Flannels Of The Month

Returning to an old tradition here. At the end of nearly every month we add a new group of historic baseball jerseys to our website. At one time I used to do a blog post about one or more of them, then I got busy, or I got lazy, take your pick…Anyway, the point being we’d like to start doing that again. I like this month’s group, both for the graphic diversity (who doesn’t like a baseball shirt with a tree on it? Thank you 1956 Missoula Timberjacks), and the relevance to current events. With Cuba once again in the news, I thought it would be a nice time to introduce the 1956 Hershey Sports Club shirt to the world. And with Ken Burns’ Jackie Robinson film coming up in April, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Jackie’s 1945 home Kansas City Monarchs jersey, which we will take up in more detail in a couple of weeks. One of the oddest jerseys I have seen was this zip-up Hawaii Islanders flannel from 1970. It is rare to see vertical stacked lettering like this. As flannels were almost universally abandoned after 1971 for the dreaded double knits, this was likely Hawaii’s last road flannel.

HAI70R2

The State of Hawaii patch adorns the left sleeve, as on previous Hawaii uniforms. The Islanders were a California Angels affiliate in this period, and the basic uniform style and trim owed a lot to the parent club. They may have even been earlier Angel uniforms handed down to the affiliate team – a common money-saving practice at that time. The Islanders were the pride of the Coast League in 1970, with a club that boasted a 98-48 record (best in the league). Chuck Tanner was manager and the team drew 467,000 fans into Honolulu’s old “Termite Palace”, pretty great when you consider that the next-best drawing club was Tucson, who only attracted 35% as many fans. In fact, the Islanders are considered one of the 100 best minor league teams in history. The Aloha State’s love affair with their professional baseball club ended by 1987, when the team finished last, and only 116,000 fans showed up to bear witness. The Islanders packed up and left for Colorado Springs the following season.

Check out the rest of this month’s selections here. And hopefully, this will become more of a habit!

Bobby Maduro and the Miami Amigos

Caracas, Maracaibo, Miami, Panama, San Juan, Santo Domingo. Collectively, these cities resonate in the world of Caribbean baseball in the way that a listing of “New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo” resonates in the world of high fashion. The only Caribbean baseball city clearly absent from that list is Havana.

Bobby Maduro was born in Havana in 1916. In 1954, he would become the owner and driving force behind the minor league Havana Sugar Kings, an International League club that played at the Havana ballpark now known as Estadio Latinoamericano, the largest and most famed park in Cuba. For Maduro, the Triple-A Sugar Kings seemed to be a stepping stone to his bigger dream, which was to bring a Major League club to Havana. But in 1960, after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and nationalized the economy, the wealthy Maduro was forced to emigrate to Miami––though, ironically, not before an exhibition game was played between his Sugar Kings and the “Barbudos” team led by Castro and fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.

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Miami Stadium (later Bobby Maduro Stadium)

In the late 1970s, the Cold War and the resulting isolation of a Soviet-backed Cuba were in full effect when Maduro set out to a realize a new dream, creating an elite professional baseball league in the Caribbean to play in the summer, a key challenge and distinction from the usual Caribbean winter leagues. Working with people in Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, Maduro found owners, stadiums, and coaches, laying the framework for what would become the Inter-American Baseball League.

Miami_Amigos_1979_Ballcap

The Miami Amigos played at Miami Stadium. Cap available here.

In 1979, the league was finally set to begin play between its founding clubs: the Caracas Metropolitanos, the Maracaibo Petroleros, the Panama Banqueros, the San Juan Boricuas, the Santo Domingo Tiburones, and the pillar of the league, its American entry, the Miami Amigos, who were managed by 4-time Major League All Star, Davey Johnson.

The league’s inaugural game was played on April 11, 1979, before 10,000 fans at Panama’s Estadio Arosemena, between the home Banqueros and the Miami Amigos, a game which the Banqueros won, 6-5, thanks to an unexpected two-out rally in the bottom of the 9th.

In June of that year, the San Juan and Panama clubs folded, a few weeks later the rest of the league’s clubs followed suit. Maduro’s dream had lasted for little more than three months.

Shortly after Maduro’s 1986 death, the city of Miami renamed the ballpark that had housed the Miami Amigos, among other local Minor League clubs, Bobby Maduro Stadium. The vote in favor was unanimous.

Guest blogger, Joe Swide

A Time Machine – Tropical Stadium in Havana

Imagine walking around upper Manhattan and stumbling into the Polo Grounds – decayed, but intact. That’s the feeling I had a few days ago in Havana when I visited what is now called Pedro Marrero Stadium, but which began life as Gran Stadium Cerveza Tropical. I had been aware of the history of the place for quite some time: it was home to the Cuban League from 1930 until 1946, and the Brooklyn Dodgers – with Jackie Robinson in tow – trained there in 1947 to avoid the Jim Crow laws of Florida. One happy aspect of the Cuban government’s lack of resources (for history buffs, anyway), is that buildings are either used or re-purposed instead of being torn down. Tropical (er, Pedro Marrero) is now Cuba’s national soccer stadium, but it had changed very little since giants of Cuban, Negro league, and major league baseball roamed its expanses. (The park also hosted the Bacardi Bowl football game, which was played sporadically from 1910 to 1946). The main grandstand remains, as do the press box, light standards, and much of the building that once must have held team or league offices. There are several plaques commemorating the park’s place in baseball history, which is somewhat unusual for Cuba, as many people seem to have a sort of self-imposed amnesia about anything that happened before Fidel Castro ended the Cuban League and created the current amateur system in 1961. On the day I visited there was a youth track meet, so the stands even had cheering spectators and I saw the odd snack vendor going through the stands. One can see the remains of the third base dugout, and the old smokestack of the Cerveceria Tropical brewery is still visible beyond what used to be right field. I even located a set of decrepit concrete stairs that took me up to the roof. To some, this may just look like an old, decrepit stadium. To me it was to suddenly find the past had come alive, and to mingle with ghosts with names like Robinson, Gibson, Luque, and Marrero. I could almost hear them…

Check out all the photos here.

La Tropical today.

La Tropical today.