Willy Miranda, 70, was Orioles shortstop Noted fielder, light hitter never forgot Cuban roots

September 08, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF Sun staff researcher Jean Packard contributed to this article.

Willy Miranda, the Cuban-born shortstop who was perhaps the most flamboyant fielder in the history of the Orioles, died yesterday of lung cancer at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 70.

Proud of his homeland, but wary of Fidel Castro and concerned about what the Communist revolution had done to his country, Mr. Miranda had defected from Cuba with the help of a Pan American flight crew that hid him in the cockpit of a Miami-bound airplane. He began his career with the Orioles in 1955 and became a local legend even though he was a notoriously poor hitter.

He came to the Orioles from the Yankees as part of a deal that gave up Bob Turley, Don Larsen, Billy Hunter and six others for Miranda, Gus Triandos and Gene Woodling.

Billed as the "greatest fielding shortstop in the world," he was known for going deep into the hole between short and third to field grounders, then gunning down the runners with deadly accuracy.

He was called "Ringling Brothers" by Orioles' Manager Paul Richards, who said he had "the hands of a pickpocket."

Gus Triandos, a catcher during those years, described Mr. Miranda as "flashy a phenomenon" whose arm was almost "abnormal for such a small guy."

"Had he been able to hit, he would have been a greater player than he was," Mr. Triandos said yesterday from his home in San Jose, Calif.

"He was a wizard with a glove -- and you need a strong glove like his when you play the most demanding position on the field," said Orioles Manager Davey Johnson, who said Mr. Miranda's death was a "personal tough loss."

"He was the best defensive shortstop I've ever seen and I've seen plenty," said recently retired Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, who played ball with him in Cuba. "This guy could do it all."

Mr. Miranda finished his career in 1960 with a lifetime average of only .221 and a career total of only six home runs.

A newspaper columnist wrote that Mr. Miranda was the only "Major Leaguer to hit three ways -- righty, lefty and seldom."

Manager Richards fumed that Mr. Miranda couldn't hit a ball with any consistency until one afternoon in Cleveland, when he got three straight hits. When he was replaced by a pinch hitter, Mr. Miranda inquired as to why.

"You already have three hits and it defies logic to think you're going to get four," said Mr. Richards.

At the conclusion of the 1959 season he was assigned to the Orioles' Triple-A team at Miami. He ended up at St. Paul in 1960 and finished his career with Syracuse in 1961.

He later managed teams in Latin America before returning to Baltimore, where he sold automobiles and worked for 11 years as a security officer at the Baltimore Convention Center. He retired in 1994.

The longtime Hamilton resident moved to Harford County last year.

Born Guillermo Miranda in Velasco, Cuba, in the Oriente Province, he later moved to Havana, where he graduated from high school.

In addition to the Orioles and Yankees, he played for the Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Browns.

He never forgot his family and friends he left behind in Cuba and in 1980, he sailed from Florida to Mariel, Cuba, after the Cuban government said that native Cubans could leave the country.

Disguising his identity with a beard and dark glasses because Cuban officials were unhappy with his defection, he jammed 22 people in a boat that was only capable of handling 19. At night, the boat started to sink in the middle of the Florida Straits and it was only the arrival of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter that saved their lives.

He was awarded the Baltimore Fire Department's Distinguished Civilian Award in 1976 for dashing into a Little Italy house and rescuing a severely burned man.

With characteristic modesty, Mr. Miranda said, "What I did was as simple as catching a ground ball and throwing it to first base."

Mr. Miranda was a communicant of St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, 4420 Frankford Ave., Hamilton, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11: 30 a.m. Tuesday.

Mr. Miranda's 1947 marriage to the former Amada Suarez ended in divorce.

He is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former Agnes Maria Caruso; four sons, Guillermo Miranda Jr. of Wilmington, Del., Marco Miranda of Baltimore, Eduardo Miranda of Charlotte, N.C., and Alejandro Miranda of Miami; a daughter, Rosalia Pratt of Great Falls, Va.; a brother, Fausto Miranda of Miami; a sister, Aida Miranda of Miami; and four grandchildren.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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