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Cuban Baseball ad Casa de Wilson, Havana
Cuban Baseball ad Casa de Wilson, Havana

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).

The 1899 All-Cubans, Part I

by Gary Ashwill

One of the preludes to the integration of Cuban baseball in 1900 was the first visit by a professional Cuban team to the United States. The Spanish imperial authorities had always been suspicious of baseball, and at various times had banned or otherwise hampered the sport; but in the aftermath of the war of 1898, with U.S. authorities established in the island, the first fully fledged Cuban League season in many years was begun in February 1899. In June it was announced that as soon as the current championship was over, a team called the “All-Cubans,” made up of players from all three Cuban League teams, would travel to the United States.

The team was organized by a young promoter named Abel Linares. One of his recent accomplishments had been to convince Reach & Co., the American sporting goods company, to donate a cup for the Cuban League championship. Now he aimed to show off Cuban talent in the country of baseball’s origin. Several years later he wrote about the genesis of his idea:

When base ball in Cuba was in its infancy, in that time of true amateurism, there came to the island picked nines of American players. Because of lack of experience, or maybe fear, the Cuban clubs received sovereign scourges (“zurras soberanas”) at the hands of these masters who visited us.

Time passed, with our players learning more every day, and now the Americans could not beat us so easily. Many times we even managed to defeat them, although it took some work.

My trips to the United States had led me to conceive the belief that our players were not as deficient as they said; that Cubans had as much of an aptitude for baseball as Americans; and that if we overcame our defects in teamwork, which were due to a lack of direction in the field, and became more aggressive batters, we could, if not defeat them, at least put up a good fight.

Based on this belief, and with a double motivation of business and Cuban pride, I came up with the idea of organizing a Cuban team and taking it to tour the United States, in search of glory and money.

(Abel Linares, “Los Cubanos en los Estados Unidos,” in El Base Ball en Cuba y America, edited by Ramón S. de Mendoza, José María Herrero, and Manuel F. Calcines [Havana: Imirenta, Comas, y López, 1908], p. 74)

The All-Cubans were a virtual all-star team of the Cuban game, including players from all three of the Cuban League teams. Here’s a photo, printed on the first page of the July 16 issue of El Base Ball, with all the players’ identities penciled in by an unknown reader:

(El Base Ball, July 16, 1899, p. 1)

If you can’t read the handwriting, here’s who’s pictured in the photo:

Back row: Agustín “Tinti” Molina, Emilio Hernández, Abel Linares, Antonio María García (“El Inglés,” usually said to be the best player in 19th-century Cuban baseball), Moisés Quintero

Middle row: Daniel Miguel, Manuel López (“El Cartero”), Bernardo Carrillo, Esteban Prats

Front row: Felo Rodríguez, Miguel Prats, José Baeza

Not pictured: Alfredo Arcaño, Carlos Royer

This picture shows the players in their regular club uniforms: Cuba, Almendares, and Habana (the dark shirts or jackets). According to El Base Ball (June 18, 1899), the All-Cubans were to wear a “blue shirt and trousers with the name in dark red, a white sash, and dark red stockings.” Sounds pretty resplendent. On July 31 the New York Sun confirmed that these uniforms (with a slight variation) were indeed used: “The visitors wore dark blue flannel uniforms with the words ‘All Cubans’ in white letters on their shirt fronts. Their stockings and caps were red, and several of them wore the old-fashioned white canvas baseball shoes.” Here’s a photo of Miguel Prats in his All-Cubans duds (with white lettering):

(El Score, July 29, 1900, p. 1)

As a novelty the Cubans drew some interest from the American press; the most hyped game was probably their contest against the West New York Field Club, a semipro team, at Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 30. The Cubans lost 8 to 5, but put up a good fight. According to the New York Sun, fans who were “expecting to see a burlesque exhibition of baseball…were agreeably disappointed. Fifteen hundred spectators were there and were ready to guy the visitors at every opportunity, but before the practice was over the cranks had learned to respect them.”

The Sun singled out several Cuban players for praise, particularly center fielder Alfredo Arcaño and the pitcher-captain Rafael “Felo” Rodríguez, both of whom “played such good ball that before the game was over the crowd applauded them continually.” Rodríguez exhibited “beautiful control and some sharp curves.” He threw “a swift out-drop and a high jump ball with plenty of speed.”

(El Score, February 24, 1901, p. 1)

In the seventh inning he walked Voorhis, the West New York pitcher. Voorhis was suffering from a “lame leg” and wanted to put in a courtesy pinch runner, but Rodríguez objected. When the umpire agreed with Felo and refused to allow the pinch runner, Rodríguez “turned half a dozen cartwheels across the diamond, winding up in the box with a back somersault.”

For his part, Arcaño, a former Cuban League batting champ, got the “best hit of the game, a rattling two-bagger to the left field fence,” and snared several hard drives to the outfield “with remarkable ease.” Despite being in his mid-thirties and “thick set,” Arcaño was “fleeter-footed than anybody else on the field, and as a coacher he kept the crowd in good humor from start to finish”:

Arcano chattered in Spanish so incessantly that the bleacherites soon tried to imitate him, and toward the close they were howling in unison something that sounded like this:

“Wallo, wallo, wallo! Cutta, cutta, cutta! Chickee, chickee, chickee! Wow wow, wow wow, wow wow wow! Hurray!”

But Arcano paid no attention and continued his exhortations until the last man was out. (New York Sun, July 31, 1899, p. 9)

(El Score, December 29, 1901, p. 1)

A week later,  the All-Cubans inflicted an epic 26 to 8 defeat on the Hoboken town team, and then Linares arranged a pretty high profile matchup for the All-Cubans: a showdown with the Cuban X Giants, ostensibly as a protest against the X Giants “posing as the representatives of Cuba.”

On August 13, the two teams faced off on the St. George Cricket Grounds in Hoboken. The All Cubans, wracked by illness and injury, had to use an American pitcher from Port Jervis named Perez (it’s unclear who this is exactly, but it could be a guy named Raymond B. Perez, who played both football and baseball for the Marion Field Club, and is the only athlete named “Perez” I could find in the New York area around this time). The Cuban X-Giants put in James Dorsey Robinson, known as the “Black Rusie,” to oppose him. According to the Jersey City Evening Journal, E. B. Lamar, manager of the Cuban X-Giants, was “determined to win, as a defeat by the real Cubans would rob his players of the prestige so long enjoyed.”

And win they did, the X-Giants taking the game 7 to 3, finding Perez’s curves easy to solve. The All Cubans were, however, the better fielding team, according to the Evening Journal.

After the game Lamar and Linares “had a very warm discussion in the clubhouse, in which [Felo] Rodriguez also took a hand.” Rodríguez maintained that “had he been in condition to pitch the result would have been different, and at his request Manager Linare[s] challenged Lamar to play another game…next Sunday, the winning team to take all the receipts, less expenses.”

The challenge was accepted. True to his word, Rodríguez, now recovered from the sprained ankle that had kept him out of the previous game, was in the pitching box—but it didn’t matter. The X Giants belted three home runs off him, won 11 to 6, and took home all the receipts.

Despite the warm words between Linares and Lamar (which may have just been a PR fiction for the sports pages), this was the start of a lasting business relationship. It could be that this was when the idea was hatched for the Cuban X Giants’ first trip to Cuba the following spring.  Back in Cuba El Base Ball reported briefly on the first game against the Cuban X Giants, which they called “the famous colored club, one of the strongest in the United States.” “It’s only to be expected: our boys [they use the English word “boys” here] resisted, but couldn’t conquer the famous blacks, who almost always beat their opponents” (El Base Ball, August 20, 1899, p. 3).

As we’ll see in the next post the All-Cubans may have had cause to regret the terms of the wager over the second game. In the next few weeks any cash at all would have come in handy.