This day in baseball history — The Cuban Cowboy returns to the Senators

On March 30, 1970, the Washington Senators signed Pedro Ramos. He had been released by Cincinnati the previous fall.

For Ramos, it marked a return to the city where he started his major league career in 1955. The city, but not the team. The original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season. Ramos went with them. He pitched for the Twins in 1961 — in fact, he pitched their very first game, a shutout win over the New York Yankees — and was then dealt to Cleveland.

Ramos was one of two competent pitchers for the Senators in the late 1950s. The other was Camilo Pascual, his fellow Cuban.

Pascual developed into a good pitcher and then an outstanding one. Ramos was never more than competent except for a magical month with the New York Yankees in 1964 (described below).

Ramos stood out for two things — his flamboyance and the home runs he allowed. Adopting a “Cuban Cowboy” persona, Ramos loved to dress up in full cowboy suits, six shooters included.

The guns weren’t just for show. According to Sonny Siebert, a teammates of Ramos’s in Cleveland, the Cuban Cowboy’s only known marriage (to a Cuban beauty queen) ended when he shot up the family television in a dispute over his wife’s program choices.

Ramos was anti-Castro. In 1960, he talked of enlisting to invade Cuba. He wisely backed off, however, saying “I’m a ball player, not a fighter.”

Ramos might have said he’s a lover, not a fighter. The Cuban Cowboy was quite the ladies’ man.

Opposing managers knew how to get under Ramos’s skin, and none knew better than Paul Richards of the Baltimore Orioles. Richards was convinced that Ramos doctored the baseball. Ramos denied the accusation, saying it was his “Cuban palm ball” that moved so erratically.

Richards persisted and one night he persuaded the home plate umpire to visit the mound to investigate. As a result of the inspection, Bill McKinley ejected Ramos.

The next time Ramos pitched, he vowed to strip if the umpire came to the mound. He might have done it, too.

Ramos was proud of his foot speed. He repeatedly challenged Mickey Mantle to a race. The Mick declined, a wise decision considering his ailing knees and the no-win situation such a race would have amounted to for him.

The great Richie Ashburn accepted Ramos’s challenge during spring training in 1959. Ramos outran him by a goodly distance. Ashburn was 32 years old at the time, but had stolen 30 bases in 42 attempts the year before.

Ramos was 2 for 4 lifetime in stolen bases.

Ramos sure gave up a lot of home runs. A 1981 study found that, on a per inning basis, Ramos gave up more round trippers than any pitcher in big league history.

The problem, his SABR biography speculates, was that, true to his gunslinger image, Ramos loved to challenge the game’s best hitters. Maybe he should have relied more on his Cuban palm ball.

It was the game’s best hitter at the time who smashed the most famous home run Ramos ever allowed. Facing Ramos on May 30, 1955, Mickey Mantle came within inches of being the first player to hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium.

Mantle would later recall that “Pedro Ramos always carried a gun and he and Camilo Pascual would laugh and rag each other about who gave up the longest home runs to me.”

Ramos also liked to challenge Ted Williams. Legend has it that, after striking out Williams, a young Ramos rolled the ball into the Washington dugout for safekeeping. After the game, Ramos asked Williams to sign the ball. According to the version of the story told by Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell, Williams exploded in anger, but then said “All right, give me the goddamn ball and I’ll sign it.”

A few weeks later, Williams launched a long home run off of Ramos. Rounding first Williams supposedly shouted at the young Cuban, “I’ll sign that son of a bitch too if you can ever find it!”

Ironically, Williams was the manager of the Washington Senators when they signed Ramos in March 1970. The Cuban Cowboy had nothing left, however. He made only four appearances, all in relief, allowing seven earned runs in eight and one-third innings.

Ramos was finished as a major leaguer. However, he wasn’t through pitching professionally. There were stints in the minor league with Richmond, Savannah, and Tidewater, followed by several years in the Mexican League. Ramos finally retired from baseball after the 1975 season.

Ramos’s post-baseball career was marred by drug and gun-related criminal convictions. At first, he received lenient sentences. However, his fourth conviction, for speeding, drunken driving, and carrying a concealed weapon, earned him three years in a Miami penitentiary.

In between brushes with the law, Ramos was a cigar manufacturer. He produced a brand of Honduran cigars in a small factory in Nicaragua, of which he was part owner and on-duty quality-control supervisor.

A writer who visited the factory in the 1990s reported that Ramos still carried a pistol and bragged about people he had shot. Apparently, little is known about Ramos’s life and times in this century. As far as I can tell, he’s still alive. If so, he’s about to turn 85.

Ramos’s lifetime pitching record is 117-160, with an ERA of 4.08. The won-loss record is a bit deceiving, given the teams Ramos pitched for. In his prime, 1958-1965, Ramos was an average-quality major league pitcher.

However, Ramos rose above mediocrity in September 1964. In the midst of a wild three-way pennant race, the Yankees obtained Ramos from Cleveland on September 5 for $75,000 and two players to be named later (Ralph Terry and Bud Daily, as it turned out). Ramos proceeded to save 8 games, with a 1.25 ERA. He struck out 21 batters in 22 innings and didn’t yield a walk.

He gave up only one home run. It was against the Senators, of all teams, to Don Zimmer, of all people.

The Yankees won the pennant, finishing one game ahead of Chicago and two ahead of Baltimore. Unfortunately, as a September pickup, Ramos was disqualified from pitching in the World Series.

That stage would not have been too big for the Cuban Cowboy.

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