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.