In Jorge Figueredo’s Who’s Who in Cuban Baseball we find a remark that Luis Padrón was the “first Cuban invited to a Major League team spring training (Chicago White Sox) in 1908, but was not signed due to a racial accusation” (p.67). Similarly, John Holway’s Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues has this to say in the 1908 section: “The Chicago White Sox invited Cuban pitcher Luis (Mulo) Padron to spring training. However, he was considered too dark and was sent home.” (p. 59). Had the White Sox signed Padrón in 1908, he would have become the first Cuban player in the U.S. major leagues since Estéban Bellán back in 1873.
It turns out, however, that Luis Padrón was a regular (mostly a third baseman and pitcher) with the second-place Habana club during the spring 1908 Cuban League season, which lasted from January 1 through April 13. He appeared in 34 of the 36 Habana games for which I have box scores (I don’t have games played in Matanzas), including the very last game of the season on April 13 (Figueredo has him in 43 of 45 overall). The White Sox, as it happened, opened their regular season on April 14. Since there was never a space of more than three or four days between Cuban League games featuring Padrón, it’s pretty much impossible for him to have had time to zip off to Los Angeles, which was where the White Sox were holding spring training. During the summer of 1908 he played for the New Britain Perfectos of the Connecticut League, along with fellow Cubans Rafael Almeida, Armando Marsans, and Alfredo Cabrera (this photo of the team includes perhaps the clearest image of Luis Padrón I’ve seen).
In fact, Padrón’s tryout with the Chicago White Sox happened in 1909, not 1908, and in mid-summer, not during spring training. Despite hitting well for New Britain in 1908, Padrón was released by the club, and after helping Habana to the championship in the 1908/09 season, stayed in Cuba during the first part of the regular North American season. Then in the Chicago Tribune (July 23, 1909) appears this note:
“Manager Sullivan is trying out an outfield recruit in a Cuban named Padrone who has played with the New Britain team of the Connecticut league. In morning practice he has been tried against right and left handers and has hit both well. Padrone came from Cuba a few days ago to strengthen the Cuban Stars, now playing local semi-pro clubs.”
The Washington Post a few days later (July 26, 1909, just as the White Sox arrived in town to play the Nationals) reported that “Louis Padrone, a Cuban outfielder, has been signed by the Chicago Americans. Before going to Cuba he played with the New Britain team in the Connecticut League.”
La Lucha picked up on the news a bit later (July 29, 1909), running this piece on its English page:
The trouble is, it didn’t happen. He wasn’t signed. On July 24, the Tribune had this to say:
“Cuban Stars will play their first game with Rogers Park and the islanders will present their full lineup for the first time in two weeks, being further strengthened by the addition of a new battery, Padrone, a pitcher, and Garcia, a backstop.”
(“Garcia” would be Regino García.) And indeed, Padrón did appear with the Cuban Stars that day, playing right field and knocking a double while José Méndez no-hit Rogers Park (in Chicago). From then on, for the rest of the season, he was in the Cubans’ lineup.
I have been unable to find any explanation for the White Sox not picking him up after the favorable notice in the Tribune. The silence probably does speak volumes in this case. It would be fascinating to know just how the Padrón tryout came to be—it wasn’t that he was well-known in Chicago semi-pro circles, since he was arriving to play for the Cuban Stars for the first time that July, and apparently hadn’t yet taken the field. Here’s a clue, from the Chicago Tribune of July 24:
“Business Manager Bancroft of the Cincinnati Reds was a spectator [at the previous day’s White Sox / A’s game]. Banny stopped off here on his return from California, where he has been in charge of Garry Herrmann’s party of Elks. He left for home last night and will pick up the Reds there tomorrow.”
This is Frank Bancroft, known as Old Hoss Radbourn’s manager with the 1884 Providence Grays. Bancroft handled the Reds on their Cuban tour in the fall of 1908, when they faced Padrón (who batted 2 for 18 for Habana, and went 0-1 in two appearances on the mound). It seems like an interesting coincidence—could Bancroft, although he had been in California, have had anything to do with arranging the tryout?
The White Sox outfield was in disarray following the retirement of Fielder Jones before the season and an injury to Eddie Hahn, who had been a regular (and a pretty good, above-average hitter) the previous two season. At the time of the Padrón tryout, the Sox outfield consisted of the team’s overall best player, Patsy Dougherty, plus Freddy Parent, a 33-year-old converted shortstop, and 32-year-old journeyman Dave Altizer. The July 23 Tribune contained a small note that the Sox had just dealt an outfielder, Mike Welday, to Providence of the Eastern League (although this list puts the trade on August 18); so Padrón was evidently being considered as his replacement.
They eventually settled on bringing back Eddie Hahn, himself another 33-year-old veteran. At the end of play on July 22, the day on which Padrón was reported to be taking batting practice, the White Sox stood at 39-45, a full 15 games back of the league-leading Detroit Tigers. Given that the Sox were pretty much out of it, this would seem a good opportunity to take a chance on the unknown Cuban quantity; but, whatever the reason, the Sox chose to go the safe route and bring back the solid regular in Hahn. They seemed constitutionally unable to consider playing any outfielder younger than 32 that season, and wound up the season at 78-74, 20 games behind Detroit.
As it happens, the 1909 Chicago White Sox had the distinction of passing on both Luis Padrón and minor league star Gavvy Cravath, whom they had acquired before the season, then unloaded to the Nationals after he hit just .180 (albeit with 19 walks) in 19 games.