"El Beisbol" THE LATIN LEAGUES
Baseball in Latin America has a tradition all its own. "Beisbolistas" in Mexico, Central America, and the Carribbean follow the sport with a passion equal to their North American counterparts. Latin America’s contribution of talent to the big leagues, from Roberto Clemente to Fernando Valenzuela, is well-documented, but the history of their own professional leagues is barely known north of the border.
In 1866, Nemesio Guillot returned from the United States where he was attending school. He brought with him the implements of a strange new game called "Base Ball,’ which he taught to his friends. Cuba has not been the same since. In 1878, the famed Almendares and Havana clubs were formed. (The "Blues" and the "Reds.") These two teams were the bedrock of Cuban professional baseball for the next eighty years.
In addition to the great Cuban athletes to play the game, the Cuban League was a haven for American Negro Leaguers, who could extend their seasons into the winter, and who did not have to encounter the racial biases that they faced in the U.S.
Major League clubs also used the island as a spring training base for many years. and U.S. professionals honed their skills in the Cuban League during the off-season.
Professional baseball ended in Cuba soon after the Revolution, but Cuba continues to be a world baseball power, and home to some of the finest players and most knowledgeable fans anywhere.
The first recorded baseball game in Mexico took place in 1889. Interest in the game quickly grew after a visit by the Chicago White Sox in 1906. By the mid-1920s, profesional clubs had been formed. The Mexican game attracted American black stars like Ray Dandridge, Josh Gibson, and Roy Campanella (many of the members of Mexico Baseball Hall of Fame are U.S. Negro Leaguers.)
It was tycoon Jorge Pasquel’s dream to compete head-to-head with the American major leagues. In 1946, he started a baseball "war" by enticing several U.S. stars to jump their contracts and sign with Mexican teams. Although Pasquel’s bid nearly ended Mexican professional baseball, the league reorganized in 1949, and in 1955 became part of "organized" ball.
Baseball Mexican style has its own special flavor, Games include live music in the stands, and cheerleaders dancing on the dugouts. The "fanaticos" root for their teams by banging on drums or joining in boisterous group cheers.
The catalyst for spreading the popularity of baseball in Puerto Rico was the Spanish~American War in the 1890’s with the United States taking control of the island from Spain. Private companies imported baseball to provide a diversion for their work and the military was also responsible for spreading the game. Teams from the Negro Leagues and Minor Leagues came to the island over the years, and in 1936 Cincinnati Reds played a famous series against the Brooklyn Eagles.
The Puerto Rican League (originally semi-pro) began play in 1938. Many of the Negro Leaguers, including Satchel Paige (Guayama), Josh Gibson (Santurce), and Leon Day (Aguadilla) starred for island clubs. Puerto Rico was a player’s paradise. Games were played on weekends, and during the rest of the week, it was fun and sun. Fans opened their homes and hearts to these ballplayers, many of whom achieved the status of national heroes.