What do Bronson Arroyo, Danys Baez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Vinnie Chulk, Jose Contreras, Yunel Escobar, Ryan Freel (though not Farney), Luis Gonzalez, Livan and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Lowell, Henry Owens, Orlando Palmeiro and Jorge Posada have in common?
They're all major league players of Cuban heritage.
to Esteban Enrique "Steve" Bellan, baseball has been as much the national game
of Cuba as it has been of the U.S. Born into a Cuban family in Havana in 1850,
Bellan came to America, apparently to further his education at Fordham
University, though maybe to get away from first Cuban war of independence. By
1868, proving he had learned more than the three R's at Fordham, he was playing
for one of the top NABBP teams, the Unions of Morrisania. The first Latin
American to play at the highest level of American baseball, Bellan was only fair
player by the day's standards. Nonetheless, he lasted for six years at the top
level of the sport before returning to
Fidel wanted to keep all the good Cuban players at home, the better with which
Garbey) things loosened up a little, as Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro (don't
draw any unwarranted conclusions from the convergence of these three) and a few
others made the majors, although the next big wave of Cuban players, led by the
Hernandez brothers and Rey Ordonez of The Ordonez Line fame, really didn't hit
for another 10 years A.G. By 2007 though, you could make up a pretty good active
All-Cuban team, led by Posada, Ibanez,
And thereby hangs a tale. The story of the only baseball game ever called on account of gunfire. Here's what happened, 48 years ago today, courtesy of one of SABR's finest, Brian Engelhardt.
the current edition of "The National Pastime," Engelhardt (who is also the
foremost expert on baseball in
For a Triple A team, the Sugar Kings were loaded… no fewer than seven Havana players who appeared in the game would have (or had) major league careers… Jesse Gonder, Elio Chacon, Chico Cardenas, YoYo Davalillo, Luis Arroyo, Tony Gonzalez and Carlos Paula. And that doesn't even include Mike Cuellar, Lou Skizas, Cookie Rojas and Raul Sanchez, none of whom got in this particular game.
Although the Sugar Kings scored a run in the bottom of the first, the Red Birds scored two in the second and one in the third to take a 3-1 lead that they carried into the bottom of the ninth inning, when the home team scored twice to tie it.
The hometown fans were already excited enough, partly because Fidel himself was present at the game – in fact he'd even pitched in an exhibition before the regular game started -- and partly because it was the sixth anniversary of the storming of the Moncada Barracks by Castro and his supporters. It was an act that got the Cuban revolutionary thrown in jail, but then again, Hitler and Lenin also spent time in the hoosegow for failed uprisings, and this particular unsuccessful putsch led to the formation of the 26th of July Movement, Castro's organization that eventually took over Cuba at the end of 1958.
Despite Castro's somewhat, from a U.S. point of view, checkered resume, OB decided to keep the Sugar Kings in the International League and in Havana after the communist leader took over. Maybe they didn't know how Cubans (and Latins in general) celebrate big occasions… they have a tendency to fire guns in the air.
where things stood in the top of the 11th when Harrell hit an
unexpected home run (he was a middle infielder, not a power hitter) to give
In the ensuing brouhaha, Red Wing manager Cot Deal was tossed from the game, possibly the only time in the history of the sport that an ejection saved someone's life. That's because struck shortly after Deal's departure and, along with it, gunfire erupted both outside and inside the stadium as soldiers and civilians started celebrating the anniversary of July 26.
point, now in the top of the 12th, Red Wing coach Frank Verdi was
coaching third base in place of Deal. In the ensuing gunfire, he was struck on
his helmet liner by a bullet… a bullet that, as Jim Brosnan later noted in "The
Long Season," might well have gone in Deal's ear if he'd still been on the
coaching lines… Deal was several inches taller than Verdi. Sugar King shortstop
A major flap erupted after the game, with name calling by both the Cardinal and Sugar King management, since the next day's doubleheader was also cancelled with the permission of International League President Frank Shaughnessy. Paul Miller, GM of the Sugar Kings, had the incredible gall to be quoted as saying there was "no justifiable reason" for cancelling the next day's DH. Maybe he should have talked to his shortstop first.
the baseball incident became an international incident, and Red Wings President
Frank Horton had to call the U.S. Ambassador to
Maybe even more incredibly, the Sugar Kings continued to play out their season in Havana (possibly because July 26th only comes once a year), winning the 1959 Junior World Series (talk about a home field advantage…), and then even started the 1960 season in Cuba, before the franchise was moved, hopefully not under fire, to Jersey City in July 1960, never to return.
Organized Baseball leave
A member of the Society for
American Baseball Research, John Shiffert's background includes serving as a
sportswriter, as sports information director for