Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pirates held spring training in Cuba in 1953 under Branch Rickey's direction

Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates during spring training in Cuba in 1953.

Information on the back of the photo -- which was part of a lot that was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auction in October 2010 -- identifies this as La Salle Field, near the team's headquarters in Marianao.

According to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, the Pirates -- under the direction of Branch Rickey, who had brought the Brooklyn Dodgers to Cuba for spring training in the 1940s -- played 10 games against a Cuban team managed by Rodolfo Fernandez. The Pirates won six of those games.

The Pirates also played games against the minor league Havana Cubans and other local teams in Santa Clara and hosted the Philadelphia Athletics for a pair of games, splitting the two contests.

The Pirates squad included Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner and future NBC broadcaster Joe Garagiola.
Kiner, who held out in a contract dispute, didn't join the team in Cuba until late March.

Jim Vitti's Brooklyn Dodgers in Cuba, quotes Otis "Stat" Davis as saying, "Rickey told him we can lose without you." That apparently was enough to get Kiner on a plane to Cuba.

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