1953-54 Almendares Blues / BAS875-1-7
Right side panel
Ball type: Rawlings "Club Almendares," single stitched.
Signatures: Twenty-seven, in ballpoint. Back panel (sweet spot): Willie Miranda, Renaldo Cordero, Jim Walsh. Front panel: Connie Marrero. Upper panel: Carlos Paula, Angel Scull, Asdrubal Baro, Bobby Bragan, Rocky Nelson. Right side panel: Earl Rapp, Sam Chapman, Octavio Rubert, Witty Quintana, Cliff Fannin, Joe Hatten, Hector Rodriguez, Ray Orteig. Lower panel: Agapito Mayor, Acho Varona, Roberto Ortiz, Fernando Diaz Pedroso. Left side panel: George O'Donnell, Memo Luna, Roque Contreras, Emilio Cabrera, Spook Jacobs, Oscar Sardinas.
Condition: All signatures fully discernable. Unobtrusive soil and stain marks throughout; surface otherwise shows moderate natural discoloration.
Notes: Cuba was the first and most significant epicenter of baseball in the Caribbean basin.The game came to the island under American auspices in the 1860s; the first tournament of professional teams was held in 1878, and from that time until the sport's nominal amateurization under Castro pro leagues of some sort existed almost continuously. Moreover, Cuban immigrants were instrumental in carrying baseball to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico in the nineteenth century, and Cuban talent infiltrated the American major and Negro leagues in the twentieth. In the 1950s, Cubans could watch the Class AAA Havana affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds in summer, while winters were given over to to the Liga de Base Ball Profesional Cubana - the so-called Cuban winter league, with four teams playing a 72-game schedule running from October to February.
The winter league was not formally affiliated with American organized baseball, but had working agreements enabling the off-season employment of players under contract to major and minor league clubs. This was, in fact, the source of the better part of the league's talent, at least by 1953-54. Of the twenty-three players from that season's pennant-winning Almendares club (44-28) whose signatures are present on this ball, fourteen played in the majors at some point in their careers (including all eight Americans and five Cubans). Only two of that number, though, had played in the majors in 1953; most were in the high minors, their big league days either before or behind them. Eight were from the Pacific Coast League, along with manager Bobby Bragan. The most frequently used lineup saw Nelson, Jacobs, Miranda, and Rodriguez in the infield, Scull, Rapp, and Chapman in the outfield, and Orteig behind the plate; Fannin, Walsh, Hatten, and Marrero logged the most innings. The team dominated the league both in the standings and statistically: Rocky Nelson won the batting title at .352, Earl Rapp tied for the home run lead with ten, and Cliff Fannin finished at 13-4 and was voted the league's Most Valuable Player. None of these players ever achieved stardom in the major leagues; the closest was probably Sam Chapman, who hit 180 homers over an eleven-year career spent mostly with the Philadelphia A's. Almendares was managed by Bobby Bragan, future pilot of the Pirates, Indians, and Braves and the first American manager to win a pennant in Cuban league history. As champions, Almendares earned the right to represent Cuba in the sixth annual Serie del Caribe, a twelve-game round-robin against pennant winners from the winter leagues in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Panama. Cuba had very good success in this event in the '50s, but lost in 1954 to the Caguas club of Puerto Rico.
Most of the significant contributors to the 1953-54 Almendares club are present on this ball, along with manager Bragan and coaches Cordero, Mayor, and Varona. Two players missing are pitchers Gonzalo Naranjo and Bob Muncrief; the latter was picked up in late December for relief help, suggesting that the ball was signed prior to that time, in October, November, or December of 1953. In any case the ball predates the beginning of the Serie del Caribe (18 February), since Rocky Nelson was not on the roster for that event.
Provenance: Purchase, 1997.