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.”