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.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Negro leagues star Oscar Charleston also starred in Cuban League

Oct. 6: On this date in 1954, Oscar Charleston died.

The Negro leagues star also was a star in the Cuban League, playing seven seasons between 1920-30 for Bacharach, Santa Clara, Almendares, Habana, Cuba and Marianao.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, Charleston -- according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961 -- tops the all-time Cuban League list in career batting average (.360). He twice led the league in batting average and twice led the league in stolen bases.

This photo is from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's eMuseum website.

Charleston, who was born Oct. 14, 1896, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1976.

Monday, October 4, 2010

1959 Junior World Series: Havana Sugar Kings vs. Minneapolis Millers

Partido de béisbol. from Memoria de Cuba on Vimeo.

Many thanks to a reader of this blog from Cuba. He alerted me to this amazing video from a Cuban newsreel of the 1959 Junior World Series between the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League and the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The series took place in the months following Fidel Castro's rise to power on Jan. 1, 1959. Just the next season, the Sugar Kings were forced to relocate to Jersey City because the revolution put a chill on U.S.-Cuba relations. The newsreel shows Castro in attendance at Havana's Gran Stadium as the Sugar Kings rally in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 to win the Series. The video is posted at Hopefully, there will be others to come.

Sandy Amoros' catch saved 1955 World Series

Oct. 4: On this date in 1955, Sandy Amoros saved Game 7 of the World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Amoros is best remembered for what was the defining moment of the 1955 World Series (shown in this Life magazine photo on the right), his running, one-handing catch of Yogi Berra's drive down the left field line.

With the Dodgers up 2-0 in the decisive Game 7, Amoros came in as a defensive replacement in left field to start the sixth inning. After the first two Yankee batters of the inning reached base, the left-handed hitting Berra sliced toward the left-field corner for an apparent double that would have tied the game.

Instead, Amoros raced toward the line, extending his gloved right hand at the last instant to snare the drive. He then threw back to the infield, where a relay throw by Pee Wee Reese doubled Gil McDougald off first base.

The Dodgers got the final out of the inning without surrendering a run and would go on to win the franchise's only World Series title in Brooklyn.

Never more than a part-time player in seven major-league seasons, Amoros was a star in the Cuban League with Almendares and Habana and was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Amoros, who went on to live in Tampa, Fla., after his playing days, suffered from diabetes, and doctors amputated part of his left leg in September 1987. Amoros died in Miami, Fla., on June 27, 1992, at age 62.

During a 2008 interview, Glorida Mayor, the widow of Cuban baseball legend Agapito Mayor recounted the friendship between Amoros and her husband while the two former players lived in Tampa.
Mayor adored Amoros. He helped him a lot. Amoros was in Tampa for 11 years, and for 11 years Mayor was fighting to help Amoros. When they amputated his leg we were with him in the hospital. Mayor would go every day to the hospital. Mayor would buy his groceries, buy him food until his daughter took him back to Miami. He died in Miami. Mayor loved Amoros, even though there was a big age difference. Amoros started playing just as Mayor was finishing his playing career. But he was so fond of Amoros and Amoros was so fond of Mayor. Amoros used to say that Mayor was his brother. One of the last times, he saw Amoros, Mayor went to get Amoros at his home and took him to the stadium to one of the Cuban legends games. Amoros had a prosthetic leg. He found Amoros and took him to the stadium. Mayor would never leave Amoros behind.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On this date in 1887, Amrando Marsans was born

Oct. 3: On this date in 1887, Armando Marsans was born in Matanzas, Cuba.

Marsans, along with Rafael Almeida, were the first Cuban-born players to play in the majors during the modern era -- Esteban Bellan played for the Troy Haymakers of the National Association in 1871 -- when they debuted on July 4, 1911 with the Cincinnati Reds.

Marsans batted .269 in eight major league seasons with the Reds, St. Louis Federals, St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees.

In the Cuban League, Marsans, elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, played 20 seasons, mostly with Almendares. He's the all-time league leaders in stolen bases and led the league with a .400 batting average in 1913.

He also led Orientals to the Cuban League pennant as manager in 1917.

Video: Habana vs. Cienfuegos, circa 1940s

Béisbol. from Memoria de Cuba on Vimeo.

Newsreel footage of a Cuban League game between Habana and Cienfuegos at Estadio La Tropical that appears to be some time between 1943-46 because at 1:22 Cuban great Adolfo Luque (wearing No. 32) is clearly visible coaching third base while wearing a Cienfuegos uniform. According to Jorge S. Figueredo's Who's Who In Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Luque managed Cienfuegos during the 1943-44, '44-45 and '45-46 seasons, leading the Elefantes to the 1945-46 pennant.

Cuban baseball has early ties to ... Fordham University

Listed among Fordham University's Archives and Digital Collections are several web pages dedicated to Cuban Baseball.

That's because Esteban Bellán, the first Cuban and Latino to play in major league baseball, during his time at Fordham (1863-1868), played for the newly created Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club.

Bellán played from 1869-71 for the Troy Haymakers, who in 1871 joined the National Association, which became the National League in 1876. On Dec. 27, 1874, Bellán played in the first organized baseball game in Cuba. Bellán's Habana club beat Matanzas 51-9 at Estadio Palmar de Junco.

Also the Zaldo brothers, Charles, Henry, and Frederick; who were from Havana, Cuba, also were all enrolled as students at Fordham from 1875-1878. Upon returning to Cuba in 1878, the Zaldo brothers founded the Almendares Baseball Club.

Charles Zaldo, who according to Jorge S. Figueredo's book, Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, also was responsible was responsible for building Almendares Park, was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953.

Outside of baseball, Zaldo became secretary of state in Cuba's first Constitutional cabinet in 1902.

Fifty-five years ago, Cuba watched World Series live for the first time

This year's Major League Baseball postseason hasn't even begun, but in 1955, the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers were already playing Game 4 of the World Series by Oct. 1.

And thanks to some "pioneering and innovative use of technology," fans in Cuba had been watching that epic World Series -- the Dodgers won their first and only Series title while calling Ebbets Field home -- unfold live on their television sets for the first time.

My father, then almost 16, was among the Cuban fans who watched the 1955 World Series live, including Cuban-born Dodger Sandy Amoros' series-saving catch during Game 7.

A blog post by Manuel Márquez-Sterling explains how the transmission was made possible:

"(long before satellite TV) engineers custom-equipped a Cubana Airlines DC-3 which flew a circular pattern between Key West and Havana, acting as a relay transmission station for the live TV signal. The airplane took off a half hour before the game and remained airborne throughout, flights lasting about three hours."
And later on a NASA website, I found the above high-resolution version of the schematic diagram in Márquez-Sterling's blog post.

According to the NASA website:

"Equipment aboard the airplane received video signals from television stations in Miami and retransmitted them to a station belonging to a Cuban television network with coverage over a large part of the country (audio signals were transmitted separately by cable and shortwave)."