October 20, 2014

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1922-23 Cuban League

July 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re making a small but important addition to the DB today—the 1922/23 Cuban winter league, plus a few additional games for 1916, 1919, and 1922.

After a few seasons of turbulence in the Cuban game, the 1922/23 season marked a new beginning.  The league added two new teams, Santa Clara and Marianao, to the Habana-Almendares duopoly.  Santa Clara was run by Tinti Molina, who put together the most famous outfield in Cuban baseball history: Alejandro Oms (.411) in left, Oscar Charleston (.418) in center, and Pablo Mesa (.286) in right.  Molina also added lefty Dave Brown (5-4, 2.47) and a few other stateside stars, and the Leopardos sprinted to the league lead—but after a victory over Marianao was thrown out by league authorities, Santa Clara angrily withdrew.  They would be vindicated the following winter, when the 1923-24 Santa Clara Leopardos emerged as the most legendary team in Cuban history, the island’s equivalent of the 1927 Yankees.

Of the three remaining teams, Almendares could boast of outfielders  Bernardo Baró (.403/.452/.544) and Valentín Dreke (.324), manager-shortstop Joseíto Rodríguez (.316), and minor league southpaw Eddie LePard (7-5, 2.17), but Habana would probably have been considered the favorite.  Los Leones featured both the best everyday player in Cuban baseball at the time, Cristóbal Torriente (.344/.435/.515) and the best Cuban pitcher (and perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, period), Dolf Luque.  In 1923, Luque would go 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds.  In the 1922/23 Cuban League, he went 11-7, 1.53.

Yet both of these traditional powers fell short in the end.  It was the brand new Marianao club, led by player-manager Merito Acosta, that claimed a surprise championship.  Acosta himself contributed a .282 average and a league-leading 32 walks.  Right-hander Lucas Boada was acclaimed as “el nuevo diamante negro” (“the new black diamond”; that is, the new José Méndez) as he tied Luque with 11 victories.  Veterans José María Fernández  (.304), Manuel Cueto (.288), and Pelayo Chacón (.307) also played important roles in what was a true team effort for Marianao.

The Marianao club, champions of the 1922-23 Cuban League.

The Marianao club, champions of the 1922-23 Cuban League.

A couple of important notes:

1) We are still missing box scores for six games, all of them Santa Clara home games.  Since the Leopardos won four of those six games, the Santa Clara players are probably slightly disadvantaged in the stats we’re able to present.

2) You may notice that other sources have Santa Clara going 14-13, rather than 15-12, as we’ve got it here.  We’ve checked this very carefully, and 15-12 is the correct W/L record for games actually played.  I’ll write this up in more detail at my blog in the next couple of days.

In the works for the DB: 1925 & 1934 Negro leagues, East-West All-Star Games, Mexican League 1937-1954, Cuban League 1918-19, 1919-20, 1920-21, and 1927-28, and much more.

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