Havana Sugar Kings

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Havana Sugar Kings logo

The Havana Sugar Kings were a Cuban-based minor league baseball team that played in the Class AAA International League from 1954 to 1960 . They were affiliated with Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds, and their home stadium was El Gran Estadio del Cerro (sometimes called Gran Stadium) in Havana, Cuba.

History[edit]

The Sugar Kings began life in 1946 as the Havana Cubans, founded by Washington Senators scout Joe Cambria. They played in the old Class C (later Class B) Florida International League. In 1954, Roberto "Bobby" Maduro bought the team, moved it to the International League, and renamed it the Sugar Kings. Several talented Cuban players and other Latinos who eventually made it to the Major Leagues donned the Sugar Kings uniform, including Luis Arroyo, Pompeyo Davalillo, Tony Gonzalez, Cookie Rojas, Elio Chacon, Daniel Morejon, Preston Gomez, Leo Cárdenas, and Mike Cuellar.

Exhibition with Fidel Castro and Los Barbudos[edit]

Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos in Barbudos uniforms.

Fidel Castro was a long-time baseball fan and often attended Sugar Kings games at Gran Stadium. In fact, Castro had been a pitcher during his days at the University of Havana. Soon after taking power, he pledged to underwrite the Sugar Kings' debts. In an exhibition contest between his own pickup squad Los Barbudos ("The Bearded Ones") and a military police team prior to a game between the Sugar Kings and the Rochester Red Wings on July 24, 1959, Castro pitched two innings. He ended up with two strikeouts.

The following day, another game between the Red Wings and Sugar Kings began late and continued into the night. Castro's supporters were in full force in the stands, and when midnight struck, they erupted into a torrent of lights, music, flag-waving, and even gunfire in a raucous celebration of the anniversary of the 26th of July Movement. The random gunfire continued, and Rochester third base coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo Cárdenas ended up with flesh wounds. The Red Wings' manager, Cot Deal, fearing for his team's safety, decided to pull Rochester from the game, and League officials cancelled the rest of the Sugar Kings' homestand.

1959 championship[edit]

Undeterred, the Sugar Kings — led by future major league manager Preston Gómez — eventually finished third in the IL standings, but upset Columbus and Richmond to win the League championship. They then ended up winning the 1959 Little World Series in seven games over the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association.

Nationalization and departure from Cuba[edit]

However, the next year, Castro nationalized all U.S.-owned enterprises in Cuba, and on July 8, 1960, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick (under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter) announced that the Sugar Kings would be moving to Jersey City, New Jersey and be renamed the Jersey City Jerseys. The Jerseys would last through the 1961 season before folding due to poor attendance. The franchise was then sold to a group from Jacksonville, Florida and renamed the Jacksonville Suns, who began play in the International League in 1962; that franchise would move to Portsmouth, Virginia in 1969 as the Tidewater Tides, and remains in that region as the Norfolk Tides.

In February 1987 the Miami City Commission voted unanimously in favor of the renaming the Miami Stadium in honor to Bobby Maduro who had migrated to USA. The ballpark became known officially as Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium one month lather. In the ceremony Maduro’s widow Marta said to herself, “Gordo (fat one), they finally know who you are.”

Titles[edit]

The Sugar Kings won the Governors' Cup, the championship of the IL, once.

See also[edit]