Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball

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9780809037209: Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball

When the selection committee voted Alejandro "Alex" Pompez into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, some cried foul. A Negro-league owner during baseball's glory days, Pompez was known as an early and steadfast advocate for Latino players, helping bring baseball into the modern age. So why was his induction so controversial?

Like many in the era of segregated baseball, Pompez found that the game alone could never make all ends meet. To finance his beloved team, the New York Cubans, he delved headlong into a sin many baseball fans find unforgivable―gambling. He built one of the most infamous numbers rackets in Harlem, eventually arousing the ire of the famed prosecutor Thomas Dewey. But he also led his Cubans, with their star lineup of Latino players, to a Negro-league World Series championship in 1947.

In this effervescent biography, the historian and sportswriter Adrian Burgos, Jr., brings to life the world of professional baseball during a time of enormous change. Following Pompez from his early days to the twilight of his career, Burgos offers a glimpse inside the clubhouse as both owners and players struggled with the new realities of the game. That today's rosters are filled with names like Rodriguez, Pujols, Rivera, and Ortiz is a testament to Pompez and his lasting influence.

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About the Author:

Adrian Burgos, Jr., is an associate professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line. His work has been featured on NPR and ESPN's SportsCenter, in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and in other media outlets.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
ROOTS AND ROUTES
 
The crowd gathered at the dock in Key West buzzed with excitement as they awaited the arrival of their special invited guest aboard the steamer Olivette. Once José Martí was spotted disembarking from the Olivette, the marching band struck up the music and the crowd waved their Cuban flags. Among those greeting Martí stood José Francisco Lamadriz, veteran of Cuba’s first war for independence and president of the Convención Cubano. The two engaged in a warm embrace with tears in their eyes. “I am embracing our past revolutionary efforts,” Martí stated. “And I embrace our new revolution,” responded Lamadriz.1
The joyous reception hid the labor a committee of local club leaders had put forward to bring about Martí’s visit. A group of cigar factory workers had insisted Martí visit their community following his successful stay in Tampa, where he recruited support for his revolutionary organizational effort. Among those involved in organizing Martí’s visit to Key West was José González Pompez, who had established himself within the Florida isle’s circle of figures active in the Cuban independence movement. He along with other committee members solicited donations to cover the cost of Martí’s trip to Key West by going door-to-door and visiting cigar factories. Their task of rallying interest in Martí’s budding organization, Partido Revolucionario Cubano, involved more than the usual advocacy. For starters, only one of the committee members, Serafín Bello, was an established leader from one of the dozens of Cuban revolutionary clubs in Key West.2 Moreover, the Key West community had seen leaders, glib speakers, and organizers come and go; each arrived with lofty goals, delivering speeches, and in need of a lot of financial support. Angel Peláez, the committee’s elected president, described the heady days in preparation for the Cuban apostle’s visit: “There was a difficulty, and that was the impossibility of the committee going to all the factories within a short time, because nearly all of the members were poor workers, [they were] on the committee in the spirit of patriotism and without pay. Each day meant for them a loss of one day’s salary, which was their bread, the life of their family.” Pompez intervened to provide a partial solution to the transportation issue committee members faced, supplying a carretón, a small mule-drawn cart, to carry the cigar workers as they traveled from factory to factory. Their effort definitely seemed worth it as they looked out onto the wharf and saw the cheering multitude greet the guest of honor.
For José Pompez, participation in the visiting committee was part of his contribution to la causa of freeing the island of his birth and from where he had fled Spanish colonial rule. He and other Cuban exiles came to see Key West as a democratic laboratory for what they desired for their native land. Unlike Cuba, Key West had an economy devoid of slavery and a political system that allowed all adult male citizens the opportunity to participate electorally. Florida laws on eligibility for voting, moreover, provided Cuban émigrés the possibility to practice their democratic rights of electoral participation. Requirements called for a declaration of intent to naturalize along with six months’ residence for county elections and a year’s residency to become eligible to vote in state elections.3 Such possibilities had drawn Pompez to Key West after filing his declaration of intent on September 4, 1879.4 Key West was where he would fall in love with and marry Loretta Mendoza Pérez and where the couple would start a family.
That baseball, the numbers, and cigars would largely impact the life of Alex Pompez is little surprise, considering the Cuban émigré communities of Key West and Tampa. In these communities Cubans forged a culture that was an amalgam, created through economic exchange and the flow of workers and entrepreneurs who adopted practices from different locations within the Americas. The result was a culture they claimed was distinct from that of their island’s colonial rulers, Spain. A young Alex witnessed the migrations of Cubans between Cuba and Florida driven by mobilizations around nationalist insurgency, the rise and fall of cigar work at factories, and the emergence of baseball as the Cuban national game on sandlots in their colonias formed in the States. These events would shape his worldview and that of others as to the possibilities for individual and collective remaking, of participating in the making of something new, of becoming Cuban and fighting for one’s own nation wherever one resided. Those lessons would be part of Pompez’s inheritance from his father and those of his father’s generation.
 Baseball Takes Root
War and migration marked the span between 1868 and 1898 for Cubans. The Ten Years’ War produced little tangible results for the insurgents. The Pact of Zanjón ended armed hostilities but produced a fragile peace. Upset that the pact did not abolish slavery, insurgent leaders Antonio Maceo and Calixto García, among others, refused to sign. Armed hostilities renewed on August 26, 1879. The Guerra Chiquita (Little War) that ensued also failed to yield independence, but it did produce the gradual abolition of slavery, a planned eight-year transition period from forced labor to free labor. Tens of thousands of Cubans who supported independence continued to flee the island’s political turmoil in either self-imposed or government-ordered exile during this thirty-year span. These migrations included a number of families whose offspring would significantly impact Cuban baseball throughout the Americas.
Spanish ruling authorities, concerned with baseball’s association with subversives, kept close tabs on the colony’s baseball scene. The colonial government first banned baseball in 1869 but soon rescinded the ban. Another ban followed in 1873. After the Ten Years’ War, authorities continued to suspect the game was more than a North American import and that it possibly served as paramilitary exercises preparing Cubans for battle against colonial forces. Lingering suspicions prompted officials to intensify monitoring of the game: all social organizations, including baseball clubs, were required to officially register to legally hold private meetings. In 1876, colonial authorities forbade the names Yara and Anacaona: the former invoked the Grito de Yara that initiated the Ten Years’ War, the latter a Taina princess who resisted the first Spanish arrivals to the island.5 Cubans continued to embrace the game nonetheless. They took baseball wherever they migrated, forming baseball clubs and creating local amateur and semiprofessional teams. The Aloma brothers (Ignacio and Ubaldo) from Cienfuegos typified the way Cubans transported the game. In 1891, the brothers relocated their sugar plantation from Cuba to San Pedro de Macorís in the Dominican Republic. Once there, they organized the first two baseball clubs in the country. Cubans likewise spread the game to other parts of Caribbean, including the Yucatán region of Mexico and Venezuela.
Many Cubans would make Key West their home while the struggle for Cuban independence persisted. Individually and collectively, their actions unveiled the vaunted place baseball occupied in Cuban culture and its links to the insurgency.6 A shift in cultural orientation among self-identified Cubans quickened in the late 1840s. Those supportive of national independence increasingly sent their children to educational institutions in the United States instead of Spain. Baseball subsequently arrived in Cuba in the early 1860s, before armed hostilities erupted between Cuban insurgents and Spanish colonial forces. Whereas in the United States the Civil War and military mobilization facilitated baseball’s spread across the nation, the game’s introduction in Cuba resulted from a migration of students who studied in the United States and transported baseball equipment and knowledge back to Cuba as part of the cultural baggage they acquired. Credited with introducing the first bat and ball to the island, Nemesio Guilló underscores this cultural shift within the Cuban elite. In 1858 Guilló arrived in Mobile, Alabama, to attend Springhill College. Six years later he returned to Cuba. Among the belongings the young man brought back was baseball equipment, which Cuban newspapers later described as “the first to be seen in Cuba.”7 Guilló was not alone. Dozens of Cubans learned to play the sport while pursuing their studies in the States. Esteban Bellán stood most prominent among them. A teenage Bellán arrived in New York City in 1865 to study at Rose Hill College (present-day Fordham University), where he earned the distinction of being the first Cuban to play college varsity baseball in the States in 1868 and three years later appeared as the first Latin American to play major-league ball when he joined the National Association’s Troy Haymakers.
Further evidence that baseball had begun to sink deep roots within Cuban culture abounded. The game took root wherever Cuban émigrés migrated. In Key West, they formed their own league and received visits from island-based Cuban teams. A local league established in 1887 would include four teams: Azul, Punzó, Intrépido, and Progreso. The names gave a clear indication of the nationality and political stances of the émigrés, referring to the colors of the Cuban League’s Habana (Azul) and Almendares (Punzó) and also to their fearless spirit...

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Book Description Farrar, Strauss Giroux-3pl, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.When the selection committee voted Alejandro Alex Pompez into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, some cried foul. A Negro-league owner during baseball s glory days, Pompez was known as an early and steadfast advocate for Latino players, helping bring baseball into the modern age. So why was his induction so controversial? Like many in the era of segregated baseball, Pompez found that the game alone could never make all ends meet. To finance his beloved team, the New York Cubans, he delved headlong into a sin many baseball fans find unforgivable--gambling. He built one of the most infamous numbers rackets in Harlem, eventually arousing the ire of the famed prosecutor Thomas Dewey. But he also led his Cubans, with their star lineup of Latino players, to a Negro-league World Series championship in 1947. In this effervescent biography, the historian and sportswriter Adrian Burgos, Jr., brings to life the world of professional baseball during a time of enormous change. Following Pompez from his early days to the twilight of his career, Burgos offers a glimpse inside the clubhouse as both owners and players struggled with the new realities of the game. That today s rosters are filled with names like Rodriguez, Pujols, Rivera, and Ortiz is a testament to Pompez and his lasting influence. Bookseller Inventory # AAV9780809037209

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