Dusty Baker remembers Paul Casanova: "Cassie meant a lot to me"

Paul Casanova, who was a catcher with the Washington Senators from 1965 to 1971, passed away Saturday at 75 in Miami.

The Cuban-born backstop also played three seasons with the Atlanta Braves and was an All-Star with Washington in 1967. As a member of the Braves, Casanova caught Phil Niekro's no-hitter in 1973.

Dusty-Baker-Nats-jacket-sidebar.jpgNationals manager Dusty Baker knew Casanova very well and spent a lot of time with "Cassie" over the years. The two were teammates during the Venezuelan Winter League. Baker felt like Casanova was a member of his family.

"You see Cassie on my wall in my office if you have ever been in there," Baker said. "I met him when I was with the Braves, I was a very young player. It was him, Hank Aaron, Ralph Garr and myself. Cassie and us were sort of in charge of keeping Hank loose during the time he was going for the (home run) record. We all love Cassie."

Baker was one of the young guys around Casanova's crew. Hanging with Casanova meant Baker got to rub elbows with famous sports stars.

"I went to Venezuela to played on Cassie's team, La Guaira," Baker recalled. "He had a night club down there that my wife and I used to hang at called La Pelota. All the players loved him. He was in L.A., moved to L.A. with me. He was kind of like my uncle. I see him every time I go to Miami. I send him used balls because everybody would go over to his house, he had a batting cage.

"That's where I first met J.D. Martinez. And he had asked me about signing J.D. He said, 'Hey, man, he is a heck of a talent.' Whole bunch of players would go by there: Benito Santiago when he was making his comeback, Jose Tartabull would hang over there, Jackie Hernandez. All the Latin dudes. I saw (Nationals director of international scouting) Johnny DiPuglia, our guy, over there a couple of times.

"I met a lot of people through Cassie. Actually, I met Joe Namath through Cassie. That's how I met Joe. When I was a kid, I was hanging with Cassie at Joe's bar. Met him and some of the older guys because everybody was older than me back then."

Casanova spent seven seasons with the Senators. His best season was 1967, when was named an All-Star and finished 21st in the MVP voting. He connected on 77 doubles, 12 triples, 41 homers and 216 RBIs in his career with Washington.

"Cassie meant a lot to me. We stayed in the same apartment complex in Atlanta," Baker said. "He loved the Senators. He always used to talk about the Senators."

Baker talked about the day he found out Casanova had passed away. He had attempted to visit with Casanova every time he was in South Florida.

"I got the call that morning after he died," Baker said. "I called my wife and then told her about Cassie passing. I would see him every time I go to Miami. Last time, I couldn't see him because he was in a coma.

"I think he was the last player to come out of the Negro League (Indianapolis Clowns, 1961) to the major leagues. Last week was a tough week. Week before we lost Lee May, and then week before, Don Baylor, and then Cassie."

The best anecdote Baker recalled was talking about how his friend lived up to his famous name.

"Funny story about Cassie. Every time - I was single then - we'd go to a bar or a night club or something, some girls would come around, with us he had one accent and then around the girls he had another accent," Baker detailed. "We always accused him of cheating.

"His name around us was Paul Casanova. And then (with) the girls his name was 'Paul Casa-NO-bah'. I said, 'Cassie, man, that ain't fair!' They'd say, 'Where you from?' and he said, 'I'm from COO-bah.' "

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