2022 is still in mourning: The death of another of the last players was actually the first

By Yasel Porto

2021 was a fateful year if we talk about deaths around the world. And Cuban baseball in particular was affected considerably, as there were around 30 more or less well-known figures who died of very varied causes. The virus that has hit us so hard in the last two years has wreaked havoc, but more than half died for other reasons.

However, this 2022 has unfortunately started impetuous and almost every week I have to write about someone’s death. Player, coach, journalist or fan. Each one has had its unfortunate representation in this regard within this still incipient year.

Another one that must be added to this completely unfortunate list is linked to a very important stage of our ball. In fact, it was one of the last survivors of that professional league in Cuba that had so much impact and relevance until the decision was made to eliminate it to give way in 1961-62 to the totally amateur National Series.

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This is the former receiver of the Tigres del Marianao René Friol, who lived in South Florida with his family. He was 88 years old when he died, since he had been born in Candelaria (today Artemisa) on May 28, 1933 when the town was still part of Pinar del Río.

As my friend Francys Romero told me this week, the veteran member of that team that was champion of Cuba and the Caribbean Series for two consecutive years with Napoleón Reyes as manager (1957 and 1958), it was his loved ones who told him of the death of whom In his time as a baseball player, he stood out for his imposing physique (6’1 and 208 pounds according to baseball reference).

The sad thing is that except for my colleague and this server, nothing else has appeared on the internet about the outcome of Friol, who in fact was the one who inaugurated the deaths of baseball players in this 2022. His state of health had deteriorated greatly in the recent times with an income prior to the final moment of his life.

Friol in the uniform of the Marianao champion in 1957 and 1958 in Cuba and in the Caribbean Series

It was on January 9 that whoever also participated in professional baseball in the United States in the second half of the fifties died. Days later, on Thursday the 13th, the death of another player from that stage would take place, such as former pitcher Gonzalo “Cholly” Naranjo.

Friol played almost twenty years as a professional after making his debut in 1954 in the United States and playing his last season in Mexico in 1970. His most significant aspect in his favor was the strength he had at the bat, finishing with 104 home runs at all levels and circuits in those who participated according to the figures shown by baseball reference. His best year was in 1965 when he hit 17 balls out of the park with 92 trailers wearing the Veracruz uniform. When he debuted with Lakeland he seemed destined for an unstoppable ascent to the Major Leagues, after averaging .337 with 38 RBIs and the following year in a step higher than class D he hit .294 with eight homers and 68 brought to the plate (Grand Forks, Class C ).

But some time later his numbers, although they were quite good in several years with Saint Poul, then decreased so much that not only did he see the doors of the “Big Show” closed, but he had to find a new horizon in Mexico to stay active in baseball. .

He won the batting title in Nicaragua in 1963-1964, with 10 home runs for Oriental. In 1969 and 1970 he acted as player manager with Yucatán and Ciudad Madero respectively, the latter team with which he played his last season as a baseball player. He was also in Venezuela with Industriales de Valencia (61-162) and Águilas del Zulia (69-70). There he averaged .312, with 2 home runs and 16 RBIs in 48 games.

Friol left Cuba for Mexico in 1962 and did not return until the 1980s, when he stayed temporarily and returned to visit.

To his family, friend and people who knew and admired him comes this posthumous tribute to René Friol, and may his soul rest in peace forever.

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2022 is still in mourning: The death of another of the last players was actually the first