The Cuban "All-Star" of All Times
The Cuban "All-Star" of All Times
Which players would be part of an ''All Star'' Cuban baseball team? The answers for these questions probably lead to a great controversy between fans and specialists, since choosing only a few players of a sport that has been practised for more than 140 in Cuba is quite a difficult matter.
The context for the development of the country's main sporting hobby complicates the selection. The first season of the Cuban Professional League was in 1878 and during seven decades this was the most important tournament and the one with more fans' loyalty althougth there were, simultaneously, high level amateur competitions. In addition, the best players joined the American Negro Leagues - the racial barrier impeded the leap to the Major Leagues until 1947 - and they also made it in the Venezuelan and Mexican leagues.
The triumph of the Revolution, in January 1959, meant a significant change for the sport. In 1962 the Professional Leagues were forbidden and it was the end for the Cuban Major League. Many outstanding players in that period decided to play overseas, in the United States mainly. It was precisely in that same year when the National Series were born, an event that has been celebrated in 53 editions.
Therefore, the history of Cuban baseball can be divided in two very different periods when it comes to choosing the ''All Stars''. Baseball is a sport very rich in statistics. Both, fans and specialists, appeal, once and again, to ''cold numbers'', in order to make comparisons; but, although data is important, in this selection other elements should be taken into account, from the historical period in which the player stood out to the impact his performance had in the development of the sport.
Perhaps, one of the most worrying trends in the ''All Stars'' team selection, is exactly not bearing in mind one of these two periods. For instance, Roberto González Echeverría, author of ''Glory in Cuba'' (Colibrí Publisher, 2004) one of the most complete works about Cuban Baseball, only chose players from who shone in the Professional and Major Leagues when he made his ''All Stars'' team.
The chosen ones were: catcher, Miguel Ángel González; first base, Rafael Palmeiro; second base, Octavio Rojas; shortstop, Silvio García; third base, Atanasio ''Tany'' Pérez; outfielders, Orestes Miñoso, Tony Oliva, José Canseco; pitchers, Martín Dihigo, José de la Caridad Méndez, Adolfo Luque, Camilo Pascual, Luis Tiant Jr., Mike Cuéllar and Conrado Marrero.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, the late chronicler Enrique Capetillo, in an article published in the magazine Bohemia, in March 1999, made his ''All Stars'' team with players who only shone in the National Series. The names in his list were: catcher, Juan Castro; first base, Antonio Muñoz; second base, Antonio Pacheco, third base, Omar Linares; shortstop, Germán Mesa; outfielders, Lourdes Gourriel, Víctor Mesa and Luis Giraldo Casanova, right field, Braudilio Vinent; left field, Jorge Luis Valdés and Orestes Kindelán as pitcher.
Not to acknowledge one of the periods of Cuban baseball could be easily considered as a historic mistake, so from PanamericanWorld we want to make a list where any player, from any of the two previously mentioned periods, can be included. Will this be a polemic selection? Undoubtedly; but to find consensus about who have been the best Cuban players in History seems to be another ''mission: impossible''.
Juan Castro (January 31st, 1954, Artemisa)
He is acknowledged as the most defensive catcher in the National Series. He played with Pinar del Río in 16 championships. He captured 47% of the men who tried to steal a base from him. He has the best numbers in terms of passed balls (only 157 in 9450.2 innings). He stood out for the elegance of his receptions and he knew how to lead pitchers. He won three World Cups with the National Cuban Selection (1984, 1986, 1988) and two Intercontinental Cups (1985, 1987).
Atanasio ''Tany'' Pérez (May 14th, 1942, Ciego de Ávila)
He was one of the most celebrated players of the Great Machinery of the Cincinnatti Reds in the '60s. He participated in six All Stars Games and in 1967 he was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of that particular challenge. He connected 2732 hits, including 379 home-runs and he batted 1652 runs. ''Tany'' was, in fact, one of the main leaders in batted runs of his generation, since he towed 100 annotations or more seven times in his 23 years career. In 2000, he was inducted to Cooperstown's Hall of Fame.
Antonio Pacheco (June 4th, 1964, Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba)
He was known as the 'Captain of Captains'. He is the second player with more indisputables in National Series (2356) the fifth with more doubles (366), and the third with more batted runs (1304). He is the only Cuban player who has been in every international competition, from the Kids League to the Majors. With the main Cuban Selection he got seven titles in World Cups and two Olympic Games (Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1994).
Omar Linares (October 23rd, 1968, San Juan y Martínez, Pinar del Río)
El ''Niño'' Linares (''Kid'' Linares) is known as the most complete batter in Cuban Baseball after 1959. Among his sporting feats, the following must be highlighted: he is the historic batting leader in the National Series, with an average of 368. He won the batting title on six occasions in the Series. He is the third best when it comes to home-runs, with 404. He won five World Championships with the National Selection, two Olympic Games (1992,1996) and six Intercontinental Cups. After his retirement he played, for three seasons, with the Dragons of Chunichi in the Japanese League.
Silvio García (October 11th, 1914, Limonar - 1977, Matanzas)
He was an excellent shortstop. He batted and threw to the right. He made his first appearance in 1931 as an amateur player and that very same year he became a professional in the Cuban League. He played with the main clubs of the country (Havana, Almendares, Cienfuegos, Marianao and Santa Clara) In his 19 seasons in Cuba, he made an average of 282, he made 18 home-runs and 351 batted runs. He was also an outstanding pitcher. In 1946 he was one of the valued options to break the racial barrier in the Major Leagues. Besides, between 1940 and 1947 he was a big star in the Negro Leagues with the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans; he also shone in the Mexican League and in the Provincial League in Canada.
Orestes Miñoso (November 29th, 1922, Perico, Matanzas)
He was a formidable and long-lived batter, to the point that he played in American baseball for... six decades! He is known as the first Cuban Black player (and Latin American) who performed in the Major Leagues and the first to appear in an All Stars Game. He participated, between 1945 and 1961 in different competitions in Cuba, particularly in the Professional League.
In these events, he threw 66 home-runs and batted 393 runs. During his 17 years in the Majors, he played with the Cleveland Indians, the San Luis Cardinals, the Washington Senators and with the Chicago White Sox. He accomplished an offensive average of 298, 186 home-runs, 1023 batted runs and 205 stolen bases.
Tony Oliva (July 20th, 1938, Pinar del Río)
He was one of the most consistent batters between 1964 and 1971 in the Major Leagues. With the Minnesota Twins he won, on three occasions, the batting title and he was awarded as a connected hits leader. In 1964 he was acknowledged as Newcomer of the Year. His finished his 15 year -long career with an average of 304, 220 home-runs and 947 batted runs. He won a Golden Glove and participated in six All Stars Games.
Víctor Mesa (February 20th, 1960, Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara)
He is considered the best shortstops after 1959 and one of the most charismatic players in History. He was called ''The Orange Explosion'' by his fans. He was the first player to make more than 500 stolen bases in the National Series and, in addition, he amazingly stole the home eight times in his career. In his 19 seasons he made an average of 318, 273 home-runs and 588 stolen bases (he has the second position in this category) With the Cuban National Selection he won an Olympic Title in Barcelona 1992, where he was the batting leader, and he also conquered five titles in World Championships and four medals in the Pan-American Games.
Orestes Kindelán (November 1st, 1964, Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba)
He is known as the best slugger in Cuban Baseball. He threw 487 home-runs in 21 National Series. He also batted 1511 runs, what makes him a leader in these two categories. He started as a catcher, and then he would become a left field, but he finally found his position as defending the first base or as a designated hitter. He won two Olympic Titles with the National Selection (Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996), six World Championships, five Intercontinental Cups and four Pan-American Games.
Martín Dihigo (May 25th, 1906, Matanzas - May 20th, 1971, Cruces, Cienfuegos)
His wondrous talent made of him one of the most versatile players in Baseball History. In his 30 years long career, Dihigo played in all possible positions in the field. He stood out as a great batter and as an excellent pitcher. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the United States, Mexico, Venezuela and the one created in Cuba in 1939. In his 24 seasons in the Cuban Professional League (1923 - 1947) he had an offensive average of 295, and as a pitcher he won 107 challenges and lost 56. In the Negro Leagues, he worked with the Cuban Stars, the Homestead Grays, the Philadelphia Hilldale, the Baltimore Black Sox and the New York Cubans. He finished his career in the United States with an average of 307, he connected 64 home-runs, and batted 227 runs. As a pitcher, he won on 26 occasions and lost in 21, with an average of 2.92 earned runs.
José de la Caridad Méndez (March 19th, 1887, Cárdenas, Matanzas - October 31st, 1928, Havana)
Known as ''The Black Diamond'', he shone in the Cuban Professional League and in the American Negro Leagues. Between November 15th and December 14th, 1908, he achieved a chain of 45 consecutive zeros, among them 25 against the Cincinnati, in the National League. In the Negro Leagues he celebrated 87 victories and suffered 31 defeats. There, he also directed the Kansas City Monarchs, the team with biggest reputation in the circuit. He was inducted to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in 2006.
Camilo Pascual (January 20th, 1934, Havana)
He won 174 matches in his 18 seasons in the Major Leagues. He was the first Latin pitcher to reach 2000 strike-outs. He finished as a strike-out leader in the American League in three consecutive championships (1961 - 1963). His best pitch was the curve-ball, which made him an unbeatable pitcher. He participated in All Starts Games on six occasions.
Pedro Luis Lazo (May 15th, 1973, Pinar del Río)
''Skyscraper'' Lazo, the nickname he received for his admirable height (1.92 metres), is the pitcher with more victories in the National Series (257). Besides, he is the only player who has performed in four Olympic Finals, getting three titles and one sub-title. In 20 National Series, the ''Pinareño'' made an earned run average of 3.22 and he was able to strike out 2426 batters - which makes him second best in this category. With the National Selection he also got four world titles and won three Pan - American Games).
Braudilio Vinent (July 10th, 1947, Songo de la Maya, Santiago de Cuba)
Vinent stood out for always being a man of great speed, being this the reason for his nickname: the meteor. His cutter would ''move'' and this made of him a pitcher who was hard to connect; he also threw curve-balls and sliders, which he incorporated in 1977. He worked in 20 National Series, where he started 400 matches. He achieved 221 victories, which makes him the third best in this category. He accomplished 2134 strike-outs (due to this, he is in the fifth position of all times). He won 34 matches with the National Selection and his average of earned runs is less than 2.50. He won six world titles, four Pan - American Games, three Central American Games and two Intercontinental Cups.