Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
James Tate sent me this photo a while back (almost two years ago, actually). I was able to confirm for him that the Almendares player on the right was definitely the father of Omara Portuondo. But the guy on the left (probably an Habana player), trying to crack him up? I had no idea.
Now I see that this Telemundo photo gallery has identified the jokester as Bienvenido Jiménez. Can’t say I’ve ever heard much about “Hooks” Jiménez as a person, so this gives us a welcome glimpse of an early player as something other than a blurry face or a name in a box score.
I know about the Buck O’Neil and Minnie Miñoso controversies, but for my money the biggest omission in the 2006 election of Negro leaguers to the Hall of Fame was Grant “Home Run” Johnson—the best African American ballplayer of the 1890s and early 1900s, the biggest star in black baseball before Rube Foster (and probably co-equal with Rube for a few years in the 1900s), organizer and manager of great teams from the Page Fence Giants to the Cuban League champion Habana B.B.C. in the 1911/12 winter season, and still one of the best hitters in black baseball in his late thirties and early forties.
I’m happy to report that, through the efforts of Howard Henry and Jeremy Krock, Johnson will be getting a marker for his grave at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. As part of this effort I recently supplied Howard with some photos of Johnson, so, for no particular reason, here are a few:
Grant Johnson with the 1894 Findlay Sluggers, an integrated team that also featured Bud Fowler.
The 1896 Page Fence Giants, with Johnson standing second from right.
Johnson from a photo of the 1904 Cuban X Giants.
Photos of Pete Hill and Grant Johnson from the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 23, 1905), one of several items on the same page promoting the Philadelphia Giants. This image of Johnson would later be reprinted in Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball (1907).
The 1905 Philadelphia Giants, with Johnson standing at far left, next to Rube Foster (for some reason his name is not written on the photo like the other players).
A photo of Johnson published in the Brooklyn Standard Union, October 18, 1905.
The 1906 Brooklyn Royal Giants, with Johnson standing third from left.
Several players from the 1911/12 Habana Base Ball Club of the Cuban National League, from the 1911 Spalding Baseball Guide, Spanish American Edition.
On a balmy late afternoon in February (February 22, 1912, to be exact), the Almendares and Habana clubs of La Liga Nacional de Base Ball de la República de Cuba faced each other in a regularly scheduled game. A contest between “los eternos rivales,” the Yankees and Red Sox of the Cuban League, was always a big draw. Several thousand fans packed the palm tree-lined Almendares Park, cheering, booing, gambling openly and constantly. But it was not a playoff game or a key contest at the end of a tight pennant race. It was not a no-hitter. It didn’t even end with a decision, as it was called for darkness at the beginning of the tenth inning with the score knotted at 1 to 1.
It was, simply, a tense, exciting, and extremely well-played game that showcased the best baseball talent from outside organized baseball, along with some talent from within it. Taking the mound for Almendares was the biggest star in Cuban baseball at the time, José Méndez, “El Diamante Negro.” Working for Habana was Cyclone Joe Williams. They formed quite a contrast. Méndez, then 27, was not a large man, a wiry 5’10” with a powerful right arm, a brilliant fielder who could also play shortstop or third base when not pitching. His opponent, Williams, was 26, and would at 6’3” or 6’4” have towered over Méndez. He had emerged from the Texas Colored League only two years previously.
They were the two best pitchers in the Cuban League that winter:
W-L ERA G ST CG ShO IP H HRA BB K Méndez 9-5 1.91 19 13 13 2 136.7 114 5 43 92 Williams 10-7 1.68 21 16 12 0 155 117 3 66 80
Both were in their primes; both would, of course, end up in Cooperstown, as would two of Williams’s teammates, shortstop John Henry Lloyd and left fielder Pete Hill. Matty McIntyre, the longtime Detroit Tigers outfielder (though currently with the White Sox), was in left field for Almendares.
What follows is simply a play-by-play description of the game, translated (freely, with a few embellishments and some additional information) from a Spanish account printed in the Havana newspaper Diario de la Marina (February 23, 1912).
FIRST INNING •Almendares Armando Marsans of the Cincinnati Reds leads off with a base on balls. Minor leaguer John Burke follows with a sacrifice, advancing Marsans to second. Matty McIntyre of the Detroit Tigers triples, scoring Marsans. Longtime minor leaguer Juan Violá strikes out. Four-time Cuban batting champ Regino García grounds to John Henry Lloyd, who throws to first baseman Bill Pettus for the out.
•Habana Carlos Morán belts a line drive over the shortstop for what looks like a sure triple, but the Almendares left fielder, Rogelio Valdés, races over to cut it off and hold Morán to a single. Morán immediately steals second. Pete Hill strikes out. Home Run Johnson walks, and on ball four Morán takes off for third, sliding in safely when García throws high. Lloyd lofts a foul fly which Valdés drifts over to take, but Morán tags up and scores, tying the game. Luis Padrón grounds out to short.
SECOND INNING •Almendares Manuel Cueto (future Cincinnati Red) grounds to Williams, who tosses him out at first. Valdés strikes out looking, never lifting his bat from his shoulder. Méndez grounds out to the pitcher.
•Habana Ricardo Hernández pops up to Marsans at first. Bruce Petway strikes out. Williams grounds toward third base; the Almendares shortstop, Tomás Romañach, makes a beautiful play to his right and fires to first for the out.
THIRD INNING •Almendares Romañach works Williams for a walk, but he’s stranded on first as “Cíclon” fans Marsans and Burke, and McIntyre flies to Hill in left field.
•Habana Méndez fans Pettus. Morán strikes out with a vicious swing. Hill does no better, and Méndez has struck out the side.
FOURTH INNING •Almendares Violá knocks a roller to “Quijada” (Lloyd; the nickname comes from a musical instrument made from a donkey or horse’s jawbone, and refers to Lloyd’s very prominent chin), who throws him out at first. García hits a comebacker to the mound, and Williams throws him out. Cueto grounds out to Lloyd.
•Habana Grant Johnson dribbles a grounder to Romañach, who muffs it, Johnson getting to first safely. Lloyd singles over second, Johnson stopping there. Padrón, a power hitter, drops a sac bunt, advancing the two runners to second and third. Ricardo Hernández slaps the ball to Méndez, who looks Johnson back before throwing to first for the out. Petway grounds to Romañach, who tosses him out at first.
FIFTH INNING •Almendares Rogelio Valdés grounds out to Johnson. Méndez singles to right field. Romañach pops up, García gathering it in behind the plate. Marsans pops up to Morán at third.
•Habana Williams flies out to left. Pettus grounds out to Méndez. Morán singles to right for his second hit, but Méndez catches him napping off first to end the inning.
SIXTH INNING •Almendares Burke swings and misses three straight times. McIntyre grounds back to the pitcher for the second out. Violá hits the ball on the nose, but lines straight into the glove of the center fielder Hernández.
•Habana Hill grounds to the third baseman Violá, who throws him out. Johnson works Méndez for a pass. Lloyd lines to center, but Burke makes the catch and holds Johnson at first. Padrón flies to center for the third out.
SEVENTH INNING •Almendares Regino García grounds out to Williams. Cueto walks on four straight pitches. Williams punches out Valdés. On the third strike Cueto takes off for second, and Petway guns him down.
•Habana Ricardo Hernández leads off with a walk. Petway lays down a bunt. Méndez grabs it, whirls, and gets Hernández at second. Williams swings and misses three times. With Petway on first, Pettus smashes a line drive, but third baseman Violá spears it.
EIGHTH INNING •Almendares Méndez tries to get on base with a bunt. Williams dives for it and throws him out while still sprawled on the ground, prompting an ovation from the fans. Then he strikes out Romañach and Marsans.
•Habana Morán beat out a grounder to short, his third hit of the day. Hill bunts down the third base line. Méndez pounces on it and throws him out at first, Morán getting to second. Johnson grounds out to Romañach, advancing Morán to third with two out and the lefty-hitting John Henry Lloyd coming up. Méndez walks him intentionally to get to the right-handed-hitting Luis Padrón, whom Méndez promptly fans to snuff out the threat and earn his own ovation.
NINTH INNING •Almendares Burke walks. Williams strikes out Matty McIntyre. Violá hits a roller back to Williams, who fumbles it, but recovers in time to get the runner at first. In the meantime Burke has motored all the way to third base, putting the winning run ninety feet away with two out and Regino García strolling to the plate. He’s 37 and a somewhat pudgy 5’6”, but still dangerous with the stick, and Williams decides to walk him. Minor leaguer Marty Krug, who will debut for the Red Sox in the spring, bats for Cueto. Williams strikes him out, his tenth K of the game.
•Habana Méndez sets down Ricardo Hernández on strikes. Petway knocks what should be a hit into center field, but Burke makes a great catch to deny him. Williams follows with another solid blow to center, and once again Burke snares it, saving another hit and sending the game into extra innings.
TENTH INNING •Almendares Rogelio Valdés comes to bat. Williams throws one pitch for a ball and another for a strike before the umpire Eustaquio Gutiérrez calls the game due to darkness.
On November 19, 1911, six African American baseball players arrived in Havana, Cuba, to play for the newly re-organized Habana Base Ball Club. They posed for this photograph, printed in the Havana newspaper El Mundo on November 20, 1911.
Although the quality of the image above is quite poor (having been
printed, microfilmed, and finally scanned), if anyone ever comes up with
an actual print of this photograph, it might turn out to be quite
valuable. You’re looking at a previously unknown (or little-known)
image that includes three Hall of Famers plus three other very notable
Negro league players.
Of the six players, five actually appeared for Habana during the 1911-12 winter season; the sixth, Walter Ball, returned to the United States on January 16, 1912, not having pitched an inning, as far as I can tell. Here he is, on the passenger list of the S.S. Chalmette, bound for New Orleans:
Here’s a cool photo sequence from the Detroit Free Press (November 17, 1910) showing scenes from the Detroit Tigers’ fall 1910 trip to Havana.
(click to enlarge)
Especially interesting is the leftmost photo, which purports to show Grant “Home Run” Johnson batting left-handed. All sources I know about say he was a right-handed hitter, and all photos I’ve seen show him as such—though I don’t know of any in-game photos showing him actually at bat. This photo has definitely not been inadvertently reversed, as Oscar Stanage was of course a right-handed catcher, and his glove is shown here on his left hand. Unfortunately the printing-microfilming-digitizing sequence has so degraded the quality of what might have not been a very sharp photo in the first place that there’s no way to tell whether this is really Johnson, or maybe someone else on the Habana team, say Pete Hill or Carlos Morán, both left-handed hitters.
For what it’s worth, here are early photos of Hill and Johnson posing with bats (from the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 1905). The photo of Johnson would later be reprinted in Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball—I don’t think I’ve seen the photo of Hill elsewhere.
I don’t think I have seen a photo of Carlos Morán batting, but here’s Pete Hill, actually at bat in a game for the Leland Giants vs. the Cuban Stars, probably in late June, 1909.