Carrao Bracho, the throwing fisherman

Carrao Bracho was Venezuelan Cy Young, the smartest baseball star in a country known to her. When baseball ended, he disappeared into anonymity.

“I believe in America.”

Those are the first four words from the groundbreaking film The Godfather, and they aptly describe the little story we’re about to tell. America spawned baseball, and baseball spawned millions of dreams, both fulfilled and shattered.

Baseball produced Carrao Bracho, a Venezuelan pitcher extraordinaire, so yeah, we might as well start by saying, “I believe in America.”

Baseball is a big deal in Venezuela. It truly is the undisputed national pastime. It arrived in the country in the early decades of the 20th century, brought by American immigrants who were closely associated with Venezuela’s burgeoning oil industry at the time. Oil is not a minor detail here, as José de la Trinidad “Carrao” Bracho was born on July 23, 1928 in Maracaibo. Maracaibo is the capital of Zulia State and Lake Maracaibo is where the major oil deposits could be found. Therefore, baseball was always nearby.

Carrao grew up in a small fishing village called Los Puertos de Altagracia, separated from his birthplace by water. In Los Puertos he did exactly what everyone else did: fish. Fishing was with him much longer than baseball: it was with him before the game found him and long after the game left him. A fish bite accident left a permanent injury on his right hand – an injury that would later turn into an asset.

In 1941, Venezuelan baseball exploded when the national team won the World Baseball Championship in Havana, defeating Cuba with a team still referred to as “The Heroes of ’41.” Carrao was 13. In 1945, the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League was formed, cementing the sport across the country. In 1948 Carrao Bracho made his debut at Cervecería Caracas. He was 20 years old.

His amazing pro career in the country spanned 23 seasons, during which he became the all-time leader in terms of seasons played, games started (191), games completed (92), innings pitched (1,753) and wins (109). He was a symbol of constancy; a hard worker who would get the job done.

In the 1961-62 season for Oriente, he won an amazing 15 games (more than 25 percent of all games played that season). Last year he won 11. For comparison, in a typical Venezuelan season, every pitcher who wins six or seven games has the equivalent of a 20-win MLB season.

It is said that Carrao’s best pitch was a fork ball, which he allegedly invented. Did he invent that pitch to gain an advantage? no Necessity is the mother of invention. That injured finger, bitten by a fish as a kid, made him find another way to grab the ball just to be effective. And boy was he effective. It was one of those small random events in life that end up having unimaginable and long lasting consequences.

Major League Baseball has the Cy Young Award for Best Pitcher each year, and the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League has the Carrao Bracho Award for the same achievement. Cy Young continues to be MLB’s all-time leader in starts, complete games, innings pitched and wins…just like Carrao in Venezuela. The fisherman is our Cy Young. baseball myths; real workers.

Photo credit: Bracho family

Carrao Bracho, The Fisher King

Baseball is a beautiful pastoral sport; eye friendly. Professional baseball is show business, a little bit of beauty and fun in a gory atmosphere. In a century and a half, Major League Baseball had just over 20,000 players. During Carrao’s playing years, only 22 Venezuelans made it onto the Big Show.

Since then, more than 400 Venezuelans have made it to the majors, including Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Johan Santana, Felix Hernandez, Andres Galarraga and Hall-of-Famer Luis Aparicio, further cementing the country’s deep connection with American baseball. Corresponding baseball referencethe United States and Dominican Republic are the only countries producing more Major Leaguers.

Just jumping into the big leagues is an amazing feat, let alone staying there. Was Carrao Good Enough to Become an MLB Player? Most likely. Was he good enough to surpass himself? We’ll never know, and that’s definitely more controversial than the first question. What is certain is that a lack of talent has not prevented him from pursuing a career in America.

Carrao was born in Maracaibo and grew up in Los Puertos de Altagracia, which as the name suggests is basically a port. Even in Maracaibo, a relatively large city, he lived in an area called Milagro Norte (Wonders of the North), which is right on the lake. He spent most of his life by the water. And as it turned out, this Fisher King from North Miracle was afraid of planes. Carrao was a water creature and the sky was not for him. That limitation might be the main reason we didn’t have an MLB brachos chapter. Not his talent, but a peripheral technique. It therefore takes much more than skill and athletic ability to make it into the big leagues

MLB was not in Carrao’s cards. It’s bittersweet and a little romantic from a writer’s point of view – one of the greats from a great country who isn’t reaching the pinnacle of his career.


Photo credit: Ernesto Pérez

The old man and the lake

Professional baseball played almost no part in Carrao’s life after his retirement. He had no permanent positions in the game. Almost anyone who knows a little baseball in Venezuela would recognize him from the award that bears his name alone, but almost no one could name his accomplishments or even locate him from photos. Only loved ones know the few successes and many struggles of his later years.

In this quest for Carrao’s legend, we were fortunate to meet his living family members. They live in the same places as Carrao and basically live the same life. Bracho had very little to do with baseball in his later years, aside from occasionally fixing a glove here and there to make some money. When he lived in Maracaibo in Milagro Norte, he could be seen cleaning fish on the roadside near his home. No one would realize that this was the most successful pitcher in Venezuelan baseball history.

He was known and loved by family and neighbors. A bit of a folk hero in his area, he was a prankster. Friendly, loud, larger than life, fun and sweet with kids. That description would fit most old men in this part of Venezuela, where hot weather has made us loud and bad circumstances have created humor as a defense mechanism. However, Carrao was not most men.

Leroy, his grandson, does not remember talking about baseball at all. The only anecdote he could remember was the fact that Leroy tended to be left-handed as a baby and was told that his grandfather would tie his hand to keep Leroy from being left-handed.

“If my grandson is going to be a pitcher, he has to be right-handed like me,” was the quote Leroy repeated to us from his grandpa.

Carrao died on June 16, 2011 in Los Puertos de Altagracia. Leroy was 16 years old.

Dougnes, his granddaughter, has nothing but love in her voice when she talks about the old man. She says he was extremely professional and just as competitive when playing Creole balls, a game that requires throwing precision. He was also known as an avid domino player.

But of course the Fisher King of North Miracle had fishing as his favorite pastime. He used fishing hooks, nets and even harpoons. He used to dove into the lake without scuba gear to try to catch grouper near the oil pipelines in Lake Maracaibo. Once a giant grouper bit his arm and he wrestled with it, pulling the fish out of the water with his teeth still clutching him. He caught the fish, healed the wounds on his arm and ate it.

Carrao was never wealthy: not when he was born, not when he played baseball, and certainly not after he retired. was he happy That’s impossible to say. He’s certainly lived quite a life. It has been said that beer drinking was a big part of the Fisher King’s final years. He reportedly sold all of his baseball memorabilia and trophies to buy beer. He did not present the award with his name to the pitchers who won it each season. Usually his deceased son or grandson Leroy were his representatives when these ceremonies took place.

Cy Young’s later years were also very tough financially, and although he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he was not highly celebrated during his lifetime. This is another similarity between the two legendary pitchers. Cy worked on his farm. Carrao was fishing at the lake. Both struggled to make ends meet. Slightly nefarious ends to legendary lives, some might think, but they have a quiet dignity. Pitching is the ultimate individual position in a collective game. A conversation between Cy and José could have been something wonderful.


Photo credit: Ernesto Pérez

When the legends die

The first motivation to write this piece was the faces of the fans. That happiness on everyone’s face watching their team’s star pitcher get the outs and win the games. How many smiles has Carrao put on thousands of faces that are no longer here? We wanted to search for the ghost of Carrao. We also wanted to look for the spirit of a smile.

Carrao’s footprint in Venezuelan baseball is undeniable, even if that footprint seems to have been left on the sandy shores of Lake Maracaibo with ripples that will erase it from our memories. But the fact that this story is real and largely untold is another example of what baseball keeps giving us — romance, sadness, ups and downs. Carrao made brief appearances in the minor leagues in 1952 and 1954, but we don’t know much about those experiences other than his stats, and we don’t really know what he believed about this far-off land, the birthplace of baseball.

But we do know that if Americans had ever seen him, they would have believed in him.

Leroy now coaches low-income kids in Maracaibo, teaching them the basics of baseball. Since life is wonderful and strange at times, chances are one of these kids will make it big. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless. Perhaps Leroy’s love of the game, a love that can be directly linked to his grandfather’s story, is changing lives for the better right now, whether these kids make it big or not. As a result, the legend of Carrao lives on.

Tecumseh said, “When the legends die, the dreams end. When dreams end, there is no more greatness”. As long as these kids, who probably don’t even know Carrao, have dreams, his greatness is assured.

Original photos were taken by Ernesto Perez. Carrao Bracho, the throwing fisherman

John Verrall

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