One of the great perks of SABR membership is access online to The Sporting News’ archives. While it now is dedicated to all sports, for a good chunk of it’s earlier history it was almost entirely focused on baseball. This allows us to see how players, ideas, teams and even countries first got the attention of the baseball press. So, similar to my article on the first references to Japanese baseball, here’s a look at the first references to baseball in the Caribbean in the Sporting News archives…. just in time for the Caribbean World Series in February!
(go below the jump for the article)
Cuba (and Mexico!)
The first reference to Cuba and Mexico come in the same item in the July 26, 1886 issue, in a brief item about the Louisville Colonels’ winter plans:
I don’t know if the trip actually took place, as this was the last year that the manager, Jim Hart, would skipper Louisville. As you can see, though, by 1886 there already was good baseball being played in Mexico and Cuba- good enough where it made sense to have a MLB team tour in those places during the off-season!
The first reference to Puerto Rico in the Sporting News was not until June 18, 1904, when this article appeared on page 7:
The article notes that more games are being played in Puerto Rico as of late, often with games against Americans (it’s mentioned that Marines have been playing local teams, for example). Also referenced in the article: Santurce, the district of San Juan that has long been home to top-level baseball in Puerto Rico, a tradition that continues today with the Santurce Crabbers.
A brief bit from November 3, 1906, on a amateur game that had taken place featuring Americans during the construction of the Panama Canal:
On Feburary 16, 1928, this bit appeared in the “In the Bullpen” feature by L.H. Addington:
You can see, of course, a certain arrogance and datedness in this little tidbit, with a mocking tone about the use of Spanish and a joke at the expense of 1920s gate-crasher One-Eyed Connolly. Yes, there was a gate-crasher in the 1920s named One-Eyed Connolly. And, yes, I did look that up, I didn’t know that before.
On August 9, 1934, this was in Sporting News:
The article that went with it was about how in Nicaragua they were using wooden standups like the above to advertise upcoming games, strapping them to street signs and the like. It’s mentioned that the Nicaraguans picked up the game from American soldiers.
While baseball had been played long before then, it’s popularity exploded in the Dominican in the 1930s as General Rafael Trujillo encouraged the many sugar refineries there to form teams. And it is in the 1930s when we see the first Sporting News reference to the Dominican Republic, in a March 12, 1936 story on jaunt by the Reds to the Caribbean during spring training:
Of course, Santo Domingo is now once again referred to as Santo Domingo, not Ciudad Trujillo. And Pan American Airways isn’t around either. The Dominican, however, remains fervently in love with hardball.
One of the greatest ballplayers to never play in MLB and a member of the Hall of Fames of Cooperstown, Mexico and Cuba, Dihigo was a talented do-everything player who could both pitch and hit. Sadly, his dark skin meant he was banned from the Majors due to segregation. The first reference to him in Sporting News came in the June 3, 1943 issue, where he is mentioned in relation to an upcoming All-Star Game in Mexico:
The man who is synonymous with Latin-American baseball was first referenced in the January 20, 1954 edition of the paper, in which it was reported that the Giants, Braves and Dodgers were trying to sign him. The Dodgers were the ones who signed him, only to infamously lose him in the Rule 5 draft to the Pirates. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first Venezuelan in the Hall of Fame, Aparicio’s first appeared in the Sporting News in this note in the March 17, 1954 issue:
However, Aparicio would never play for the Indians minor league team in Reading. According to SABR’s BioProject entry on him (by Leonte Landino), then-Indians-GM Hank Greenberg believed that Aparicio was “too small” to play professional ball.
The “Baby Bull” first showed up in the pages of Sporting News on November 9, 1955, when it was mentioned that he hit a home run for Santurce in Puerto Rico.
The first mention of Curacao in Sporting News was actually in the letters section of all places! In the March 6, 1957 issue, somebody wrote from there to discuss Don Zimmer:
The Dominican Dandy, the first from there to make the Hall of Fame, first appears… as a line in a listing of league leaders in the Midwest League, in the July 16, 1958 issue:
A mainstay of the “Big Red Machine”, Tony Perez might have the most embarrassing first mention for a Hall of Famer in the Sporting News: a piece from the July 20, 1960 issue is about a triple-play he grounded into while playing for D-Level Geneva!
Born in the Panama Canal Zone, “Rodney” Carew first appears (under that name) in the Sporting News from Halloween, 1964, where it’s mentioned the Twins have purchased his contract from their farm team in Melbourne.
Perhaps the most famous of Mexican baseball players was first mentioned in the February 2, 1980 issue of the Sporting News. He’s mentioned as one of the Dodgers’ spring training invites.
Roberto was first mentioned in a minor league round-up on August 4, 1986, where it was mentioned that the then-Padres farmhand was leading Reno in average and RBIs.
The latest HOFer from the Caribbean is, of course, Pedro Martinez. His first reference came in a piece of a Mike Eisenbath column in the May 20, 1991 issue of Sporting News:
Needless to say, Pedro would go on to become far more than Ramon Martinez‘s little brother.
Closing it out is, of course, the greatest closer in history. The Panamanian’s first reference in Sporting News was on February 7, 1994. It was very mundane, merely saying that he was one of the players who had reached terms with the Yankees for the 1994 season.
Thank you to SABR for making this article possible.