With Major League Baseball‘s historic trip to Cuba and the Tampa Bay Rays’ exhibition game against the Cuban national team on Tuesday, the spotlight is shining bright on the country and its rich baseball history.
One part of that history that might not be remembered by many collectors is the fact that there was once a minor league team in Cuba, the Havana Sugar Kings, that was a Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and a member of the International League.
The team ceased to exist in 1960 when it moved to New Jersey to become the Jersey City Jerseys, ending a run that began in 1947 as an affiliate of the Washington Senators.
The history of baseball in Cuba is a complicated one on many fronts, but it’s on baseball card backs where you can get a glimpse of the Sugar Kings. The 1959 Topps Rookie Card of Mike Cuellar, for example, shows his stats from 1957 and 1958 and an updated line notes his optioning back to Havana in 1959. (It also has his name spelled incorrectly.)
It’s likely there are other signs of the Sugar Kings on other cards of players who made it to MLB — a list that includes Luis Arroyo, Tony Gonzalez, Cookie Rojas, Elio Chacon, Preston Gomez and Leo Cardenas, who all have Topps cardboard. Then, of course, there are baseball cards made for release in Cuba, which have their own rich history and following.
An easier option would be collecting all of the past and present MLB players from Cuba — a list that includes Tony Perez, Rafael Palmeiro, Luis Tiant, Bert Campaneris, Jose Canseco, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig and so many more.
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