Monday, June 27, 2011

Fred Martin, Habana stumbled down the stretch in 1946-47

June 27: On this day in 1915, former major league pitcher Fred Martin was born in Williams, Okla.

Martin played only three major-league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946, '49 and '50, but he was a significant figure in the Cuban League, where he pitched for Habana, Leones and Almendares during four winters between 1945-52.

Martin, shown here with battery mate Salvador Hernandez, played a particularly key, if dubious, role during the exciting pennant run of the 1946-47 season.

Heading into February, the season's final month, Habana held a seemingly insurmountable lead over arch rival Almendares, but the Scorpions won 13 of their final 14 games to overtake the Lions and win the pennant.

As Habana stumbled to a 5-8 record down the stretch, Martin, who was 9-8 for Habana that winter, went 1-3 the final month, including a pair of losses to Almendares.

Rodolfo Fernandez: 8th in Cuban League history in complete games

June 27: On this day in 1911, Cuban League star Rodolfo Fernandez was born in Guanabacoa, Havana, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, Fernandez (shown in this 1952-53 Victoria card) played for Almendares and Habana during 12 Cuban League seasons between 1931-44.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Fernandez compiled a 66-49 career record in the Cuban League and ranks eighth in league history with 75 complete games. He led the league with eight victories in 1931-32.

During the New York Giants' spring training visit to Havana in 1937, Fernandez shut out a Giants team that included Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell 4-0, according to Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oliver Marcelle was a member of dominant 1923-24 Santa Clara team

June 24: On this day in 1897, Negro leagues star Oliver "The Ghost" Marcelle was born in Thibedeaux, La.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, Marcelle played for Santa Clara, Matanzas, Habana, Havana Reds, Almendares and Cuba during nine winters in the Cuban League from 1922-30.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Marcelle (shown in this image from a 1923-24 Billiken card) led the Cuban League with a .393 average in 1923-24.

That season, Marcelle was a member of a Santa Clara team that Jorge S. Figueredo's book, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, said is "considered the most dominant team ever in the history of Cuban baseball."

Aside from Marcelle, Santa Clara included Jose Mendez, Oscar Charleston, Alejandro Oms, Pablo Mesa, Frank Warfield, Frank Duncan and Dobie Moore as the Leopards won the pennant by 11 1/2 games over second-place Habana.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Valentin Dreke ranks 10th in hitting (.305) in Cuban League history

June 21: On this day in 1898, Cuban League star Valentin Dreke was born in Union de Reyes, Matanzas, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945, Dreke played nine winters in Cuba -- eight with Almendares -- from 1919-28.

Dreke (shown in this 1923-24 Billiken card) ranks 10th in career batting average (.305) in Cuban League history and led the league in runs scored for three consecutive seasons (1923-26), according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961.

He died of tuberculosis in 1929 at age 31.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Upon seeing an earlier post about Don Newcombe's playing days in Cuba, Mike Sandlock Jr. -- pictured here as a young batboy wearing a Montreal Royals uniform while sitting in the Almendares dugout during the 1948-49 season -- relayed an interesting article about his father, major-league catcher Mike Sandlock.
In the post, Newcombe is quoted describing his struggles with his control while pitching for Almendares in 1948-49.

The Connecticut-newspaper article Sandlock Jr. sent described his father's role in trying to get Newcombe on track in winter ball:
His ability as a receiver was evident at Almendares. Don Newcombe was pitching for the club and had not won a game. The first chore that Mike met was to catch a winning game for the big Negro, who gained stardom in the National League this year.
That winter, Newcome went a combined 1-4 in nine appearances with Marianao and Almendares, the one victory coming with Almendares.

Despite Newcombe's struggles that winter, Sandlock is quoted in the article as saying Newcome "was the best pitcher I ever caught, in or out of the major leagues."

In this photo, the younger Sandlock is shown with Almendares players Vicente Lopez, Octavio Rubert, Matt Morris, Francisco 'Sojito' Gallardo (holding Mike Sandlock Jr.) Rene 'Tata' Solis and Willy Miranda.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Almendares' Sam Jethroe twice led Cuban League in stolen bases

 June 16: On this day in 2001, Sam Jethroe died in Erie, Penn.

Jethroe, who played for the Cleveland Buckeyes -- among other teams -- in the Negro leagues, and for the Boston Braves (1950-52) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1954) in the majors, played three seasons in Cuba.

He played for Almendares in 1947-48 and 1948-49, leading the Cuban League in stolen bases both seasons with 22 and 32 steals, respectively, according to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961. And his 1948-49 squad won the Cuban League pennant. He also played for Cienfuegos in 1954-55.

In the majors, Jethroe, at age 32, became the oldest rookie of the year when he won the award in 1950 with the Braves.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jacinto Calvo ranks eighth in Cuban League history in batting (.308)

June 15: On this day in 1965, Cuban Baseball Hall of Famer Jacinto Calvo died.

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, including nine-plus seasons with Habana.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Calvo (shown in this 1926-27 for the Aguilitas Cigarette card) ranks eighth in Cuban League history with a .308 batting average.

He played only two major-league seasons: 1913 and 1920 for the Washington Senators, compiling a .161 average with four RBI in 34 games.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don Newcombe's memories of playing in Cuba were less than fond

June 14: On this day in 1926, Don Newcombe was born in Madison, N.J.

A former Dodgers pitcher, Newbombe played two winters in the Cuba: 1946-47 with Matanzas and 1948-49 with Marianao and Almendares, going a combeind 1-4 in nine appearances.

More importantly, Newcombe was with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Roy Partow as members of the Montreal Royals team that conducted spring training in Cuba with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as Robinson was preparing to break Major League Baseball's color barrier.

In this screen-grab from a Cuban newsreel, Newcombe is shown as a member of the Cincinnati Reds during a Reds-Dodgers spring training game in Havana in 1959.

Unlike many other players, Newcombe (shown as a member of the Cincinnati Reds in this screen-grab from a Cuban newsreel of Reds-Dodgers spring training game in 1961) didn't have the fondest of memories about playing in Cuba.

In a 1997 interview, Newcombe described the trouble he had in the Cuban League in 1948-49:
Mike Guerra, Fermin Guerra, a former catcher with the Athletics, he was the manager of the Almendares team at that time. I was down there playing in the winter league. He sent me home. It was my fault. I was a brash 19-year-old, 18-year-old. He sent me home because I couldn't get the ball over the plate and I walked everbody I faced.
And he described the difficulties Robinson and his black Royals teammates faced when they found themselves segregated not only from the Dodgers but from their white Royals teammates.
"We all stayed in a seedy, downtown Havana hotel, where we were obligated to stay because we couldn't stay with the Montreal team out at the [Havana] miltary academy where they were training."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hector Rodriguez tops several Cuban League career batting lists

June 13: On this day in 1920, Cuban League star Hector Rodriguez was born in Alquizar, Havana, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, Rodriguez played 19 seasons: 13 for Almendares, five for Habana and one with Alacranes.

Rodriguez tops the Cuban League career list in runs (574), hits (1,237), triples (79) and RBI (522), according to Who’s Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961. He’s also tied for first in doubles (130) and third stolen bases (111).

Named Cuban League rookie of the year in 1942-43, Rodriguez (shown in this 1949-50 Alerta premium) is the only player in league history to amass more than 1,000 career hits.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Satchel Paige counted Santa Clara among his many teams

June 8: On this day in 1982, Negro leagues legend and Hall of Famer Satchel Paige died in Kansas City, Mo.

Paige, who played in the Negro leagues from 1926-50 and played six major-league seasons with the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Kansas City Athletics between 1941-58, played just one seasons in the Cuban League.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Paige (shown in this photo that drew a winning bid of  $925.77 at Lelands in December 2004) went 6-5 for the 1929-30 Santa Clara Leopardos, which finished second, six 6 1/2 games behind Cienfuegos for the Cuban League pennant.

Paige was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1971 by a vote of the Negro Leagues Committee.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Adolfo Luque, Miguel Gonzalez: Iconic Cuban League managers

Adolfo Luque (left) and Miguel Angel Gonzalez (right) during their managerial days with a man identified as Rene Canizares at Tropical Stadium in Havana.

Iconic Cuban League players, Luque and Gonzalez were both iconic Cuban League managers as well.

According to Who’s Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Luque ranks second in Cuban League history in victories (705) and pennants won (11) behind Gonzalez, who holds the league record for seasons (35), games 1,525), victories (851) and pennants won (14).

This photo, part of The Sporting News Archive collection, was up for auction at Mears Monthly Auction in April 2011.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Merito Acosta was a player, manager and team owner in Cuban League

June 2: On this day in 1896, Cuban League star Baldomero "Merito" Acosta was born in Havana, Cuba.

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, Acosta (left, with Adolfo Luque) played for Havana, Red Sox, Almendares and Marianao in 12 Cuban League seasons from 1913-25. He also managed Marianao for six seasons, winning the Cuban League pennant in 1922-23.

He played five major-league seasons, four with the Washington Senators.

According to Who's Who in Cuban Baseball, 1878-1961, Acosta, who was also part owner of Marianao and, later, the Havana Cubans of the Florida International League, is the only player to pull off an unassisted triple play as an outfielder on Dec. 2, 1918.