The following article has been written by Gary Ashwill (http://agatetype.typepad.com/). Gary is one of the foremost researchers of Negro Leagues and Latin American baseball. Gary works closely with Mike Lynch of seamheads.com, the leading database of Negro League and Cuban baseball statistics.
Gary and Mike have agreed to work with www.negroleagueshistory.com to publish original research based on the discovery of Cuban newspapers dating primarily from 1899-1901, a period of great social change in Cuba. The research is based on newspapers contributed by Jay Caldwell (www.negroleagueshistory.com) and Ryan Christoff (www.cubanbaseballcards.com).
A Closer Look at Cuban Baseball Newspapers
by Gary Ashwill
Let’s look in more detail at turn-of-the-century Cuban baseball publications, to give you a better idea of what they were like. The ones we have in our collection usually consisted four to eight pages published weekly on newsprint, and focused on game reports, news, and (fairly pithy) commentaries rather than lengthy features or photo spreads. They were quite similar to sports newspapers published in the United States such as Sporting Life and The Sporting News. Here’s a comparison of the first page of the September 15, 1900, issue of El Score to that of the September 16, 1900, issue of Sporting Life:
Many of the Cuban papers featured photographs on their front page, sometimes accompanied by a brief sketch of the player or official depicted. Occasionally there’s even a poem about him. For example, here’s the cover of the September 2, 1900, issue of El Base Ball, with a picture of the Habana catcher Román Calzadilla, a veteran who had played in the Cuban League since 1889.
The writing beneath the photograph goes something like this:
“It is with real pleasure that we publish the portrait of this remarkable player, who is without dispute the one whose qualities are best suited for the performance of his difficult position.
Agile, active, diligent, a great hitter and pretty good baserunner, he also possesses a ‘Yankee’ calm and serenity, as well as the cunning that in his position is irreplaceable.
He made his debut at Club Matanzas, which was run by our current editor [Luis Crespo], after a tenacious struggle between them, due to the excessive modesty of Román. [That is, it was difficult to convince Calzadilla to sign up.] We needed his services at Matanzas to complete the terrible Cairo-Calzadilla battery.
El Base Ball esteems Román highly, and sends him affectionate greetings.”
That would be “terrible” as in “frightening” or “dominating.” “Cairo” would be Avelino Cairo, who pitched for Matanzas and Almendares from 1889 to 1895.
Calzadilla’s image has been colored in by a reader, with the word “Habanista” written above it. Since the Habana club’s color was red, it’s interesting that Calzadilla’s been rendered in blue here; maybe he’s pictured in the uniform of one of his previous teams (Matanzas, Progreso, Feísta, Aguila de Oro)?
Beyond the covers, inside these papers can be found brief commentaries or essays, along with digests of news items in what we would call bullet points, but not lengthy feature articles or photo spreads. Cuban baseball in the 19th century was closely tied to art, fashion, and literature; in fact, El Base Ball was subtitled Semanario de Literatura y Sport (Weekly of Literature and Sports). Translating these essays can be a little difficult, both because of the writing style (dense, allusive, and even literary at times) and the references they make to issues and personalities of the day.
In addition to commentaries and news, one of the main purposes of these papers was to print game stories and box scores for the major contests, especially the Cuban League. Here’s a typical example, for a game between San Francisco and Cubano played on August 5, 1900:
Note how many of the terms are just imported from English: “base hits,” “stolen bases,” “struck outs” [sic], “wild pitches,” and so forth. Also note how careful and detailed this box score is, even recording which batters drew walks, which batters struck out, and which ones whiffed on three pitches—an indignity suffered in this game only by Cubano shortstop Bernardo Carrillo. There were three scorers, one representing each club and one representing the league.
There were also accounts of lesser teams and championships played in Havana’s neighborhoods or in surrounding towns, as well as occasional news of baseball happenings in the United States. Here’s a later page from the same issue of El Score showing a box score from a non-Cuban League game played in Matanzas, some notes on games in Cienfuegos, and a brief section on the National League in the U.S. (“Entre los maestros”).
El Base Ball and El Score helpfully provided readers with blank score sheets, usually on the last page:
These papers are also fascinating for their ads. Probably the most frequent advertiser in the pages of the baseball papers was the Casa de Wilson, a sporting goods shop in Havana that was managed by Severino Solloso, who also managed the Cuba Base Ball Club. He is going to come up a lot in future posts, as he was a major player in the conflict over ending the color line in the Cuban League.
“In this house can be found, fresh off the latest steamer [from the U.S.], an assortment of balls, bats, masks, stockings, caps, sashes, etc., all at catalog prices.”
The sporting goods business was located within a much larger establishment that included a bookstore and stationery business, pictured here in an 1899 issue of El Base Ball.
Next we’ll talk about the differences between the various titles, especially El Base Ball and El Score, which took opposing sides on many of the issues of the day.