Silvio Before Jackie Robinson
By FAUSTO MIRANDA
Sports Editor for El Miami Herald
Cuban baseball has a special chapter in its history dedicated to shortstops. Shortstops, or "torpedoes" as Victor Munoz fondly referred to them, are an abundant source of talent in Cuban baseball. A quick rundown would include names like Bustamante, Romanach, Olivares, Quintana, Chacon, Ordenana, Caiiizares, Versalles, Cardenas, Willie, Valdivielso, Humberto, Campaneris, and many more. But there was one among them who, according to experts, possessed the most comprehensive set of skills, perhaps the most complete of them all.
Silvio Garcia, hailing from Limonar, Matanzas, was the complete package. He had a strong arm, stole bases, was an effective batter (Cuban League batting champion), a run producer, a fierce competitor, a great teammate, a natural leader, and he displayed remarkable versatility not only at shortstop but also at third and second base, and even as a pitcher.
His hometown was Limonar, Matanzas. He gained recognition as a professional in just a few weeks and played in Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and the United States. He was a star player for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues, sharing the stage with legends like Dihigo, Salazar, Bragana, Oms, Crespo, and others who were more than capable of playing in the Major Leagues but were held back by the racial barrier that segregated baseball. They played in the Negro Leagues, where only the baseball itself was color-blind.
There is a little-known passage in Silvio Garcia's life. He could have been the first Black player (in modern times) to join the Major Leagues. Branch Rickey, before experimenting with Jackie Robinson, had his eyes on Silvio. A Brooklyn scout traveled to Havana to see him play but found out that he was in the Army and relayed this information to Rickey. Shortly after, Jackie Robinson was selected. It was a mistake; the person listed as a soldier in the Cuban Army was Silvio's brother, Ruben, who was also a baseball player. That's why Silvio was not included in Rickey's list of candidates.
Wearing the number 17 on his uniform, Silvio enjoyed fame in baseball for over two decades. He was an amiable and friendly person, a fantastic player on the field, inspiring his teammates with his running and batting abilities. He was a friend, and I am honored to say that I was his friend. The anecdotes about Silvio are numerous and unforgettable. One of them: in an extra-inning game between Marianao and Cienfuegos, Silvio stole second base and was declared out by Magrinat. Silvio dusted off his pants and said to the umpire, "The day you die, they won't even observe a minute of silence for you."
In the same game, while standing on third, Silvio sprinted for home and cleanly stole it, which turned out to be the winning run. However, umpire Atan ruled him out. Silvio, once again, got up, dusted off, and approached Atan, saying, "Hey, buddy, we've been playing for 16 innings, and you still don't see the end in sight."
The reports of Silvio's death are not as comprehensive as one would imagine. He was 65 years old at the time. His wife, Dulce Maria, and his children, Gloria Maria and Silvio, along with the great star of the past, lived in Buenavista, Marianao. He had four other children from a previous marriage, one of whom lived in New York. He retired from baseball in 1956. In 1950, he had a remarkable season in Caracas, where he won the batting title with a .363 average. He made his professional debut with Habana in 1931, but he spent most of his career with Marianao and Cienfuegos (his last games with Almendares). He was a close friend of Pages, Crespo, and Colas, and he was a devoted follower of San Lázaro (hence his favorite number 17).
Two years before his death, he suffered a stroke, and reports of his demise were published in various countries. When his son called Cuba from New York, Silvio himself answered the phone and said, "Not yet, not yet! Now, yes, it's true, the passing of the great friend, the great ballplayer, the great Cuban." Peace to his remains. Silvio Garcia.