Posts Tagged ‘Dolf Luque’

1933, the obscure World Series: Mel

May 22, 2018

Game 5, 7 October 1933

Mel Ott

Game five of the 1933 World Series was the final game in Washington, DC. With the Giants leading three games to one, the Senators had to win in order to keep the Series going. They sent game two starter, and loser, Alvin “General” Crowder to the mound. New York responded with their own game two starter, and winner, Hal Schumacher.

And for six innings it didn’t appear that Washington had any chance of sending the Series back to the Polo Grounds. In the top of the second a Travis Jackson single, a walk to Gus Mancuso, and another bunt sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out. That brought up pitcher Schumacher who promptly singled to plate both runs. In the top of the sixth the Giants tacked on another run with a Kiddo Davis double, a Jackson bunt sacrifice, and a Mancuso double to make the score 3-0 with 12 outs to go.

Schumacher got two of them before Heinie Manush singled. He was followed by a Joe Cronin single that sent Manush to third. Up came Fred Schulte who parked a three run home run into the left field stands to tie the game and give Washington hope. Two more singles put runners on and sent Schumacher to the showers. In came Dolf Luque. At 42, Luque was the oldest Giant by four years and the oldest Giant pitcher by seven years. Only Sam Rice of the Senators was older (43) on either team and Rice was, by 1933, a substitute. The old man responded to the pressure by inducing a grounder to end the threat.

For the rest of the regulation game the teams matched zeroes. There were a handful of hits and a walk, but no one got beyond first base. In the tenth the Giants took two quick outs. That brought up Mel Ott. Into the 1960s, Ott was the all time leader in home runs among National League players (and third all time behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx). So he did what he did so well. He parked a ball in the center field seats to put New York ahead 4-3. A grounder back to the pitcher ended the inning and brought up the Senators for one last shot at sending the World Series back to Giants territory.

Luque got two quick outs, then gave up a single and walked Joe Cronin to put two men on with two outs. Up stepped Joe Kuhel. Luque struck him out to end the game and the Series. In relief, Dolf Luque, the first Cuban player to win a World Series game pitching struck out five, walked two, and gave up only two hits in 4.1 innings of relief. Unfortunately his effort was largely lost behind Ott’s game winning homer.

For a five game Series, it had been a good playoff. Two games, the last two, went into extra innings. A third game was 4-2. In an era known for its power hitting, the key blows in the final game were home runs: one by Schulte, the other by Ott. But there were an extraordinary number of runs scored that involved the Deadball Era standard of the bunt sacrifice.

The Giants hitting was fine, finishing with a .267 average 16 runs, three homers, and 47 hits, but the New York pitching had dominated the Series. The team ERA was 1.53 with only 11 runs allowed, and only eight of those earned. They staff struck out 25 with Carl Hubbell going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and Luque matching the 0.00 in the biggest relief outing of the Series.

For the Senators, Earl Whitehill won their only game by giving the Series its only complete game shutout. But Lefty Stewart and Crowder both had ERA’s north of seven, and the staff as a group had given up 10 more hits than the Giants staff. The team hit only .214 with Schulte’s four RBIs leading the team (three on the game five home run).

For the Giants it was the beginning of a decent run in the 1930s. They’d get back to two more World Series’ in the decade (losing both to the Yankees). For the Senators it was the end of their playoffs. The next time Washington made the World Series was 1965. By then they were relocated to Minnesota and called the Twins.

 

 

1933, the obscure World Series: The Giants

May 8, 2018

Lefty O’Doul with the Giants

Several years ago I ran a little informal poll on a sports website. I asked people to name the teams, winner first, in the 1933 World Series. They had to promise not to look it up first. Out of about 30 responses, 2 got it right (and 1 admitted to looking it up). It’s a terribly obscure World Series, falling between Babe Ruth’s last series in 1932 and the Gas House Gang Cardinals of 1934. It needs to be resurrected. You’ve probably figured by now that I’m about to do just that. First, the National League champs. And for what it’s worth, the most common answers to my poll were the Yankees and the Cardinals. Not bad choices for the era.

In 1932 John McGraw laid down the reins of the New York Giants. They hadn’t won since 1923, McGraw was old, he was tired, he was done. The next year the “new” Giants won the National League pennant by five games. They were fourth in runs scored, fourth in hits, led the NL in home runs, were fifth in average, and last in doubles. What all that should tell you is that they pitched really well. They were first in ERA, shutouts, runs, hits, second in strikeouts, and otherwise simply dominated on the mound.

The infield consisted of player-manager Bill Terry at first and three guys who are fairly obscure. Terry hit .322, had an OPS+ of 128. The .322 led the team and the OPS+ was second. He managed 3.8 WAR. Hughie Critz played second, hit .246 but produced 3.5 WAR. His middle infield mate was Blondy Ryan whose average was even lower and whose WAR was all of 1.9 (still good for 10th on the team). Johnny Vergez was the third baseman. He hit .271 and was second on the team in both homers and RBIs with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs. His WAR was 3.5. By the time the World Series began, Vergez was laid up with acute appendicitis and couldn’t play. His replacement was Hall of Famer Travis Jackson, who by this point in his career was splitting time between shortstop and third. He hit all of .246 with no power and 0.2 WAR. Sam Leslie and Bernie James were the other infield backups. Leslie hit .321 while James hit in the .240s.

The outfield was considerably better. George “Kiddo” Davis played center, hit .258, led the team with 10 stolen bases, made only three errors all season, and got 1.0 WAR. “Jo-Jo” Moore (his name was Joe) flanked him in left. He hit .292, second (to Terry) among starters, had 1.1 WAR, and like Davis, had only three errors. Flanking Davis to the right was Hall of Famer Mel Ott. He hit .283, led the team with 23 home runs and 103 RBIs, and led the entire NL with 75 walks. His WAR of 5.5 led the team’s position players. During the season, the Giants made a trade that brought the team a major piece of their pennant run, Lefty O’Doul. He hit .306, had nine home runs, 35 RBIs, 146 OPS+, and 2.1 WAR in 78 games, 63 of them in the field.

Gus Mancuso and Paul Richards did almost all the catching. Mancuso was behind the plate for 142 games hitting .264 with six home runs and 1.9 WAR. Richards got into 36 games as part of the battery and hit a buck-95. He (and sometime third baseman Chuck Dressen) would later become famous as managers.

The heart of the team was the staff, specifically three men: Carl Hubbell, Hal Schumacher, and Fred Fitzsimmons. “King Carl” was at his best in 1933. He went 23-12, had an ERA of 1.66 (ERA+ of 193), struck out 156, had 10 shutouts (the ERA and shutouts both led the NL), and produced a team leading 9.1 WAR to go along with a 0.982 WHIP. All that got him the 1933 NL MVP Award. “Prince Hal” wasn’t as good, but he was close. His ERA was 2.16 (ERA+149) with 96 strikeouts, and 5.4 WAR. “Fat Freddie” went 16-11 with a 2.90 ERA (111 ERA+), and more walks than strikeouts. Roy Parmelee is largely forgotten today, but he was second on the team with 132 strikeouts and had, at 3.17 the only ERA over three among the starters. Hi Bell and 42-year-old Dolf Luque were the main men out of the bullpen.

If you look it over closely, you can still see the influence of McGraw. The team was pitching heavy, relied on solid defense, and didn’t worry overly much about the long ball.

Negro League Lessons, Seven Years On

February 25, 2016
The 1929 St. Louis Stars

The 1929 St. Louis Stars

Seven years ago (is it really that long?) I started taking part of February to look at Negro League history. A year or so later I made it a month-long project. I had a couple of goals in doing this. One was to learn what I could about the black players, teams, owners, and all those other things that make a baseball team work. The second was to chronicle that information so that others could learn something also. Of course I’ve had to correct some of the things I initially put down because new information became available, or I found a source I’d overlooked, or I was just plain wrong (which happened occasionally). Seven years down the road it seems like a good time to take stock of the project.

The first thing I learned was just exactly how much mythology surrounds the Negro Leagues. Of course that sort of thing occurs with Major League Baseball, the origins of the sport, and various other aspects  of the game. It seems baseball nurses mythology more than any other sport and revels in those myths. Negro League Baseball is no different. The early players take on heroic proportions. Babe Ruth is a giant among men who can slay all sorts of ogres with one swing of his mighty sword (or bat). It seems Josh Gibson is the same way. Lou Gehrig is the doomed youth who heroically faces his end. So does Dobie Moore. There’s trickster Dizzy Dean and there is trickster Satchel Paige. If you listen to the myths, Homer himself would be proud of some of them.

The reality is even more fascinating, because you end up with a particularly interesting set of men, men much like the white players that were gracing the Majors. Some were scoundrels, some were men of great compassion and of high character. Some you wouldn’t want your family or your friends to be around while others were “the salt of the earth.” All that’s equally true of white players. As a whole they are complicated men who are generally defined by their ability to play ball (something I usually stick to here) but most are much deeper, although there aren’t many profound thinkers in the lot (which is true of people in mass).

It was tough being a Major Leaguer in the era of the Negro Leagues. It was tougher being a Negro Leaguer. The pay was wretched. In the 1924 World Series, the winning Senators received a $5959.64. The Monarchs, winners of the Negro World Series of the same year, received a winner share of $307.96. The transportation was sometimes very basic, including old buses and occasionally individual automobiles. The hotels were of poor quality, assuming they could find a hotel that would take them. By compensation there were individual families in the frequented towns who would take them in. Most of them enjoyed the same off-season drudgeries and joys as their white counterparts. The fields were sometimes in terrible shape, sometimes they were Major League fields rented for an individual game or for a season.

As with the white players the Negro Leaguers could be the toast of the town, although it was the segregated “colored towns” of the era. They provided one of the few community wide black venues for entertainment in many towns and in some cities. It seems, and this is strictly an anecdotal observation, that they were even more important to the black communities than the Major League teams were to the white communities.

The owners were much like the white owners. Players were chattel or they were employees. Some were treated well by their teams, some not so much. The owners frequently came from what the “better element” of the white community would call “the shady side of life.” There were gamblers, pool hall owners, barmen, numbers touts, even a woman (Effa Manley). They also stole players under contract to other teams at an alarming rate. They are as a group, in some ways, more interesting than their white counterparts, most of which were moguls who found baseball much more of a side interest. Some of my favorite articles to research are the ones on team owners and executives because they are such interesting individuals.

One thing that is certainly evident is that they could play ball really, really well. They were certainly the equal of the white players of the era. They were not, despite the growing mythology of the Negro Leagues, better. Short rosters made some of them more versatile than their white counterparts, but not better. The best were on a par with the Gehrigs and Deans and Applings of the day and the worst were no worse than the hangers on who had, at best, a cup of coffee in the big leagues. In an evident attempt to establish their greatness a certain bit of nostalgic mythology has made them better than the white players. In the stark reality of short seasons and second-hand fields and poor equipment they did well. It is a testament to their playing ability that they can be considered on par with the Major Leagues. There is no necessity to compensate for the bad hand they were dealt merely because of the color of their skin by trying to assert they were better than they were.

They weren’t all Americans. I knew that, of course, but I did not know the extent of the Latin players involved or of American black player involvement in the Latin countries. And it’s here that race is at its worst. A Latin player who didn’t look “black” (and God alone knows how many ways different scouts, managers, and owner defined that word) could make the Major Leagues. A Latin player who did look “black” couldn’t. So Dolf Luque could play in a World Series and Martin DeHigo couldn’t. For Americans of mixed race it didn’t matter how “white” a player looked, he was “black” and that was that and that mentality sent players like Roy Campanella to the Baltimore Elite Giants rather than the New York Giants (and ultimately the Dodgers).

It’s interesting that most of the Negro League teams were housed in the North rather than the South, which had more Black Americans. As a former college instructor (Geez, that was a long time ago) I knew that intuitively, but it still jarred a bit. Jim Crow wasn’t restricted to the South, but the rules were looser enough to make it at least a little easier for a black team to function in the North. And of course the cities were larger, which made the crowds larger and the possibility of profit greater.

All that’s some of what I’ve learned over seven years of wandering through the world of Negro League baseball. It’s a strange and fascinating place to wander. I intend to keep it up as long as I can find something new to say.

Opening Day, 1914: National League

March 30, 2014
George Stallings, "The Miracle Man"

George Stallings, “The Miracle Man”

The National League opened play in 1914 in mid-April, but with opening day starting earlier now, it seems like a good time to finish my look at how things stacked up in 1914. It’s important to remember it’s a different world in 1914. Black Americans couldn’t vote or play in the Major Leagues, most Americans still lived in rural settings (but that would change by 1920), the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was still alive (his death in June would spark World War I), the Braves were still in Boston and they were supposed to be bad.

The New York Giants were three-time defending NL champions and expected to repeat in 1914. They were led by Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard with Hall of Fame manager John McGraw at the helm. It was decent, but not great lineup with soon to be war casualty Eddie Grant available as a sub. By way of  compensation, third pitcher Jeff Tesreau  would have a career year.

Philadelphia finished second in 1913 and looked set for another run at a pennant in 1914. Grover Cleveland Alexander was the ace and would have more wins and strikeouts than any other NL pitcher. But the rest of the staff, minus Erskine Meyer, would have a down year. Gavvy Cravath would lead the league in home runs with 19  (he also led in OPS and OPS+, but those stats weren’t around in 1914), and Sherry Magee won the RBI total with a miniscule 103. But other than Beals Becker’s .325 average the rest of the team didn’t do much.

The Cubs and Pirates finished third and fourth in 1913. Cubs pitching, even with Three-Finger Brown moved to the Federal League was still good, but the hitting wasn’t even vaguely on par with the pitching. The Pirates were aging. Honus Wagner, their best player, had his first bad year and without him, Pittsburgh had no one to step up.

The Braves finished fifth in 1913. They were 69-82, which was best among teams with a losing record, but still fifth. But there had been a revolution in Boston. Of the 1913 infield, only Rabbit Maranville, the shortstop, remained with the team. The catcher was new, as was one outfielder. the new players included Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers (who would win the NL’s 1914 Chalmers Award–the 1914 version of the MVP) and a clutch of players brought over during the season who would turn the team around. The pitching also came around. By the fourth of July they were still out of the running (last place), but that would change as manager George Stallings’ (I still try to call him “Gene Stallings” some times) platoon system, judicious use of pitchers, a great (for the era) fielding team, and timely hitting brought them all the way to first as the “Miracle Braves.”

Nothing much was expected of Brooklyn, St. Louis, or Cincinnati, but Brooklyn’s Jake Daubert won the batting title and the Cardinals Bill Doak took the ERA title. Doak’s pitching helped St. Louis more than Daubert’s hitting helped Brooklyn with the Card’s coming in third and Brooklyn fifth.

It was not a great year for rookies in the NL. In May 1914, the Braves brought Dolf Luque to the team. He got into two games, lost one of them, and ended up being a non-factor in the Braves’ sprint for the championship. He would make his mark a few years later.

Boston was a big underdog in the 1914 World Series, but ended up sweeping the Athletics away in four games. They hit .244 while Philly had an average of only .172. Boston’s ERA was 1.15 versus the A’s 3.41. They scored 16 runs (14 earned) while giving up only six (five earned).

It was a “one year wonder” team. Boston faded in 1915, finishing second, then proceeding downhill, finishing sixth by the time the United States joined World War I in 1917. You gotta admit, it was one heck of a year for them in 1914.

 

 

The Barber

May 20, 2013
Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie was one of the aces of the Giants teams that won a pennant in 1951 and the World Series title in 1954. His nickname was “The Barber” (a nickname he hated) because he pitched high and inside. He was a good solid pitcher who helped four teams to pennants. In other words, he was a heck of a pitcher. Unfortunately, he’s most famous today for a game he lost.

Magile was born in Niagara Falls (the town, not the falls, obviously) in 1917. He’s another of that generation of players who were first generation Americans (his family coming from Italy). Maglie loved baseball, his parents were certain it was ruining his life. Apparently that was a fairly common problem in the period. In researching a lot of different players, I’ve found an inordinate number had immigrant parents who were entirely buffaloed by their son’s desire to play ball and the country’s willingness to pay the kid to do so.

Maglie played semipro ball while working in a factory in Buffalo. He was good enough that the Double A Bisons picked him up. He was raw and ended up in Class D. Desperate for talent in 1942, the Giants picked him up for their Jersey City farm team. He stayed one year, then left to work in a defense plant. In 1945, the Giants enticed him back to baseball. By the end of the season he was in the Majors going 5-4 with an ERA of 2.35 and a 1.115 WHIP. He was 28 and had finally made it.

In 1946 the Mexican League, under new management, began luring big leaguers to Mexico with big salaries. Maglie, who was playing in the Cuban League (under ex-Giants pitcher Dolf Luque), took one of the contracts. Major League baseball was appalled. Commissioner “Happy” Chandler announced a five-year ban on players who jumped to the Mexican League. That included Maglie. He pitched two seasons at Puebla, establishing himself as a quality pitcher. But the Mexican League was in trouble. The big salaries didn’t translate to big attendance and the league began faltering. Maglie jumped ship in 1948 joining a barnstorming team that folded at the end of the season. He bought a gas station in Niagara Falls, then got a call to join a minor league team in Canada. He pitched in Canada in 1949, leading his team to its league championship. At the end of the 1949 season, Chandler lifted the ban on the Mexican League refugees (it lasted four of the five years) and Maglie rejoined the Giants.

Maglie, now 33, was a hit. He won the ERA title (and the ERA+ crown) in 1950, had his career year in 1951 with a league leading 23 wins, and led the Giants to a three game playoff with the Dodgers. He pitched eight innings of game three, the Bobby Thomson “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game, but took a no decision. The Giants victory took them to the World Series. They lost to the Yankees, Maglie pitching one game, lasting five innings, and getting clobbered (he gave up four runs in five innings in game three).  He had a good year in 1952, not such a good year in 1953 (he was having back problems), and opened 1954 as the Giants three pitcher (behind Johnny Antonelli and Ruben Gomez). He went 14-6, struck out 117 batters, but allowed more hits than he had innings pitched. The Giants were again in the World Series and Maglie drew game one. Again he picked up a no decision in the game made famous by Willie Mays’ catch and Dusty Rhodes’ homer. The Giants swept the Series with Maglie not taking the mound after game one.

Despite a good start in 1955, Maglie was traded to Cleveland. After two games in Cleveland in 1956, the Indians sold him to Brooklyn. The Dodgers, needing pitching, returned Maglie to a starting role (he’d mostly relieved in Cleveland) and he went 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA and a league leading 139 ERA+. He pitched his only no-hitter in 1956 and pitched the pennant clinching game for Brooklyn.  That meant the Dodgers would play in their second consecutive World Series, squaring off against the Yankees. Maglie pitched and won the first game of the Series (beating Whitey Ford), then drew game five in Yankee Stadium. It was his most famous game. He was great, giving up only two runs and five hits while striking out five. The problem was that Yankees starter Don Larsen threw the World Series’ only perfect game that day.

Maglie began 1957 with the Dodgers, went 6-6, and was sent across the city to the Bronx. He was 2-0 for the Yankees as they made another World Series. He didn’t pitch in the Series (which New York lost to Milwaukee in seven games).  In 1958 he was 41 and done. He pitched a few games for New York, then ended the season for the Cardinals. They released him before the 1959 season. He’d played parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, becoming the last man to wear the uniform of all three New York teams (this doesn’t count anyone who played for all three teams once the Dodgers and Giants moved to California).

He coached one year in the Cards minor league system, then became Red Sox pitching coach in 1961 and 1962. He was out of baseball in 1963, ’64, and ’65. He spent part of 1965 with the New York Athletic Commission, but most of his time was taken nursing his dying wife (she had cancer). He returned to baseball as pitching coach of the 1966-67 Red Sox, including the “Impossible Dream” team that lost the 1967 World Series. He was fired at the end of the Series (he and manager Dick Williams didn’t get along). He spent time after 1967 as a pitching coach for the Pilots (now the Brewers), general manager for the Niagara Falls minor league team, ran a liquor distributorship, and was a coordinator for the Niagara Falls Convention Bureau. He retired in 1979 and died in December 1992.

For his Major League career “The Barber” was 119-62, had an ERA of 3.15 (ERA+ of 127), 25 shutouts, 562 walks, and 862 strikeouts in 1723 innings pitched (a WHIP of 1.250). He was a member of four pennant winning teams and one World Series champion (1954). In postseason play he was 1-2 with a 3.41 ERA, 20 strikeouts and a 1.345 ERA. All this with four years lost to the Mexican League.

It’s useless to speculated how much Maglie lost because of the Mexican League fiasco. We can never know. He didn’t make the big leagues until he was 28 and didn’t become a regular until he was 33. It was not in the cards that he would join the Hall of Fame. But he was considered one of the better “money” pitchers of his era, especially in the regular season. Not a bad legacy for a man who hated what is one of the better nicknames of all time.

Maglie's final resting place

Maglie’s final resting place

Changing the Guard

May 6, 2013
Carl Hubbell, New York's "Meal Ticket"

Carl Hubbell, New York’s “Meal Ticket”

In 1933 the New York Giants did something they hadn’t done since the 1880s. They won a pennant without John McGraw at the helm. The changing of the guard from McGraw to Bill Terry in 1932 rejuvenated the Giants and led them to their first World Series in 10 years.

When I first decided to do this post, I tried to list all eight starters, the three pitchers, the main bullpen guy, and a couple of subs. I got about six names total. Unless you’re a true diehard Giants fan, it’s a fairly obscure team. The infield consisted of (first to third) hall of famer and manager Bill Terry, Hughie Critz, Blondy Ryan, and Johnny Vergez. Terry hit .300, Vergez had double figure home runs, and the other two were primarily glove men. Gus Mancuso was the catcher. He did almost all the catching and had a 49% caught stealing percentage (which was good in the era). The outfield consisted of another hall of famer, Mel Ott, in right, JoJo Moore, George “Kiddo” Davis, Lefty O’Doul, and Homer Peel holding down the other two spots. By the Series, Davis had settled in left and Moore was more or less the normal center fielder. Travis Jackson (another hall of famer), Sam Leslie, and Bernie James were the main backup infielders, while Paul Richards (of manager fame) was the backup catcher. The one significant trade during the season saw O’Doul come to the Giants while Leslie went to the Dodgers. The team led the NL in home runs, but no other major category.

As with most teams McGraw led (and he’d only been gone a year, not time enough for a team make over), the key to the Giants was pitching. Carl Hubbell had a great year going 23-12 with an ERA of 1.66. He had 10 shutouts and walked only 47 to go with 156 strikeouts. Twenty-two year old “Prince” Hal Schumacher was 19-12 with a 2.16 ERA while “Fat” Freddie Fitzsimmons (who could never get that nickname in this politically correct era) was 16-11 with a 2.90 ERA. Geezers Dolf Luque and Hi Bell did most of the bullpen work. The pitchers led the National League in ERA and shutouts, finished second in strikeouts, and were dead last in hits allowed.

They drew Washington in the World Series. It had been eight years since the Senators won a pennant, so both teams were in unusual territory. The Giants won the first two games at home, then dropped game three in DC. They came back to claim game four, then game five became an all-time classic.

In the top of the second, the Giants picked up two runs on a single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a two run scoring single by pitcher Schumacher. They picked up a third run in the sixth when Davis doubled, went to third on a bunt, and scored on Mancuso’s double. In the bottom of the sixth, the Senators struck back. After consecutive singles, Senators center fielder Fred Schulte connected for a three-run homer.After two more singles, Luque replaced Schumacher and slammed the door on Washington. The two teams matched zeroes into the tenth inning. With two outs, Ott launched a home run that put New York ahead. With two out in the bottom of the tenth, a single and a walk put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run at first. Luque responded by striking out Joe Kuhel to end the game and the Series. Luque was terrific in relief, going 4.1 scoreless innings and striking out five. Ott struck out twice, but had the deciding blow.

For the Series the Giants hit .267 to Washington’s .214. They had three home runs (including Ott’s Series winner) while the Senators had two. New York scored 16 runs to their opponent’s 11. Hubbell was 2-0 with 15 strikeouts, Schumacher won game two, and of course Luque was the pitching star of the finale. Fitzsimmons took the only loss (game three by a 4-0 score).

The victory was in isolation. In 1934 and 1935 they Giants fell back. A very different team won pennants in both 1936 and 1937 (losing both World Series’ to the Yankees). The 1940s were a lost time for New York. They reemerged in 1951 to win a thrilling playoff and drop another World Series to the Yankees. They would win one final pennant in New York in 1954.

Deceptive Advertising

February 5, 2013
New York Cubans logo

New York Cubans logo

From the beginnings of  segregation of the Major Leagues a certain amount of deception went on. There were those owners and managers who recognized there were black players who were well qualified to play in the big leagues. But custom determined they couldn’t join the party. Creative owners and managers, of which John McGraw was one of the best, tried to find ways around the color barrier. Black players were passed off as American Indians (tribe to be determined if it came up), as Mexicans, and most frequently as Cuban. It never quite worked, but it did lead to the Negro Leagues adopting “Cubans” as one of their more famous names.

There was a “Cubans” as early as 1899. By 1916 there were two of them (known unofficially as “Cubans (West)” and “Cubans (East)”. They spent time in the Negro National League (Cubans West) and the Eastern Colored League (Cubans East). But the Great Depression crippled the already struggling Negro Leagues and both teams folded in the early 1930s. By 1935 the economy was  better, the fans had at least a little more money, and the Negro Leagues were reviving. Alex Pompez (now in the Hall of Fame),  former owner of the Cubans East, resurrected the Cubans styling this team the “New York Cubans.” In 1935 they joined the Negro National League.

The “Cubans” name was always something of a misnomer. Although there were Cubans on the team, the roster generally included Black Americans and players from a number of Latin American countries. For example, Pedro Cepeda, father of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, was a member of the team. The Cepeda’s were Puerto Rican. Tetelo Vargas was from the Dominican Republic.  Easily the best Cuban on the “Cubans” was Martin DiHigo who played the outfield, second base,  and pitched. So essentially if you were too dark for acceptance in the Major Leagues, and a good ball players, the Cubans would take you.

As a brief aside I should point out that Cubans were allowed into the Major Leagues. As early as the 1870s and 1880s, Esteban Bellan played in the National League. During the 1920s and 1930s such players as Bobby Estalella (father of the recent catcher), and Dolf Luque played Major League baseball. The difference was that each of these players was considered “light” enough to play while the players active with the Cubans were too “dark” to get a chance at the big leagues.

In 1935, the Cubans finished third of eight) in the NNL, six and a half games out of first. In 1936, the fell back to fourth (of six). In 1937 and 1938 they were inactive due to the legal troubles of their owner. By 1939 they were back in the NNL finishing last (of six). Between 1940 and 1942 they finished in the middle of the pack, finally taking second in 1943. In 1944 and 1945 they were back in the second division, finally getting back to second in 1946. They broke through in 1947, winning their only NNL pennant by seven and a half games.

The 1947 pennant winners included 40-year-old Luis Tiant (father of the 1960 and 1970 American League pitcher) who went 10-0 on the mound with Lino Dinoso and Pat Scantlebury as the other primary pitchers. Both Tiant and Dinoso were Cubans, Scantlebury was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Pedro Pages, Claro Duany, and Cleveland Clark were the outfield, with Lorenzo Cabrera, Rabbit Martinez, Silvio Garcia, and Minnie Minoso holding down the infield from first around to third. The catching duties were divided between Ray Noble and Louis Louden. Jose Maria Fernandez managed the team. They squared off against the Cleveland Buckeyes in the best of  seven Negro World Series. With game one ending in a tie, they lost game two then came back to win four in a row, thus giving them their only Negro World Series title.

It was the high point for the Cubans. In 1948 they finished second and at the end of the year the NNL folded. the Negro American League took in some of the NNL teams, including the Cubans. They finished fourth (of five)  in the NAL  Eastern Division (the NAL went to two divisions in 1949) in both 1949 and 1950. That was all for the team. It ceased playing after the 1950 season, a victim to lost revenue, lost fans, and the integration of the Major Leagues.

The Pride of Havana

November 16, 2011

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.