Friday, March 12, 2010

Today's Cuban Series very different from winter league of yesteryear

The 49th Cuban National Baseball Series began earlier this month and already has featured a wild bench-clearing brawl.

But the list of participating teams is a stark reminder of the fight that was lost five decades ago: Industriales, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Ciego de Avila.

Yes, the series includes La Habana and Cienfuegos (the team's logo even contains an elephant) but there's no Almendares, no Marianao.

Cuba's four traditional professional teams faded from history in the aftermath of Fidel Castro coming to power on Jan. 1, 1959.

The 1960-61 season was the final professional winter league season played on the island, the relations between Cuba and the United State deteriorating to the point that Major League Baseball commissioner Ford Frick banned Americans from participating.

The Triple-A Cuban Sugar Kings ceased to exist on July 13, 1960. That's when the International League revoked the franchise and gave Cuban owner Bobby Maduro 48 hours to find a city to which to transfer the team.

After 6 1/2 years in Havana, the team had to relocate to Jersey City, New Jersery. The transfer was so abrupt, a strip of flannel with the words "Jersey City" had to be stitched on the uniforms (above, right).

Before that move, many in Cuba and viewed the Sugar Kings as an audition for a possible major league expansion franchise in Havana.

"If Cuba had remained free, Cuba would have a major league team," long-time Almendares catcher Andres Fleitas (left) told me in a 1999 interview. "The franchise in Montreal would have been Cuba's. They were trying to determine if Cuba could support a major league team. And indeed they showed it could because 30,000-35,000 fans would go see Habana and Almendares and Cienfuegos and Marianao."

Alas, it was not to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment