Fidel Castro Plays Ping Pong While Shirtless

Published April 19, 2016
Updated February 10, 2017
Fidel Castro Playing Ping Pong

In 1963, Fidel Castro plays a game of ping pong with one of the American students who traveled to Cuba without the permission of the State Department. This photo was taken by one of the Americans, John Salter of Greensboro, North Carolina, a former University of North Carolina student. Image Source: John Salter/Getty

Before Fidel Castro abandoned party leadership — five years ago today — the Cuban communist leader was known for, among other less innocuous things, playing a mean game of ping pong and in general being a stellar athlete.

Urban legend has it that Castro — who outlawed professional sports in 1960, one year after taking control of the Cuban government — had a fastball so impressive that he was courted by a suite of baseball teams, including the Washington Senators, New York Yankees, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Of course, none of this has been substantiated (Snopes has in fact dismissed all of these tales as mere fantasy). As Baseball Reference notes, β€œIt is likely he pitched in intramural competition in college for the University of Havana law school, but he was not good enough to pitch on the college’s varsity team.”

Still, some like to speculate as to how much the 20th century may have changed had American baseball scouts just tried to recruit Castro a little harder.

Below, check out footage of Castro pitching in 1959 Havana:


Next, be sure to check out these photos of Cuba before Castro.

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