Antonio “Tony” Menéndez has a plethora of experience in the journalistic world, the native of Puerto Rico worked with the Marlins from ‘98 to ‘01 and has the distinct honor to share a booth with Hall of Fame broadcaster Felo Ramirez.
The highly respected sports journalist has written for MLB.COM, The Puerto Rico Daily Sun and plenty of various other publications, he also has radio experience with ESPN. Tony had the pleasure of being the voice for the University of Miami in baseball and basketball.
Menéndez was in attendance as a member of the press during the legendary game between the San Juan Senators and the Cuban National team, a day in which Javy Lopez hit a majestic home run off Omar Ajete at Hiram Bithron Stadium leaving the powerhouse Cuban team on the field in the 9th inning.
That night PR was victorious over Cuba 3-2 and star shortstop German Mesa was caught up in a bind that got him banned for the next 6 months, something Tony and I will touch upon later in the interview. Menéndez is considered by many an expert on Puerto Rican baseball and is consulted by us at Pelota Cubana for his expertise on that winter league.
Are you of Cuban Descent?
I’m half and half, my father is from Havana and my mother is puertorican form Mayagüez. My father is also of Spanish descent, so it’s better said that my household growing was the United Nations. My grandfather on my mother’s side lived in Cuba during the 30’s and worked at the Naval Air Station In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Cuban blood runs fluidly through my veins.
You had the pleasure of working with Felo Ramírez, how did he help you develop as a journalist?
I graduated from Syracuse University in the mid 80’s and then returned to Puerto Rico and Rai García was my first tutor, he was also a legend with the Cuban press. He passed me off to Felo and René Molina, with that Cuban trio I had a very intensive OJT. I worked with them for three season doing the game of the week in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Felo and I also did MLB broadcasts via the studio en PR. My apprenticeship under Felo was a great experience, we later reunited with the Marlins in 1998.
You were with the Marlins from ’98-’01, very dark time for the team. What did you take from that experience?
I took a lot away from that experience, first of all it was a dream come true to work for a major league team. One thing I learned is that there is a line between journalists, players and coaches. Although you work for the team you must also learn to respect that line. I also learned that players are people, too, due to the fact that I spent plenty of time with players. Vladimir Nuñez, Livan Hernández and Mike Lowell were players I got to know very well.
I developed a good relationship with John Boles during that time and learned a lot from Tony Pérez. I have great memories of my interactions with Sammy Sosa, José Canseco and Robinson Canó. One of my favorite memories was of my interactions with the Puerto Rican clan of Tony Valentín, Carlos Baerga and Javy López.
I always had Felo Ramírez to advise me when ever I needed an opinion on something. I also learned plenty from the veteran press that covered the Marlins.
You covered the legendary game between the Cuban National Team and the San Juan Senators in 1993. Tell me about that experience?
Hiram Bithorn was at full capacity and there was press everywhere. There was no room in the press box for anyone. Many forget this was the first time the Cuban team faced major league ball players. The Senators had Carlos Delgado, Carlos Baerga, Edgar Martínez, Javy López, and Carmelo Martínez in the lineup that evening. I was seated in the left-field bleachers that day and there was something peculiar about Cuban shortstop Germán Mesa that day.
What was going on with Mesa on that evening?
It was announced that the game would be played on December 1st, right after the Caribbean and Central American Games of ’93. At the time I was working for the San Juan Star and I was also a correspondent for USA Today in Puerto Rico.
It was brought to my attention by a source that Germán Mesa might defect, this was on the heels of Cuban basketball star Andrés Guibert defection earlier in the week. The Blue Jays were aware of Mesa’s movements throughout the stadium that night and there was a rumor that Toronto even had a contract prepared for him to sign that evening. Security was tight that night, Cuban State Security and the Puerto Rican Police had a tight perimeter around the dugout. Access to the Cuban team was nonexistent that evening.
You were in left field when Javy López hit that fabled homerun off Omar Ajete that evening. How was the atmosphere that evening in Hiram Bithorn?
That evening I was lucky enough to see López ‘s homerun sail right over my head. It was a memorable experience. The only bad thing about that night was that the press wasn’t given any access to the Cuban team, they were rushed out of the stadium. I was able to interview López though and when I asked about the pitch he hit he replied, ” It was a fastball right down the pike.”
Why is Double A ball in PR more watched than winter league ball?
Because Double A ball is a regional thing with a rich history and identifies with its fan baseball better. It also maintains its consistency unlike our winter ball here. Gone are the days in winter ball where you would see top level prospects playing in Puerto Rico. Your Tony Gwynn‘s, Don Mattingly‘s, and Jim Thome‘s no longer come here to play. The last great winter ball season was 1995 because it was a strike year in baseball. That legendary San Juan CWS team would have probably beaten the Yankees that year.
Now teams deny winter league teams access to their valued prospects and that has put a dent in the talent level of the LBPRC. The last high level prospect that played in PR during the winter was Javy Báez in 2016. Winter ball is on its death bed in Puerto Rico.
What do you do in the current day Tony?
In the current I’m a history and political science professor. I also write a blog named El Hogar del BaseballLatino which is currently syndicated by MLB.COM. During the season I travel to the US and cover MLB teams. I also cover winter ball and the Caribbean World Series. Miami is my second home. I’m really going to miss not being able to cover the World Baseball Classic next year.