Pitcher Without a Country: The Proud Humble Life of Diego SeguiBy Dr. Daniel Durbin | 10/29/14 |
Diego Segui is most often remembered for two of the last pitches he threw, one in the1975 World Series and, in 1977, the first pitch ever thrown by a Seattle Mariner. While these may have been fabled moments in the National Pastime, this is unfair and unfortunate. Because, Diego Segui was once among the most infuriating pitchers Major League batters had to face. And, before that, Segui lived through his own personal odyssey, an odyssey that left him without a home or a country.
Diego Segui is a gentle quiet man. He looks you in the eye and answers your questions with a thoughtful directness that belies the soft voice with which he speaks. He is earnest in his beliefs and certain of his faults. But, once, in the late 1960s, Segui was a man who drove Major League hitters to distraction.
With a seemingly endless stream of ticks, Segui would circle the mound between pitches, kick the dirt on the mound, then smooth the scuffs he had just made. With no seeming concern for the batter or the time of day, Segui would wander (and wander) the mound until some inner voice struck him to toe the rubber and throw the ball. When he finally felt moved to pitch, Segui would rear back and throw perhaps the most wicked forkball in Major League Baseball history. A pitch normally only effective for left-handers, Segui’s forkball would fade away from bats as if the bats had offended them with some particularly off-color comment.
Unfortunately for Segui, he spent most of his career playing for the Kansas City Athletics, a team that inspired poetic verse on ontological futility (I’m not making this up---one well-known poet published a piece titled “The Arnie Portacarrero Fan Club” about one of the Kansas City A’s long line of seemingly hopeless players and seasons). Moving from futility to expansion futility, Segui was selected by the legendarily hapless Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft of 1969. On the team that Jim Bouton (with malice aforethought) made famous in Ball Four (a tawdry tell-all diary of the Pilots’ lone season as a Major League team), Segui performed brilliantly, earning the team’s MVP award.
The A’s (now transplanted in Oakland) that Segui left would naturally enough go on to nearly take the American League West, challenging the powerful Minnesota Twins throughout the summer. To his credit, Charlie Finley, the Oakland A’s owner, later said that letting Segui go in the expansion draft cost him the American League West title in 1969 and the opportunity to challenge for the 1969 World Series. So, the mercurial Finley got Segui back. An owner with a near obsessive love of horse-trading, would bring Segui back to the A’s for the 1970 season.
In 1970, the A’s had a down year. Their stars, Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson, who had epic seasons in 1969, floundered throughout 1970. They finished in second place again, nine games behind the Twins. But, they were never really a threat to overtake Killebrew’s crew.
Segui, on the other hand, was brilliant. Playing a variety of roles for the A’s (starter, long reliever, short reliever), Segui racked up the league’s best Earned Run Average. The next year, his face appeared (along with Jim Palmer and Clyde Wright) on the front of the “ERA League Leaders” baseball card produced by Topps.
Mention that card to Segui and this quiet respectful man will suddenly fill with fire. “Why did they do that? There was one winner. I had the best ERA. Why did they do that?"
During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Topps Card Company put the top three finishers in each pitching and hitting category on the front of their “League Leaders” baseball cards. Segui is still rankled by having to give up that real estate to two other pitchers. He earned the top ERA in baseball. Why did they split the card between three players?
You see, Segui is a proud man. Proud of his career, his accomplishments, the money he earned to support his family.
Segui is also a humble man. Humble about his life, particularly about his strengths and weaknesses as a father.
Most of all, Segui is an honest man.
Perhaps he learned this honesty as a boy working on the family farm in Cuba. Like most of us, Segui remembers his childhood with nostalgia. In his memory, the pre-Castro Cuba was a land of beauty and happiness. It was his home, the home he loved. It was also a home he lost.
Early in Segui’s Major League career, Fidel Castro ordered that every Cuban citizen had to be a resident in the country and register on a predetermined date with the government or be stripped of citizenship. Because of his baseball career, Segui was unable to return to Cuba in time and was stripped of his citizenship. He became a pitcher without a country.
Unsure what to do, Segui continued to play, having difficulty moving in and out of the United States and Canada as he traveled for work. Finally, Segui adopted his baseball home as his new home. He became a citizen of Kansas City and the United States of America. He hadn’t wanted to lose his Cuban citizenship. But, given the Cold War world he inhabited, he made due with the lot life threw him. To this day, Segui lives in Kansas City.
For all of that, Segui is slow to complain about losing his citizenship, about playing for one of the most irascible owners in baseball history, about playing for two legendarily inept franchises, about being remembered more for his final pitches than his great pitching years.
Proud of his accomplishments, Segui remains humble and thankful for his life.
Diego Segui recently reminisced about these and other challenges he faced as a Cuban player in 1950s America. He spoke for our cameras at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Segui’s memories as a Cuban-American and a minority will be preserved as a part of our African-American Experience of Major League Baseball oral histories project. His stories lend eloquent testimony to the diversity of experiences players faced in post-war baseball.
You can learn more about the African-American Experience of Major League Baseball research project by clicking here.