Tiger Hoak was a major league third baseman who played for ten seasons beginning in the mid-1950s; his baseball career followed a stint as a professional boxer that ended after being knocked out in seven straight matches. His biggest claim to fame may have been his writing about a game that took place on January 22, 1951.
Before signing on with the majors in the United States, Hoak played for one season in Cuba with the Winter Baseball League. Hoak described one of those Cuban games in an article “The Day I Batted Against Castro.”
According to Hoak, Castro and some friends commandeered the park where Hoak’s team was playing. Castro was a law student at the University of Havana at the time and a player on an intramural baseball team. Castro took the pitcher’s mound, and after some warmup pitches, turned to face batter Hoak. Castro shouted out something in Spanish that translated to “die, American imperialist pig” or perhaps “batter up.” Castro’s pitches were wild, and Hoak was no doubt thinking at the time “I hope this guy’s never in charge of missiles or anything.” Castro grazed Hoak’s head a couple of times, then beaned him. Hoak turned to the umpire and said, “Get that idiot out of the game!” The umpire spoke to some park policemen, who in turn marched Castro off the field.
Hoak went onto the U.S. majors, and Castro went on to the really big Cuban majors, taking over the government in 1959. In 1960, Castro had his revenge when he outlawed all professional sports, including the Cuban Winter Baseball League.
No, You’re Other West
Douglas Corrigan, born on January 22, 1907, was an American aviator. In 1938, he bought a fixer-upper airplane and rebuilt it himself. Then in July of that year he flew nonstop from California to New York. This wasn’t a first by any means; he only got national attention because no one thought his clunker would make it.
In New York, he filed flight plans for a transatlantic trip but was denied permission by aviation authorities. They did grudgingly give him permission for a return trip to California, and once again he took to the air. Twenty-eight hours later he touched down in Dublin, Ireland, expressing surprise that it didn’t look much like California. When advised of his actual location, he aw shucksed a story about getting confused in the clouds with a bum compass.
No one believed it, and he was grounded and shipped back to the states along with his plane. But “Wrong Way” Corrigan had become a national celebrity.
Your Feet’s Too Big
Sir Walter Raleigh, born on January 22, 1552, was what you might call an English dabbler. He colonized, soldiered, explored, spied, wrote poetry, played at politics, and pushed tobacco. He was a favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I because, as legend has it, he spread his coat over a puddle so she wouldn’t get her feet wet. He was executed in 1618 by James I, perhaps because he didn’t spread his coat over a puddle so the king wouldn’t get his feet wet.
Mama Eu Quero, Part 4: Tropicana Isn’t Just an Orange Juice
Fortune had taken a keen interest in Delia’s affairs during this Cuban summer, watching over her and acting on her behalf, so it didn’t surprise Delia at all when her father told her that he had to go to Santa Clara for several days, leaving just a day before Carmen Miranda arrived. Delia would be left in the care of their housekeeper Josefina, a wonderful woman who could not be distracted from her television set after nine o’clock by anything on this earth, let alone by a teenager slipping out the back door for an evening at the Tropicana.
Carmen Miranda arrived in Havana on the fourth of July in the glorious summer of 1955. There were fireworks aplenty in that nation to the north, but none here where they should have been. The previous night, with Jorge still fence sitting on the subject of taking her to the Tropicana, Delia decided to play Carmen for him, hoping this would propel him in the proper direction. She first got the idea of dressing up as Carmen Miranda after seeing the movie Scared Stiff, in which Jerry Lewis had done the same thing. Practically everyone had at some time impersonated Carmen – she was an easy study – but for Delia this particular performance was like an insurance policy: No matter how bizarre her own performance might be, it couldn’t be as outlandish as this one.
She donned a costume of red, gold, orange and yellow silk scarves pinned together along with a crown of bananas, put a recording of “Cuanta la Gusta” on the player and strutted before Jorge. As the energy from the recording infused Delia, she moved with sensual abandon before her awestruck audience, their eyes locked. As the song ended, and she flew into Jorge’s arms, she knew that the speed limit would be broken tonight.
The Tropicana was a frenzied, pulsating place, as animated as the tourists and Havana socialites who crowded the casino, bar, dance floor and every table, there to be entertained by a half dozen celebrities, three full orchestras and the Tropicana’s own ballet troupe. It had not been easy for Jorge to secure a table, and when he did, it was some distance from where Carmen Miranda would shortly perform. He liked the table just fine, not wanting to be conspicuous in such a place. Delia wished they were closer but couldn’t say anything, and just being here was the high point in her sixteen years plus four months. She looked as mature as any seventeen-year-old in the place, sipping the wine Jorge had bought her and wearing another bright outfit that Carmen herself might have worn, but without the tutti frutti hat, of course, for that would be presumptuous.
Miranda’s Boys broke into a spirited overture, and suddenly there was Carmen Miranda herself, bouncing to the beat of “South American Way.” Jorge turned to see the look on Delia’s face, but there was no look on Delia’s face because there was no Delia. He scanned the floor, fearing she had fainted in her excitement. Nothing. Then he spotted her, crawling on hands and knees between the tables, toward the stage. He closed his eyes afraid to watch but finally had to look again. He spotted her as she squeezed unnoticed between the chairs occupied by the sleek black-haired man and his sleek black-haired companion, disappearing under the table next to where Carmen Miranda sang and danced.
Then Carmen jumped into one of Delia’s favorites: “Mama mama mama eu quero, mama eu quero, mama eu quero mama, da a chupeta, da a chupeta . . .” A few lines into the song, one of her most famous and one she had probably sung hundreds of times, she stopped and stared into the immense room before her as though she had become lost. “Para bebe” came a whisper from under the nearest table. Carmen dove back into the song, and few in the audience were aware of the lapse. There were no further lapses and the song appeared to be headed toward a successful conclusion.
About the only warning the black-haired couple had of the impending disaster was the dancing of the olives in their martinis, a nervous samba in time to the music coming from the stage.
“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.