Monday, January 31, 2011

Spring training in Cuba launched Robinson's historic 1947 season

Jan. 31: On this day in 1919, Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Ga.

The 1947 season which ushered Robinson's ascension to the majors, breaking baseball's color barrier, began with spring training in Havana for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Robinson's Montreal Royals.

According to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, Robinson batted .421 in games against a Cuban all-star team and the Havana Cubans of the Florida International League.

In this Associated Press wire photo, Robinson is sitting next to Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in the dugout at Havana's El Gran Stadium.

The photo received a winning bid of $100 at Leland's June 2010.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sandy Amoros starred with Habana, Almendares, in Caribbean Series

Jan. 30: On this day in 1930, Edmundo "Sandy" Amoros was born in Havana, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978, Amoros is best known for his game-saving catch in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Amoros (left, with Cuban baseball legend Miguel Angel Gonzalez) played six seasons for Habana and five for Almendares during 11 winters from 1950-61.

He was the the Cuban League rookie of the year in 1950-51, led the league with a .373 average in 1952-53 and ranks sixth all-time in home runs, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

Amoros also starred in the Caribbean Series, three times with Habana and once with Almendares, compiling .354 lifetime average in the event.

His best Series came in 1952 when he batted. 450 as Habana, representing Cuba, won the Series. Amoros batted .333 when Almendares won the Series in 1959.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Julio Moreno starred in Cuban League, for Havana Cubans

Jan. 28: On this day in 1921, Cuban League star Julio Moreno was born in Guines, Havana, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976, Moreno played for Marianao, Havana Reds, Cienfuegos and Habana in 13 winters in Cuba between 1945-61.

He ranks sixth in league history in games pitched and led the league in ERA (2.03) in 1960-61 and strikeouts (103) in 1952-53, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

"Jiqui" also pitched for Habana in three Caribbean Series from 1951-53.

And as a member of the Havana Cubans, Moreno compiled a 50-16 record with a 2.24 ERA from 1847-50. He went 19-4 with a 2.13 ERA in 1947 and 16-4 with a Havana Cubans of the Florida International League.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chuck Connors helped Mike Sandlock land in Cuba one winter

Looking to identify players in this poster of the 1948-49 Almendares team, the unexpected words lept from the caption: el hijo de Sandlock, "Sandlock's son."

Sandlock's son, Mike -- he's the then-6-year-old boy sitting on the ground, wearing a Montreal Royals uniform -- had come across this blog weeks earlier and offered to put me in tough with his father, former major-league catcher Mike Sandlock (shown standing, second from the right).

I expected to find the elder Sandlock among various images of that championship team, just not the 6-year-old who spent the winter of '48-49 playing on a Havana beach with Chuck Connor's dog and being adopted as a quasi-mascot by the Cuban League team, which included Hall of Famer Monte Irvin (standing, second from left).

"They (the players) played with that kid all the time that he was around," the Elder Sandlock said in a telephone conversation this week from Tennessee. "It was so nice of them, kind of welcoming. It was nice (of them) accepting him at the ballpark."

It was Chuck Connors (top left), who went onto a successful Hollywood career, who called Sandlock to ask his teammate with the Dodgers' Montreal farm team if he would be interested in playing in Cuba.

Sandlock, who played five seasons in the majors with the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates, played only that one season in Cuba, as a third-string catcher behind Gilberto Valdivia and Andres Fleitas  with Almendares.

But he batted .311 in 15 games -- according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961 -- as Almendares captured the Cuban League pennant before helping the Scorpions win the inaugural Caribbean World Series.

For his part in Almendares' championship, Sandlock, like his other teammates, received a $600 bonus.

"I’m glad of that because that helped me," Sandlock said. "I was rebuilding my house. My wife said, 'You know all we got left is a $100 in the bank.' ... That’s when we got a nice call. The man upstairs was very nice. I got this job with Almendares and I made a few dollars. It kept me out of the red."

The younger Sandlock said his father, 95, is the seventh oldest, living former major league player. The oldest is former Dodgers infielder Tony Malinosky, 101.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wells won pennants with Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Almendares

Jan. 22: On this day in 1989, Negro leagues star Willie Wells died in Austin, Texas.

The best shortstop in black baseball in the 1930s and '40s, Wells, who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, played for Cienfuegos, Santa Clara and Almendares during seven winters in the Cuban League from 1928-40, compiling a .320 batting average according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

This postcard of the 1929-30 Cuban League champion Cienfuegos team shows Wells, who earned the nickname El Diablo during his playing days in Mexico, standing second from the left. The postcard sold for $4,991.80 on Leland’s in 2005.

Wells batted .322 as Cienfuegos topped the standings by beating beating defending champions Habana in 15 of 20 match-ups, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961. Aside from that seasons, Wells also played on Cuban League championship teams in 1935-36 (Santa Clara) and 1939-40 (Almendares).

Among Wells' Cienfuegos teammates was Cool Papa Bell, seated second from the left.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Santa Clara, Habana star Josh Gibson's death the stuff of myth

Jan. 20: On this day in 1947, Josh Gibson died in Pittsburgh, Penn.

The Negro leagues star and National Baseball Hall of Famer played two memorable seasons in the Cuban League. In 1937-38, he batted .344 for last-place Habana.

The following season, Gibson (fourth from the left, back row) helped lead Santa Clara to the league pennant, leading the league with 11 home runs and 50 runs scored while batting .356.

According to his his bio at Negro League Players Association, Gibson, who's career long ago attained mythic status, has had his death has been shrouded in myth as well:
Gibson, it was said, believed he was going to die and gathered his family around his bedside. He even sent his brother out to gather up his trophies. While talking and laughing he supposedly raised his head, spoke incoherently, then laid down and died. The true story was not as sentimental or dramatic. Gibson suffered a stroke in a movie theater and was taken unconscious to his mother's house where he died a few hours later.
Teammate and friend Jimmie Crutchfield often said that Gibson died of a broken heart at not having made the white major leagues. Gibson himself might have disagreed, though at times his depressed mental state threw him into fits of rage and rambling outbursts.

Camilo Pascual starred in the majors and with Cienfuegos

Jan. 20: On this day in 1934, Camilo Pascual was born in Havana.

Pascual (being handed a trophy by a member of Fidel Castro's revolutionary regime during the 1959-60 season in this photo that recently sold on eBay) was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

A major-league pitcher for 18 seasons -- mostly with the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins -- Pascual won 174 games, which ranks fourth behind Luis Tiant  (229), Adolfo Luque (194) and Mike Cuellar (185) for career wins by Cuban-born pitchers. Pascual was a seven-time all-star.

In the Cuban League, he compiled a 58-32 record with a 2.04 ERA, mostly with Cienfuegos, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961. Pascual the league's MVP in 1955-56, twice led the league in strikeouts (108 in 1958-59 and 163 in 1959-60) and twice won 15 games in a season (1956-57 and 1959-60).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mike Fornieles was the top Cuban League rookie in 1952-53

Jan. 18: On this day in 1932, former major-league pitcher and Cuban League star Miguel "Mike" Fornieles was born in Havana.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, Fornieles compiled a 63-64 record with a 3.96 ERA in 12 major league seasons, seven with the Boston Red Sox.

In the Cuban League, he pitched eight seasons for Marianao, going 70-63 with a 2.93 ERA.

Fornieles (shown in his Sept. 3, 1952 debut with the Washington Senators) was the Cuban League rookie of the year in 1952-53, when he went 12-5 with a league-leading 2.33 ERA, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don Zimmer played for Cienfuegos and Marianao in Cuban League

Jan. 17: On this day in 1931, Don Zimmer was born in Cincinnati.

Best known as a member of the Dodgers' only World Series-winning team in Brooklyn (1955), a long-time major-league manager and bench coach for Joe Torre with the New York Yankees, Zimmer played two seasons in the Cuban League: 1950-51 with Cienfuegos and 1951-52 with the Elefantes before being traded to Marianao.

In 1951-52, Zimmer (seated on the left with a Cienfuegos teammate) batted .272 with seven home runs and 33 RBI.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Video: Andres Fleitas discusses his days playing in the Cuban League

Andres Fleitas by pepincuba

Interview with Cuban Bseball Hall of Fame catcher/first baseman Andres Fleitas posted at Daily Motion.

Enshrined in 1971, Fleitas played 14 seasons in Cuba -- 10 with Almendares -- between 1942-55.

He was the league's Most Valuable Player during the 1946-47 season as Almendares rallied late in the season to overtake Habana.

Friday, January 14, 2011

1924 Tomas Gutierrez premium pictured every major league team

One of the 1924 Tomás Gutiérrez premium collector's album picturing players from every major league team.

This one, which was up for auction at Cuban Baseball Cards in September 2010, shows members of the
Cincinnati Reds, including Carl Mays (bottom, second from left), who threw a pitch that killed Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman on August 16, 1920; and Cuban star Adolfo Luque (top, second from right).

Each team had two pages and the pages would all be bound in a hardcover album. Only a few albums are known to exist, according to the auction information.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Santa Clara's 1923-24 team perhaps greatest in Cuban League history

The 1923-24 Cuban League champion Santa Clara team.

Perhaps the greatest team in Cuban League history, the Leopardos went 36-11 to win the pennant by 11 1/2 games over Habana.

According to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, seven of Santa Clara's eight regulars batted well over .300 to set a league record with a team batting average of .331.

This photo posted at Baseball Fever shows (standing from left to right) Jose Mendez, Oscar Charleston, Oliver Marcelle, Esteban Montalvo, Frank Warfield, Julio Rojo, (middle row from left) Frank Duncan, Alejandro Oms, Pablo Mesa, (sitting from left) Rube Currie, Dave Brown, Dobie Moore, Pedro Dibut, Matias Rios and Eustaquio Pedroso.

Mendez and Charleston are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

No fewer than nine of the 15 players shown in this photo are members of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame: Mendez, Charleston, Mesa, Oms, Marcelle, Pedroso, Montalvo, Rojo and Dibut.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

David Barnhill led Cuban League in wins, strikeouts in 1948-49

Jan. 8: On this day in 1983, Negro leagues star David Barnhill died in Miami, Fla.

Barnhill played three seasons with Marianao -- including two stellar ones -- between 1947-50. In 1947-48, he went 10-8 with a 2.26 ERA and a Cuban League-leading 122 strikeouts. The next season, Barnhill led the Cuban League in wins (13), complete games (13) and strikeouts (79). On Jan. 10, 1948, Barnhill tied a Cuban League record for strikeouts in a game (15), according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

In this photo posted at Baseball Fever of the 1947 New York Cubans, Barnhill is in the middle row, five players from the left. Among the actual Cuban-born talent surrounding him are Rafael Noble (back row, fifth from left), Jose Fernandez (sixth from left), Orestes Miñoso (middle row, second from left), Pedro Pages (third from left), Silvio Garcia (far right) and Luis Tiant Sr. (front row, far right).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Roberto Ortiz attacked umpire in ugly incident in 1944-45 season

Jan. 7: On this day in 1945, Almendares first baseman Roberto Ortiz, in what may have been the most violent incident in Cuban League history, attacked umpire Bernardo Rodriguez.

Irate over a call, Ortiz (shown in this Carteles magazine premium) punched Rodriguez, knocking him unconscious, according to Smoke: The Romance and Lore of Cuban Baseball.

Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961 says Rodriguez had to be hospitalized as a result of the attack, and Ortiz, who apologized in a letter published in the Cuban news media, was suspended for the remainder of the season.

Despite Almendares being without its power-hitting first baseman -- and needing its manager Adolfo Luqueto take the mound at age 54 because of injuries to its pitching staff -- the Scorpions went on to win the Cuban League pennant by seven games over Habana.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

1950-51 ended with one-game playoff: Habana vs. Almendares

A 1950-51 Habana team premium issued as the centerfold of a magazine that was up for auction in November, 2010 at Cuban Baseball Auctions.

In that season, Habana and Almendares were tied atop the standings at the conclusion of the regular season, forcing a one-game playoff between the eternal rivals.

In the first such game since the 1936-37 Cuban League season, the Lions won 4-2 with Adrian Zabala on the mound. Habana’s pitching staff also included Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who went 8-6 with a league-leading 2.36 ERA.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Greener Grass' documentary details Cuban baseball history

A terrific PBS documentary, Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball and the United State, that's available on YouTube.

Much of it deals with the Baltimore Orioles' 1999 exhibition game against the Cuban National Team in Havana, the first time a major league team had played in Cuba in more than 40 years.

But it also highlights Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's defection from Cuba and the history of baseball in Cuba.

And it's dotted with archival footage, including newsreel footage from a Dodgers-Reds exhibition game in Havana in 1959 -- mere weeks after Fidel Castro came to power -- which was the last time major league teams had played in Cuba before the Orioles' visit.

Beginning at the 7:55 mark, you can see Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese and later the Reds' Frank Robinson warming up at first base.

Tomas de la Cruz threw no-hitter during 1944-45 season

Jan. 4: On this day in 1945, Tomas de La Cruz threw the sixth no-hitter in Cuban League history.

De la Cruz (shown in this 1943-44 La Campaña Cubana postcard) threw his gem as as Almendares defeated Habana 7-0.

De la Cruz, who pitched for Marianao, Habana and Almendares in 13 Cuban League seasons between 1934-47, was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Salvador Hernandez starred as a player, manager for several teams

Jan. 3: On this day in 1916, Cuban League star Salvador Hernandez was born in Havana.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, Hernandez played for Habana, Almendares, Marianao, Leones and Cienfuegos during 15 seasons between 1935-51. Ten of those seasons came with Habana.

Shown in this 1949-50 postcard posted at Stars of the Diamond, Hernandez also managed five seasons from 1947-54, three at the helm of Cienfuegos.

But his most successful managerial seasons came in 1947-48 with Leones of the Players Federation, a short-lived circuit that operated outside Organized Baseball at Stadium La Tropical.

Serving as a player-manager, Hernandez led Leones to that league's pennant over Cuba, Alacranes and Santiago, a team which withdrew from the league in December 1947.

Aside from Hernandez, Leones was led by pitchers Sandalio Consuegra, Terris McDuffie and Fred Martin and position players Lou Klein, Luis Olmo and Roberto Estalella.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cool Papa Bell hit 3 inside-the-park homers in one game in Cuba

Jan. 1: On this day in 1929, James "Cool Papa" Bell became the first player to hit three home runs in a game in the Cuban League.

But the real distinction of Bell's feat is that all three were inside the park, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Bell -- so fast that Satchel Paige would say, "he could turn off a light switch and jump into bed before the room got dark." -- hit his three inside-the-park homers at the spacious Aida Park in Cienfuegos, Cuba against Oscar Levis, Cliff "Campanita" Bell and Martin Dihigo.

Some sources, such as Smoke: The Romance and Lore of Cuban Baseball place Bell's feat on Jan. 2 rather than New Year's Day.

Bell (shown in his Cienfuegos uniform in this Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's eMuseum photo), played five seasons in Cuba between 1928-41, four with Cienfuegos.

Jan 1: On this day in 1959, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba

With long-time dictator Fulgencio Batista fleeing Cuba in the early morning hours, Fidel Castro and his band of rebels rode victoriously into the city of Havana on Jan. 1, 1959, forever altering the history of the country, the lives of its people and the course of the sport that had been ingrained in the island's culture for almost a century.

By the end of 1961, Castro had banned professional baseball in Cuba, a situation which continues to this day, almost five decades later.