TYPE: Letter
ITEM ID: 4854

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1908 Letter Regarding Three Baseball Teams

Year: 1908
Decade: 1900s
Century: 20th (1901-2000)

A letter, written in 1908, about three Cuban Baseball teams. It is a historically very important letter regarding the creation of three famous Cuban baseball teams: “CUBA”, “AZUL” and “CARMELITA” (Carmelita is of the Cuban League from 1908) that will play “every Sunday” and on “festive” days. The letter is written to the Mayor of Guanabacoa (a municipality in the Havana area) and requests using the “terrenos”/(playing ground) at the old Plaza de Armas (Havana) as they do not have an adequate playing field.

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Cuba. It was popularized in Cuba by Nemesio Guillot, who founded the first major baseball club in the country. It became the most played sport in the country in the 1870s, before the period of American intervention. Despite its American origin, baseball is strongly associated with Cuban nationalism, as it effectively replaced colonial Spanish sports such as bullfighting. Since the Cuban Revolution, the league system in Cuba has been officially amateur. Top players are placed on the national team, earning stipends for training and playing in international competitions.

Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by Cuban students returning from colleges in the United States and American sailors who ported in the country. The sport spread quickly across the island nation after its introduction, with student Nemesio Guillot receiving popular credit date for the game’s growth in the mid-19th century. Nemesio attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, with his brother Ernesto. The two returned to Cuba, and in 1868 they founded the first baseball team in Cuba, the Habana Base Ball Club.

Soon after this, the first Cuban War of Independence spurred Spanish authorities in 1869 to ban the sport in Cuba. They were concerned that Cubans had begun to prefer baseball to bullfights, which Cubans were expected to dutifully attend as homage to their Spanish rulers in an informal cultural mandate. As such, baseball became symbolic of freedom and egalitarianism to the Cuban people.

In late 1878 the Cuban League was founded. At its inception the league consisted of three teams: Almendares, Havana, and Matanzas. Every team played the other two teams four times each. The teams were composed amateurs and were all-white, however professionalism gradually took hold as teams bid on players to pry them from their rivals.

The Spanish–American War brought increased opportunities to play against top teams from the United States. Also, the Cuban League admitted black players beginning in 1900. Soon many of the best players from the Northern American Negro Leagues were playing on integrated teams in Cuba. Beginning in 1908, Cuban teams scored a number of successes in competition against major league baseball teams, behind outstanding players such as pitcher José Méndez and outfielder Cristóbal Torriente (who were both enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006).

By the 1920s, the level of play in the Cuban League was superb, as Negro League stars like Oscar Charleston and John Henry Lloyd spent their winters playing in Cuba.
In 1899, the All Cubans, consisting of Cuban League professional players, were the first Latin American team to tour the United States. The team returned in 1902–05, exposing white Cuban players to U.S. major league and minor league scouts, and introducing black Cuban players to competition against the Negro leagues. Later Negro league teams included the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans, which were stocked mostly with Cuban or other Latin American players.