Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Havana Cubans 1946-1953

The next stage of Minor League baseball in Cuba was made up in two parts. From 1946-1954 the Havana Cubans were a part of the Florida International League (FIL). The team was put together by famed Washington Senators scout Joe Cambria who was known as the main finder of Cuban baseball players for the major leagues. Originally a Class C league, the league moved up to Class B in 1947. The league was made up of teams that played in Miami, Miami Beach, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Key West. The team was an affiliate of the Washington Senators and was made up of the following future major leaguers: like Conrado “Connie” Marrero, Julio Moreno, Miguel “Mike” Fornieles and Sandalio “Sandy” Consuegra.

Success came quickly for the Havana Cubans in its early years. For its first five years in the league (1946-1950), Havana won titles in each compiling a combined 474-249 record. As quickly as success came, rougher times lay ahead. In the final three years of the Havana Cubans, the team fared no better than fourth place (1953) though they were managed by Cuban legends Adolfo Luque (1951) and Armando Marsans (1953). The best of the Havana Cuban teams was the 1947 team.

The 1947 Havana Cubans led the league with a 105-45 record and defeated the Miami Sun Sox in a five game series and defeated the Tampa Smokers four games to one to win the Championship banner of the FIL. Though the Cubans led the league with a .268 team batting average, their strength was with their pitching. Led by future major league Conrado “Connie” Marrero, won the pitching Triple Crown with a 25-6 record, a 1.66 ERA and 251 strikeouts with only 46 walks in 271 IP.

By 1954, team owner Bobby Maduro (who we’ll hear more about in the next post) decided to change the name of the team from the Cubans to the Sugar Kings and moved the team from the Florida International League to the AAA International League. The Florida International League eventually folded with the exit of its Havana franchise. All of the other franchises, except for Miami, joined the Class D Florida State League. Miami became Miami Marlins of the International League in 1956.

For our next post, I’ll be highlighting the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. I’ll try to highlight how outside factors led to the demise of not only the Sugar Kings but of professional baseball on the island of Cuba.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Minor League Baseball and Latin America Part 1

Though baseball has always been known as America’s Pastime, it’s connection with the small island nation of Cuba has been so since the late 19th century. As early as the late 1860’s, the role of baseball on the Spanish controlled nation was one of rebellion against the status quo. Where sports such as Bullfighting and Polo were deemed as diversions for the elite, baseball was embraced by the college youth as a mode of resistance against the Imperialist Spanish.

The first Cuban to play professional baseball in the United States was Esteban Bellan, who played for the National Association from the years of 1871-1873. By the early 20th century, two Cubans played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1911: Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida. What was important to note was that while the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that kept blacks from playing in the professional baseball leagues was in place, light skinned Cubans were allowed to play. This would prove to be important to future relations between the Major Leagues and Cuba. Also equally important was the man who managed the Cincinnati Reds: Clark Griffith. Griffith, who as the owner of The Washington Senators would employ more Cuban players than the rest of the Major League teams combined.

For many years there were exhibition matched between the Major League teams and the Cuban teams. Very often, the Cuban teams were successful against their American opponents. The relationship between the league and the island expanded within the 30’s and the 50’s with various teams holding Spring Training in Cuba. Most notable was the New York Giants (1937) and The Brooklyn Dodgers (1941, 1942, 1947) who attempted to evade the racial climate of the time with their rookie prospect Jackie Robinson. It wasn’t until 1929 that the idea for bringing professional baseball to Cuba really became a serious option.

With the eventual expansion of the Class B Southeastern League of six to eight teams in the fall of 1929, Havana was chosen to be one of the potential expansion cities. In addition to Havana, Miami was to join the cities of Jacksonville (FL), Tampa (FL), Pensacola (FL), Montgomery (AL), Selma (AL), and Columbus (GA) within the expanded Southeastern League. Though the National Association approved the expansion into Miami and Havana, the National Board of Arbitration refused to make the players fly if they did not want to. Unlike today where travel to and from the above listed cities would be easy via airplane, in 1929, commercial air travel was basically in its beginning stages. Other options would be introduced to facilitate travel to Havana but internal problems within the league would place Havana’s bid in jeopardy.

From the time of the expansion vote in December to the league meeting in February 1930, Miami’s bid was rescinded and St. Petersburg would join the league with Havana. Without having the port of Miami, which is of close distance to Havana, to fly from would cause logistical problems with travel. It was believed that the P&O Steamship Company could be used with their Tampa-Havana route to transport the players and equipment. By March of 1930, the St. Petersburg bid was also rescinded leaving the Havana franchise in jeopardy. Though the league spoke of adding Havana for the 1931 season, the Great Depression hit the league hard causing it to go out of business half way though the 1932 season.

Though the first attempt to add a franchise in Havana was unsuccessful, there would be other attempts where success would be attained. Out next blog post will highlight the Havana Cubans, who would be the First successful Minor League franchise in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My All Time Latino All Star Team

I was talking to my friend Carlos Hernandez this past Friday about baseball and he came up with his all time Latino All Star team. What I found interesting about the list is how much generational differences can influence who will be placed on lists. Now in terms of Latino players, it really wasn't until recent years where Latinos really started to dominate. Where maybe 20-30 years ago you had 2 or 3 dominant players, now you have 10-15 players who are at the top of the league statistics. Why?

For one obvious reason, there are more Latino players in the league than there were even 10 years ago. They are not only relegated to such positions as pitchers and shortstops. They are playing all positions which leads to more opportunities to play and dominate. So, in looking over his list, it made me wonder who I would place on my list.

Anyways, here is Carlos' list by position:

C: Manny Sanguillen
1B: Orlando Cepeda/Tony Perez
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Luis Aparicio
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Roberto Clemente
CF: Mateo Alou
RF: Manny Ramirez
SP: Juan Marichal

And here is mine:

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Vic Power
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Luis Aparicio/Omar Vizquel
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Roberto Clemente
CF: Bernie Williams
RF: Manny Ramirez
DH: Edgar Martinez
SP: Juan Marichal
RP: Mariano Rivera

What do you think. Who do you believe should be on the list or should not be on this list. Drop me a line. Let me know.