Joe Cambria (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Joe Cambria

Joe Cambria (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)Joe Cambria was one of the most prolific scouts in major-league history, signing hundreds of men to professional contracts as a scout for Clark Griffith and the Washington Senators. He also inked countless others as a promoter of semipro and Negro Leagues baseball in Baltimore and minor-league teams throughout the country. He was one of the few men — perhaps the only one — to own clubs at all levels of minor-league classification.

Cuba was the focus of Cambria’s major contribution to baseball history. He signed well over 400 young Cuban ballplayers to professional contracts from the mid-1930s until he died in 1962. He was a celebrity on the island – the major link between the baseball-hungry country and the major leagues. For much of his career, he was virtually the only link. Cambria and Griffith began signing Cuban talent as early as 1932 and firmly established themselves in the country by the middle of the decade. A few years after that, Cambria relocated to the island at least on a part-time basis, spending much of the year in Havana scouting players and following up on tips from the “bird-dog” scouts he planted throughout the nation.

Joseph Carl Cambria was born in Messina, Italy, on July 5, 1890, perhaps 1889. His first name was Carlo before it was Americanized. In 1890, his father, John (Giovanni) Cambria, a shoemaker, left Messina and settled in Boston. Joseph and his two older brothers, Charles (Pasquale) and John (Giovanni), immigrated to the United States in 1893, landing in New York on August 2. Their mother may have died in Italy between 1890 and ’93; she didn’t make the 1893 voyage, and the senior John is listed as a widower in the 1900 U.S. Census.

Joseph attended public schools in Boston and became a naturalized citizen on March 14, 1916, while living in Lowell, a manufacturing city about 40 miles from Boston. Like many in the area, Cambria was a big baseball fan. He played amateur and semipro ball in Boston, Roxbury, Lowell, Medford, other towns, and into Rhode Island. He joined his first professional club, Newport of the independent Rhode Island State League, in July 1909, replacing a center fielder named Martin who had broken his leg. Cambria, a short right-hander, made his pro debut on the 11th. The Newport Daily News commented, “Cambria, a dark, pleasant-looking player from Medford way, was secured for the outfield.” In a game on August 1, the Daily News reported, “There was (a) two or three-bagger of (Louis J.) Lepine’s which Cambria caught with his bare right hand in the eighth, shutting off a run and bringing the spectators to their feet.” Cambria received praise by the paper throughout the season for his splendid fielding in center.

Cambria returned to Newport in May 1910 “considerably heavier than he was last year.” He played with the club the entire season. In 1911 he joined Berlin, Ontario, in the Class D Canadian League, manning center field for the pennant-winning Green Sox. In 102 games, he batted a so-so .245. In 1912, Cambria patrolled center again and also played a little second base for the club. On May 27, he placed four hits in five at-bats off four different pitchers. However, after 38 games, Cambria broke his leg, and his playing career came to an end. He was hitting .231 at the time.

Cambria returned home, finding jobs in both Boston and Lowell. Around 1917, he married Boston native Charlotte Kane, five years his senior. The couple never had children. After military service during World War I, Cambria and his wife relocated to Baltimore. He found employment managing a supply house and later purchased the Bugle Coat and Apron Company, a laundering business, on North Chester Street in Baltimore. The couple ran the business together until they sold it in 1938. Joe dove into professional baseball club ownership in the early 1930s, and Charlotte took over much of the management of the laundry business.

The Bugle Company entered a baseball club of the same name in the Baltimore Amateur League to kick off the 1928 season. The Bugles did well in the league and Cambria made it a semipro outfit in August, taking on stiffer competition from surrounding states and local teams like the Baltimore Black Sox, an African American club. Cambria played a little for the Bugle squad. The team lasted through 1932. In 1928 and ’29, Allan Russell, a ten-year major leaguer, pitched for the club. In 1930, Walter Beall, who spent five years in the majors, did as well. Starting in 1930, Cambria sponsored several teams that barnstormed through the area after the pro season.

To accommodate his clubs, Cambria purchased and revamped a ballpark at Federal Street and Edison Highway in Baltimore in the mid-1920s, renaming it Bugle Field. In 1929, he enlarged the grandstand to accommodate his growing ambitions. He leased the park for and promoted boxing and wrestling matches. Football games were also played on the grounds.

In December 1929, Cambria purchased his first professional club, the Hagerstown Hubs of the four-team, Class D Blue Ridge League. He picked up the franchise for the cost of its indebtedness. His goal as an entrepreneur was to make money by selling off talent. The Baltimore Sun wrote at the time of the purchase, “It was with the idea of developing material for major and minor leagues that Cambria came into this city. … It is by the sale of players he hopes to earn his profits.” He immediately brought in seasoned baseball executive John “Poke” Whalen to scout and sign players and develop connections throughout the game. Cambria kept to the same business plan throughout his ownership career: keep costs low; pay little for talent; sell talent when the opportunity arose; build the franchise at the gate as best as possible; sell out or relocate if things got too bad.

Cambria was at a disadvantage in the Blue Ridge League; he owned the only unaffiliated franchise. The other league owners could rely, at least partly, on assistance from a major-league club. Despite the handicap, Cambria made money. Hagerstown finished in third place in 1930 with Cambria managing part of the year. To spark interest in Baltimore, the Hubs trained at Bugle Field. Also, Cambria quickly aligned himself with the Washington Senators, developing a tight lifelong relationship with Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators. Even before the 1930 season began, Hagerstown sold its first players to Washington. Cambria owned quite a few ballclubs over the next decade and a half, and each maintained a working relationship with the Senators. Griffith even co-owned some of them.

Over the winter of 1930-31, Cambria sparred with the Maryland legislature trying to strike down the Blue Laws that prevented Sunday baseball. He loudly declared, “Without Sunday ball, I don’t see how the Hagerstown club can exist in the league.” For his propensity for talking and pushing into league and other matters, he earned the derogatory nickname Jabbering Joe. The team moved into the Class C Middle Atlantic League in 1931. Failing to obtain legalized Sunday ball, Cambria moved the franchise to Parkersburg, West Virginia, on June 28 and again to Youngstown, Ohio, on July 12. Cambria managed the team on the field the entire season. The club boasted some of the best hitting in the league, led by Babe Phelps, Sam Thomas, and Bill Pritchard, but landed 23½ games behind the champion Charleston Senators. The Cumberland Evening Times in Maryland summed up his season: “Cambria sported the worst ball club in the league, a coterie of misfits that proved duck soup for the other clubs of the league.” The paper implied that he sold off his best talent for cash. In April 1932, Cambria switched the Youngstown club to the Class B Central League. The team finished fourth and he sold the franchise.

In 1932, Cambria purchased the Baltimore Black Sox from longtime owner George Rossiter, a local saloon owner. He revamped Bugle Field for the team, obtaining nicer seats from the crumbling Maryland Park, and extended the grandstands to accommodate more covered seating. He built a clubhouse with showers, added a press box, and installed lighting equipment by early summer. The promotion-minded owner purchased a pair of ponies to walk the streets of Baltimore displaying advertising for the club. Cambria had high hopes for the team, backed by a local black population of 142,000, the fourth highest in the country. The Black Sox and Bugles worked out together before the season.

The Black Sox competed in Cum Posey’s East-West League and barnstormed extensively, as all black clubs did to make ends meet. However, the ends didn’t meet in Baltimore. In fact, the Black Sox spent nearly the entire second half of the season on the road after the league disbanded. The team was run on the “co-plan”; players were guaranteed only their transportation expenses, and had to split the gate with management to earn cash. Cambria tore up all the players’ contracts to institute the new system. This made it easier for the men to jump teams, which they started to do with frequency at the end of the year. The next year, 1933, was a rougher year still financially. To start, the Black Sox’ previous investors sued Cambria for the Black Sox name and won. The squad was simply called the Sox until a settlement was reached near the end of the year. Also, a Negro Leagues player and owner, Ben Taylor inserted a second nine in Baltimore, the Stars. Competition for talent and attendance was stiff.

The Black Sox competed briefly in Gus Greenlee’s new Negro National League in 1933, amassing a poor 13-18 record after being accepted into the fold in May. When Cambria applied for readmission to the league in 1934, several of his star players announced their intention to leave the club. Ultimately Cambria couldn’t come to terms with the players and Greenlee rejected his application for readmittance. The players were declared free agents and Cambria disbanded the Black Sox.

In February 1933, he had purchased Albany of the International League from the Chicago Cubs for $7,500. He operated the franchise through 1936. True to form, Cambria sold as many players as he could. Off the bat, he sold Babe Phelps, Tommy Thompson, and Ray Prim to major-league clubs. Some estimates placed his take at nearly $40,000. For developing and selling talent, Cambria earned another moniker, Salesman Joe. With the sales, he made money in 1933, not an easy task for a minor-league club during the Depression. He also solidified his relation with Clark Griffith, establishing another working agreement with Washington.

During the pennant run in 1933, the Senators lost money. The costs of acquiring players were sapping all profits. Griffith figured that he had to find a better way to field a major-league team. He consequently developed a close working relationship with Cambria. As a result, acquisition costs dropped to about $100,000 in 1936, and all the way down to $49,500 by 1944. The Senators placed second in the American League in 1943 and 1945 despite spending relatively little to fill their roster.

Cambria supplied the Senators with talent for two decades. When Griffith needed a ballplayer, he called Cambria and a player was soon headed to Washington. The Griffith/Cambria relationship was unique in sports history. Cambria lived frugally, though he always had investments on the side. His loyalty to Griffith was such that he turned down significantly higher offers for Mickey Vernon and George Case, among others, and relinquished them to the Senators for considerably less cash. Such a relationship didn’t exist anywhere else in sports. For example, other major-league executives were willing to pay $10,000 for the speedy Case but Cambria sold him to Griffith for $1,000 and a promise to make up the difference if Case made good. In fact, most of the players came to Griffith in this manner. His outlays were few and secured by the fact that the ballplayer had to prove himself before money was forked over. Cambria took part in this relationship willingly; he was committed to the betterment of Griffith and the Senators. In essence, he believed that he served a higher purpose, and as such, financial benefits were secondary.

In return the Senators handled much of Cambria’s administrative concerns and provided valued advice. Griffith also helped with the initial costs and continued expenses and administration of the minor-league teams that Cambria owned. More than once, Griffith interceded between Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Cambria to smooth over issues and minimize fines and other penalties. Landis, a foe of the farm system, could be overbearing; a wheeler-dealer like Cambria needed a man like Griffith running interference for him. In all, Cambria did well financially. He bought talent cheaply, mostly high schoolers or young semipro players. If a young man showed a glimmer of hope, Cambria sold him to Griffith or another club if the Senators passed. He also made money buying and selling clubs.

A few interesting matters took place during Cambria’s time with Albany. In 1934, he established a sort of training school for ballplayers. Young men would meet at Hawkins Stadium in Albany when the home team was on the road to work out and train. In 1935, he made national headlines for signing Alabama Pitts fresh from Sing Sing Prison. (Pitts had a relatively undistinguished minor-league career.) In 1936, Cambria entered a team in the Eastern Hockey League based in Washington. After Albany’s 1936 season, he offered the manager’s job to Babe Ruth. Ruth rejected the offer, believing he deserved to manage a major-league team.

More importantly around that time, Cambria dived into the facet of the game that would become his trademark, developing Cuban talent. Part of the story rests with Griffith. As manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1911, he had brought the first two Cuban players to the majors, Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans. Cambria also saw firsthand the value of good Cuban players; moreover, he heard stories about talented athletes on the island. The Havana Red Sox had visited Baltimore during 1929 and ’30, playing the Bugles frequently. The Havana team won well over 100 games in 1929 alone. Cambria also heard stories about Cubans from the Negro League players of the Baltimore Black Sox and opponents. American promoter Alex Pompez and others had been showcasing Cuban talent for decades.

Griffith and Cambria started signing Cuban players in 1932, purchasing Ysmael “Mulo” Morales from Pompez. Morales joined Albany the following season. Bobby Estalella joined Albany in 1934 and made the parent club’s roster the following year. Cambria’s all-star exhibition squad in Baltimore in 1934 also contained several Cubans. In 1936, Cambria brought eight Cubans to Albany’s training camp. One, Tomas de la Cruz, was also picked up from Pompez. Cambria, though, started to make his own trips to the island to gain connections and scout players. In December 1936, he sold the Albany team to the New York Giants for $50,000 plus more than $18,000 in debts. The Giants shifted the franchise to Jersey City.

In 1935, Cambria purchased the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, team of the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League. Over the next winter, the ballpark flooded, damaging the facilities, and he moved the team to York, Pennsylvania. On July 2, 1936, the team moved again, to Trenton, New Jersey, all the while staying in the same league. In 1938, Trenton moved into the Class A Eastern League and the club relocated again in 1939, to Springfield, Massachusetts. Cambria kept the club until he was forced to divest when Commissioner Landis ruled after the 1940 season that a major-league scout couldn’t own a minor-league club. Cambria sold to his brother John, who was president of the General Thread Mills Company of Boston. The sale exposed an interesting relationship. John Cambria, in fact, had helped his brother finance many baseball ventures. Over the years, he was part-owner in numerous clubs. Even after the Landis ruling, Joe secretly kept a relationship with the Springfield franchise through his brother. Washington also maintained a working relationship with the club. In 1944 Cambria transferred the club to Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

From 1937 to 1940, Cambria owned the Salisbury, Maryland, club of the Class D Eastern Shore League. Pitcher Jorge Comellas, a Cuban, made a particularly strong showing. Cambria moved him from Trenton to Salisbury in 1937. He went 22-1 with 21 consecutive victories. The club won the pennant in 1937 and 1938. On September 5, 1940, the players called a strike, canceling the games that day. They demanded their back pay before they would take the field again. With the financial troubles and Landis’s ruling, Cambria relinquished the club after the season.

Cambria owned the St. Augustine franchise in the Florida State League in 1938. In 1939 and 1940, he ran the Greenville, North Carolina, club of the South Atlantic League. In May 1940, he took over Newport, Tennessee of the Appalachian League. Cambria had to divest his interest in these clubs before the 1941 season because of the Landis ruling. No longer able to take an overt and active role in minor-league operations, Cambria single-mindedly focused on his role as the Washington Senators’ main scout. In truth, it could be argued that his interest in minor-league clubs since the early 1930s was merely an extension of his responsibilities to the Senators.

For years Cambria was Clark Griffith’s chief source of labor, the only full-time scout for much of the time. (Joe Engel worked full time as a Senators scout at times.) By 1938, Cambria was working more or less full time for the Senators. For sheer numbers, he was perhaps the most productive in seeking and landing talent of all scouts in history. By that time, he was spending much of his time living in Havana. Cambria’s wife had been sickly and an invalid since the mid-1930s. He divided his time between Cuba, his other baseball interests, and his Baltimore home until her death in September 1958. He virtually relocated to Havana in the early 1940s.

Besides his Cuban mother lode, Cambria signed many Americans. Among those he signed who made the majors were Allen Benson, George Case, Webbo Clarke, Joe Cleary, Gil Coan, Frank Compos, Reese Diggs, Cal Ermer, Lou Grasmick, Bill Hart, Joe Haynes, Joe Krakauskas, Ed Leip, Mickey Livingston, Ed Lyons, Paul Masterson, Walt Masterson, Hugh Mulcahy, George Myatt, Russ Peters, Babe Phelps, Jake Powell, Ray Prim, Hal Quick, Pete Runnels, Sandy Ullrich, Mickey Vernon, Johnny Welaj, Taft Wright, Early Wynn, and Eddie Yost. Cambria never paid much for talent, including his American finds. He once stated, “You could pay more for a hat than I paid for Vernon, Yost, Case, and Masterson.” He went even further: “I never gave anybody a nickel bonus. I don’t believe in making a boy a financial success before he starts.” Cambria signed most players for his clubs and the Senators out of high school for little or no bonus. He scouted and signed many of them from semipro clubs and the low minors, including independent clubs. He’d brag about landing a player for the price of a meal or even an ice cream cone. This fit in nicely with the slim farm budget the Senators had under Clark Griffith. Perhaps Cambria could have wrangled a few more all-stars with the budget allotted after the club moved to Minnesota – nearly $1,000,000 in 1962 alone.

Sometimes Cambria had ties to so many players that he couldn’t keep track of them all. In October 1940, one of his part-time bird dogs called him to a game in Havre de Grace, Maryland, a trip of 150 miles from where he was, to check out a prospect named Merton Fennimore. Cambria arrived and the bird dog pointed out the young ballplayer. Cambria immediately recognized him as Eddie Feinberg, a player he already owned rights to. Feinberg had disappeared the previous year after being farmed out by Greenville.

Cambria’s lasting fame in baseball circles stems from his mining of Cuban talent. Wrote the Hartford Courant, “They poke a lot of fun at Uncle Joe. They say he chases his prospects up trees and lassos them, or smokes them out of their caves; that every time a young fellow in Cuba hits the ball out of the infield he hears about it.” A sportswriter in Cuba, Jess Losada of Carteles, acidly referred to him as the Christopher Columbus of baseball, denoting his thirst for and taking of the island’s treasures.

Latin American ballplayers Cambria signed who made the majors include Luis Aloma, Ossie Alvarez, Vincente Amor, Julio Becquer, Alex Carrasquel, Jorge Comellas, Sandy Consuegra, Yo-Yo Davalillo, Juan Delis, Bobby Estalella, Angel Fleitas, Mike Fornieles, Ramon Garcia, Preston Gomez, Vince Gonzalez, Mike Guerra, Evelio Hernandez, Connie Marrero, Marty Martinez, Rogelio Martinez, Willie Miranda, Rene Monteagudo, Julio Moreno, Ramon “Cholly” Naranjo, Tony Oliva, Oliverio “Baby” Ortiz, Roberto Ortiz, Reggie Otero, Camilo Pascual, Carlos Pascual, Carlos Paula, Pedro Ramos, Armando Roche, Freddy Rodriquez, Raul Sanchez, Luis Suarez, Gil Torres, Roy Valdes, Jose Valdivielso, Zoilo Versalles, Adrian Zabala, and Jose Zardon. In all, Cambria probably signed well over 400 Cuban prospects. He typically signed between 10 and 20 a year. Cambria’s influence was felt throughout Latin America. Alex Carrasquel was the first ballplayer from Venezuela in Organized Baseball. Likewise, Cambria sent the first Nicaraguan to a major-league camp, Gilberto Hooker in 1956 with Washington.

Cuba indeed proved a windfall for the Senators. For example, Camilo Pascual was signed for just $175. Cambria’s esteemed status in Cuba was such that Pascual turned down a $4,000 offer from the Dodgers to sign with Washington. The scout typically offered the young Cuban players $75 a month and then put them on a plane headed for Key West. They’d catch a bus to their final destination. The Cuban presence was, in essence, the core of Senators during the World War II years, helping to revive the club. Since Cubans were exempt from the military draft in the United States, Griffith invited as many as possible to spring training. With the influx of talent the Senators jumped to second place in 1943 and 1945 with a meager budget.

Cambria became a fixture in Havana. He made his headquarters and took a room at the American Club. He realized that sooner or later the island’s talent funneled into Havana. Hence, he developed a wide array of bird dogs who fanned out through the countryside and stationed himself in Havana, patrolling the fields at Gran Stadium every day or watching games at local schools or wherever young men congregated. He became a fixture on the island, affectionately known as Papa Joe. Everyone knew the “fat little Italian” who walked around in the baggy white linen suit with an untucked shirt with fake pearl buttons and a Panama hat. A cigar was ever-present in his mouth. He always carried a supply of his own brand, Papa Joe Cambria cigars, to hand out. He cut an impressive figure traveling to big events in a limousine. Interestingly, Cambria never thoroughly learned Spanish, typically traveling with an interpreter. Though he most likely understood the language, he didn’t speak it. He mixed his Italian with a few Spanish words to help him get by, a rudimentary, pidgin form of communication. He relied heavily on local sportsmen like Merito Acosta and Cheo Ramos to handle intricate affairs. He was also tied to Gran Stadium president Bobby Maduro.

Cambria just didn’t keep an apartment in Havana; he invested in the community, owning rental properties, an apartment building and a string of saloons. One small restaurant was attached to Gran Stadium, set behind the center-field scoreboard. He also co-owned the Havana Cubans of the Florida International League. He became a celebrity in Cuba, the man who represented the Washington Senators, the predominant link between Cuba and the major leagues. Since the island was baseball-crazy, Cambria was an important figure indeed. He was a personal friend of President Fulgencio Batista and formed an even stronger bond with Fidel Castro, whose revolution overthrew Batista.

Castro was a baseball fan from his youth. He’d hang around the ballpark to watch the ballplayers, particularly impressed with the Negro Leaguers who headed to Cuba every year. As a kid, he did odd jobs for the ballplayers and developed relationships with them. Cambria scouted Castro as a pitcher at the University of Havana, noting that he had a decent curve but not much of a fastball. During the government’s transition after the revolution, Castro guaranteed Cambria’s safety and insisted that everyone show him respect. At times Castro’s forces even sent men to guard the baseball man. After the United States severed relations with Cuba, Cambria remained influential in easing baseball-related matters between the countries, particularly in obtaining US visas and Cuban exit permits for the players. He was actually one of the few Americans permitted to reside in Cuba after the revolution.

To some, Cambria represented the raping of one of the country’s honored resources, talented ballplayers. At first the Senators’ signings were a boon to the Cuban League, instilling pride in local talent and sparking interest in the league. Soon, though, it was noticed that Cambria was sucking up much of the country’s talent and shipping them to the US. Furthermore, he wasn’t just doing so in Havana; he branched out and secured young amateur talent closer to their homes throughout the nation. He signed a lot of teenagers. By 1944 the impact was being felt; the amateur leagues were in decline. With so many young men inked to professional contracts, the amateur leagues’ base of talent was shrinking considerably.

Cuban sportswriter Jess Losada began a campaign against the American imperialism, hence his remark about Christopher Columbus. Bob Considine of Collier’s magazine chimed in to attack Cambria from the American perspective. Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro-American was also critical of Cambria’s efforts. He accused the Washington scout of overlooking talented ballplayers with dark skin in favor of perhaps weaker lighter-skinned athletes. Not without cause, some in Cuba resented Cambria and his tactics. He signed players cheap and, as noted, he signed a lot of them. They were often required to sign blank contracts, to be filled out and assigned at Cambria’s whim – sometimes at a much later time. Naturally, these mass signings depleted the amateur ranks and hurt the local game. A signing ballplayer risked his amateur eligibility at home. Many were sent to the United States to play in the pro leagues. This not only stripped the island of talent but, considering that most of the Senators’ farm teams were in the South, these young men ran into American racism. Nevertheless, Cambria was held in high regard by most. In 1948, he was named commissioner of nonprofessional baseball in Cuba. (At times Griffith and Cambria sent players back to Cuba in a productive manner. Over the winter of 1939-40, they sent a few men for extra practice and seasoning in the Cuban League, an early effort by a major-league club to hone talent in a winter league.)

Cuba had a lot of talent, and Cambria wished to showcase it in America. In 1946, amid the postwar minor-league explosion, he and Bobby Maduro founded the Havana Cubans and helped form the Florida International League as a home for the club. Cambria was named secretary-treasurer of the team. Clark Griffith soon bought into the club and formed a working agreement. This was a natural extension of Cambria’s efforts – another place to park all the Cuban talent he was signing. He also supplied an extensive list of Cubans to various Texas teams and leagues from 1948 through much of the 1950s. Washington farm clubs like Williamsport featured many Cuban players; in 1945, for example, the club had 12 Cubans on the roster.

In August 1947, Cambria was called before National Association president George Trautman to account for his financial dealings in Cuba. Three Cubans on the Dodgers’ farm club in Montreal had claimed that they could make more money playing on the Class C Havana team than Branch Rickey was paying at Triple-A Montreal. Rickey reported this and Cambria was nailed for paying his players under the table. His books showed a $9,000 entry for scouting expenses that was deemed a fund for paying players above the salary limit. He was fined $500. It wasn’t the first time Cambria was fined for his tactics. Commissioner Landis penalized the scout $1,000 in December 1939 for signing a young pitcher to a blank contract with a fictitious date and without designating an assigning team. In each instance, Clark Griffith ran interference with the commissioner’s office. As Cambria exclaimed in 1950 when he ran into additional trouble, “I leave it all up to Clark Griffith. He’ll take care of everything.”

To help counter Cambria’s influence, sportswriter Losada invited the Cincinnati Reds to the island to set up shop. Cambria no longer had the island to himself. The Reds fielded a Triple-A team called the Havana Sugar Kings in the International League from 1954 to 1960. Much of the roster was filled with local talent, including longtime major-league pitchers Orlando Pena and Mike Cuellar and infielders Leo Cardenas and Cookie Rojas.

Clark Griffith died in 1955. Cambria stayed with the Senators organization and relocated with the club to Minnesota. He maintained a house in Baltimore where his invalid wife resided but still spent a great deal of time in Cuba. For example, at the time she died in 1958, he was in Havana. Cambria himself continued to work until becoming ill in 1961. He frequently lamented about his fondness for Griffith and his loyalty to the organization, and often relayed his wishes to be buried in a Senators uniform. In fact, at a press conference in Minnesota, Twins owner Calvin Griffith joked that Cambria would now have to be buried in a Twins jersey. At the time, Cambria played along with the joke. When Calvin left the room, Cambria turned to the reporters and reiterated, “I haven’t changed my mind. I still want to go out in a Washington uniform. Washington was Mr. Griffith’s club.”

By March 1962, Cambria was very ill. He was flown from Havana to Minneapolis for treatment. Cambria died at Barnabas Hospital in Minneapolis on September 24, 1962. At the time of his passing at age 72 he had scouted in Cuba for over 25 years.



There are indications in early immigration and Census records that Cambria was born in 1889 rather than 1890. Immigration records on August 2, 1893, list him as 4 years old and the 1900 U.S. Census shows a birth date of “July 1889.”


Photo credit

National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.



Special thanks to Ray Nemec for an exchange of information on Joe Cambria and his career.

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Full Name



July 5, 1890 at Messina, (IT)


September 24, 1962 at Minneapolis, MN (USA)

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