Friday, December 31, 2010

Video describes television coverage of baseball in Cuba

YouTube video in Spanish entitled Historia de la TV Cubana III describing the history of TV in Cuba. The beginning is dedicated to television coverage of baseball in Cuba.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dec. 29: On this day in 1878, the Cuban League was born

An eight-run eighth inning propelled Habana to a 21-20 victory against Almendares in the first game in Cuban League history.

Habana would go undefeated that season, 4-0-1, beating Almendares and Matanzas for the pennant in a season that lasted from Dec. 29, 1878 to Feb. 16, 1879 with Leopoldo de Sola serving as president of the league.

Habana was led by Cuban baseball luminaries such as Esteban Bellan, the first Cuban to play in the majors with the Troy Haymakers of the National Association; and Emilo Sabourin (right), one of the league's founders who fought for Cuba's independence from Spain and died in prison in 1896.

This inaugural season saw an all-time league record for most runs scored in a game (60) when Habana beat Matanza 34-26 on Jan. 26, 1879, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cocaina Garcia starred as a pitcher and hitter in Cuba

Dec. 28: On this day in 1905, Manuel "Cocaina" Garcia was born in Manacas, Las Villas, Cuba.

Garcia, who threw the fifth no-hitter in Cuban League history in 1943, played for Almendares, Habana, Cuba and Santa Clara during 18 winter seasons in Cuba between 1926-48.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, Garcia (shown in this 1946-47 Almanaque Deportivo card) batted .260 for his career while compiling an 85-61 record as a pitcher, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

Sal Maglie developed his intimidating style in Cuba

Dec. 28: On this day in 1992, former major-league pitcher Sal Maglie died in his hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, Maglie pitched 10 seasons in the majors between 1945-58, his best coming in 1951 when he went 23-6 with a 2.93.

He only pitched two seasons in Cuba: 1945-46 with Cienfuegos and 1947-48 with Cuba and Alacranes of with the independent Players Federation. In '47-48, Maglie led the league in wins (14), complete games (20) and innings pitched (211), according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961.

Those two seasons in Cuba helped Maglie develop his reputation as an intimidating pitcher, one that earned him his nickname -- The Barber -- for the close shaves he gave opposing hitters with his pitches.

James D. Szalontai's book Close Shave: The Life and Times of Baseball's Sal Maglie recounts how Cuban baseball legend Adolfo Luque helped develop Maglie's intimidating style:

He had been a master of "shaving" hitters ... In Luque's eyes, Maglie had pitching skills but not pitching finesse. So with his fertile baseball mind, he began to transform Maglie into a pitcher, an intimidator and not merely a thrower. With the help of his tutor, Maglie began to develop his trademark style that would frighten hitters for years to come. Any psychological advantage he could find would be used to intimindate a batter. A scowl, a menacing laugh or a fastball at the head. ... Luque believed that the inside corner of the plate belonged to the pitcher. He believed in protecting his bread and butter and Maglie would become his most dogmatic student in his philosophy of pitching.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cuba's first recorded baseball game was played in 1874

Dec. 27: On this day in 1874, the first recorded organized baseball game in Cuba was played.

Held at Palmar de Junco (shown in this 1901 image) in Pueblo Nuevo, Matanzas, the game pitted Matanzas against Habana, with Habana winning 51-9.

Habana's team featured Cuban baseball pioneers Emilo Sabourin and Esteban Bellan, the first Cuban to play in the major leagues when he donned the uniform of the Troy Haymakers of the National Association in 1871.

According to Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria's book The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, the game was called after seven innings because of darkness. Bellan homered twice and Sabourin scored eight runs.

The game was played no more than a decade after the game was introduced to the island, although the details of how baseball was brought to Cuba vary.

Some accounts credit Nemesio Guillot, an upper class youth educated in America, with bringing baseball when he returned to Cuba in 1864. Other accounts credit sailors from an American naval ship anchored at the port of Matanzas with demonstrating the game to locals in 1866.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jose Mendez topped Eddie Plank when A's visited Cuba in 1910

The 1910 World Series champion Philadelphia Athletics at Almendares Park during their barnstorming trip to Cuba.

This photo was shared by BSmile at Baseball Fever. According to BSmile, the following player identifications were provided Gary Livacari (GaryL) and Mark Fimoff (bmarlowe):

Top from left: second baseman Claude Derrick, co-owner Ben Shibe, pitcher Chief Bender, catcher Jack Lapp, John Shibe (Ben Shibe's son). Bottom from left: pitcher Eddie Plank, third baseman Stuffy McInnis, left fielder Topsey Hartzel, first baseman Harry Davis, center fielder Bris Lord, catcher Ira Thomas, shortstop Jack Barry and right fielder Danny Murphy.

During the trip, the A's dropped three of five games to Habana, with future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank losing twice and Chief Bender once.

Almendares also took three of five from the A's with Jose Mendez beating Plank twice by scores of 5-2 and 7-5.

Manager Connie Mack and players Eddie Collins and Frank "Home Run" Baker didn't make the trip.

Because Collins and Baker failed to make the trip, promoter Eugenio Jimenez dropped the money guarantee for each player from $500 to $387, plus transportation for the player and his wife, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Quincy Trouppe played three seasons with Marianao

Dec. 25: On this day in 1912, Negro leagues star Quincy Trouppe was born in Dublin, Ga.

Trouppe, who played for the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, Cleveland Buckeyes and New York Cubans, among others between 1930-49, played with the Cleveland Indians in 1952.

In the Cuban League, Trouppe (shown in this 1949-50 Alerta premium) played three seasons for Marianao, in 1944-45, '49-50 and '50-51.

The switch-hitting Trouppe batted .254 in his three Cuban League seasons, including .317 in 1944-45, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Josh Gibson led Cuban League in home runs in 1938-39

Dec. 21: On this day in 1911, Negro leagues slugger Josh Gibson was born in Buena Vista, Ga.

Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Gibson only played two seasons in the Cuban League, but they were significant ones.

In 1937-38, Gibson played for Habana. Although the team finished last, Gibson batted .344.

The following season, Gibson (left in a photo that sold for $1,150 on Robert Edwards Auction) helped lead Santa Clara to the league pennant, leading the league with 11 home runs and 50 runs scored while batting .356.

Gibson's teammates on that great Santa Clara team included Sam Bankhead, Ray Brown and Cuban stars Lazaro Salazar, Santos Amaro and Manuel Garcia.

Garcia and Brown each won 11 games. Salazar won six while batting .293 and also serving as the team's manager. Amaro batted .366.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Julio Becquer starred for Marianao for 10 seasons

Dec. 20: On this day in 1931, former major leaguer and Cuban League star Julio Becquer was born in Havana.

Becquer, who played for the Washington Senators, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins during seven major-league seasons from 1955-63, was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Becquer, who played 10 seasons with Marianao from 1951-61, is fourth on the Cuban League's career home run list with 54, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

Twice he led the Cuban League in RBI (49 in 1955-56 and 50 in 1960-61). Becquer also led the league in homers with 15 in 1960-61.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ramon Herrera played in Cuban, Negro and major leagues

Dec. 19: On this day in 1897, Ramon "Mike" Herrera was born in Havana.

Herrera played in the Cuban League, Negro leagues and the majors, and although the year of his birth is listed as 1897, Agate Type turned up some conflicting documentation that calls that into question.

And why was he nicknamed Mike? Unknown. In Cuba, he was known as "Paito." There he played for Almendares, Fe, Red Sox (yes, there was a Cuban League team with that name briefly), Habana and Marianao in 18 seasons between 1913-30.

In the majors, Herrera played two seasons for the Boston Red Sox, batting .257 in 74 games in 1926. And he played for the Cuban Stars of the Negro leagues in 1920 and '21.

But perhaps most curious is the notion -- put forth in the 2002 book, More Tales from the Red Sox Dugout -- that Herrera might have been the first black player to play for the Red Sox.

In this 1923-24 Billikens card, he certainly appears to be white, but the chapter on Herrera opens:

Were the Red Sox the last major league team to sign a black player? Or were they one of the first? Did the Red Sox actually hava black player long before Pumpsie Green and 22 years before Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers?

But even the book, quickly notes that "for those who want to measure such things, he may have been more white than black."

Tony Taylor was one of the most popular Phillies players

Dec. 19: On this day in 1935, former major leaguer Antonio "Tony" Taylor was born in Central Alava, Matanzas, Cuba.

Taylor, who played with the Cubs, Phillies and Tigers in 19 major-league seasons from 1958-76, was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

Taylor played for Marianao in 1954-55 and '55-56. He's shown in the above photo -- second from left, with teammates, including Minnie Miñoso -- which had been a part of Latino Baseball's 100 Years of Caribbean Baseball photo gallery.

After two seasons with the Tigres, Taylor played five seasons with Almendares between 1956-61.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Taylor three times led the Cuban League in triples, in batting average once (.303 in 1958-59) and in stolen bases once (22 in 1960-61).

In the majors, Taylor batted .261 for his career while compiling 234 stolen bases. After retiring he served as an assistant coach for the Phillies and Marlins and was inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2002.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Zoilo Versalles won AL MVP in 1965

Dec. 18: On this day in 1939, Zoilo Versalles was born in Havana.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, Versalles played for Cienfuegos in 1957-58 and for Marianao from 1958-61.

He played for the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians in 12 major-league seasons between 1959-71.

Along with Jose Canseco, Versalles is one of only two Cuban-born players to win an MVP award in the major leagues: 1965 with the Twins when he batted .272 with 19 home runs and 77 RBI while leading the American League with 126 runs and 45 doubles.

Versalles died in 1995 in Bloomington, Minn.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Chandler blocked Bob Feller from playing in Cuba

Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Feller, who died Wednesday night of acute leukemia at age 92, never played in the Cuban League ... but he almost did.

According to Jorge S. Figueredo's book Beisbol: A Un Paco de las Grandes Ligas, 1878-1961, Feller had agreed to play with Almendares in 1947 but was blocked by baseball commissioner Happy Chandler.

The story is recounted in several websites, including Baseballpedia and The Baseball Page.

It goes as follows:

In 1947, Feller announced that he would pitch in the Cuban winter league in the off-season. Unfortunately, he made the announcement in August while the Indians were in the midst of a pennant race. Cleveland fans howled. Feller explained that he had to make the announcement earlier than planned because the news was going to leak in Cuba. Regardless, MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler ruled that no major leaguer could play in Cuba during the winter. Feller fired back at Chandler, citing that minor leaguers were not restricted by the ruling.

”Why should a major league player be limited to 30 days of barnstorming when a minor leaguer can play ball all winter? Chandler’s ruling places a penalty on being a major leaguer.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Carl Erskine honed curveball in Cuban League

Dec. 13: On this day in 1926, former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine was born in Anderson, Ind.

Erskine, who pitched 12 seasons for the Dodgers between 1948-49, pitched one season for Cienfuegos in the Cuban League 1947-48, going 9-7 with a 2.94 ERA.

In Tales from the Dodgers Dugout, Erskine (far right) wrote about his experience in Cuba, where as a 20-year-old fresh off his first minor-league season he worked on changing the grip on his curveball but "could not get much velocity on the pitch, so in tight situations I would revert back to my old curveball."

Then in a start against Almendares, Erskine took a 3-0 shutout into the ninth inning. Given that in the Cuban League at that time a shutout meant a $25 bonus, he faced a decision when the leadoff man tripled to open the ninth:

Do I stay with my new curveball or go back to my old reliable pitch to save the shutout? I was torn. ... I wanted the shutout, but I wanted long-term success too. Finally, I said to myself, 'No, I am not giving in. I'm sticking with my new curveball.' I retired the next three batters ... Yes, I got the shutout and the $25, but I received much more than that. I matured as a pitcher and that experience did wonders for my self-confidence.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lazaro Salazar starred as a hitter, pitcher and manager

Dec. 12: On this day in 1912, Lazaro Salazar was born in Havana.

Known as El Principe de Belen, the Prince of Belen, Salazar was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1959. He played for Santa Clara, Almendares and Marianao from 1930-48.

Salazar (shown in this 1947-48 Kellegg's Corn Flakes postcard) was twice named the Cuban League MVP (1934-35 and 1937-38) and twice the league in batting average, including a .407 mark in 1934-35, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961. Six times he batted over .300, and he also compiled a 35-24 record as a pitcher, leading the league with six wins in 1934-35.

As a manager, Salazar led Santa Clara to back-to-back Cuban League pennants in 1937-38 and '38-39.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cocaina Garcia tossed 5th no-hitting in Cuban League history

Dec. 11: On this day in 1943, Manuel "Cocaina" Garcia threw the fifth no-hitting in Cuban League history.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, Garcia (shown in this 1947 Casa Caluff postcard) played for Almendares, Santa Clara and Habana between 1926-48.

During the 1943-44 season, Garcia's no-hitter came against Marianao, a 5-0 victory at La Tropical Stadium. That season, he also won 12 consecutive games and batted .431, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Habana won the pennant by 6 games over Almendares.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Luis Tiant Sr. pitched three decade in the Cuban League

Dec. 10: On this day in 1976, Luis Tiant Sr. died in Boston.

Tiant, elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, pitched for Cuba, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Regla, Habana, Almendares, Marianao and Santiago between 1926-48.

Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961 lists the lefty's Cuban League record at 42-60.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Miñoso led Marianao to first Cuban League pennant in 1956-57

A 1956-57 card album showing the logos of the four Cuban League teams (clockwise): Almendares, Habana, Marianao and Cienfuegos.

That season Marianao won its first Cuban League pennant in 20 years of existance as Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso was named MVP while winning the batting title (.312).

On the pitching side, the Tigres were led by Mike Fornieles (11-7) and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning (11-5).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thompson starred for Habana, was part of first all-black MLB outfield

Dec. 8: On this day in 1925, former Negro, Major and Cuban league outfielder Hank Thompson was born in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Thompson (shown in this 1946-47 Almanaque Deportivo card) joined Monte Irvin and Willie Mays in forming the first all-black major-league outfield with the New York Giants in 1951. Ironcially, all three were on Cuban League rosters as well, Thompson with Habana and Irvin and Mays with Almendares.

Known in Cuba as Ametrilladora, "Machine Gun," Thompson played three season with Habana between 1946-49, batting .320, .318 and .321.

According to his Negro League Baseball Players Association bio, Thompson, on June 9, 1949, married Havana beauty Maria Quesada, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cover of the Programa Oficial of the 1949-50 Cuban League season.

In that season, Almendares won the pennant by two games over Cienfuegos as Fermin Guerra, who batted .308, earned MVP and Manager of the Year honors, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Habana's Pedro Formental led the league with a .336 average and 51 RBI. Cienfuegos' Thomas Fine led the league with 16 victories as a reliever. And Almendares' Roberto Ortiz and Habana's Don Lenhart each clubbed 15 home runs to set a single-season league mark.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cardinals played series in Cuba in March, 1940

Postcard from Havana's RHC Cadena Azul radio station commemorating the St. Louis Cardinals' spring training visit to Cuba in March of 1940.

The Cardinals, held spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla., that year, but played four games in Havana against a Cuban all-star squad managed by Adolfo Luque. The Cards won the first three games by scores of 5-4, 5-3 and 6-0, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

But the Cubans, behind the pitching of Agapito Mayor, beat St. Louis 4-2 in the American Series finale.

The Cardinals team included Mickey Owen, Johnny Mize, Pepper Martin, Enos Slaughter and a lefty pitcher who seven years later would team up with Mayor to give Almendares a three-game pennant-clinching sweep of Habana: Max Lanier.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Miguel Angel Gonzalez managed Habana to team's and his final Cuban League pennant in 1952-53

Cover of the 1952-53 Cuban League Official Program.

That season, Miguel Angel Gonzalez managed Habana to its third consecutive pennant and 13th title in 34 seasons since 1914, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

With Gonzalez retiring after the season, the Lions never one another league championship.

Habana's Lou Klein led the league in 1952-53 with a single-season record 16 home runs and teammate Pedro Formental drove in a league-high 57, but Marianao's Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso (.327, 13 home runs, 42 RBI) was named MVP.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ramon Roger tossed 11 scoreless innings in longest Cuban game

Dec. 1: On this day in 1997, Cuban League star Ramon Roger died.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame on June 28 of that year, Roger (shown in this 1943-44 La Campaña card) played for Cienfuegos, Marianao and Cuba between 1942-49. His best season came in 1943-44 when he went 10-5.

That same season, Roger pitched 11 scoreless innings in a Dec. 2 game that went 20 innings and lasted 4 hours, 25 minutes, the longest game in league history, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961. In that game, Roger's Cienfuegos team beat Marianao 6-5 on an error by Oral "Mickey" Burnett.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hidalgo starred in Cuban and Florida International leagues

Nov. 30: On this day in 1918, Manuel "Chino" Hidalgo was born in Banes, Oriente, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, Hidalgo played for Habana, Cienfuegos, Almendares and Oriente between 1940-55.

Hidalgo (shown in this 1949-50 Alerta premium) played 10 minor-league seasons, including six with the Havana Cubans of the Florida International League.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Hidalgo ranks first in team history in home runs (36), RBI (351) and batting average (.315). He was the International League's MVP in 1946 and '47 and led the league with 200 hits in 1947.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Orestes Miñoso starred for Marianao for 14 seasons

Nov. 29: On this day in 1923, Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) "Minnie" Miñoso was born in Perico, Matanzas, Cuba.

Miñoso, who played in the majors in five different decades -- from 1949-1964, plus 1976 and 1980 -- was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983. He played 14 seasons for Marianao between 1945-61,

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Miñoso (shown in a 1947 Casa Caluff postcard) ranks second in Cuban League history in runs scored (504), triples (51) and home runs (66). He was the league's rookie of the year in 1945-46. Twice, he was the league's MVP (1952-53 and 1956-57).

His MVP season in 1956-57 marked his and Marianao's first Cuban League pennant, a feat the club repeated in 1957-58.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's eMuseum has five interesting video interviews with Miñoso on various subjects, including:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jose Tartabull played three seasons for Marianao

Nov. 27: On this day in 1938, Jose Tartabull was born in Cienfuegos, Las Villas, Cuba.

Tartabull (shown in this Corbis photo) was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. He played nine major-league seasons with the Kansas City Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's, .

The father of former major leaguer Danny Tartabull, Jose played three seasons with Marianao from 1958-61.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Negro leaguer Clint Thomas starred with Almendares, Habana

Nov. 25: On this day in 1896, Negro leagues star Clint "Hawk" Thomas was born in Greenup, Ky.

Thomas, who played for the Hilldale Giants, Bacharach Giant, New York Lincoln Giants and New York Black Yankees in the Negro leagues, played six winters in Cuba between 1923-30.

Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961 lists his career batting average in Cuba at .310 during three seasons in the Cuban League with Habana and Almendares and three independent seasons with Habana and Alacranes.

According to Jorge S. Figueredo's book, Thomas batted .371 to help lead Almendares to the Cuban League pennant in 1924-25. Among his teammates were Negro leagues stars Bullet Rogan, Biz Mackey, Pop Lloyd, Dick Lundy and Oscar Charleston.

This photo and many others Cuban baseball images are available for purchase at The Rucker Archives.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Napoleon Reyes was a player-manager in short-lived Players Federation League

Nov. 24: On this day in 1919 Napoleon Reyes was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, Reyes is shown here in a 1947-48 Sol de Oro premium that was part of a lot that brought a winning bid of $479 at Leland's in 2006.

Reyes was the player-manager for the Cuba entry of the Players Federation League, which played at La Tropical Stadium concurrently with the official Cuban League.

With Reyes batting .227, Cuba finished second, four games behind Leones and two games ahead of Alacranes. The Santiago entry withdrew from the league on Dec. 15, 1947, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Although the league only lasted the one season, it includes some of the top winter league players in Cuba, such as Max Lanier, Sal Maglie, Roberto Ortiz, Luis Olmo, Alejandro Crespo, Sandalio Consuegra, Adrian Zabala, Hector Rodriguez, Terris McDuffie, Fred Martin, Agapito Mayor and Avelino Cañizares.

Aside from Reyes, the other managers in the league Adolfo Luque (Alacranes), Salvador Hernandez (Leones) and Lazaro Salazar (Santiago).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Before earning 229 MLB wins, Luis Tiant pitched for Habana

Nov. 23: On this day in 1940, Luis Tiant Jr. was born in Marianao, Cuba.

Tiant, who was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, earned his fame in the major leagues, where his 229 career victories rank No. 1 among pitchers born in Cuba.

But before he began his major league career in 1964 with the Cleveland Indians, Tiant pitched one season in the Cuban League.

He went 10-8 with a 2.72 ERA for Habana in 1960-61, the final year of the professional Cuban League. The photo to the right is from Jorge S. Figueredo's book, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

While playing for the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League, the Indians bought his contract in 1962, and Tiant didn't return to Cuba until the making of the 2009 documentary, Lost Son of Havana.

During a 2001 interview, Tiant described how difficult it was for him to have left his family -- including his father, Cuban League star Luis Tiant Sr. -- behind in Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

"Those first five years, forget about it. I'd be in Puerto Rico or Mexico and whenever there was a party with neighbors -- Christmas, New Year's -- I'd have to leave the party. I'd go sit in my car or go outside to cry. ... I'd start thinking, 'I wonder what my family is eating. What are they doing? I'm here eating well, having a good time. And they're stuck there (in Cuba)."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roy Campanella in Cuba for spring training that ushered Jackie Robinson's arrival in the majors

Nov. 19: On this day in 1921, Hall of Famer Roy Campanella was born in Philadelphia.

"Campy," the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, also played for last-place Marianao during the 1943-44 season, when he batted. 266 and lead the Tigres with 27 RBI.

More significant was his presence in Cuba in February-March 1947 as the Dodgers held spring training in Havana, a prelude to Jackie Robinson breaking the major league color barrier.

That spring, Robinson, Campanella, Don Newcombe and Roy Partlow were on the Dodgers' Montreal Royals farm team, quartered in seedy Havana hotel while the Dodgers stayed at the opulent Hotel Nacional.

During a 1997 interview, Newcombe described Campanella's importance to the quartet:

Thank God for Roy Campanella. He spoke a lot of it [Spanish]. He's from an Italian father. Italian and Spanish are similar. Roy made it possible for us to do the things we did. Roy spoke it and understood it. He could order food for us. ... We depended very much on Roy to get us a decent room in the hotel, get a fan in the hotel so we can sleep at night, those kinds of things.

Campanella made his major-league debut a year after Robinson on April 20, 1948. He died June 26, 1993 in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Negro leaguer Max Manning played for Cienfuegos, Habana

Nov. 18: On this day in 1918, Negro leagues player Max Manning was born in Rome, Ga.

The bespectacled Manning, nicked "Dr. Cyclops" while playing in the Negro leagues with the Newark Eagles and "Profesor," in the Cuban League, played three seasons (1946-49) with Cienfuegos and the 1949-50 season with Habana. He went 27-33 in his four seasons in Cuba.

In 1948, New York Cubans owner Alex Pompez, while working as a scout for the New York Giants, tried to sign Manning for the major league team but that would have required negotiating with Eagles owners Effa and Abe Manley.

His baseball career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, which included spending 15 days in the stockade for insubordination "resulting from the existing racial climate," according to James A. Riley's The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Buck O'Neil played in Cuban League's greatest season

Nov. 13: On this day in 1911, former Negro leagues star Buck O'Neil was born in Carabelle, Fla.

Before O'Neil became in household name thanks to Ken Burns' epic 1994 documentary Baseball, he was a star first baseman and later manager for the Kansas City Monarchs and played one season with Almendares -- one very significant season.

O'Neil (shown above in his Almanaque Deportivo Cuban baseball card) was the starting first baseman on the 1946-47 Almendares team that swept Habana in the teams' final three games to capture the Cuban League pennant in what is still considered the greatest climax in league history.

O'Neil only batted a forgettable .214 with 11 RBI that season, but he remembered the celebration of Almendares' pennant-victory on the streets of Havana when I interviewed him in 1999.

“Whew, they turned it out. Everybody was excited. They had people riding all over the streets in cars, hanging onto streetcars, blowing horns, with ribbons and banners and everything. Oh, Havana was outstanding, really.”

In the photo to the left, my wife, Karen, and I met O'Neil at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where he served as the museum's chairman for many years. O'Neil was gracious enough to sign the Almendares jersey I'm holding in the photo.

As a player in the Negro leagues, he named to the East-West All-Star Classic in 1942, 1943 and 1949. As a manager, O'Neil led the Monarchs to league titles in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953. In 1962, when he became the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues with the Chicago Cubs.

O'Neil died Oct. 6, 2006 at age 94 -- eight months after he, surprisingly, was not among the 17 Negro leaguers elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in a special vote by a 12-member committee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Avelino Cañizares a mainstay for Almendares title teams

Nov. 10: On this date in 1919, Cuban League star Avelino Cañizares was born in Havana.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, Cañizares played nine seasons with Almendares between 1942-54.

Cañizares was a mainstay at shortstop for Almendares as the team won Cuban League pennant in 1944-45, 1946-47, 1948-49 and 1949-50.

'Rifleman' Chuck Connors wielded bat for Almendares

Nov. 10: On this date, actor and one-time baseball player Chuck Connors died in 1992 in Los Angeles.

Best known for his 1950s-60s TV show, The Rifleman, Connors was a Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand, a major-league player (briefly) and played two seasons with Almendares, winning back-to-back Cuban League pennants from 1948-50.

He batted .257 with three home runs and 35 RBI during the 1948-49 season and .287 with three homers and 17 RBI in 1949-50.

This photo brought a winning bid of $297 at Leland's in December 2004.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

YouTube video entitled 'Baseball Cubano'

Alejandro Oms batted .432 for Santa Clara in 1923-23

Nov. 9: On this date in 1946, Cuban and Negro leagues star Alejandro Oms died.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1944, Oms is third on the All-time Cuban League list in batting average (.345) and holds the records for the longest hitting streak (30 games in 1928), most consecutive seasons batting over .300 (eight) and most seasons batting over .300 (11), according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961.

Between 1922-46, Oms played for Santa Clara, Matanzas, San Jose, Cuba, Marianao, Habana and Almendares and led the Cuban League in batting four times.

He was the MVP of the 1928-29 season, when he set the all-time Cuban League mark with a .432 batting average while leading Habana to the pennant. And he teammed with Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston and Pable Mesa to form what is considered the greatest outfield in Cuban League history with the pennant-winning Santa Clara team of the 1923-24 season.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Andres Fleitas was MVP of fabled 1946-47 season

Nov. 8: On this date in 1916, Cuban League star Andres Fleitas was born in Central Constancia, Abreu, Las Villas.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, Fleitas was the MVP of the fabled 1946-47 season, in which Almendares swept Habana in the teams' final three-game series to win the pennant.

Fleitas, who batted .316 that season, tripled in the winning run in seventh inning in the second game of that series as Almendares beat Habana 2-1 behind a complete-game effort by Agapito Mayor. The next day, Fleitas was behind the plate as Max Lanier beat Habana 9-2 on one-day's rest.

In 1999, Lanier asked me to pass along a note to Fleitas that read in part:

You were a great person as well as a great catcher. I couldn’t have won those two games without you behind home plate.

Between 1942-55, Fleitas played 10 seasons with Almendares. Unlike his brother, Angel, who played with the Washington Senators in 1948, Andres never played in the majors -- although the Baseball Reference website has Andres' mugshot on Angel's bio page.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jose Mendez was a star of the Cuban and Negro leagues

Nov. 6: On this date in 1928, Hall of Fame pitcher Jose Mendez died in Havana, Cuba.

A Cuban League and Negro leagues star, Mendez compiled a 76-28 record 13 seasons in Cuba, pitching for Almendares, Santa Clara and Matanzas.

Enshrined in the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame since 1939, Mendez was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., by a special election of Negro League players in 2006.

This charcoal sketch by a Bohemia magazine artist named Rivadulla was up for auction at Leland's in June 2005. The penciled notation at the bottom reads: "Publicado Feb. 12 de 1950 Bohemia Ano 42 Num. 7," "Published Feb. 12, 1950, Bohemia Year No. 42, Issue No. 7."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Red Sox held spring training at La Tropical Stadium in 1941

A 1941 photo of the Boston Red Sox holding spring training at Estadio La Tropical in Havana, Cuba.

Visible in the photo are Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx (throwing) and perhaps Bobby Doerr (to Foxx's right).

This photo and three others from that spring training were up for auction in September at Cuban Baseball Cards Auctions, yet these amazing images received no bids.

This despite, or perhaps because of, a ... unique condition of the auction:

Any bids on this lot will be considered an official acknowledgment by the bidder that the Red Sox suck. Any such declaration of heretofore mentioned Boston suckery will be considered binding and valid until such time at which the Red Sox do not suck or are deemed no longer relevant as a professional sports franchise.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dick Sisler was Cuban League legend

Nov. 2: On this date in 1920, Dick Sisler was born.

Sisler, the son of Hall of Famer George Sisler, became a Cuban League legend while playing with Habana during the 1945-46 and 1953-54 seasons.

In 1945, he hit two home runs in his first game on Dec. 11. Later that season in a Jan. 23, 1946 game, Sisler clubbed a homer over a 450-foot barrier La Tropical Stadium, “hitting a wall at the brewery next door,” according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961. And the next day, he belted three homers off Sal Maglie, pitching for Cienfuegos.

Sisler's exploits even got him mentioned in Ernest Hemingway's Pulitzer-winning novel The Old Man and the Sea when the character of Santiago remembers “Dick Sisler and those great drivers at the old park.”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bobby Bragan was winningest American manager in Cuba

Oct 30: On this day in 1917 Almendares manager Bobby Bragan was born in Birmingham, Ala.

Bragan, right, shown with Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso in a photo that was up for auction on Cuban Baseball Cards Auction, was the winningest American manager in Cuban League history, leading Almendares to 164 victories in four seasons between 1952-58. Almendares won the pennant in the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons with Bragan at the helm.

Bragan, who was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, died Jan. 21, 2010 so the longtime Texas Rangers special assistant never got to see the team reach the first World Series in its history.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Life' magazine photos by Mark Kauffman show shanty town in shadows of El Gran Stadium

One of an amazing series of 1950s Mark Kauffman photos from the Life magazine archives on Google. This and other photos depict a "shanty town" in the shadows of the left-field stands of El Gran Estadio de la Habana.

The stadium also was referred to as El Estadio del Cerro, for the working-class barrio del Cerro where the stadium stood. But given the conditions they appear to have lived in, these people could only hope to be "working class."

When I first saw the photos, all I could wonder was how -- if at all -- did Life put them into context with whatever pictorial it ran on Cuban baseball; so many of Kauffman's other photos from that shoot depict the festive atmosphere in the stadium.

My father, who would have been in his early teens at the time these photos appear to have been taken, said he had no idea such a scene ever existed outside the stadium.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lou Klein, record holder for most homers in a Cuban League season

Oct. 22:On this date in 1918, Habana infielder Lou Klein was born.

Shown in this 1945-46 Caramelo Deportivo por Felices card, Klein was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Between 1945-54, Klein played four seasons with Habana and one with Leones (1947-48).

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961, Klein holds the Cuban League record for most home runs in a season -- 16 during the 1952-53 season -- and led the league in batting (.330) in 1946-47.

Klein, who died on June 20, 1876, played five major league seasons between 1943-51, including four with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Regino Otero: Best fielding first baseman of his era

Oct. 21:On this day in 1988, long-time Cienfuegos first baseman Regino Otero died.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, Otero was considered the finest defensive first baseman of his era in the Cuban League, a fact confirmed to me by my father.

He played 11 of his 14 seasons from 1936-53 with Cienfuegos, compiling a .244 career batting average.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961, never hit a home run in 2,202 career at-bats in Cuba.

Otero also managed Cienfuegos (1964) and Almendares (1961) in the Cuban League, Venezuela's entry in the Caribbean Series in 1956 and '58 and the Cuban Sugar Kings from 1954-56.

I went to school with Otero's son in South Florida in the early 1980s.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cabañas cigarette set from 1909: 'Holy Grail of Cuban cards'

Eight Cabañas cigarette cards from 1909, the "Holy Grail of Cuban cards," as described by Leland's.

Clockwise from top left, the players are Almendares' Rafael Almeida, "Pajaro" Cabrera, "Mamelo" Garcia, Armando Marsans, "Chino" Cabañas, Esteban Prats and Carlos Royer and Habana's Emilio Palomio. All are in the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

These cards brought a $2,259.08 winning bid in June of 2005.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Martin Dihigo managed, pitched, batted Marianao to '36-37 title

Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo arguing with umpire Raul "Chino" Atan while playing for Marianao in 1937, according to the information with the photo at Robert Edwards Auctions.

If it was the 1936-37 season, Dihigo, the only player enshrined in Halls of Fame in four countries -- the United States, Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico -- went 14-11 as Marianao won the Cuban League by one game over Santa Clara. He also batted .323, according to Who's Who In Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961. And by the way, he also was the team's manager.

Atan, who played with Almendares in 1926-27, was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame as an umpire in 1997.

This photo sold for $517.50 at Robert Edwards Auction in 2004.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Salvador Hernandez managed Leones to title in 1947-48

Habana jersey worn by Salvador Hernandez that brought a winning bid of $1,827 at Leland's in May of 2002.

The auction website says the jersey came directly from Hernandez's family and lists it as being from the 1944 Cuban League season.

But the design indicates it's actually from the 1947-48 Players Federation, a short-lived circuit that operated outside Organized Baseball at Stadium La Tropical.

That season, Hernandez, who was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, served as manager and catcher for the Leones de la Habana team. He batted .232 but managed the team to a first-place finish.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marrero, Moreno were dominant for 1947 Havana Cubans

Havana Cubans program from the 1947 Florida International League season.

The 1947 Cubans won the then-Class C league championship, beating the Tampa Smokers by two games in the standings.

Havana included pitchers Connie Marrero and Julio Moreno. Marrero went 25-6 with a 1.66 ERA. Moreno went 19-4 with a 2.143 ERA.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Silvio Garcia might have had role in breaking baseball's color barrier

Oct. 11: On this date in 1914, Silvio Garcia was born in Limonar, Matanzas, Cuba.

Garcia, elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, played for Habana, Marianao, Almendares, Santa Clara, Matanzas and Cienfuegos (10 seasons) from 1931-54.

On April 9, 1952, Garcia -- along with Havana Cubans teammate Angel Scull and George Handy of the Miami Beach Flamingos -- broke the color barrier in the Florida International League, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: 1878-1961.

Legend has it Garcia, shown in this 1949-50 Carteles magazine premium, was being considered by Branch Rickey to become the player who would break the major league color barrier. That was until Garcia, when asked by Rickey how he would react to a racial slur, responded, "I would kill him."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fermin Guerra starred as a player and mananger in Cuban League

Oct. 9: On this date in 1992, Fermin Guerra died.

Guerra, shown in this premium from the 1943-44 La Campaña Cubana set, was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Named league MVP for the 1949-50 season, Guerra played for Habana, Marianao and Almendares (13 seasons) from 1934-55.

He also managed for 12 seasons, piloting Almendares to back-to-back Cuban League pennant in 1948-49 and 1949-50. He also managed Almendares to the Caribbean Series title in 1949

Guerra batted .242 in nine major league seasons with the Washington Senators, Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cuban magazine highlighted black players in the major leagues

Cover of a Cuban paper-bound book entitled El Negro en el Beisbol Norteamericano, "Blacks in North American Baseball."

The book, one of a series of four from 1953-56 that was auctioned by Leland's in June 2005, included articles and photos highlighting great former Negro leagues players in the majors.

On this 1956 cover, Cuban star Minnie Miñoso is shown sliding into home plate.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Heberto, Carlos Blanco: Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame brothers

Oct 7: On this date in 1920, Heberto Blanco was born. Blanco played for Santa Clara, Habana (eight seasons) and Marianao between 1940-51 and was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Blanco is part of an impressive Cuban baseball family. His brother, Carlos Blanco, played for Marianao, Santa Clara, Almendares, Cuba and Habana between 1935-51 and was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame along with his brother.
Heberto and Carlos' half-brothers, Carlos and Federico De Souza also played in the Cuban League, although neither had Hall of Fame careers.