Malinowski: The short flight of El Pajaro, Alfredo Cabrera

From SABR member Erik Malinowski at Buzzfeed on May 17, 2013:

No one knows anymore what the A in Alfredo A. Cabrera’s name stands for. We do know he most likely sailed from the Canary Islands to Cuba around 1900, as a teenager, and almost immediately established himself as a gifted baseball player. He was of medium height, say 5’10” or so, and threw and hit right-handed. Cabrera was not considered a slugger, even in the era before home runs became common, but he had a good batting average and (especially in his younger days) flashed fleetness when needed. The reason Cabrera made any impact at all in baseball, though, was defense. Over a 20-year period, stadium crowds from Havana to Hartford were consistently awed by his fielding wizardry. He was the Ozzie Smith of his day.

But Cabrera was not a superstar, nor even a notable personality, to American audiences. It was not until he was 32, after several seasons in the independent leagues of New England and well past his prime, that he finally got a chance to play Major League Baseball. On May 16, 1913, Cabrera made his debut as a shortstop for Ozzie Smith’s eventual team, the St. Louis Cardinals. He went hitless in one at-bat, possibly two. Some of the fans in attendance at Ebbets Field to see Cabrera’s team take on the Brooklyn Superbas that day might have known that they were seeing one of the outstanding Cuban players of his time, but of course the full significance of the moment would have been impossible for anyone to grasp — no one could have known the enormous role Spanish-speaking players and fans would come to play in the game of baseball, or understood the resonance of one of the first great Hispanic players making his only Major League appearance on the same legendary field where another color barrier would be broken 34 years later.

Unlike some of his more fortunate Hispanic contemporaries, who were able to slide for a time around rules against dark-skinned players, Cabrera never got more than one chance in the league. The Cardinals released him, and he went back to Cuba. In baseball parlance, such a brief tenure in the majors is known as a cup of coffee, but Cabrera didn’t even really get that. He had the mug knocked out of his hands mid-sip. He got a taste, sure, but that he never played another game in baseball’s top tier (and that it took him so long to do so in the first place) can in part be attributed to the racism that ruled the day.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: May 17, 2013. Last Updated: May 17, 2013.