View Full Version : Adventures in Autographs, The Cuban Connection Part I

06-23-2012, 03:52 PM
It was 1998, As I looked out of the jet's window and watched the lights of night time Havana draw closer I knew that this trip would be "different"
Since the Kennedy administration most American's have been barred from visiting Cuba, our Caribbean cousin located just 90 miles south of Key West Florida. For me having family on the island , I requested and was granted a legal visa.
From the mountains and tobacco fields of Pinar Del Rio to the west to the sun drenched beaches of Santiago province to the east, the island is an amazing 1,000 miles long. Havana the capitol city rests on the northwestern coast. As a long time sports fan the island had always facinated me. Cuba's obsession with sports has produced some of the greatest athletes in history. In the 1920's and 30s many of the negro leagues brightest stars were Cuban. There was no color line in Cuba so players too "dark" to play in tthe major leagues would share the field with white players during the winter months. Virtually the entire Negro Leagues would play summer ball in the States and winter ball in Cuba. Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, John Henry Lloyd and others all played there. Native born Cubans like Cristobal Torriente and Jose Mendez excelled there. In a nine inning game between the American All stars that included Babe Ruth and Cuban All stars featuring Torriente , the Cuban out hit Ruth .378 to .345 Outhomering him 3-2 and compiled a .757 slugging percentage as the Cubans beat the Americans and Ruth by a one game margin in the series. Jose mendez was the pitcher , In his native country he outpitched Eddie Plank, and Christy Mathewson. John McGraw who traveled extensively in Cuba called Mendez "Walter Johnson and Grover Alexander" rolled into one. Probably the most revered of all Cuban players Martin Dihigo played every position including pitcher and Hall of Famers Monte Irvin and Johnny Mize who both saw him play called him "The best all around player white or black they had ever seen" Professional boxing also flourished in Cuba with names like Kid Chocolate, Kid Gavilan, Sugar Ramos, Jose Napoles and Teofilio Stevenson (more about HIM later).
I arrived on the island not knowing what to expect. The contradictory facts and fables what awaits a visiting tourist in Cuba are as diverse as the island itself. Previously my personal travels had taken me from Thailand where I worked as a professional boxing judge to Rome where I visited former middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti. Cuba was and is unlike anyplace I have ever been. When asked to explain I can only say its like a time capsule to 1959 a land suspended in time. My trip would produce astonishing images and a near death experience , but I could not know that then as my plane touched down and I exited into the stiffling heat of the airport terminal, I was in Cuba !
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06-24-2012, 09:40 AM
Neat! It must be so interesting to pick in a place like Cuba. There are so many card issues that emerge from Latin America that have barely been cataloged. Here are some offbeat Cuban boxing pieces of interest:

This card is from a set that commemorates episodes during the successful 1933 revolution. The card depicts the arrival in Havana of the former Spanish light-heavyweight amateur champion Lorenzo Gomez Naya. Gomez Naya went on to an undistinguished career in Cuba and the USA ending with WWII. Royal Cigars branding and back that mentions it is part of a series of cards depicting scenes from the revolution.

http://photos.imageevent.com/exhibitman/rareboxingcards/websize/1933%20Royal%201.JPG http://photos.imageevent.com/exhibitman/rareboxingcards/websize/1933%20Royal%202.JPG

This card is a promotional issue of Cuban brandy maker 3 Toneles. The card dates to December 1959 and carries the three year boxing record [1956-1959] of Florentino “The Ox” Fernandez, a Cuban middleweight contender with a blank space to write in the result of his December 1959 fight. Fernandez fought a bout in Cuba in April 1960 then fled to the USA. My suspicion is that the card had a very short issue life since the Cuban government rapidly outlawed professional boxing. I suppose he did hit like an ox; he was voted #57 on The Ring’s list of alltime greatest punchers. He lost a split decision to Gene Fullmer for the middleweight title, lost fights to Emile Griffith and Ruben Carter, beat Gaspar Ortega twice and KO’d Jose Torres. Overall he was 50-16-1 in a career that ran from 1956-1972.


06-26-2012, 01:32 PM
I can totally agree! I was in Cuba in 2003 for a missions trip. Words cannot express how "1950s" most of Cuba is. One of the hotels we were staying at housed one of Cuba's better baseball teams. They were in the playoffs. Some of them were pretty ripped! I could not go watch one of the games though.

Boy, do I have some stories from my trip...