By Yusseff Díaz
Today, we take a look at a Cuban legend and runner-up to the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Rolando Arrojo.
Rolando Arrojo is a Cuban baseball legend, the native of Villa Clara, Cuba was the first Cuban who played in the National Series to reach an all-star game in MLB when he accomplished that feat in 1998 with the Tampa Bay Rays. That season he was the runner for to the Rookie of Year in the American League (Ben Grieve was the actual winner).
Due to the fact that he lead all rookies in win (14), innings pitched (202) and strikeouts (152) many thought he deserved the trophy. “In 1998, I had stupendous numbers and deserved to be Rookie of the Year. Winning 14 games with an expansion franchise isn’t easy. To this day I think no one has ever done that. Being a rookie in MLB is a big challenge especially when one comes from amateur baseball. My respects to Céspedes, Abreu, the Gurriel brothers, and all the others who have made the jump.”
The righty was one of the first pitchers to reach 150 wins in the Cuban League. The battles between Arrojo’s Villa Clara Sugar Farmers and Orlando Hernández’s (aka “”El Duque”) Havana Blue Lions were legendary.
Arrojo received the nickname” The Typhoon of San Juan de los Yeras” because his electric repertoire often left the opposition in disarray as if they had been hit by a storm. The 1996 playoff matchup between the two teams was an epic battle, “That game was legendary. “El Duque” was in vintage form. I came into the game with an arm injury, but I’m not using that to justifying my defeat in the game. It was an epic battle between two great pitchers. The matchup was last time Orlando and I faced each other in Cuba. It was a goodbye gift to the Cuban public. I will always cherished those moments. “
All-time in the Serie Nacional Arrojo compiled a record of 154-98 with and ERA of 3.50. Arrojo signed with the Tampa Bay Rays – then the Devil Rays – in 1997 and was part of the team’s inaugural roster in 1998, “The first time I took the mound in a bigleague game I was overcome with joy. All the sacrifices I made and the time I had spent away from my family had finally paid off.”
Although he had a successful start, injuries took their toll on the Cuban great and might have cut his career short. In total, he had a record of 40-42 and an earned run average of 4.55 in five big league seasons. Not bad numbers for someone who came into the league at age 31.
Although the talent level in Cuba has deteriorated due to defections, Arrojo still watches his countrymen religiously, “I follow the game in Cuba very closely especially my ex-club Villa Clara. But one thing I have to say is the quality of the game in Cuba has gotten worse. Also, the good trainers and coaches have either defected or passed on. When I was coming up, we were trained by ex-Major Leaguers, that isn’t the case in today’s league.”
He even chimed in about the now-extinct accord between Cuba and MLB, “I was in favor of the agreement between the Cuban Federation and MLB as long as every Cuban playing abroad was allowed to represent Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
I had one last thing on my mind that would make our interview complete. I calmly asked the former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher, with the return of ex-Major Leaguer Erisbel Arruebarruena and Yuniesky Betancourt also rumored to be returning, if he one day would like to return to the nation’s pastime in some capacity, “That’s a good question,” he replied. “We would all love to return and train some of the up-and-coming talents, but I think that’s more in the distant future.”