SABR

Diego Segui

This article was written by Joanne Hulbert.

On October 16, 1975 in the eighth inning of Game Five of the World Series, the Red Sox trailed the Reds 5 to 1. In the bottom of the eighth, Dick Pole walked Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. Diego Segui, one of Boston's two Cuban pitchers, replaced him and inherited a tough situation with two men on, no outs, George Foster advancing to the plate, and a crowd of 50,000 not satisfied with the comfortable lead. Later, Dick Pole was asked what he thought about while out there during the few minutes of his World Series mound appearance. He said it was exactly what he didn't want to have happen, and he'd have to live with that memory.

No one asked Diego Segui about his own performance, how Foster, a formidable hitter during the regular season, hit a fly out to Dwight Evans, with Bench moving over to third and Perez waiting it out on first, and Dave Concepcion drove home Bench with his own fly to Evans, and Cesar Geronimo flew out to Fred Lynn to end the inning.

Yet there is little glory in it for the relief pitcher. Their brief mound appearances provide scant inspiration to reporters prowling for after-game stories. Diego Segui had traveled a long way in major league baseball before he found himself on the mound in his only World Series appearance, and yet there is a great story to be told about him.

Born August 17, 1937 -- or 1938 by other reports -- in Holguin, Cuba, "la tierra de campeones," Diego Segui was first signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent early in 1958 after he was discovered by scout Al Zarilla while playing for Tucson's independent club. Released in April, Diego played for Tucson that year and was purchased at the end of September by the Kansas City Athletics. The next four seasons he pitched for minor league clubs and spent winters with teams around Central America and Venezuela, prompting concern that he would squander his pitching arm on meaningless games, instead of saving it for the major leagues, but he considered the off-season an opportunity to stay in shape. When Fidel Castro cancelled the Cuban Winter League season in 1961, players were confronted with a choice between returning to Cuba and joining amateur leagues or professional baseball outside their homeland. Among the notable players who did not return were Tony Oliva, Jose Cardenal, Cookie Rojas, and Frank Herrera.

In 1960, U. S. players had been barred from playing in games in Havana where the Winter League had long attracted many major league prospects. Cuban sports commissioner Jose Llanura struck the final blow in 1961 when he announced that any Cuban player who failed to return to Cuba by the end of November would lose all his property and be required to have their 1962 contracts in order to receive a visa. Among those who chose to remain outside Cuba and pursue their major league aspirations were Luis Tiant with the Mexico City Tigers and Diego Segui, the ERA leader for Hawaii of the Pacific League.

Segui worked his way through the Athletics minor league system until the 1962 season when he joined the Kansas City Athletics, finishing 8-5 in 37 games. After three more years as a starting pitcher for a dreadful team, Segui was sold to the Washington Senators as the 1966 season got underway and was reacquired by the Athletics (for pitcher Jim Duckworth) on July 30 of the same season. At the time of the latter deal he was pitching in the minors, and he finished the season for Vancouver, the A's Pacific Coast League affiliate. He spent most of the 1967 and 1968 seasons with the Athletics, who moved to Oakland for the 1968 season.

Segui's best year on the mound was with the Seattle Pilots, the 1969 expansion team made famous by Jim Bouton in Ball Four. Finley had good reason to regret giving up Segui -- believing the A's would have won the American League West division if he'd kept him on -- as Segui was named Seattle's most valuable player. He spent most of the season trying to get him back. When the Pilots folded and the team moved on to Milwaukee, Segui returned to Oakland for the third time. Seattle would not forget him.

Diego Pablo Segui
You're not what you're s'posed to be
Instead of the raves
From the A's for your saves,
It's your starts which have caused all the glee.

-- The Sporting News, August 15, 1970.

The Athletics reacquired Segui (with Ray Oyler) for George Lauzerique and Ted Kubiak in December 1969. The A's intended to turn him into their primary right-handed reliever, but his fine performance earned him 19 starts among his 47 games pitched. His repertoire of pitches and mound quirks exasperated batters and umpires. He took his time, rubbed the ball between each pitch, and defended himself against allegations of using a spitball when he blew on his hands. He took leisurely strolls around the edge of the mound while blowing through his right fist, and re-arranged the dirt in front of the pitcher's rubber with his right foot. At times he paused between pitches by standing still, staring at the outfield while working on the ball, in deep contemplation as tension at home plate rose to an unnerving level.

Joe Garagiola criticized his pitching performance before the 1975 World Series and described Segui's delivery as "like spreading ether over the ballpark," prompting the outraged pitcher to confront Garagiola before Game Five and attempt to get an apology out of him for the insult. His teams put up with his rituals, as they valued his work ethic and variety of pitches. He never complained whether he was a reliever or a starter, or called in for only part of an inning. And he could throw a very decent forkball. "It acts like a screwie," Segui attempted to explain. "It drops and sometimes acts like a screw-ball -- sometimes."

He learned to throw the elusive forkball at a farm in Cuba, where a left-handed pitcher from a semi-pro team taught him to throw the traditional southpaw pitch. In a Cuban cow pasture he perfected his signature pitch, called the "tenedor." But was Segui's forkball truly a forkball? Or was it really a Pedro Ramos "Cuban forkball", a pitch that was suspected as a spitball? After all, the doubters hinted, he spent such a long time working over the ball before the windup. Such an accusation was vehemently denied by Diego.

"Definitely not!" he said, "maybe it reacts a little like a spitter, but it isn't."

After two-and-a-half fine seasons in Oakland, on June 7, 1972, the A's sent Segui to the Cardinals for future considerations. Segui played the next year and a half for St. Louis.

On December 7, 1973, the Red Sox traded pitcher John Curtis, Mike Garman, and Lynn McGlothen to St. Louis for Segui, Reggie Cleveland and Terry Hughes. The Red Sox were in dire need of some bullpen help, and asked those in the know around the National League who were the best right-handed relievers. Segui's name came up frequently enough to corroborate the scouting report from Haywood Sullivan and Frank Malzone.

Although many within the Red Sox organization looked forward to his arrival in the bullpen, Diego Segui wondered. As the MVP of the Pilots in 1969, an ERA leader in the American League in 1970, and owning respectable stats overall, why was he trade material year after year? In a March, 1974 interview with Boston Globe reporter Clif Keane during spring training at Winter Haven, Segui said:

"I sit and wonder each time that I have been traded, have I done something wrong? Did I not get along with the people? Why don't they like me, so that I have to go from one team to another so much? If you are confused about it, "he said, "you can say that I am more confused than anyone else."

Segui pitched regularly early in the season with great success. By early June he developed calluses on two fingers of his throwing hand, causing a control problem that would nag him until late August. An epidemic of bumps, bruises and sore shoulders swept through Boston's bullpen forcing the starters into leading the league in complete games. In early September, he lost a couple of crucial games in late innings and ended up the season with a 6-8 record and 10 saves. Nevertheless, Darrell Johnson expressed confidence in Segui's ability to come back in 1975 in good condition.

Segui returned to the Boston roster for the 1975 season with his place in the bullpen assured. Confident that his pitching would be solid; there was no need to worry. Without comment nor complaint he resumed his role as a short reliever, willing to pitch anytime, anywhere he was needed. When Luis Tiant's shoulder came up lame in July, Segui was ready to jump in as a starter, a role he had not played since May, 1972. It was July 29, and Diego lost a complete game, 4-0, to Milwaukee's Jim Colborn. "He [Segui] pitched a hell of a game," said Darrell Johnson. He gave up 10 hits, but struck out 11. Three solo home runs, two to Don Money and one to Darrell Porter, were the key blows.

Throughout the 1975 season, the Red Sox pitchers kept everyone on edge. Bill Lee and Diego Segui didn't want the paying customers to be bored, wrote Peter Gammons in the Boston Globe. Yet, the hitting, fielding and pitching brought the team to an American League pennant as well as the World Series, and Diego Segui made his one and only appearance on the mound at the World Series in the eighth inning of Game Five.

Just prior to the start of the 1976 season, Segui was released. He enjoyed the two years he played in Boston, according to Luis Tiant. "He is like a brother to me," he said. "We still call each other all the time, our wives are still very good friends."

He was not picked up by another major league team and instead signed on with the Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League. In September, he was suspended by the club after a legal entanglement over money he claimed was owed him. When the newly-formed Seattle Mariners began organizing their roster, Diego Segui's memorable year with the Pilots was recalled, and he not only made the team, he was anointed the opening day starter. On April 5, 1977, Segui faced the Angels with a crowd of over 57, 000 in the Kingdome loudly applauding his return to Seattle. The win was not to be his, the Angels shut out the Mariners in their inaugural game, 7-0.

Over and over, Segui tried but could not get his pitches to sing again for him. His arm, that arm that he once called "the funniest one in the world" was not giving him much to smile about. He finished the 1977 season without a victory, but with seven defeats and an ERA of 5.69. He had some good moments that year, like when he struck out 10 Red Sox, a record that stayed on the Mariner's books for a long time. He tried so hard to make his famous forkball work, but it remained incorrigible, and his year with the Mariners had an unfortunate ending when he was released. After 20 years in professional baseball, he was without a job. He wanted to continue the work he had spent most of his life practicing, and since he had a family to provide for, he returned again to the minor leagues with the hope he could work his way back.

In 1978 he had a very successful year with Cordoba, Mexico, where, in his 21st year of professional pitching he achieved the first no-hitter of his long career and did it, no less, with a perfect game. Diego Segui would not have any more major league service, but there was another Segui working his way up. His second son, David, was showing interest and talent in baseball. He became a first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles in 1990. A part of Diego Segui had returned to major league baseball.

There are baseball players who earn fame from their statistics, for achieving great things on the field, and they can leave their mark upon sports history in any number of ways. Diego Segui has done so. Other players may be merely a footnote, or notable as an answer to some obscure baseball trivia question. Diego Segui can claim that as well. In 1984, when the crew of the space shuttle Discovery was circling Earth, the ground crew at the Johnson Space Center in Houston made baseball trivia a routine part of the program in order to keep the astronauts' minds sharp with something to ponder other than keeping the shuttle aloft. Reporters at NBC Sports in New York also had a hand in feeding questions to the shuttle crew, and they all sent questions they were sure would stump them. When the astronauts returned, they cornered George Abbey, director of the flight crew operations, their baseball trivia nemesis -- and a native of Seattle -- and challenged him with their own question. Who was the only man ever to play for both the Seattle Pilots and the Seattle Mariners?

"I told him it was Gorman Thomas," said Abbey. "In fact, I insisted that it was Gorman. But now I'm not so sure it wasn't Diego Segui."

Note

A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.

Sources

The Baseball Encyclopedia. Ninth Edition. Macmillan Publishing, 1993.

Bergman, Ron. "Reliever Segui Saving A's With Slick Starting Jobs." The Sporting News, August 15, 1970.

Gammons, Peter. "Bosox Feel Secure With Segui in Relief. The Sporting News, March 16, 1974.

Gammons, Peter. "Segui, Garagiola in Heated Exchange." Boston Globe, October 19, 1975.

Box Score, Game Five, World Series. Boston Globe, October 19, 1975.

Kachline, Clifford. "Cuban Standouts Shun Own Land, Play Elsewhere." The Sporting News, November 29, 1961.

Keane, Clif. "Wise, Segui Ponder Reasons for Trade," Boston Evening Globe, March 6, 1974.

Keane, Clif. "Red Sox, you ask?" Boston Sunday Globe, March 17, 1974.

McCoy, Bob. "Baseball Trivia in Space." The Sporting News, September 17, 1984.

National Baseball Hall of Fame File, Diego Segui.

Red Sox Notebook. "Tiant's Sore Shoulder Gave Segui the Start," Boston Globe, July 30, 1975.

The Sporting News:

December 13, 1961
September 7, 1968
"Roster Packing Hassle Big Jolt to Merged Loop" (January 24, 1962)
"Can Bolin Polish Pilot Swap Image?" (January 3, 1970)
"Reliever Segui Saving A's With Slick Starting Jobs" (August 15, 1970)

Tiant, Luis. Interview by author, July 15, 2005.

Zimmerman, Hy. "Can Bolin Polish Pilot Swap Image?" The Sporting News, January 3, 1970.

Zimmerman, Hy. "So Long to Ancient Mariner." The Sporting News, November 19. 1977.

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