Monday, May 30, 2011

All but one USS Maine player died when ship sank in Havana Harbor

The baseball squad from the battleship USS Maine, which won the Navy baseball championship held in Key West, Fla. in December, 1897.

According to the Library of Congress, two months after this photo was taken -- on Feb. 15, 1898 -- each team member except for J.H. Bloomer (back, left) was killed when the Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor, killing 260 sailors and sparking the Spanish-American War.

In Cuba, the island's third and final War for Independence from Spain had begun in February, 1895 and wiped out baseball seasons in 1895 and 1896, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Despite the Cuban insurrection, the Spanish government allowed baseball to be played in Havana in 1897-98, but the season lasted only 14 games because of the United State's declaration of war against Spain.

With Cuba eventually under U.S. control, the Cuban League returned with a full season in 1899 with Habanista beating Almendarista and Cuba for the pennant.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

El Gran Stadium de la Habana was built in 1946 at a cost of $2 million

Aerial photo of El Gran Stadium de la Habana, part of a lot that was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auction in Novemeber, 2010.

According to La Leyenda Del Beisbol Cubano, El Gran Stadium was built by the Compañia Operadora de Stadium, S.A., in 1946 at a cost of 2 million Cuban pesos, the equivalent of $2 million U.S. dollars at the time.

In the stadium's inaugural game on Oct. 26, 1946 an estimated crowd of more than 31,000 fans watched Almendares defeat Cienfuegos 9-1.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1908 Cincinnati Reds went 5-5 in games vs. Almendares, Habana

The 1908 Cincinnati Reds team at Almendares Park in Cuba.

This photo was posted at Agate Type, a website which describes itself as "adventures in baseball archeology."

The site identifies the players as: (standing, left to right) Miller Huggins, John Kane, Ducky Pearce, manager Frank Bancroft, Larry McLean, Dick Hoblitzell, Mike Mitchell and (seated, left to right) Bob Spade, Billy Campbell, Jean Dubuc, Rudy Hulswitt and Hans Lobert.

According to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, the Reds lost four of five games against Almendares with the Blues winning 1-0, 2-1, 4-2 and 3-0 as Cuba's Jose Mendez recorded 25 consecutive scoreless innings in three appearances and picked up a pair of victories.

Cincinnati fared much better against Habana, winning four of five games.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Martin Dihigo was perhaps the most versatile player in baseball history

May 25: On this day in 1906, Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo was born in Matanzas, Cuba.

Known in Cuba as El Maestro or El Inmortal, The Immortal One, Dihigo is shown in this 1946-47 Sensacion premium.

He compiled a 107-56 record in 20 seasons in Cuba -- 18 in the Cuban League and two independent seasons while pitching for Habana, Almendares, Marianao, Almendarista, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos.
Considered one of the most versatile players in baseball history, Dihigo -- the only player enshrined in the Halls of Fame in Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela and the United State -- pitched, played almost every position on the field and was a successful manager.

According to Who’s Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Dihigo ranks first in Cuban baseball in wins (107) and complete games (121). He's tied for the most times (four) winning 10 or more games in a winter league seasons. He was named MVP four times: 1927-28, 1935-36, '36-37 and '41-42.

As a hitter, Dihigo was a .296 career hitter in 21 winters in Cuba. In 1935-36 while playing for Santa Clara, Dihigo led the Cuban League in hitting (.358), runs (42), hits (63), triples (eight) and RBI (38).

Twice he hit over .400 in the Cuban League -- .413 in 1926-27 and .415 in 1927-28. He also hit .450 during the 1926-27 independent season for Marianao.
As a manager in Cuba, Dihigo led Santa Clara to the pennant in 1935-36 and Marianao to the title the following season.

In the Negro leagues, Dihigo played for the Cuban Stars, Homestead Grays, Hilldale Daisies, Baltimore Black Sox and New York Cubans.

Dihigo was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, and he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1977 by the Negro Leagues Committee.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Willy Miranda was a star shortstop with Almendares for 12 seasons

May 24: On this day in 1926, Cuban League star and major-league shortstop Guillermo "Willy" Miranda was born in Velasco, Orienta, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, Miranda played 12 seasons in the Cuban League, almost entirely with Almendares, with which he won five league pennants: 1949, '50, '54, '55 and '59.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Miranda was the league's rookie of the year in 1948-49 and he holds the record for most sacrifice hits (17) in a season in 1953-54.

Miranda, who brother was Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame writer Fausto Miranda, played nine seasons in the majors from 1951-59 with the Senators, White Sox, Browns, Yankees and Orioles.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lennie Pearson was an RBI machine when he played in Cuban League

May 23: On this day in 1918, Cuban League and Negro leagues star Lennie Pearson was born in Akron, Ohio.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Peason holds the Cuban League record for most times (three) leading the league in RBI -- 45 in 1946-47, 54 in 1948-49 and 55 in 1949-50.

Pearson, who played mostly with the Newark Eagles in the Negro National League, played five winters in Cuban, four with Habana.

In this picture which was up for auction at in September 2010, Pearson is shown during his one season with Almendares in 1950-51.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Season of 1958-59 was Cuban League's Year of the Pitcher

The 1958-59 Cuban League program, brought to fans -- as the words at the bottom of the cover indicate -- "courtesy of Hatuey, the grand beer of Cuba."

That season was the Cuban League's "Year of the Pitcher," according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, as hurlers recorded 44 shutouts, shattering the previous record of 30 set in 1947-48.
Nine pitchers had ERA below 2.00, the highest team batting average was .233 and the top individual batting average was .303, the lowest in league history.

Led by Orlando Peña's league-leading 15-5 record, Almendares won the pennant by eight games over Marianao.

And the fall of Fulgencio Batista's regime to Fidel Castro on Jan. 1, 1959 delayed games until Jan. 6.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Overflow crowds were common at El Gran Stadium of Havana

The crowd at Havana's Gran Stadium overflows onto the field, along the left-field foul line -- and even along the outfield fence -- for a night game in the 1950s.

This photo is one of a lot of 22 that was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auction in November, 2010.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brooks Robinson played in Cuban League for Cienfuegos in 1957-58

May 18: On this day in 1937, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson was born in Little Rock, Ark.

The former Baltimore Orioles Gold Glove third baseman played one season in the Cuban League, playing second base for Cienfuegos in 1957-58.

Although he batted only .207, the then-20-year-old Robinson led the league with nine home runs, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Irvin, Jethroe and Gionfriddo led Almendares to 1948-49 pennant

The Almendares team that won the 1948-49 Cuban League championship by a comfortable 8-game margin over eternal rival Habana.

The photo was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auction in October, 2010.

Hall of Famer Monte Irvin (middle row, fifth from the left) led the league with 10 home runs while driving in 53 runs, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Fellow outfielder Sam Jethroe (middle row, third from right) led the league with 32 stolen bases. The third member of Almendares' starting outfield, Al Gionfriddo (back row, far right) batted .308.

Pitcher Morris Martin (seated front row, fourth from the right) took league MVP honors with a 9-2 record and a league-leading four shutouts. Octavio Rubert (seated front row, far right) led the league in winning percentage with an 8-1 record and a 1.63 ERA.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame's first nine classes includes pioneers

A page from the 1950-51 Cuban League program listing the 37 inductees in the first nine classes of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame was established by the Dirección General Nacional de Deportes (Cuba’s National Directorate of Sports) and the first class was inducted on July 26, 1939.

The Hall of Famers pictured are (clockwise from top left) star pitcher Jose Mendez, Leopoldo de Sola (president of the first League of Cuban Baseball), Emilio Sabourin (one of the league's founders), Juan Pastoriza, Nemesio Guillo, Julian Castillo and Aquiles Martinez.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Throughout 1950s Washington had several Cuban Senators

Bucky Harris (fourth from the left), the Hall of Fame manager for the Washington Senators, with five of his Cuban players during the 1951 season.

This photo was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auctions in April.

The players (from left to right) are Fermin "Mike" Guerra, Conrado "Connie" Marrero, Willy Miranda, Harris, Sandalio "Sandy" Consuegra, and Julio Moreno.

Thanks to scout Joe Cambria, there was a veritable pipeline of baseball talent from Cuba to the Senators in the 1950s.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Article from 1912 laments Jose Mendez's exclusion from majors

A 1912 Washington Post reprint of a Jan. 14 Philadelphia Inquirer article from that year on Cuban pitcher Jose Mendez.

The out-of-copyright article was posted last week on Agate Type, which describes itself as:
adventures in baseball archeology: the negro leagues, latin american baseball, j-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ramon Bragaña holds Cuban record for consecutive scoreless innings

May 11: On this day in 1909, Cuban League star Ramon Bragaña was born in Los Pinos, Havana, Cuba. On this day in 1985, Bragaña died.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1960, Bragaña holds the Cuban League record for most consecutive scoreless innings (39 2/3) in a season (1941-42) and most consecutive shutouts (four) in a season ('41-42), according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

He played for Cuba, Santa Clara, Marianao, Almendares and Alacranes during 10 winters in Cuba from 1928-48.

In the Negro leagues, Bragaña played for the New York Cubans and Cleveland Buckeyes.
Bragaña also managed in the Mexican League, winning a pennant with the Veracruz Blues in 1944.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Andres Fleitas was on Cuba's World Amateur Series roster in 1939

The Cuban team selected to play in the World's Amateur Baseball Series in Havana, Cuba on Aug. 12-27, 1939 at La Tropical Stadium.

Andres Fleitas, who was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971 after 14 seasons in Cuba -- mostly with Almendares -- is in the front row, one from the right.

This photo was part of The Sporting News archive that up for auction at Mears Monthy Auction in February, 2011.

A type-written note attached to the back indicates the photo was sent from Gerry Swinehart, Miami News Service, Dade County Courthouse to the Photo Editor of The Sporting News.

Cienfuegos' Rafael Noble was Cuban League's home run king

May 9: On this day in 1998, Cuban League star catcher Rafael Noble, who was born in Central Hatillo, Oriente, Cuba, died in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, Noble is the all-time home run leader in Cuban League history with 71 and ranks fourth in career RBI with 378, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961. He led the league with 10 home runs in 1953-54.

Between 1942-61, Noble (shown with legendary Cuban singer/musician Benny Moré) played 18 Cuban League seasons, 14 with Cienfuegos.

After helping Cienfuegos win the Cuban League championship in 1955-56, Noble led the team to victory in the Caribbean Series, batting .400 to lead the series.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Injury kept Willie Mays from playing for Almendares in 1950-51

Happy 80th birthday Willie Mays.

For a guy who never had a single plate appearance or got to play a single inning in the field in the Cuban League, there certainly are lots of images of him in an Almendares uniform.

This photo sold for $377.18 at Goodwin and Co. on Feb. 13, 2009.

Mays was on the 1950-51 Almendares roster along with players such as Conrado Marrero, who turned 100 on April 25; Tommy Lasorda, Willy Miranda and Negro leaguers Lenny Pearson and Terris McDuffie.
But an ankle injury kept him off the field.

Too bad for Almendares, which lost the Cuban League pennant by one game to archrival Habana.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Almendares won inaugural Caribbean Series in 1949

Program for the first Caribbean Series, played at El Gran Stadium in Havana, Cuba in 1949.

It was part of a lot that was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auctions in October 2010.

Cuba, represented by 1948-49 Cuban League champion Almendares, defeated Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela, going 6-0 to win the inaugural title.

According to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, Almendares' Al Gionfriddo led all hitters in the Series with a .533 average, Hall of Famer Monte Irvin homered twice and drove in 11 runs and lefty Agapito Mayor picked up three victories.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Merito Acosta, Jacinto Calvo among first Cuban major leaguers

Cuban players Jacinto Calvo, left, and Merito Acosta, right, with Washington Senators teammate Germany Schaefer in this circa 1913 photo found on

Calvo and Acosta were among the first Cubans to play in the major leagues in the modern era.
Acosta played for the Senators from 1913-16 and split the 1918 season with Washington and the Philadelphia Athletics. Calvo played in 1913 and 1920 with Washington.

Acosta, who was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, played for Habana, Red Sox, Almendares and Marianao during 12 Cuban League seasons between 1913-25. He also led Marianao to the Cuban League pennant as manager in 1922-23, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

Calvo was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1948 after 14 winters in Cuba with Almendares, Habana, Orientals and Marianao from 1913-27.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Miguel Angel Gonzalez played, managed, coaches with Cardinals

Cuban League legend Miguel Angel Gonzalez during his playing days with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Aside from being a legendary catcher, manager and owner with Club Habana, Gonzalez played 17 major-league seasons with the Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, Reds and Boston Braves between 1912-29.

Gonzalez (shown in this photo from The Sporting News archive that was up for auction at Mears Monthy Auctions in November 2010) also became the first Latino manager in major-league history when he served as a interim manager with the Cardinals in 1938 and '40, compiling an 9-13 record during those seasons.

A long-time coach with the Cardinals, it was Gonzalez, as the team's third base coach, who waved home Enos "Country" Slaughter on his "Mad Dash Home" in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series.

In Cuba League history, Gonzalez, who was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, played 20 of his 23 seasons with Habana. Seven times he batted over .300, including three times over .400, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.
As a manager in Cuban League history, Gonzalez ranks first in seasons (34, of which 33 came with Habana), games (1,525), wins (851) and pennants won (14).

Gonzalez purchased the Habana team on Nov. 29, 1946 from the estate of Abel Linares.