A Most Valuable Shortstop
Zoilo Versalles became the first Latin American player voted his league’s MVP in 1965
By Nadia Stennes-Spidahl
Zoilo Versalles was born in Havana, Cuba in 1939. Twenty-six years later, in 1965, Versalles became the first Latino baseball player to win his league’s Most Valuable Player Award after leading the Minnesota Twins to their first AL pennant.
An acrobatic shortstop and productive hitter, he was an All-Star in 1963 and 1965, and voted first choice for American League MVP on 19 of 20 ballots in 1965. (The other first-place vote went to his teammate, Tony Oliva).
Signed at age 17 for no signing bonus by Joe Cambria, the legendary Latin American scout for the Washington Senators, Versalles made his major league debut with the Senators in 1959. Versalles moved with the franchise to Minnesota in 1961. He struggled with poor health and homesickness. In July, he left the team for several weeks, telling the team he was going back to Cuba. Instead, he ended up staying with a Minneapolis couple who offered their home for him to think things over. Soon, his wife, Maria Josefa, was able to join him from Cuba, and he returned to the team after three weeks.
In 1965, the Twins were dominant in the American League, winning 102 games. Versalles played 160 games, and in those games scored 126 runs and stole 27 bases, as well as batting .273. He credited Billy Martin, one of the Twins coaches, with teaching him how to read pitchers when he was running the bases, and how to read batters defensively. Injuries slowed his career after 1965, but he remained in the big leagues for another seven seasons after his MVP campaign.
He finished his 12-year big league career with 1,246 hits and a .242 batting average to go with two Gold Glove Awards and two All-Star Game selections.
Versalles passed away on June 9, 1995.
Nadia Stennes-Spidahl was a 2012 library research intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here