September 23, 2017

Negro Leagues DB Update: 1918/19 Cuban League

February 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The 1918/19 Cuban winter season was the only time Tinti Molina’s Cuban Stars, normally a summertime traveling team in the United States, competed under that name for the regular Cuban League championship. (Molina would enter teams that were essentially his Cuban Stars in the league under different names: as the “White Sox” in 1916/17, and as “América” in 1919-20.) Nicknamed “Los Osos Tropicales” (the Tropical Bears), the Cuban Stars played fairly well but suffered from both bad luck and the absence of Cristóbal Torriente, the best player in Cuban history to that point. They finished well back of Habana in the first half of the split season. One of the highlights of their season occurred in a December 21, 1918, game against Almendares, when Bienvenido Jiménez stole 8 bases, and Bartolo Portuondo another 5. Their victims were Almendares pitcher Benito Marrero and the legendary (but aging) catcher Gervasio “Strike” González.

Habana, stocked with players from the North American minor leagues, ran away with the first half. The second half was much closer. At the end of the regular schedule the three teams were deadlocked with identical 11-11 records. A further round of games was scheduled, and Habana came out on top, thus winning both halves and the pennant. Habana’s manager, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike González, was probably the best everyday player in the league (.329/.392/.452, with a league-leading 8 doubles and 32 RBI). Their ace, the right-hander José Acosta (“Acostica”), proved to be a real workhorse, despite his slight build (5’6”, 134 pounds). He threw over half of Habana’s innings and went 15-9 with a 1.55 ERA. Possibly the greatest moment of the Reds’ year, however, came on December 2, 1918, when Baldomero “Merito” Acosta (José’s brother, who had hit .298 in 52 games for the Senators and A’s the previous summer) turned an unassisted triple play from center field.

Unfortunately, a newspaper strike in February resulted in several games going completely uncovered (we lack even the scores), so our record of the season is slightly incomplete, with Habana missing two games, and the Cuban Stars and Almendares missing four each. We’ll work on getting this rectified in future updates.

Next up: the 1939 NNL & NAL. On deck: the 1940 NNL & NAL, the 1919/20 Cuban League, and the 1921/22 Cuban League.

Three Cuban League stars in 1918/19: Merito Acosta, Bienvenido Jiménez, José Acosta

Three Cuban League stars in 1918/19: Merito Acosta, Bienvenido Jiménez, José Acosta

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