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Cuba Béisbol

cuba flag
"It’s a symbol. I’d say like the flag, like the coat of arms, like the national anthem. Baseball has been a symbol of nationalism for more than 120 years."
- Carlos Rodriquez Acosta, Commissioner of Cuban baseball

Béisbol and Cuba have been synonymous for more than a century. The sport grew rapidly after being introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by U.S. sailors and Cubans returning to their country after studying in the United States. In 1869, during the Cuban First War of Independence, Spaniards banned baseball in Cuba, where the natives preferred baseball to watching bullfighting. As a result, baseball became known as a symbol of freedom and defiance to the Cuban people.

Esteban Bellán

During the baseball ban, Esteban Bellán became the first Cuban and Latin American to play professional baseball in the United States, which he learned while a student at Fordham University. From 1869 to 1872, Béllan played a flashy third base for the Troy Haymakers, which later became the New York, and now, San Francisco Giants. The New York club joined the National Federation in 1871, the first professional baseball league and predecessor of today’s National League.

In 1878, the Professional Baseball League of Cuba began, only two years after the National League was organized as the first professional league in North America. By the 1890s, Cubans had spread baseball all over Latin America, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. In the early 1900s, Cuba imported a number of stars from the Negro Leagues to play on integrated teams in its professional league. The Cuban teams held their own in numerous exhibition matches against Major League teams throughout the first half of the century.

Before the revolution in Cuba in 1959, Cuban baseball had strong ties to professional baseball in the U.S. , with many major leaguers playing winter ball in the Cuban league. In 1946, the Havana Cubans joined the Florida International League as an affiliate of the A.L. Washington Senators. In 1954, the team was renamed the Cuban Sugar Kings and became an “AAA” minor league team of the Cincinnati Reds. The Sugar Kings won the Minor Leagues’ World Series in 1959, prompting speculation that it might soon become a major league franchise.

After the revolution, Fidel Castro disbanded the Cuban Winter League and replaced the professional league with a new amateur league in 1962. In the amateur Cuban League, sixteen teams play a 90 game schedule from November through April, culminating in a seven-game Cuban championship series with the winners of the North versus the South divisions.

In 1991, René Arocha, a pitcher on the Cuban National Team, shocked his country by defecting to the United States while playing an exhibition game in Tennessee. In the next decade, approximately 80 Cuban players defected to the U.S. In 1995, the Cuban government responded to the mass defections by instituting a “retirement program” that allowed its best athletes and coaches to “retire” from their Cuban teams and play in other countries, as long as they returned 80% of their salaries to the Cuban government. That year, 50 Cuban baseball players took this “retirement” and approximately 1,000 athletes and coaches left the country. Many Cubans believed the retirement program led to a decrease in quality of play and an incentive to play poorly so that players would be allowed to “retire” to higher pay outside of Cuba. In 1998, Cuba ended its retirement program, and the number of defections again escalated.

Of Historical Signifance: On December 25, 1879, Carlos Macía of the Almendares club in Cuba, was credited with the first attempt of a bunt for a base hit rather than a sacrifice, twelve years before John McGraw instituted the same strategy with the Baltimore Orioles.

The Cuban National Team has long been a powerhouse in international competition. Between 1949 and 1960, Cuba won the annual Caribbean Series seven times, before Fidel Castro dissolved the Series in 1961 after converting baseball in Cuba to an amateur system. (The Series returned in 1970 without Cuba.) In the Pan American Games running every four years beginning in 1951, Cuba won the gold medal in 1951, 1963, and in every Pan-Am Games from 1971 through the most recent one in the Dominican Republic in 2003. Since baseball became an official Olympic sport in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Cuba has won gold medals in 1992, 1996, and 2004, with their only defeat a second-place finish to the United States in Sydney, Australia in 2000. In the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic, Cuba made it to the finals before losing 10-6 in the Championship Game to Japan.

Over 150 Cuban natives have played in the Major Leagues, including such stars as Jose Canseco, 1969 Cy Young Award Winner Mike Cuellar, Livian Hernandez, Minnie Minoso, 3-time batting champion Tony Oliva, Rafael Palmero, Camilo Pascual, Tony Perez, and Luis Tiant. Tony Perez, the third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine in the 1970s, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. A 7-time All-Star, Perez finished his Major League career batting .279, with 379 HRs, and 1,652 RBIs.

In 1977, Cuban legend Martin Dihigo was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame after a career spanning thirty years in Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Negro Leagues. Possibly the greatest all-around ballplayer of all time, Dihigo played all nine positions. In the Mexican League in 1938, he posted an 18-2 record, while unbelievably winning crowns in both pitching (ERA 0.90) and batting (.BA .387). He finished with a 119-57 won-loss record and .317 BA in the Mexican League and 107-56 with a .298 BA in the Cuban League. He is a member of the Hall of Fames in the United States, Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela.

In 2006, the National Baseball Hall of Fame also inducted Cuban and Negro Leagues star Jose Méndez. Although he starred as a pitcher and later a shortstop in the Cuban (76-28 W-L record) and Negro Leagues from 1907-27, El Diamante Negro gained notoriety early in his career, when in three appearances against the visiting Cincinnati Reds in 1908, he notched 25 scoreless innings, giving up only 8 hits and 3 walks while striking out 24.

For more information about Cuban baseball, see the excellent on-line PBS documentary,
Stealing Home: The Case Of Contemporary Cuban Baseball

Available for Sale
The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria
Full Count: Inside Cuba Baseball, Milton H. Jamail

Players Born in Cuba

Name Birthdate Birthplace First Game
Jose Acosta 3/4/1891 Havana 7/28/1920
Merito Acosta 5/19/1896 Bauta 6/15/1913
Rafael Almeida 7/30/1887 Havana 7/4/1911
Luis Aloma 7/23/1923 Havana 4/19/1950
Ossie Alvarez 10/19/1933 Matanzas 4/19/1958
Rogelio Alvarez 4/18/1938 Pinar Del Rio 9/18/1960
Vicente Amor 8/8/1932 Havana 4/16/1955
Sandy Amoros 1/30/1930 Havana 8/22/1952
Angel Aragon 8/2/1890 Havana 8/20/1914
Jack Aragon 11/20/1915 Havana 8/13/1941
Jose Arcia 8/22/1943 Havana 4/10/1968
Rudy Arias 6/6/1931 Las Villas 4/10/1959
Rene Arocha 2/24/1966 Havana 4/9/1993
Rolando Arrojo 7/18/1968 Havana 4/1/1998
Joe Azcue 8/18/1939 Cienfuegos 8/3/1960
Danys Baez 9/10/1977 Pinar Del Rio 5/13/2001
Ed Bauta 1/6/1935 Florida 7/6/1960
Julio Becquer 12/20/1931 Havana 9/13/1955
Steve Bellan //1850
Yuniesky Betancourt 1/31/1982 Santa Clara 7/28/2005
Jack Calvo 6/11/1894 Havana 5/9/1913
Bert Campaneris 3/9/1942 Pueblo Nuevo 7/23/1964
Frank Campos 5/11/1924 Havana 9/11/1951
Jose Canseco 7/2/1964 Havana 9/2/1985
Ozzie Canseco 7/2/1964 Havana 7/18/1990
Jose Cardenal 10/7/1943 Matanzas 4/14/1963
Leo Cardenas 12/17/1938 Matanzas 7/25/1960
Paul Casanova 12/21/1941 Colon 9/18/1965
Jorge Comellas 12/7/1916 Havana 4/19/1945
Sandy Consuegra 9/3/1920 Potrerillos 6/10/1950
Jose Contreras 12/6/1971 Havana 3/31/2003
Mike Cuellar 5/8/1937 Santa Clara 4/18/1959
Bert Cueto 8/14/1937 San Luis 6/18/1961
Manuel Cueto 2/8/1892 Guanajay 6/25/1914
Juan Delis 2/20/1928 Santiago De Cuba 4/16/1955
Orestes Destrade 5/8/1962 Santiago De Cuba 9/11/1987
Juan Diaz 2/19/1974 San Jose de las Lajas 6/12/2002
Pedro Dibut 11/18/1892 Cienfuegos 5/1/1924
Martin Dihigo 5/25/1905 Matanzas
Lino Donoso 9/23/1922 Havana 6/18/1955
Bobby Estalella 4/25/1911 Cardenas 9/7/1935
Oscar Estrada 2/15/1904 Havana 4/21/1929
Chico Fernandez 4/23/1939 Havana 4/20/1968
Chico Fernandez 3/2/1932 Havana 7/14/1956
Osvaldo Fernandez 11/4/1968 Holguin 4/5/1996
Angel Fleitas 11/10/1914 Los Abreus 7/5/1948
Mike Fornieles 1/18/1932 Havana 9/2/1952
Tony Fossas 9/23/1957 Havana 5/15/1988
Tito Fuentes 1/4/1944 Havana 8/18/1965
Barbaro Garbey 12/4/1956 Santiago De Cuba 4/3/1984
Ramon Garcia 3/5/1924 LaEsperanza 4/19/1948
Preston Gomez 4/22/1923 Preston 5/5/1944
Vince Gonzales 9/28/1925 Quivican 4/13/1955
Eusebio Gonzalez 7/13/1892 Havana 7/26/1918
Julio Gonzalez 12/20/1920 Banes 8/9/1949
Mike Gonzalez 9/24/1890 Havana 9/28/1912
Orlando Gonzalez 11/15/1951 Havana 6/7/1976
Tony Gonzalez 8/28/1936 Central Cunagua 4/12/1960
Mike Guerra 10/11/1912 Havana 9/19/1937
Adrian Hernandez 3/25/1975 Havana 4/21/2001
Chico Hernandez 1/3/1916 Havana 4/16/1942
Evelio Hernandez 12/24/1931 Guanabacoa 9/12/1956
Jackie Hernandez 9/11/1940 Central Tinguaro 9/14/1965
Livan Hernandez 2/20/1975 Villa Clara 9/24/1996
Michel Hernandez 8/12/1978 La Habana 9/6/2003
Orlando Hernandez 10/11/1965 Villa Clara 6/3/1998
Mike Herrera 12/19/1897 Havana 9/22/1925
Pancho Herrera 6/16/1934 Santiago De Cuba 4/15/1958
Hank Izquierdo 3/20/1931 Matanzas 8/9/1967
Hansel Izquierdo 1/2/1977 Havana 4/21/2002
George Lauzerique 7/22/1947 Havana 9/17/1967
Izzy Leon 1/4/1911 Cruces 6/21/1945
Marcelino Lopez 9/23/1943 Havana 4/14/1963
Ramon Lopez 5/26/1933 Las Villas 8/21/1966
Dolf Luque 8/4/1890 Havana 5/20/1914
Hector Maestri 4/19/1935 Havana 9/24/1960
Connie Marrero 8/11/1911 Sagua La Grande 4/21/1950
Eli Marrero 11/17/1973 Havana 9/3/1997
Armando Marsans 10/3/1887 Matanzas 7/4/1911
Hector Martinez 5/11/1939 Las Villas 9/30/1962
Jose Martinez 7/26/1942 Cardenas 6/18/1969
Marty Martinez 8/23/1941 Havana 5/2/1962
Rogelio Martinez 11/5/1918 Cidra 7/13/1950
Tony Martinez 3/18/1940 Perico 4/9/1963
Orlando McFarlane 6/28/1938 Oriente 4/23/1962
Roman Mejias 8/9/1930 Abreus 4/13/1955
Jose Mendez 3/19/1887 Cardenas
Minnie Mendoza 11/16/1933 Ceiba Del Agua 4/9/1970
Tony Menendez 2/20/1965 Havana 6/22/1992
Minnie Minoso 11/29/1925 Havana 4/19/1949
Willy Miranda 5/24/1926 Velasco 5/6/1951
Aurelio Monteagudo 11/19/1943 Caibarien 9/1/1963
Rene Monteagudo 3/12/1916 Havana 9/6/1938
Manny Montejo 10/16/1935 Caibarien 7/25/1961
Kendry Morales 6/20/1983 Fomento 5/23/2006
Danny Morejon 7/21/1930 Havana 7/11/1958
Julio Moreno 1/28/1921 Guines 9/8/1950
Cholly Naranjo 11/25/1934 Havana 7/8/1956
Ray Noble 3/15/1919 Central Hatillo 4/18/1951
Vladimir Nunez 3/15/1975 Havana 9/11/1998
Tony Oliva 7/20/1938 Pinar Del Rio 9/9/1962
Tony Ordenana 10/30/1918 Guanabacoa 10/3/1943
Rey Ordonez 11/11/1971 Havana 4/1/1996
Eddie Oropesa 11/23/1971 Colen Matanzas 4/2/2001
Bill Ortega 7/24/1975 Havana 9/7/2001
Baby Ortiz 12/5/1919 Camaguey 9/23/1944
Roberto Ortiz 6/30/1915 Camaguey 9/6/1941
Reggie Otero 9/7/1915 Havana 9/2/1945
Rafael Palmeiro 9/24/1964 Havana 9/8/1986
Emilio Palmero 6/13/1895 Guanabacoa 9/21/1915
Camilo Pascual 1/20/1934 Havana 4/15/1954
Carlos Pascual 3/13/1931 Havana 9/24/1950
Carlos Paula 11/28/1927 Havana 9/6/1954
Chick Pedroes 10/27/1869 Havana 8/21/1902
Brayan Pena 1/7/1982 Havana 5/23/2005
Orlando Pena 11/17/1933 Victoria De Las Tunas 8/24/1958
Tony Perez 5/14/1942 Ciego De Avila 7/26/1964
Leo Posada 4/15/1936 Havana 9/21/1960
Ariel Prieto 10/22/1969 Havana 7/2/1995
Bobby Ramos 11/5/1955 Havana 9/26/1978
Pedro Ramos 4/28/1935 Pinar Del Rio 4/11/1955
Nap Reyes 11/24/1919 Santiago De Cuba 5/19/1943
Armando Roche 12/7/1926 Havana 5/10/1945
Freddy Rodriguez 4/29/1924 Havana 4/18/1958
Hector Rodriguez 6/13/1920 Alquizar 4/15/1952
Jose Rodriguez 2/23/1894 Havana 10/5/1916
Cookie Rojas 3/6/1939 Havana 4/10/1962
Minnie Rojas 11/26/1933 Remidios 5/30/1966
Chico Ruiz 12/5/1938 Santo Domingo 4/13/1964
Alex Sanchez 8/26/1976 Havana 6/15/2001
Israel Sanchez 8/20/1963 Falcon Lasvias 7/7/1988
Raul Sanchez 12/12/1930 Marianao 4/17/1952
Nelson Santovenia 7/27/1961 Pinar Del Rio 9/16/1987
Diego Segui 8/17/1937 Holguin 4/12/1962
Alay Soler 10/9/1979 Pinar del Rio 5/24/2006
Luis Suarez 8/24/1916 Alto Songo 5/28/1944
Leo Sutherland 4/6/1958 Santiago De Cuba 8/11/1980
Jose Tartabull 11/27/1938 Cienfuegos 4/10/1962
Tony Taylor 12/19/1935 Central Alava 4/15/1958
Michael Tejera 10/18/1976 Havana 9/8/1999
Luis Tiant 11/23/1940 Marianao 7/19/1964
Jorge Toca 1/7/1975 Villa Clara 9/12/1999
Gil Torres 8/23/1915 Regla 4/25/1940
Ricardo Torres 4/16/1891 Regla 5/18/1920
Cristobal Torriente 11/16/1893 Cienfuegos
Carlos Tosca 9/29/1953 Pinar Del Rio
Oscar Tuero 12/17/1898 Havana 5/30/1918
Sandy Ullrich 7/25/1921 Havana 5/3/1944
Roy Valdes 2/20/1920 Havana 5/3/1944
Sandy Valdespino 1/14/1939 San Jose De Las Lajas 4/12/1965
Rene Valdez 6/2/1929 Guanabacoa 4/21/1957
Jose Valdivielso 5/22/1934 Matanzas 6/21/1955
Zoilo Versalles 12/18/1939 Veldado 8/1/1959
Adrian Zabala 8/26/1916 San Antonio De Los Banos 8/11/1945
Oscar Zamora 9/23/1944 Camaguey 6/18/1974
Jose Zardon 5/20/1923 Havana 4/18/1945

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