By Yasel Porto
Anyone who hears the name of Oscar Monzón Tuero will react by shrugging, beyond inferring that he was a baseball player from the past. Even the most knowledgeable of the matter went through the same when they asked me about it and I told them it was a Cuban player whose only merit was having pitched in the Major Leagues when foreign players were very scarce.
That, and the fact that he did have good results in the Cuban Professional League, although without reaching the elite status of others like Adolfo Luque, José Méndez and José Acosta.
It was my colleague Daniel de Malas who realized something extraordinary around Tuero, something that places him in a special category. The thing is that MLB reviewed the box scores before the stage where saves were not counted, a procedure that brought an official result for Tuero, as the top performer for the 1919 season in the American League.
The four saves of the Havana-born with the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals made him the first Cuban leading an important stat in the Majors. His 45 games pitched (16 as starter) also made him lead the Senior Circuit in a season he finished with a 5-7 ledger and a 3.20 ERA.
Before this revision, the first Cuban to lead an important category in the big leagues was Luque, after his fantastic 1923 season, which he led in wins, ERA, shutouts and winning percentage.
Oscar Tuero had a short outing in the Show, as he only pitched for three campaigns. He made his debut in 1918 and his last outing was in 1920, at just 26 years of age.
His 6-9 record and 2.88 ERA, which were influenced by his 1919 performance in his debut year, when he had an outstanding 1.02 ERA in 44 innings of work.
However, what is really curious is that his Cuban League career started precisely after he stopped being a “big leaguer”. So, Tuero made his professional debut in America instead of his birth country.
He pitched between 1919-20 and 1926-27 with both Habana and Alemandares. Although he tied with Lucas Boada for the lead in losses in his first season, he also led in shutouts, something very few pitchers have accomplished. In 1920-21 he led in games pitched and complete games and in the next season he made a repeat in the latter, as well as innings pitched. His lifetime record in six years played in the Cuban Winter League was 29-14.
October 19, 1920 was a meaningful day for him, as he held the New York Giants scoreless in the famous exhibition series played in the Cuban capital featuring the great Babe Ruth.
Despite not having been called for the majors after his short 1920 performance, Tuero developed a very lengthy career in the US in different levels. As a matter of fact, he has been one of the longest minor league careers, starting in 1913 and going through 1941, a time in which he had 270 wins and 2008 losses. One of his victories was a no-hitter in 1925.
Born in Havana on December 17, 1893 (other sources list him in 1898), he died in Houston, Texas, in 1960 without much media attention to his passing. Today his name is barely mentioned when people are speaking about the Cuban major leaguers and out of a handful of specialists, nothing is said about him. He was the first Cuban pitcher to lead the league in a stat.
Although retroactively, it is worth noting the first Aroldis Chapman or Raisel Iglesias we had in the best baseball in the world. He has been an important contributor for our history in the baseball olympus.