The Pride of Havana

Dolf Luque, the Pride of Havana

There is a long history of baseball in Cuba. One source puts its origins in the 1850s and 1860s. For Cubans in the Major Leagues it’s a lot newer. It begins with Adolfo Luque (there were other Cubans before him, but he was far and away the most successful) who was a pretty fair pitcher.

Luque was from Havana, born in 1890. He pitched well in the Cuban leagues, was spotted by Major League scouts, and picked up by the Boston Braves (now in Atlanta) in 1914. There were immediate problems. The racial attitudes of the era made it difficult for a non-“white” individual to do well in the big leagues. Dark skinned players, like fellow Cuban Martin DiHigo, were completely banned from the Majors. American Indians like Chief Bender were ridiculed, and light-skinned Latin players like Luque were supposed to be too hot-tempered to play. And, unfortunately, Luque, like many of us, had a temper. It was to create problems for him for most of his career. As I want to look more at his stats than his temper, I’m not going to concentrate on the incidents (especially the Stengel incident). There are plenty of references about them online.

Luque pitched four games for the Braves in 1914 and 1915, going 0-1 with big ERA’s for the time. He ended up back in the minors until Cincinnati picked him up in 1918. He stayed there through 1929.  Going 10-3 mostly in relief, he helped the Reds to the 1919 World Series. He pitched five innings over two games giving up no runs, one hit, no walks, and striking out six. In doing so he became the first Latin American native to play in a World Series. His best year was 1923 when he went 27-8 and led the National League in wins, ERA, shutouts, winning percentage, and ERA+. It was a notable improvement considering he’d led the NL in loses the previous year.  He led the NL in ERA, WHIP, ERA+, and shutouts again in 1925, although he posted only a 16-18 record. His career followed a fairly normal projection and by 1929, he was 38, had a 5-16 record, and was sent to Brooklyn. He spent two years with the Dodgers. Neither were particularly bad years, but his ERA was rising and he was giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. At age 41 he went to the Giants where he became a reliever. He was good at it putting up acceptable numbers in both 1933 and 1934. In the former year he got back to the World Series for the second time. He relived in game 5, pitching 4.1 innings of scoreless ball, striking out five and giving up only two hits. When the Giants scored in the top of the tenth, Luque shut down Washington in the bottom of the inning to clinch the World Series championship for New York.

He pitched two games in 1935, getting one last win, then retired to coach with the Giants. He remained with the Giants as a coach off and on through the Second World War, then retired from the Majors for good. During his playing days and while a coach in New York, Luque spent his winters in Cuba, and later in Mexico, working with Winter League players. He played, coached, and managed a number of great island teams. He was instrumental in developing Major League players like Sal Maglie, Bobby Avila, and Camilo Pascual. He managed through the 1956 season and died of a heat attack in July 1957. He was later inducted into both the Cuban and Mexican baseball Hall of Fame.

For his Major League career, Luque was 194-179 (,520 winning percentage), had an ERA of 3.24 (ERA+ of 118), a 1.288 WHIP, and 16 shutouts. He struck out 1130 while walking 918. Over 3220 innings he gave up 3231 hits and 1161 earned runs. All in all not a bad career for a man who got started late (he was 27 when he caught on with Cincinnati), played year-round, and had to face the challenges of perceptions about Latin ball players. He deserves a lot more recognition, particularly among Latin players, then he gets.

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One Response to “The Pride of Havana”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Nice post on yet another largely forgotten ballplayer. Strange how the particular shade of a man’s skin works either for him or against him. So arbitrary. So stupid.
    Bill

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