Tuesday, November 8, 2011

#272 - Paul Casanova

This guy's card was the first one I pulled in two sets when I was a kid - but not this one - so his name was emblazoned in my mind at a young age. In fact, being the ignorant doofus I was, I used to think the Casanova that came up on occasion in English class was Paul here which I could never quite get my arms around, although that he'd have been over 200 years old at that point really should have set me straight. What Paul was, though, was a rifle-armed defensive specialist who made everybody sit up and take notice back in the mid-'60's with the Senators before he sort of faded to back-up status later on. When he was with the Nats his back-up catcher was a guy named Jim French, which I have always thought wildly appropriate given these two surnames. Here, Paul is beaming at Shea in a posed shot in what used to pass for a sunny day out in Queens. The tarp is on the field, however, so maybe things were going to change quickly.

Paulino Casanova was born in Cuba and was apparently discovered while playing for the University of Havana in '59. Signed by the Indians, he was brought to the States in '60 and released twice before he got any real action. He then signed with the Indianapolis Clowns, the former Negro League team that moved to the independent leagues for whom he played a little over a year (he would be the second-to-last Negro Leaguer to make the majors). He was then signed and released by the Cubs, again after almost zero playing time, and he basically quit baseball to work construction for most of the '62 season. Late that year the Nats tracked him down and signed him as a free agent. He finally got things started in A ball in '63 and tore up the league in '64 with 19 homers, 99 RBIs and a .325 average. He switched leagues at that level in '65 where he continued putting up pretty good numbers - .287 with eight homers and 76 RBIs - before going all the way to DC for a few games. After a '66 kickoff in Double A he moved right into the starting spot for Washington that year and got good reviews for his defense. In '67 he was an All-Star and at the end of the year he garnered all-AL selections and even some MVP votes. Ken Harrelson that year said that he was very bipolar about rundowns and pick-offs since every throw from Paul nearly took off his hand. But '68 hit Casanova hard, pushing his average below .200 and even getting him some time in the minors. Unfortunately, though he was able to retain his spot as the team's starting catcher, his average remained in the low .200's the rest of his stay in DC. In late '71 he was sent to the Braves even up for catcher Hal King.

In Atlanta Casanova moved to a support role, first for Earl Williams in '72 and then Johnny Oates the next two seasons. '73 would be his most active year and after a '74 in which he was more pressed for playing time due to the arrival of Vic Correll, he was released during spring training of '75. He finished with an average of .225 with 50 homers and 252 RBIs. After he played he spent a bunch of time in PR where his son Raul was born (he played for various teams from '96 to 2008) and he did some coaching. For a while now he has been running a baseball school outside Miami with Jackie Hernandez, the former Pirates shortstop. There is a video of them (linked to here) in which they both look amazingly good even though they're both smoking butts. I have also linked to another good background site here that focuses a bit on his Negro League days.

Not surprisingly, Paul gets props for his defensive play in the first star bullet. Regarding the second bullet, he definitely made the '67 team but I cannot get confirmation on the '66 one (baseball-reference doesn't have him as one of the picks). He won a championship in Venezuela in '69 and played there through at least '75.

This will be another quick hook-up:

1. Casanova and Dick Nen '65 to '67 Senators;
2. Nen and Bill Hands '68 Cubs.

Dick Nen was a back-up first baseman whose career in the majors is pretty much encapsulated above.

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