By Yusseff Díaz
Today, we put together a team as part one of a two-part series on the best Cuban players of all-time. Let’s take a look at who makes the team.
Making an all-time team is not easy. Especially when it comes to Cuban players. What makes it more difficult than any other country is the fact that the country was closed off to MLB in 1961.
In my opinion, it isn’t fair to include Serie Nacional stars with professional players due to the fact that the amateur Cuban players never faced big league pitchers. Because of that fact I’m going to make a professional league team and a Serie Nacional team in this two-part series.
Ever since Esteban Bellan took the field for the Union of Morrisania in 1868, Cubans have been coming over and starring in the best baseball in the world. Today’s team will be comprised of only players who have played in professional circuits such as MLB and the Negro Leagues.
This piece is to educate on the history of Cubans in professional baseball and inspire a spirited but respectful debate amongst the masses.
Yasmani Grandal is having a very solid career as we speak. The native of Melena del Sur, Cuba is easily the most decorated catcher from the island in baseball history. In his eight seasons, he’s been selected to two all-star games and averages 26 homers per season. Although he only hits .241 for his career, his .348 OBP and .446 slugging percentage are very solid numbers for a position that is more defensive than offensive.
Sabermetrically speaking, his WAR of 32.6, wRC+ of 118, and BABIP of .280 are also solid. Behind the plate, he isn’t too shabby either. He has a fielding percentage of .989 and only 40 errors in 6,271 innings. Though his sabermetrics aren’t too favorable, his handling of pitching and 26% CS percentage isn’t below average. The backstop is also a wall when it comes to smothering pitches.
Rafael Palmeiro is the best hitter from the island to ever grace the field and my first baseman. The native of Havana is the only Cuban to have 3,000 hits, 500 doubles, 500 homers, and 1,000 runs batted in.
His lifetime batting average of .288 and slash line of
.371/.515/.885 are elite, and I’m being humble when I say this. His three gold gloves, two silver sluggers, and four all-star selections make him easily the best Cuban at this position.
Martin Dihigo is a member of the Hall of Fame and my second baseman. Known as “The Immortal”, Dihigo isn’t only in
MLB’s Hall but is also enshrined in Mexico’s and Cuba’s Hall of Fames. During his storied career, he was selected to two Negro
League all-star games and hit .307 during his stint there. “The Maestro “ as he is also known, won four MVPs in the highly competitive and talented Cuban Professional league. In 1938 the slugger led the Mexican League in hitting with a gaudy .387 average.
Dagoberto “Bert” Campaneris, who stole nearly 700 bases in his big league career, is my shortstop. “Campy” as he’s also known by Oakland’s faithful was a spark plug for the three-time champion swinging A’s in the ’70s. Aside from stealing all those bases, he had more than 2,000 hits to go along with 313 doubles and 86 triples. The native of Matanzas, Cuba also was selected to six all-star games and won six stolen base titles in the AL. My choice for the hot corner is Antanasio “Tany” Pérez. The slugger is also a member of the Hall of Fame and went to seven allstar games during his storied career. He had more than 2,700 hits, 505 doubles, and drove in 1,652 runs. The native of Ciego de Avila, Cuba was a key cog in “The Big Red Machine” during the ’70s
Jose Canseco is one of the most controversial figures of the last twenty years off the field, but in between the lines, there is no doubting his talent. The Havana born, Miami raised outfielder is the founding member of the 40-40 club and was the AL MVP in 1988. The slugger was also the AL rookie of the year in 1986 and hit 462 bombs during his career. Canseco was named to the all-star game six times and also won four silver slugger awards. For all these reasons he’s my left fielder.
Cristobal Torriente is the most underrated member of the Hall of Fame and my centerfielder. The lefty slugger was considered one of the first five-tool players in baseball history. For life in the Negro League Torriente hit .331 and hit over .400 twice during his career. Even though there was a color line the outfielder hit .313 against MLB players in the exhibition matchups between the two leagues. During his time in the Negro League circuit, he also won two batting titles and massacred major league pitching to the tune of a
.378 batting average in the exhibition series between Cuba’s Almendares Scorpions and the New York Giants in 1920, a series that was won by the Cubans 5-4.
My right fielder is unequivocally Tony Oliva, the native of Pinar del Río was the rookie of the in the AL in 1964. During his career which was spent only with the Minnesota Twins, he made eight all-star teams and won three batting titles. He also led the AL in hits five times.
Although defense wasn’t his forte he still managed to win a gold glove in 1966 and was runner up for the AL MVP in 1965. In his career which was cut short by injuries, he amassed more than 1,900 hits and slugged 220 round-trippers.
My DH without a doubt has to be José Abreu and could the best hitter to defect from the Cuban National Series when all is said is done. In his six seasons in the junior circuit the native of Mal Tiempo, Cuba has hit .293, slugged 179 dingers, driven in 611 runs, and has somewhere north of 1,000 hits. During his career, he has made three all-star games, won two silver slugger awards and was the rookie of the year in 2014. in his first season as a pro he led the AL in slugging (.581) and OPS+(173), he also had 123 RBI’s last year to lead the American League.
Luis Tiant leads all Cuban pitchers in victories all-time with 229. The Havana native has an ERA of 3.30 during his career and is 39th on the all-time list with 2,416 strikeouts. The righty appeared in three all-star teams and in 1972 won the AL comeback player of the year. In 1972, “Little Louie “led the AL in shutouts. For all the reasons stated above, “El Tiante” is my righty.
My lefty is Mike Cuellar. In his 15 Major League seasons, he won 185 games, the most by any Latino lefthander. The pitcher from Villa Clara, Cuba was the first Latino to win a Cy Young and his 1,632 K’s are only topped by Johan Santana when we talk about Hispanic southpaws. Cuellar also led the AL in ERA twice and was inducted in the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 1982.
The man to close the game on my team would be Aroldis Chapman. The lefty flamethrower leads Cubans with 273 saves and set the record for the fastest pitch thrown when he hurled fastball of 105 mph in 2010. During his career, he has an ERA of 2.23, a WHIP of 1.02, and has been an all-star six times. His FIP of 2.01 is the lowest of any pitcher with more than 500 innings pitched. His SO9 of 14.8 is astonishing and 883 strikeouts are only a little more than 300 off the all-time lead for closers.