Alejandro Oms

This article was written by John Struth

Alejandro OmesAlejandro Oms made a significant mark on baseball in his native Cuba, and in Venezuela and the United States. During his nearly 30-year career he was considered among the best Latino outfielders. Well regarded as a player, he was also respected as a man, earning the nickname “El Caballero” or the gentleman, for his deportment on the playing field.

Oms’s birth date has been cited as March 13, 1895, or March 13, 1896, in various publications, with the 1896 date being the most frequently cited. He was born in Santa Cruz, Las Villas Province in Cuba. An article in the Cuban magazine Carteles reported that Oms excelled at baseball in his youth and that he turned down offers to play for teams in the Cuban Winter League, choosing instead to play for the local semipro team in Santa Clara. Oms batted and threw left-handed. Between 1910 and 1914 he played in the local sandlots and semipro teams of Pastora and Dobargans.1 He also played in the local sugar-mill leagues for El Chicago and Boston (both names of sugar-mill towns).

As he matured and his playing skills received increasing notice Oms move to higher competition levels, playing for El Tosca between 1915 and 1920.2 He also played for his hometown Santa Clara team during that period. In 1917 Oms did compete with the Cuban Stars, a Negro leagues team sponsored by Alex Pompez. They were a nonaffiliated team that played in the New York City area. The New York Age reported on 18 of the games played by Pompez’s Cuban Stars between May 13 and September 9. By report Oms batted fifth or sixth in the lineup and played left field in those games. In those reported games, Oms did not hit well. Importantly, 1917 proved to be Oms’s first contact with Alex Pompez, who would play a pivotal role in bringing him and other significant Cuban ballplayers to the Negro leagues in the years to come.3

After the 1917 season Oms returned to Cuba and played winter baseball. His next major move occurred in the 1920 winter baseball season. From the 1920 through the 1922 seasons he played for the Matanzas Los Pirates. On that team he variously played alongside Martin Dihigo, Tinti Molina, and Pelayo Chacon, all players who had distinguished careers.4

Oms did not return to the United States until 1921, when he was again recruited to play with the All Cubans barnstorming team managed by Alex Pompez. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Oms hit well, leading the Stars team in batting. When the summer season ended, Oms returned home to play winter ball on the Santa Clara team. A unique feature of that team was that he played alongside his brothers Tito and Eleuterio. A fourth brother, Pedro, was identified as the team mascot.5

Negro League and Summer Baseball in the United States

Pompez took the reins of the Cuban Stars for the 1922 season. Still unaffiliated, they barnstormed through the United States playing local clubs and against competition from the Negro leagues. According to reports, Oms hit 40 home runs against all competition. For that feat he began to be referenced as the “Cuban Babe Ruth” in several Negro league and Cuban publications.6

In 1923 the Cuban Stars entered the Eastern Colored League. Oms played in an outfield consisting of Pablo “Champion” Mesa and Bernardo Baro. The Stars finished in second place, compiling a record of 23-17, losing out to the Hilldale club, Ed Bolden’s team. In the official league stats Oms batted .357 in 20 “league” games.

Over the following five seasons, through 1928, Oms returned with the Cuban stars to compete in the Eastern Colored League. While Oms himself continued to play outstanding ball, the Stars were, at best, a mediocre team. During each of those seasons he batted at least .300. In 1926 there is a discrepancy and in the Seamheads database he was credited with a .268 average.7

During the 1924 season the Cuban Stars finished last in the league with a record of 17 wins and 31 losses. Oms was credited with a .326 batting average in 129 at-bats. In 1925 the Stars moved up a position to seventh with a record of 15-26. That season Oms was credited with a .318 BA in 157 at-bats. The 1926 season saw the Stars rebound to a winning record of 28-21, good for fourth place. According to Macmillan 10, Oms had a .342 batting average in only 73 at-bats. The next season the Stars finished in third place with a record of 33-32. Oms had a batting average of .348 in 132 at-bats.8

The 1928 season was the Cuban Stars’ last affiliated in the Eastern Colored League. They played in only seven "official" league games before dropping out of the league. Before the summer ended the league itself dissolved. The Stars' record was 4-3 when they left the league. Throughout the remainder of the summer they reverted to barnstorming appearances. Still they continued to play out several more of the scheduled games with the other teams from the disbanded league. Throughout the season Macmillan10 credited Oms with a .308 batting average in 177 at-bats.

Sources dispute where and for whom Oms played summer baseball in 1929. Gadfly reported that he played for Nat Strong’s Cuban Stars. Revel and Munoz note that Oms, along with several other players, did not report to spring training on time and thus were suspended from the team. They report that Oms played for the Escogido Leones in the Dominican Republic.9

The decline and disbanding of the Eastern Colored League in 1928 has been attributed to Strong, who controlled much of the booking for the league in New York City. During that season he stopped booking games for the Cuban Stars and the Brooklyn Royal Giants. Strong then established a Cuban Stars baseball team for the 1929 season. Pompez, who had worked in close association with Strong until that time, formed his own Cuban Star team, which competed in the American Colored League, a short-lived (one year) six-team league. The Stars finished in last place. Interestingly, the team with the best overall record, the New York Lincolns, were not awarded the pennant; instead it went to the Baltimore Black Sox. The league disbanded shortly after the season.10

Revel and Munoz credit Oms with playing the 1929 winter season for the Tigres del Licey team in the Dominican Republic. The Tigres won the pennant that season.11

Oms returned to play baseball in the United States in 1930, for Nat Strong’s Stars of Cuba team, also referred to as Pelayo Chacon’s Cuban Stars. They were an unaffiliated team that played largely throughout the Northeast. Strong used his influence to schedule games against many of the top black teams. With Alejandro Pompez’s retirement that season, Strong had no significant competition to inhibit booking opportunities for the Stars. Macmillan10 credits Oms with batting .320 in 75 at-bats. Baseball-Reference.com credits him with batting .358 in 57 at-bats.

Between 1931 and 1933 Oms returned to Nat Strong’s Cuban Star East team. In 1931 the Stars were affiliated with the four-team American Negro League. Oms was credited with a .179 batting average (5-for-28). He also batted poorly in Cuba that season. Revel and Munoz speculated that Oms may have been injured or may have played hurt during the season. In 1932 the Stars were affiliated with the East-West League. The league began the season with eight teams, but does not appear to have lasted long. In four at-bats Oms had three hits. Again in 1933 Oms played with the Stars, though they were unaffiliated. Baseball-Reference again notes only one game played, with four at-bats and no hits. Gadfly says that though little statistical record has been recovered, Oms batted third in the lineup on a good baseball team.

After spending the 1934 season in Venezuela, Oms returned to the United States for one final season. Nat Strong had died before the season and Alejandro Pompez came out of retirement. In 1935 he established a strong Cuban team that included Oms and Martin Dihigo in the lineup. The New York Cubans affiliated with the Negro National League that season, finishing third with a record of 28-24. Oms was credited with a .361 batting average in 155 at-bats. He was selected to the East-West All-Star Game, and went 2-for-4 with a run scored.12

In addition to the league play, Oms’s teams frequently played games with all levels of competition throughout the Northeast. James Riley’s encyclopedia credits the Stars with a record of 93-22 in 1928. That season the team played in seven league games.13

Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Winter Ball

With the exception of his appearance with the Cuban Stars in 1917, Oms played on a regional basis against lesser competition from his start in organized Cuban baseball in 1910 to 1922. In 1922 he moved up to the Cuban Winter League for the first time, playing for the Santa Clara club. The 1922-23 season was Santa Clara’s first in the Winter League, and it was somewhat of a home team to Oms. Teammates included Oscar Charleston and Pablo “Champion” Mesa, who with Oms made quite a distinguished outfield trio. That season Oms batted .436, finishing second in the league to Charleston’s .446. The team dropped out of the league about halfway through the season.

Oms returned to Santa Clara for the 1923-24 season. The team ran away with the pennant, winning by 11½ games, with a 36-11 record. Oms hit .381, third highest in the league. Santa Clara that season was a veritable Negro Leagues all-star team, including Frank Duncan, Bill Holland, Oliver “Ghost” Marcelle, Frank Warfield, and Dobie Moore, along with Charleston and Mesa. Oms held his own on the star-studded team.

Sometime over the winter Oms contracted tuberculosis. A review of his record suggests that there was a decline in his performance over the next four seasons, though it was much more negligible in Cuba than in the United States. Still his batting placed him among the top hitters in baseball during that time.14

Santa Clara began to experience difficulty in the 1924-25 season. Its attendance declined and by midseason the owner, Abel Linares, moved the team’s home games to the city of Matanzas. The team’s record suffered as well, and it fell into the middle of the pack in the pennant race. Despite the distraction and poor team play, Oms continued his hot hitting, leading the league in batting with a .393 average.15

Santa Clara did not return to the Winter League for the following season. Oms signed with the San José club, a new entry to the league. But San José struggled out of the gate and the club disbanded on December 22 1925. Oms quickly signed with the Habana Leones. Despite the season’s disruptions he acquitted himself well, finishing with a .324 batting average and slugging .485.

The instability of the Cuban Winter League extended into the following season. During the short season Oms moved to yet another team, simply referred to as “Cuba.” His team finished second in the league with an 11-8 record. After the Winter League season a new league emerged, featuring three teams, the Alacranes, Habana Reds, and Marianao. (It was called the Triangular League.) Playing for Marianao, Oms batted.366 and slugged .495. Marianao finished third, 5½ games behind pennant-winning Alacranes.16

Oms returned to the Habana Leones for the 1927-28 Cuban Winter League season. The league righted itself and played out a full schedule. Habana won the pennant. Oms batted .324 with a .549 slugging percentage. He returned to Habana for the following winter season.

Throughout the 1928-29 pennant race Oms distinguished himself. He led the league in batting with a .432 average, and he led the league in hits (76), doubles (18), and slugging percentage (.619). During the season he established league records when he collected six hits in a game on December 20 and achieved a record hitting streak (30 games between October 1 and December 24) Habana was a strong team that, in addition to Oms, featured Martin Dihigo, Chino Smith, Jud Wilson, Oscar Lewis, and Augustin Bejerano, all of whom batted well over .300. The team also featured stalwart pitching from the likes of Oscar Estrada, Oscar Levis, and Cliff Bell. The Leones handily won the league championship with a record of 43 wins and 12 losses.

Santa Clara re-entered the Winter League for the 1929-30 season, and Oms rejoined his "hometown" team. He had another outstanding year, leading the league in batting average (.380) and slugging percentage (.572). This was Oms’s eighth consecutive season with a .300 or higher batting average, and the batting title was his third.

Oms returned to Santa Clara for the next season, but the season turned out to be futile. Five games in, the league disbanded over a dispute between the teams and the owner of La Tropical Stadium. It has also been suggested that the league disbanded because of the death of Abel Linares.17 Oms played in only two games, going 2-for-7. After the collapse of the Winter League, a new league formed and Oms rejoined the Habana club. He struggled, batting just .182 (10-for-52). That league also collapsed prematurely.18

Whether or not Oms was injured is debatable. However, he also struggled when he went to the United States in the summer of 1931. Taken as a whole, his batting statistics dropped off precipitously in 1931, and because he was now 35 years old, that falloff certainly bore watching.

But Oms stayed rebounded resoundingly as the Cuban Winter League returned to a full schedule in 1931-32. He finished second in the league in batting (.381), and led the league in slugging percentage (.593), hits (44), runs (28), stolen bases (14), and home runs (3). Despite Oms’s production, the Habana club finished in last place with a 9-21 record.19

The fate of the Cuban Winter League was tied to political unrest in Cuba. The 1932-33 season ended early after the collapse of the Machado government. Habana had rebounded nicely and was in first place when the league disbanded, with a record of 13-9. Oms batted .368.20

The Cuban Winter League was idle for the 1933-34 season. Oms hooked up with Almendares, an unaffiliated team that barnstormed throughout Cuba. In January Almendares played a series of games against the Concordia Eagles, a team made up of Negro League all-stars, including Martin Dihigo, Josh Gibson, Rap Dixon, Tetelo Vargas, and Luis Aparicio Sr. Oms batted.538 over the course of the series, second only to Gibson, who batted an astounding .643.

Oms did not return to the United States for the 1934 season. Instead he played for the Santa Marta Tigers in Venezuela’s National Champions Series league. This was Oms’s initial foray into Venezuela baseball and would begin a long and illustrious affiliation between the player and the country. The league played its games on weekends, leaving its member teams free to barnstorm during the week. For the season Oms batted .393 and finished second in the batting race.

That winter the Concordia Eagles returned to barnstorm throughout Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Oms was recruited to play for the team. According to Gadfly, he batted cleanup for Concordia, and in the Puerto Rican leg of the barnstorming tour he batted .408.

Oms returned to the United States for the 1935 season with the New York Cubans, the newly formed club overseen by Alex Pompez. It was his last season playing in the United States. When he returned to Cuba he rejoined his old team, the Santa Clara Leopards, in the Cuban Winter League. Teammates included Bill Perkins, Willie Wells, Horacio Martinez, and Martin Dihigo. Oms batted .311 with a .433 slugging percentage for the 1935-36 winter season.

Returning to Santa Marta of the Venezuelan League for the 1936 season Oms batted a league-leading .433, reportedly the highest batting average in the history of the Venezuelan League. Despite Oms’s heroics, Santa Marta finished fourth of the five teams in the standings. After the regular season Oms remained in Venezuela for the winter, and played with the Maracaibo Centaurs.21

Oms was recruited to play for the Trujillo Cup in the Dominican Republic in early 1937. Playing for the Estrellas Orientales, he batted .232 in 99 at-bats. After the tournament, Oms returned to the Maracaibo Centaurs in the Venezuelan League. Over the season he batted .367, second highest in the league. Maracaibo despite having two major-league pitchers, Oscar Estrada and George Earnshaw, could finish no higher than second. The Vargas team, led by Negro League pitching star Bertrum Hunter, finished first with a 12-2 record.

That winter Oms returned home to play with Santa Clara in the Cuban Winter League. Now over 40 years old, he still enjoyed a good season, batting .315 and slugging .402. While his batting statistics were down from past performances, they may have been affected by the fact that during the 1937-38 season the Cuban Winter League was pitching-rich.

In 1938 Oms returned to Venezuela to play with Maracaibo, which that season was not affiliated with the Venezuelan National Championship Series, instead playing in the Zulia Championship League. No available statistical record for the team or for Oms that season has been found.

Off to try something new, Oms moved on to the new Puerto Rican Winter League for 1938-39. He played for the Guayama Warlocks, who won the league championship. He batted.465 (28-for-58). The team was led by Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda, Orlando Cepeda’s father.

In 1939 Oms joined the Vargas team in Caracas, Venezuela. He may have been injured; he only played in five games of the National Championship Series. In 19 at-bats Oms had nine hits and scored five times for a .474 batting average.

Returning to Cuba for the 1939-40 winter season, Oms played for Almendares. He batted a mere .228 with a .248 slugging percentage in 101 at-bats. Still, he stole five bases.

Perhaps age was catching up to Oms; he did not play baseball during the summer of 1940. He did return for the 1940-41 winter season, playing first with Almendares and then moving to the Habana club. Over the season he batted .235 with a slugging percentage of .283 in 166 at-bats. He stole five bases again, so speed, at least, had not been completely lost to Oms.

Oms next played in in one game for Estrellas in Venezuela in 1942, getting two hits in four at-bats.22 He may have been residing in Venezuela by this time. He played winter ball in 1942-1943 for the Magallanes Navigators in Venezuela. No statistical record exists on Oms that season; at the end of the season the league published a list of .300 hitters, and he was not on the list. The winter league had replaced the Venezuelan Championship Series, played in the summer. A condition for obtaining roster spots in the winter league was that team members had to reside in Venezuela. In his final full season of league play, Oms again played with Magallanes in 1943-44. In 49 at-bats he had 15 hits for a batting average of .306.

In the 1945-46 Cuban Winter League, Dolf Luque, manager of the Cienfuegos team, invited Oms, now at least 50, back for a swan-song appearance. He struck out in his only at-bat.23 Luque may have allowed his friend this opportunity as a way of saying thanks for a long and important career.

Oms had just returned home to Cuba from Venezuela when, on November 5, 1945, he died in Habana. In an odd postscript, he continued in a line of great Cuban outfielders who had died at a young age. Other greats to die young included former teammates Pablo Mesa and Bernardo Baro. In addition Esteban Montalvo and Cristobal Torriente died at an early age. These men died of tuberculosis. Revel and Munoz reported that Oms “died sick, almost blind and destitute.”24. However, it seems clear that Oms had continued to play baseball up until the time of his death. While it is not impossible that he may have been destitute, it would seem difficult to believe he was nearly blind and still playing baseball.25

To put his career in perspective, Oms was the second leading batter in the Cuban Winter League, behind only Cristobal Torriente. He won five batting titles and led the league in slugging five times. He won an MVP award in the Cuban Winter League in the 1928-29 season. Oms fashioned a successful career in the professional Negro Leagues between 1922 and 1935, batting over .300 for his career. He made the East-West All-Star team in 1935, his final season in the United States. In his mid-30s he began a career in the Venezuelan leagues, where he was outstanding. While best known for his offensive skills, he also won awards for his defensive play, including winning the Venezuelan league’s top defensive player award in 1944 at age 48.26

Oms earned a deserved place in the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, into which he was voted in 1944. Oms was among the best players born in Cuba, and with Cristobal Torriente could be thought of as one of the two best Cuban players in the first half of the 20th century. He left enough imprint to suggest that he was among the greatest ballplayers of his era.

 

This biography originally appeared in "Cuban Baseball Legends: Baseball's Alternative Universe" (SABR, 2016), edited by Peter C. Bjarkman and Bill Nowlin.

 

Author's note

For consistency I have used the batting records compiled by Macmillan10 to represent Oms’s batting record in professional Negro League competition. The data was made available in baseballthinkfactory.org/hall_of_merit/discussion/alejandro_oms/. For his batting statistics in the Cuba, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, I have used data reported by Chris Cobb in the same baseballthinkfactory.com article. Given the fickle nature of record-keeping, Oms’s records change from researcher to researcher.

The reader is referred to the excellent short biography on Oms produced for the Center for Negro League Baseball Research by Dr. Layton Revel and Luis Munoz. It is titled Forgotten Heroes: Alejandro “El Caballero” Oms. This author has used it extensively in this article for biographical and statistical information. It provides a range of statistics on Oms’s career as reported by John Holway, James Riley, and Larry Lester and Dick Clark.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics come from baseballthinkfactory.org/hall_of_merit/discussion/alejandro_oms/ (Gadfly, July 10, 2005, Chris Cobb).

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:

Holway, John B. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues (Fern Park, Florida: Hastings House, 1999).

Riley, James, ed. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002).

Baseball-reference.com.

Cubanbeisbol.com/post152539623/alejandro-oms.



Notes

1 Carteles (baseballthinkfactory.org/hall_of_merit).

3 Layton Revel and Luis Munoz, Forgotten Heroes: Alejandro “El Caballero” Oms (Center for Negro League Baseball Research, 2008).

4 Ibid.

5 Roberto Gonzalez Echeverria, The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 172.

6 Revel and Munoz.

8 Revel and Munoz.

9 Ibid.

10 Neil Lanctot, Fair Dealing and Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and the Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1932 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing Co., 1994), 198-201.

11 Revel and Munoz.

12 Ibid.

13 James A. Riley. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1994).

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Jorge S. Figueredo, Cuban Baseball, A Statistical History 1878-1961 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing Co., 2003), 171-174.

17 Revel and Munoz pointed out that Abel Linares was an important figure in Cuban baseball. His death would have had a significant impact on the sport. Chris Cobb cites a dispute between teams and the owner (unknown) of La Tropical Stadium. Perhaps the two situations were connected; perhaps, had Linares survived, the dispute would have been mended. Whatever the impetus, the Cuban Winter League folded. Over the next several years it continued to struggle for consistency and solvency.

18 Revel and Munoz.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Echevarria.

24 Revel and Munoz.

25 A fascinating dialogue about the circumstances of Oms’s death is presented by Cobb, Echevarria, and Revel and Munoz. Some speculation goes to his poor health. Cobb noted that several contemporaries died at an early age of tuberculosis. Echevarria and Revel and Munoz mentioned ill health and destitution. Revel and Munoz added that Oms may have been losing his eyesight. At the same time, they all stated that Oms had continued to play baseball, albeit at a lesser level of competition in Venezuela. Echevarria speculated that Cuban players began to organize in part because of the circumstances that surrounded Oms’s life in baseball leading up to his untimely death.

26 Revel and Munoz.