimpses of Miranda’s name in The Sporting News during the 1950s. When J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher of The Sporting News, visited Cuba in December 1951, he got a warm reception from the local press. In Alerta, Miranda wrote that Spink “should be given a big hand for his help to Cuban baseball.” Indeed, Spink’s paper provided a wealth of information on the sport across Latin America.xii

Miranda was part of a four-man special committee of sportswriters that selected the Cuban Winter League’s players of the year. For example, after the 1952-53 season, they chose Orestes ”Minnie” Miñoso as top veteran and José Miguel ”Mike” Fornieles as top rookie.xiii Miranda and Miñoso formed an ongoing association. In January 1957, as part of an homage to Miñoso at Havana’s Gran Stadium, Miranda presented the player with a plaque for winning Alerta’s popularity contest.xiv In September 1959, Miranda flew up to New York to present Miñoso (then with the Cleveland Indians) with a Cuban flag as part of honors organized by Cuban newspapermen in New York. (Miñoso was put out, however, that the ceremony had to be held in the visitors’ locker room because the Yankees would not allow it to take place at home plate.)xv Over three decades later, when Miñoso published his 1994 memoir Just Call Me Minnie, Miranda contributed a page’s worth of his memories.

When Fidel Castro came to power in January 1959, Miranda was president of the Cuban Sports Writers Association. He still held that position as of March 1960, though by then his outlet was a former underground paper, Revolución (which was using the premises and equipment of Alerta after the Castro government seized them).xvi Miranda made the U.S. news late that month after Lee MacPhail, then president of the Baltimore Orioles, decided to cancel a three-game exhibition series in Havana between Baltimore and the Cincinnati Reds. (Earlier that month, brother Willy had parted ways with the Orioles after five seasons with them.) Fausto “personally talked to Baltimore players in Miami and all wanted to play in Havana – except catcher Gus Triandos.” According to Miranda, Triandos (who had formerly played with the Almendares team in the Cuban winter league) “left hanging some private problems here which presumably he did not want to be called upon to answer.”xvii

The Associated Press story then went on to quote Miranda about the official protest that his association wired to MacPhail. It said, “Sports writers in Cuba find it difficult to understand how any big league club could have as president a man whose capabilities are so negative. Your decision against bringing Baltimore here to play is an attack on our baseball that we censure forcefully.”xviii

Cuban baseball was also under stress from within. The 1960-61 season was the last for Cuban professional ball. The Castro regime also closed down the Sports Writers Association, though that was just one facet of a broader picture. As one scholarly paper put it, “In those days, a moralist movement took place. . . this process put an end to journalism as business, to news as merchandise, to sensationalism, advertising, social sections and sections devoted to crime and violence, bedroom gossip and frivolities, the worship and corruption of professional sports.”xix

In The Pride of Havana, Roberto González Echevarría quoted a September 1960 story of Miranda’s in Revolución about how that last Cuban pro season was to feature only Cuban players. The point was that not all of the U.S. visiting players were class acts – “there was a large number of drunkards and malingerers who had to be sent home in midseason.” In the foreword to his history, González Echevarría called Miranda “a mine of information and a gracious host.”xx

Miranda left his homeland for the United States in June 1961, never to return. Willy Miranda Jr. said, “He came to the U.S. supposedly to report on a boxing match; he never returned because he felt the paper would never give him another permit to come to the States because the government knew that his wife and girls were in New York and he would never go back to Cuba. He gave his word of honor that he would return to the island – in later years he said to the family it was the first time he ever broke his word.”xxi

One article shortly after his death discussed Fausto’s dream of setting foot once more on his native soil – along with his recognition that it wouldn’t happen. He said, “I would not like to return to a country without liberty.”xxii If he had been able to return, what he wanted to see more than anything else was a sugarcane plantation. “Don’t forget that I was born in Central Chaparra,” he said in 2002.xxiii

Miranda took up residence in New York City, “where he once again started off by taking on a simple job as doorman before entering American sports journalism. He reported from the American sports world for a wide variety of national and international media. He wrote for the newspaper La Prensa, the Gesto magazine as well as the French news agency AFP. He also broadcast for the radio stations Canal 47 and Radio X.”xxiv

In 1975, Miranda moved to Miami, where so many other Cuban expatriates had made their home. There he founded the sports section of El Miami Herald, predecessor of El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language version of the Miami Herald. Among the credentials he displayed to gain employment were photos of himself with Joe Louis, Stan Musial, and Jackie Robinson. In Miami he also worked as a radio sports commentator for WQBA-La Cubanísima.xxv

The sense of loss with regard to Cuba was profound for Miranda and his fellow expats. An interesting indication of this came in November 1982. In his regular syndicated column, “Young Ideas,” New York sportswriter Dick Young wrote, “I thought another Central American revolution was going to break out during the press gathering when Pedro Montalván, president of Nicaragua’s Boxing Commission, presented a scroll to [Alexis] Argüello that said ‘the greatest glory of Nicaraguan boxing.’ Newsman Fausto Miranda suggested it might be more appropriate for Nicaragua to give back to Argüello the home, cars and bank accounts that the Sandinista government seized four years ago when Alexis fled the country. Shouting filled the room. Alexis sat there and smiled.”xxvi

Miranda became known in particular for a series of weekly columns known as “Los viejos.” The retrospectives were “pure Cuban nostalgia,” as Miranda put it himself. “It’s something I write with total spontaneity.”xxvii They all began with the phrase, “Usted es viejo, pero viejo de verdad, si. . .” – which means, “You are old, but truly old, if. . .” Many touched on the exploits of the great baseball heroes of Cuba’s past.

The popularity Miranda gained was so great that even after his retirement in 1995, he continued to publish these pieces. His writing helped the Cuban-American community to keep memories of their native land alive – “the most beautiful land human eyes ever beheld,” as he wrote in his column of February 1, 2003.

In April 1996, the Florida Marlins paid tribute to Miranda, his long career, and in particular his dedication to baseball. The club gave Miranda a crystal ball at Joe Robbie Stadium; his wife Hilda was also on hand. The presenter was the Marlins’ Cuban-born director of international relations, Tany Pérez – the former Cincinnati Reds star known to fans in the U.S. as Tony.xxviii

A few years previously, in October 1992, the Reds had hired Pérez to be their manager for the 1993 season. Not long before, the Marlins, then a new expansion team, had named René Lachemann as their first skipper. They drew criticism in some quarters for not choosing a Latino for the position, in view of South Florida’s big Hispanic fan base. Miranda had this prophetic remark: “There are a lot of fans here who would have liked to see a Latin at the helm. But I think that in the long run we’ll see more Latins (managers in the majors).”xxix

In 1997, the Federation of Professional Cuban Baseball Players in Exile held the third phase of elections to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. A wide array of notable players, executives, broadcasters, and other figures was inducted. Among them were four writers, including Miranda.

Wilfredo Cancio Isla, a friend and colleague at El Nuevo Herald, interviewed Miranda in July 2002. The article called Miranda a legend and the living memory of an era. Fausto talked about the great boxers he had seen, such as the stylish Cuban champ, Kid Chocolate. He called Joe Louis a giant of the heavyweight class and viewed him as superior to Muhammad Ali. Of primary interest to baseball fans, though, was Miranda’s opinion on the players whom he admired most. He named Joe DiMaggio and Martín Dihigo. “DiMaggio was class. There are no longer people like that in baseball. One could never forget Dihigo; he was a man with total skill for baseball, as pitcher, batter and manager. Never again will someone like him arise.”xxx

In December 2002, Miranda lost his wife of 51 years, Hilda del Pozo. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.xxxi Only five months before, Miranda had reminisced about proposing marriage to her in 1939 in front of the American Club in Havana.xxxii

The widower lived another three-plus years. At 10:15 PM on May 9, 2006, Fausto Miranda died in his home in southwest Miami at the age of 91. The cause was a heart attack.xxxiii In 1984, he’d had a pacemaker implanted; he had survived a previous attack in 1994.xxxiv His health had been in decline because of various episodes of cardiac and respiratory trouble, which had landed him in intensive care in November 2005.xxxv Miranda was survived by his daughters, Isabel and Vilma, as well as two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

As one might have expected, the news made the front page of El Nuevo Herald, and various salutes came forth. One was from Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Havana-born Congresswoman representing the 18th District of Florida. On May 18, 2006, she gave a memorial address before the U.S. House of Representatives. Based largely on the obituary in El Nuevo Herald by Wilfredo Cancio Isla, “Honoring Fausto Miranda” was a fitting recap to the journalist’s life and career. She spoke for many of her constituents when she said, “Miami and the Cuban people grieve in the face of this loss.”xxxvi

Acknowledgment to Wilfredo Cancio Isla for his work, which formed the backbone of this story. Continued thanks to Willy Miranda Jr.

 

Notes

i Wilfredo Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda,” El Nuevo Herald (Miami, Florida), May 11, 2006, 1A.

ii Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

iii Val Prieto, “Vamos a ver que dice Fausto,” Babalú Blog, May 11, 2006 (http://www.babalublog.com/archives/003310.html)

iv The Cuban peso was pegged at parity with the U.S. dollar from 1881 through 1960.

v Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

vi Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

vii Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

viii Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

ix Wilfredo Cancio Isla, “Fausto Miranda, Leyenda y Memoria Viva de Una Época,” El Nuevo Herald, July 7, 2002, 8A.

x Cancio Isla, “Fausto Miranda, Leyenda y Memoria Viva de Una Época”

xi Richard Schweid, Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, 101-102. Miranda’s original article: “La Gran Tragedia de Comprar un Cacharro,” Bohemia, October 1, 1950, 40-42.

xii “Publisher’s Visit to Cuba Hailed by Havana Press,” The Sporting News, January 9, 1952, 12.

xiii Pedro Galiana, “Minoso, Fornieles Players of Year in Cuban Winter Ball,” The Sporting News, January 21, 1953, 24.

xiv Máximo Sánchez, “Minoso Gets Most Popular Player Award on His ‘Night’,” The Sporting News, January 30, 1957, 26.

xv Jerry Holtzman, “Minnie Mad – Yankees Nixed Plaque Ceremony at Plate,” The Sporting News, September 23, 1959, 32.

xvi Samuel Farber, Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959, Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books, 2011, 14.

xvii “Oriole Action Angers Cuba,” Associated Press, March 29, 1960.

xviii “Oriole Action Angers Cuba”

xix Juan Marrero, Ernesto Vera and Robert Pavón, “Journalism in the Cuban Revolution.” This paper was presented at an International History Encounter held on November 25, 2004, at the Cuban History Institute. It may be found on the Cubaperiodistas website (http://www.cubaperiodistas.cu/prensa/periodismo_revolucion_eng.html)

xx Roberto González Echevarría, The Pride of Havana, New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 346, x.

xxi E-mail from Willy Miranda Jr. to Rory Costello, November 17, 2012.

xxii “Fausto Miranda No Pudo Lograr Su Sueño de Volver a Pisar Suelo Cubano,” El Nuevo Herald, May 13, 2006, 4A.

xxiii Cancio Isla, “Fausto Miranda, Leyenda y Memoria Viva de Una Época”

xxiv Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

xxv Cancio Isla, “Fallece Fausto Miranda”

xxvi Dick Young, “Ali Making Plans for Fund-Raising Tour,” November 13, 1982.

xxvii Cancio Isla, “Fausto Miranda, Leyenda y Memoria Viva de Una Época”

xxviii “Homenaje de Marlins a Fausto Miranda,” El Nuevo Herald, April 6, 1996, 1C.

xxix Fernando Dominguez, “Minorities Gaining in Big Leagues,” Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1992.

xxxCancio Isla, “Fausto Miranda, Leyenda y Memoria Viva de Una Época”

xxxi “Fallece a los 83 Años Hilda del Pozo de Miranda,” El Nuevo Herald, December 22, 2002, 31A.

xxxii Cancio Isla, “Fausto Miranda, Leyenda y Memoria Viva de Una Época”

xxxiii Wilfredo Cancio Isla, “Adios a un Caballero del Deporte,” El Nuevo Herald, May 11, 2006, 1A.

xxxiv “Fausto Miranda Se Recupera,” El Nuevo Herald, June 20, 1984, Sports-10. “Fausto Miranda Sale del Hospital,” El Nuevo Herald, July 8, 1994, 2A.

xxxv Cancio Isla, “Adios a un Caballero del Deporte”

xxxvi Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, “Honoring Fausto Miranda,” Congressional Record, Volume 152, Issue 62, May 18, 2006.

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