Lahman: Rochester Red Wings and the last trip to Cuba before the embargo

From SABR member Sean Lahman at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on December 18, 2014:

News that President Obama is moving to normalize relations with Cuba has some baseball fans remembering a time when Cuban baseball was big, and the fateful night in 1960 when the Rochester Red Wings fled Havana while explosions rocked the city. They were the last American team to play in Cuba before the U.S. embargo went into effect.

It was a time when the International League was truly international, featuring five teams in the United States, two in Canada, and one in Cuba — the Havana Sugar Kings. They were a farm club for the Washington Senators from 1947 to 1952, and then for the Cincinnati Reds. The Sugar Kings featured a number of future major league stars — including Cuban natives Leo Cardenas, Mike Cuellar, and Cookie Rojas — and won the International League Championship in 1959.

The Red Wings traveled to Havana for a series in late July that year. Before their game, Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution, staged an exhibition game between a team of his supporters and a team of military police. Castro pitched two innings and helped whip the crowd into a frenzy.

The game stretched into extra innings, and at midnight the crowd erupted as the new day began. It was the 26th of July, a date traditionally celebrated as the beginning of the Cuban revolution.

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Originally published: December 19, 2014. Last Updated: December 19, 2014.