A look at the best Cuban baseball players in US history

6 Jan

Tiant, Minoso, Tony Olivia, Tony Perez – All Cuban HOF caliber players. The history of professional baseball in the United States is richer for the many Cuban players who have come to the major leagues over the last one hundred years. We can only wonder how many we have missed seeing as political embargo has hampered many from coming here and kept many of those who did from playing here in their prime. Still with that said choosing just a handful as the best becomes cloudy and difficult at best, especially as Cuba claims many as her own that are disputed as such. Undaunted, what I have compiled can safely be considered some of the true elite Cuban players to have taken part in Major League baseball.

No discussion of great Cubans in the MLB can start without first mentioning Adolfo “Dolf” Luque who broke in with the Boston Braves in 1914 and was the first true latin star in MLB history. In twenty years with five teams (Boston NL, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, and the Giants) Dolf compiled a career mark as a pitcher of 194-179 with 1,130 strikeouts and a 3.24 ERAa all while still playing the offseason in Cuba as well! In 1923 he had what was perhaps his best year going 27-8 with an ERA of 1.93 which both led the league. Dolf also played in nine World Series. Luques failure to be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame has widely been criticized as both lesser players from his era have been inducted and he is considered to be the man that first started breaking down the MLB race barrier which eventually was completely ended by Jackie Robinson. So significant was he that in Hemingway’s “Old man and the Sea” he posed the question for the ages, “Who is the greatest manager, really, Luque or Mike Gonzalez? – I think they are equal.”

In 1947 Orestes “Minnie” Minoso embarked on a career that would play out over all or part of seventeen seasons in which he compiled career totals of a .298 batting average, with 186 home runs, 1,136 runs scored, 1,963 hits, and 1,023 runs batted in. Minoso made nine All-Star game appearances, snared three Gold Gloves, and hit over .300 nine times in addition to being in the top four of MVP balloting four times. Minoso was the first black Cuban and Afro Latin player in the MLB.

The great “El Tiante” Luis Tiant baffled hitters for nearly twenty season with six teams racking up a 229-172 carrer record with a 3.30 ERA. His deceptive delivery which appeared as if he looked at every person in the stadium eye to eye prior to releasing his pitch made his sneaky fastball and array of “junk” as he called it overwhelming. Before he hung up his cleats he compiled 2,416 strikeouts, 49 shut outs, three All-Star appearances, two ERA titles, and three league leads in sut outs. While his numbers are impressive he will always be remembered for his ready smile, candidly wonderful interviews and unabashed love and enthusiasim for the game.

Tony Oliva was the consumate professional; 1964 Rookie of the Year winner with the Twins, five top ten finishes in MVP balloting, a career .304 hitter with 220 round trippers, and accolades enough for a team. Tony garnered eight All_Star game appearances, a gold glove, three batting titles, five league leads in hits, four in doubles, and seven seasons with an average of .300 or better. Playing his entire fifteen year career in Munnesota Oliva was often overlooked in the wake of harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew but he took a back seat to no man on or off the field.

2000 Hall of Fame inductee Tony Perez may be the cream of the crop. Over twenty three seasons Tony hit .279 with 379 homers, 2,732 hits, 1,272 runs scored and another 1,652 driven in serving as an integral part of the great Cincinnatti “Big Red Machine.” Tony was a seven time All-Star who played in five World Series winning two. While Tony was regularly overlooked in comparison to his teammates as Oliva was and never once led the league in any major statistical category he was as steady, durable, and dependable as they come. Whether he is truly worthy of the hall of Fame is still debated years later, there is no doubt he was an invaluable part of a great team.

While many other super players have come to the MLB from Cuba these are the finest and most importnat, no slight intended to one time MVP Zoilo Versalles or Sandy Amoros, Jose Cardenal and Bert Campeneris. One day Adrian Gonzalez, Yunieskt Betancourt, Danys Baez, Orlando and Livan Hernandez may make the list but right now it just isn’t time. I have left off player of part or full Cuban parentage whom were not born in Cuba, and Jose Canseco who some feel merits inclusion based on his numbers but I tend to think has done more to harm the game than he ever did to help it. That’s my opinion at least, everyone is free to disagree.


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