Cuba has a special place in the history of United States’ organized baseball, for several reasons: it is the Latin American country with the most baseball players exalted to Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame; also because it was a Cuban, Esteban Bellan, the first Latin American who was a member of a Northern professional team and the excellent results not few players have obtained, who have earned the condition of stars.
Since Armando Marsans, an outfielder born in Matanzas, made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds, in 1911, almost 200 Cuban baseball players have step on Major Leagues fields. Who have been the best ones? PanamericanWorld proposes you to create an All-Star team, in which several elements were considered, from birthplace to, going through achieved performance in the Majors, to the athlete’s image out of the field. We decided to include retired athletes and others who are still active.
CATCHER: MIGUEL ANGEL GONZALEZ (HAVANA, 1890-1977)
Perhaps this is the position Cubans have stood out the least in Major Leagues. Miguel Angel’s history in American soil started in 1912, when he made his debut with the National League’s Boston Braves. After that, he was with the Cincinnati Reds, the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. In 17 years in the Majors, he had an offensive average of 253, 263 Run Batted Ins (RBIs) and caught 47% of the runners who tried to steal a base from him.
Gonzalez was more prominent for his skills with the mitt and he was selected as the National League’s best defensive catcher in 1925, 26 and 29. In this last year, he played with the Cubs in the World Series, facing the Philadelphia Athletics. When he decided to retire, the Cardinals wanted to retain him and offered him the third-base coach position. With this team, the Cuban was part of four Fall Classics: 1934, 42, 44 and 46. Gonzalez entered the records as the first Latin American who directed a Major Leagues team. At late 1938, the Cardinal’s manager, Frisch, was fired and then Miguel Angel took the franchise’s management for the campaign’s last 16 games.
FIRST BASE: ATANASIO “TONY” PEREZ (CAMAGÜEY, 1942)
Tony is considered the most prominent Cuban hitter of all time in the Majors. He made his debut in 1964, with the Cincinnati Reds and stayed in that team until 1976. As a member of the “Red Machinery”, the Cuban won two World Series rings, in 1975 and 1976. In his 23 seasons in Major Leagues (he also played with Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia), Tony averaged 279, connected 379 homeruns and had 1652 RBIs. He played in seven All-Star Games and was selected by the Base Ball Writers Association of America to enter Cooperstown, in 2000.
SECOND BASE: OCTAVIO “COOKIE” ROJAS (HAVANA, 1939)
“Cookie” Rojas played 16 seasons in the Majors, in four teams: Kansas City, Philadelphia, Saint Louis and Cincinnati. He was so versatile that he defended the field’s nine positions, although he stood out as a second base (1446 matches), where he was three-time recognized as the best, both in the National (1968) and the American (1971 and 1974). He finished with an offensive average of 263, shot 1660 hits and played in 5 All-Star Games.
SHORTSTOP: DAGOBERTO “BERT” CAMPANERIS (MATANZAS, 1942)
Campaneris is remembered as one of the fastest shortstops of all time. In six seasons, he finished as stolen bases leader, in the American League, with the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals. In total, he stole 649 bases, which is why he appears in the 14th place in this department in the Majors’ history. He was excellent at defense and in five campaigns he entered the American League’s Top 5 best shortstops. In 19 years, he averaged 259, with 646 RBIs and he was chosen for six All-Star Games. He won three World Series rings, with fabulous Athletics, who dominated the seventies (72, 73 and 74).
THIRD BASE: TONY TAYLOR (MATANZAS, 1935)
Taylor played 19 seasons in the Majors, in three teams (Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia and Detroit). He defended second base for a long time, but he was also placed in third base in 417 matches and that’s why we include him in our All-Star in that position. In total, he connected 2007 hits, had 598 RBIs and averaged 261. He played in one All-Star Game.
LEFT FIELDER: ORESTES “MINNIE” MIÑOSO (1925 MATANZAS – 2015 CHICAGO)
“Minnie” Miñoso was the first black Latin American baseball player who played in Major Leagues. He made his debut in 1949 with Cleveland, but he started to stand out after 1951, when he was moved to the Chicago white Sox. In that team, he became a Majors’ star. In 17 seasons (12 of them in Windy City), he averaged 298, connected 186 homers and had 1023 RBIs. Speed was one of his strong points, because he was leader in triple connections on three seasons and in stolen bases between 1951 and 1953. He played in 9 All-Star Games, won 3 Gold Gloves (1957-60). Someday injustice will be mended and “Minnie” will enter Cooperstown.
CENTER FIELDER: YOENIS CESPEDES (GRANMA, 1985)
With only six years in the Majors, Cespedes has achieved results that place him as the best Cuban center fielder, ahead of the player from Matanzas Jose Cardenal, who played 18 years and connected 138 homeruns. Cespedes has been on defense from both center and left field. He made his debut in 2012, with the Oakland Athletics, and immediately his strength on the bat and his extraordinary arm called for attention. Then he was moved to the Boston Red Sox, after that to the Detroit Tigers and now he has a millionaire contact (the highest one signed by a Cuban, 110 million for five years) with the New York Mets. The Cuban has an offensive average of 274, with 154 homeruns and 495 RBIs. He has played in two All-Star Games, won the Gold Glove in 2015 and the Silver Bat in 2016.
RIGHT FIELDER: TONY OLIVA (PINAR DEL RIO, 1938)
Oliva has been the most consistent Cuban hitter in Major Leagues. He played his 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and he made history in this team, by winning three hitting titles (1964, 65 and 71), in five times he led the connected-hits department in the American League and in four times he was the one who connected the most doubles in one campaign. He finished his successful career with an offensive average of 304, shot 1917 hits, 220 homeruns and had 947 RBIs. He was selected as Rookie of the Year in 1964, won the Gold Glove as right fielder in 1966 and played in 8 All-Star Games.
DESIGNATED HITTER: KENDRYS MORALES (HAVANA, 1983)
Morales in another one of the active baseball players we included in our All-Star, as designated hitter. Perhaps not few people consider that there is room here for Rafael Palmeiro, who also defended first base and had excellent offensive results (569 homers, 13th of all time in this department), but his career was too tarnished the use of steroids and this set him away from the Hall of Fame. Morales has played 11 seasons, among five teams, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota, Seattle, Kansas City and Toronto. In this period, he already accumulates 190 homeruns, with 671 RBIs. In 2015, he won a World Series ring, with the Royals and that same year he received the Silver Bat.
Selecting only one pitcher is very difficult, that’s why we chose to include five formidable athletes that shone in different periods.
LUIS TIANT JR. (HAVANA, 1940)
The “Tiante”, as fans called him, is the Cuban pitcher with most victories in Major Leagues. In 19 seasons, distributed between six teams, he won 229 games and lost 172. His peculiar throwing style and his wide mustache, combined, of course, with his speed, made him one of the best pitchers during the sixties and seventies of the last century. He finished with an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 3.30 and stroke out 2416 hitters. He played in 3 All-Star Games and played in 1975’s World Series, with the Boston Red Sox. In that Fall Classic, Tiant Jr. won two matches, one of them with shutout included; however, the Cincinnati Teds, with the Cuban Toby Perez, won the championship.
CAMILO PASCUAL (HAVANA, 1934)
Pascual had a great career in the Majors. He played 18 seasons and passed by five teams, although he achieved his best results with the Minnesota Twins. He had an excellent curve and thanks to this, he stroke out over 200 hitters during four consecutive seasons and ended as leader on this department in the American League between 1961 and 1963. He won 174 matches and lost 170, with an ERA of 3.63 and gave 2167 strikeouts. He played in 7 All-Star Games and was the pitcher in 1965’s World Series, in which the Dodgers beat the Twins.
MIGUEL ANGEL CUELLAR (SANTA CLARA, 1937- 2010, UNITED STATES)
Cuellas has been the best Cuban left opener in Major Leagues. In 15 years in the Majors, he won 185 matches and lost 130, with an ERA of 3.14. In 1969, he won the Cy Young award (only Cuban who has achieved this prize) for his formidable campaign with the Baltimore Orioles, in which he obtained 23 victories, and ERA of 2.38, 182 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.005. He pitched in three consecutive World Series (1969-71) with the Orioles and conquered the champion ring in 1970. In the Fall Classic he finished with a balance of two successes and two setbacks. He played in 4 All-Star Games.
ORLANDO “DUKE” HERNANDEZ (VILLA CLARA, 1965)
The “Duke” is the Cuban baseball player with the most World Series titles. After a great career in the Cuban National League and in international events, the man from Havana made his debut in the Majors in 1998, already 32 years old, with the New York Yankees. During his period in the Bronx, the “Duke” became one of the American League’s main pitchers. He won 3 champion rings, in consecutive seasons (1998-2000). In 1999’s Fall Classic, he was the first match’s opener pitcher, facing the Atlanta Braves and that year he was chosen as the Championship Series’ Most Valuable Player. With the Yankees, Hernandez won 61 matches and lost 40. Then, in 2005, he was moved to the Chicago White Sox and with that team, directed by the Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen, he obtained his fourth World Series ring. In total, the “Duke” achieved 90 victories in the Majors.
AROLDIS CHAPMAN (HOLGUIN, 1988)
“The Cuban Missile” has the fastest pitching record in Major Leagues, with 105 miles. During his eight campaigns in the Majors, he has saved 204 matches and given 705 strikeouts in 407.1 acting innings. Chapman won one World Series ring, with the Chicago Cubs, in 2016 and has played in 4 All-Star Games.