July 24, 2017

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1920/21 Cuban League

August 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The latest addition to the Seamheads Negro Leagues DB covers the 1920/21 winter league season in Cuba. Heading the bill that off-season was none other than the biggest name in baseball at the time, one George Herman Ruth, fronting the New York Giants.

The Babe was a little late, showing up only for the last half of the Giants’ schedule against Habana and Almendares (see his passport application here). Most famously, this series saw Ruth get upstaged by Cuban slugger Cristóbal Torriente, who smashed three home runs in one game (albeit these were off George Kelly, not normally a pitcher) while Ruth went hitless. Torriente also added a double off Ruth himself, driving in six runs as Almendares beat the Giants 11 to 4. It wasn’t until Ruth’s seventh game that he finally provided the Cuban fans with a home run. The Babe ended up hitting well for the series anyway (.345/.525/.828), and the Giants won 9, lost 4, and tied 4, despite only outscoring their opponents 69 to 62.

The Giants left Havana in mid-November, and their place was taken by the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants of the Negro leagues. The team’s trip was organized by its secretary, Edward B. Lamar, for many years a well-known promoter in black baseball circles and founder of the Cuban X-Giants. Lamar was actually the instigator of the first trips to Cuba by black American teams in the 20th century, sending his X-Giants to Havana several times in the 1900s. For this trip the Bacharachs brought the core of their regular team, captain and ace pitcher Dick Redding, shortstop Dick Lundy, pitcher Red Ryan, and catcher Julio Rojo, and added superstar Oscar Charleston and infielder Morten “Specs” Clark from the Indianapolis ABCs, slugger Charlie Blackwell and infielder Joe Hewitt from the St. Louis Giants, and a trio of stars from the Hilldale Club, catcher Louis Santop, spitballer Phil Cockrell, and fancy-fielding first baseman Toussaint Allen. Oliver Marcell, the Bacharachs’ star third baseman, also applied for a passport, but for some reason did not make the trip.

Guided by Cuban Stars manager Tinti Molina, the Bacharachs played a (pretty unsuccessful) six-game series with Habana and Almendares, then it was decided to enter them as the third club in the regular Cuban League season.  The league used a split-season format. On December 26 Almendares player-manager Dolf Luque argued with the umpire during a game with Habana and pulled his team off the field, and then Almendares refused to show up for a game the next day against the Bacharachs. Luque was suspended and Almendares forfeited both games, but the Blues, led by Cheo Hernández (4-1, 1.62), shortstop Pelayo Chacón (.321/.418/.410), and left fielder Merito Acosta (.281/.410/.406), managed to overcome these problems to win the first half. In addition to his three-homer game against the Giants, center fielder Torriente (.306/.398/.482) set a Cuban League record by legging out three triples in one game on January 12.

The Bacharachs couldn’t really get untracked, and lagged well behind in last place, despite the efforts of Charleston (.471/.514/.500), Blackwell (.367/.472/.433), Clark (.350), and Santop  (.343). They finished the first half with a 5-11 record (including the forfeit win over Almendares). After losing the opening game of the second half, the Bacharachs dropped out of the league. Inspired by second baseman Bienvenido “Hooks” Jiménez (.310/.412/.425), infielder/outfielder Manuel Cueto (.283/.383/.359), and pitchers Oscar Tuero (5-3, 1.81) and José Acosta (5-2, 1.94), Habana won six out of the eight remaining games to take the second half title and set up a best-of-three championship series.

In the playoffs, the Reds spotted Almendares one win (a three-hit shutout by Luque), then won the last two to take the pennant.

1920 passport photos for Dick Lundy, Babe Ruth, and Oscar Charleston.

1920 passport photos for Dick Lundy, Babe Ruth, and Oscar Charleston.

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