RIP to Leo Posada, an outfielder for the Kansas City Athletics from 1960-62. He died on June 23 in Miami from pancreatic cancer. He was 86 years old. His time with the Athletics is just a small part of his baseball history. At a time when ballplayers could come and go between Cuba and the United States, before the Castro regime, Posada established himself as a talented ballplayer in both countries. After his playing days, he enjoyed a long career as a minor-league manager and a coach. Since he couldn’t go back to Cuba, he became part of a vibrant community of Cuban baseball pros who settled in Miami. His brother Jorge is a scout for the Colorado Rockies, and his nephew, Jorge Posada, carried on the family’s tradition of talent with a distinguished playing career of his own.
Leopoldo Jesús Posada Hernández was born in La Habana, Cuba, on April 15, 1936 — various articles about his death have listed his birthday as April 1, 1936. As his touching obituary on Legacy.com notes, baseball was not the first sport where he made his name. He represented Cuba in cycling at the 1951 Pan American Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Central American Games in Guatemala in 1954. At one point, he held the Cuban speed record for a 1km race. However, the family passion for baseball eventually surpassed his love of cycling, so he devoted his energy to that sport instead.
Posada signed a contract with the Milwaukee Braves and scout Danny Parra, and he debuted in 1954 at various low-level minor-league teams. Most of his playing time came with the Class-C Lake Charles Lakers — he hit .251 in 95 games with 13 home runs. He had a 26-game hitting streak and was batting over .300 before a leg injury slowed his production. Still, he was named as a starter in the Evangeline League All-Star Team.
Posada then spent two seasons playing for the Corpus Christi Clippers of the Big State League and helped lead the team to a Little Dixie World Series championship in 1955. He hit .289 in the regular season and showed some speed with 20 stolen bases. He homered 9 times during the regular season and smacked a home run in the final World Series game against Pampa, completing the team’s 11-game winning streak in the playoffs. He returned to the Clippers in 1956 and showed a little more pop, with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. In a game against Port Arthur, he fell short of a cycle but hit a double, triple and two home runs — one of which was an inside the park homer. He drove in 6 runs in the 9-3 win and made several fine running plays in center field as well. That December, he was drafted by Columbia of the Class-A Sally League, making him part of the Kansas City A’s organization.
Over the offseason, Posada debuted in Cuban Winter Ball with the Havana Lions, led by Dolf Luque. He had just 1 hit in 3 at-bats but returned to Cuba in each of the next three offseasons. In the 1959-60 and 1960-61 seasons he played for Almandares, according to El Nuevo Herald. He had a high average in Cuba of .274 in 1960-61 and had a career mark of .269, with 5 home runs and 60 RBIs. The Castro Revolution shut the doors for easy passage between the two countries and severed the ties between Major League Baseball and Cuba. Posada left Cuba on February 11, 1961, and never returned.
In the meantime, while he was spending his winters playing ball in Cuba, Posada was rising up the A’s organizational ranks. He was in the midst of a standout season in 1958 with Rochester of the Class-B Three-I League when his spikes caught in the dirt as he tried to run back to third base in a pickoff play on June 20. He broke his leg and was lost for the season; he had been hitting .308 with 12 home runs through 50 games. Posada bounced back with back-to-back excellent seasons in Spreveport of the Southern Association in 1959 and ’60. He batted over .300 each year, with 20 and 19 home runs, respectively. He drove in 122 runs in 1960 as well. As a result, the Athletics brought Posada to the major leagues in September of 1960.
Posada could have started the season with the A’s in 1960, but the team was loaded with veteran outfielders, giving him little chance of getting into games. He earned his playing time in September, though. He struck out as a pinch-hitter on September 21 against the White Sox, but A’s manager Bob Elliott let Posada start regularly as a corner outfielder for the remaining games. He got his first hit on September 23 off Detroit’s Jim Bunning. He had a 3-hit game including a triple on September 25, smacked his first home run off Cleveland’s Jim Perry on the 28th and had another 3-hit game with another triple on the 30th. An 0-for-4 performance in the final game of the season dropped Posada’s batting average below .400, but he still finiahed with an impressive .361/.410/.556 slash line in 10 games. The A’s couldn’t ignore Posada any longer.
The A’s went on somewhat of a youth movement in 1961. Younger outfielders like Posada, Jay Hankins, Frank Cipriani and Bobby Del Greco were given a chance to play in the majors. Of all the newcomers, Posada had the most impressive season. His season got off to a rather scary start when he was hit in the face with a pitch from Detroit’s Dick Donovan on May 25 and had to leave the game. At the time, he was hitting .241 and had been briefly demoted to the minors after struggling out of the gate. Posada missed just one game and went on a 7-game hitting streak when he returned, raising his batting average more than 100 points to .345. It was an unsustainable average, but Posada played steadily enough that he was regularly in the startig lineup for the rest of the season. In 116 games, he slashed .253/.321/.366, with 7 home runs and 52 RBIs. He hit 12 sacrifice flies to lead all of baseball in that category. Even when he didn’t start, he was a dangerous bat off the bench. He beat the Cleveland Indians 7-5 on June 12 with a tenth-inning, pinch-hit 2-run homer.
When he came to the United States, Posada spoke no English, but he learned it well enough to become bilingual. In 1962, he and his wife, Aida, were joined in Kansas by the rest of Posada’s family. His parents, Leo Sr. and Maria, and his 19-year-old sister Marta, were allowed to leave Cuba and emigrate to the United States. All they were allowed to bring with them were three changes of clothes and two pairs of shoes, as well as some family photos. “I am not sure it was permissable, but we also brought something else — our self-respect,” said Leo Sr., with his son translating. “It is no longer possible for decent people to live in Cuba.”
Leo Jr. said that his father had wanted to return to the United States when he first visited the World’s Fair in New York City in 1939, but the Castro regime forced the decision. The elder Posada quit his job at the phone company when the government took it over and started preparing to leave the country. The Posadas settled in Raytown, Kan., where Leo Jr. and Aida lived. “He’s already talking about finding a job,” Leo Jr. said of his father. “I want him to take it easy for a while. He took care of me for a long time. Now I want to take care of him.”
Posada was not given a chance to repeat his success in 1962. After starting the season as the starting left fielder, Posada was benched by manager Hank Bauer after 10 games. (Bauer, for what it’s worth, was the player who Posada replaced in the outfield in 1961.). Posada’s opportunities to play came mainly as a pinch-hitter. He had hit .250 as a starter, but he struggled with his infrequent at-bats. By the end of July, his batting average had fallen to .196. In August of 1962, he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves with pitcher Bill Kunkel for pitcher Orlando Pena. He was sent to Toronto of the International League and did not return to the majors.
In parts of 3 seasons, Posada played in 155 games and had 109 hits for a .256/.326/.371 slash line. He had 11 doubles, 7 triples and 8 home runs, while driving in 58 runs and scoring 51 times. He drew 46 walks against 105 strikeouts.
Posada played for a handful of games for Toronto and Hawaii in 1963, as well as Monterrey of the Mexican League, but a knee injury kept him off the field for a couple of months. He went back to Texas, scene of some of his best minor-league campaigns, in 1964 with the San Antonio Bullets. He was named a Texas League All-Star with a .272 batting average and 22 home runs. Posada was part of the inaugural Amarillo Sonics team in 1965 and was voted the Most Valuable Player in the Texas League. He hit .305 with a career-best 26 home runs and 107 RBIs. He was named the Baseball Player of the Year by the Texas Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame for 1965. Though his power declined significantly in 1966, he batted .318.
“I’d like to make it back to the big leagues,” Posada said in the midst of his ’65 season. “It’s not too late. That’s what I’m fighting for, to go back up.”
While the majors proved to be just out of reach, Posada found a new purpose in the minor leagues. He served as a player-coach for Amarillo in 1966 and held the same job for Oklahoma City in 1967. The following season, he was named the player-manager of the Cocoa Astros of the Class-A Florida State League. It was a talented team with future big-leaguers in Cesar Cedeno, Cliff Johnson and John Mayberry. He took his role as player-manager seriously, filling in wherever the team had a hole in the lineup. He played infield, outfield and even pitched in a few games as needed. But not catcher. “I’m not going to catch and get my thumb busted,” he said.
During his career, Posada gained a reputation as the undisputed champion of pickups — a game where one person tosses a baseball to his left and then his right, with other players throwing it back to him. Then one day, Tommy Lasorda, then managing in the Dodgers’ minor leagues, said he could do more pickups. On the first day of their challenge, Posada did 100 pickups, and Lasorda did 101. The next day, Posada upped it to 200, and Lasorda did 201. The contest came to an end when Posada did 600 pickups on day three, and Lasorda did 601.
Posada remained in the Astros organization as a minor-league coach, scout and manager through 1978, aside from a stint as manager of the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in 1975. During the offseasons, he lived in Miami and ran a bicycle shop, when he wasn’t managing a winter ball team in Venezuela or elsewhere. Posada devised several ways to help his Spanish-speaking ballplayers adjust to life in baseball and the United States. He handed out sheets with more than 70 baseball terms, in Spanish, in English and the phonetic pronounciation in English. The list included equipment names and helpful phrases like “Don’t get careless” — “No te descuide” or “Don’t guet kerles.”
“I want the player to get the sound phonetically, as it would sound in Spanish,” Posada told the Fort Lauderdale News in 1975. He also offered English lessons and helped his Spanish ballplayers find apartments in Fort Lauderdale.
Posada later spent 16 years in the Dodgers organization, working as a minor-league hitting coach. He also operated a hitting clinic out of his Miami home. Over the years, players from Cesar Cedeno, Steve Sax and Raul Mondesi to David Ortiz, Mike Piazza and Miguel Sano benefited from his instruction. After Posada retired from the Dodgers, became the swing doctor for his nephew, as Jorge Posada began his excellent 17-year career with the Yankees. “I’m tickled to death with what he’s doing,” Leo said. “It’s a tremendous feeling.” During their training sessions, the elder Posada even wore a Yankees camp — quite a challenge for someone who was a Dodger for 16 years. Whether his pupil was a relative or a stranger, Posada always maintained the same goals — make them a better ballplayer and a better person.
“My main purpose as manager is to try to get them to the major leagues. But if I can’t get them there, at least I can try to help them become good human beings,” he said in 1975. “I really believe in helping people, not just ballplayers. You see so many people who can destroy, because it’s an easy thing to do. But you don’t see that many people who can create. I would like to think I can create and make people happy.”