The Havana Cuba Sugar Kings

This article is a continuation of my memories from Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto. Today I will reminisce about the Havana Cuba Sugar Kings.

Not many Toronto Maple Leaf players made it to the Majors. Most were, older, journeymen minor leaguers or Negro leaguers that were past their peak. Toronto was an independent team during the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The Sugar Kings had many players that went on to play and star in the Majors. They were a Cincinnati farm club.

Of course Toronto was my favourite team but my second favourite team of all time was the Havana Cuba Sugar Kings. Can you imagine growing up in WASP Toronto in the mid fifties and all of a sudden a team comes to town with players that had such romantic sounding names associated with them. Names that I had never heard of before but I can always remember.

I can name the Sugar Kings lineup with no problems at all almost 50 years later

Catcher Enrico Izquierdo

1st Base Rogelio Alvarez

2nd Base Elio Chacon

elio chacon

Shortstop Leo Cardenas

leo cardenas

3rd Base Octavio Rojas

Left Field Daniel Morejon

Daniel Morejon

Center Field Angel Skull and Pompeyo (Yo-Yo) Davalillo

pompeyo davalillo

Right Field John Powers

Pitchers Miguel Cuellar

Pat Scantlebury

Orlando Pena

 
My two favourites though were Enrico Izquierdo and Rogelio Alvarez. Their names were so foreign but the sounds just seemed to flow off your tongue. They were followed closely by Octavio Rojas (pronounced Rohas) and Daniel Morejon (Morehon)

Habana Sugar Kings
Havana was the farm team of the Cincinnati Red Legs and many of these players ended up in the Majors and some played for the Reds in the 61 classic against the Yanks.

Chacon and Cardenas played for Cincinnati and had solid major league careers. Octavio Rojas was probably better known in major league circles as Cookie. He had major league career for some time with the Kansas City Royals as well as being their manager.

sugarkings
My first ever autograph of a professional ball player came from Miguel Cuellar. I wonder what that would be worth now for Miguel became a star pitcher in a stellar starting rotation that included Jim Palmer and Dave McNally. My first autograph turned out to be Mike Cuellar a twenty game and Cy Young winner for the Baltimore Orioles.

I always wondered what John Powers felt like. Here he was the only “American” on a virtually all Latino squad. Was that a precocious thought for a seven or eight year old?

I always tried to go games involving Havana. They were one of my all time favourite teams. Alas it all ended when Fidel took over. When Toronto got knocked out of the playoffs I always hoped Havana would come through. And that they did, when they won the Junior World Series by defeating the star crossed Gene Mauch and his Minneapolis Millers in 1959.

Havana Sugar Kings

The video below details the 1959 Little World Series between the Havana Cuba Sugar Kings of the International League and the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association.  This was just months before Castro’s rise to power .  It shows Fidel in attendance at Havana’s Gran Stadium (now Estadio Latinoamericano) as the Sugar Kings rally in the bottom of the 9th to win game 7 and the series.

Partido de béisbol. from Memoria de Cuba on Vimeo.

  • Carlos E Obregon

    I am a Cuban-American who have been in a resident of Miami for the last 46 years. I was a died hard fan of the Sugar Kings and was in the Stadium when they defeated the strong Minneapolis Miller team in 1959. I still recall pitcher Raul Sanchez in the botton of the ninth raising home from second base following Daniel Morejon’s single to right field and scoring the winning run.

  • Paul Melling

    How well I remember the Havana Sugar Kings.
    When I was a young boy, I used to sell programs at Maple Leaf Stadium. After selling, I used to sit in the stands with the Cuban Band. They would put me in the middle of the band.They would play every time Havana got a hit or run.
    They taught me to play the percussion sticks and the horses jaw bone.
    They nicknamed me Pablo.
    I am now trying to find photographs of Maple Leaf Stadium to show my friends. Any help would be appreciated.
    Paul

  • brian scantlebury

    I enjoyed reading the reflections of both the Sugar Kings and the Maple Leafs. My father happened to play for both of those organizations.

  • Martin Calhoun

    Thanks for the interesting article. I too remember the Sugar Kings. My uncle, Paul Miller, was the GM and as a boy I went to many games with him and my cousins. I was only a boy then but my memories of the Sugar Kings were: the wool uniforms, mostly spanish being spoken, nearly everyone then wore coats and ties and hats, not many snack options at the stadium, the noise of the metal cleats on the players shoes, smells… cigars, colognes.

  • Steve Weiss

    I grew up in Miami Beach and listened to the Havana Sugar King’s radio broadcasts from Havana every chance I got. I used to be sent to bed, then turn my radio on really low and stay up and listen!

    I remember Elio Chacon, Daniel Morejon, Mike Cuellar, Pompeyo Davalillo and listening to those exciting broadcasts like it was yesterday, but I think it was around the middle 1950′s.

    I remember the announcer’s from Havana were always very excited and dramatic when broadcasting, and it made each play or hit more fun for me as a kid. I used to love the Spanish talk and learned some Spanish by listenng, even the commercials for the Hotel Nacional De Cuba!

    My Dad used to take me to see the Miami Marlins AAA club play the Havana Sugar Kings at old Miami Stadium near the railroad station in Miami. We would eat lunch or dinner at Ms. Lillian Lee’s Shrimp Place restaurant (complete fried shrimp dinner with all the fixings, $2.50) and then stroll over to the stadim and watch an always-exciting rivalry!

    Those were wonderful days of my childhood in South Florida, and I miss it all very much.

    Salud a Todos Cubanos! Steve Weiss in Palm Desert, Ca.

  • http://www.mopupduty.com Callum

    Thanks Steve! It is great to read comments like yours.

  • Jon Caroulis

    Hello, I’ve written about the Sugar Kings and would like to speak/email with all of you.
    Thanks!
    Jon Caroulis

  • kevin pope

    I am looking for the exact death date of the great Pelayo Chacon, father of Elio Chacon. I have researched him living in Caracas, Venezuela in 1959, most likely suffering from prostate cancer. Does anyone know, or have access to Venezuela’s archives?
    Thnaks.

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  • http://www.cubaballtours.com Kit Krieger

    I have been traveling to Cuba for the last ten years and have befriended surviving veterans of the Sugar Kings remaining in Cuba. Old Sugar Kings remaining on the island include Conrado Marrero, the last surviving major leaguer in Cuba and, at 97, the 4th oldest living former major leaguer. Although frail and losing his eyesight, Marrero is mentally sharp and a great story teller. Others are Asdrubal Baro and Luis Zayas. Baro was an outstanding triple A player while Zayas played briefly with the Sugar Kings in a career that was spent at lower classifcations.

  • http://www.mopupduty.com Callum

    Kit, thanks for the info! I read an article on ESPN about scouting Cubans and you were featured in it. I’d love to hear some of those Marrero stories.

  • Carlos E Obregon

    Calhoum:

    I do remember Paul Miller. He was the father of Michael Miller with whom I played baseball in Havana during our teens. I understand Michael died a few years ago. Michael was a heck of a pitcher with a lively fastball and a sharp curve.

    Carlos E Obregon

  • Dennis Colligan

    I have memories of the Havana Sugar Kings. I was at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City NJ on the night they ceased to be the Sugar Kings and became the Jersey City Jerseys. I am recalling from memory that in 1960 International League teams held an emergency meeting regarding the dangerous conditions at Havana. As I recall the story, Cuban soldiers initiated gunfire in celebration at Sugar Kings Games and a coach of the Rochester Red Wings was accidently shot and wounded.
    After this incident,the Sugar Kings left for a road trip and never returned as a team to Cuba, Some of the players chose to return home to the island including the manager but the majority of the players decided to go to Jersey City. On opening night at Roosevelt Stadium they lost to Pitcher Alvin Jackson and the Columbus Jets. They still retained the Sugar Kings uniforms and sewed a large patch across the front reading Jersey City. It was pretty tacky. It was if they really expected to soon return to Havana.
    I remember Rogelio Alvarez, Elio Chacon , Leo Cardenas, Dan Morejon, Jose Azcue, Enrico Izquierdo, Jim Pendelton, Altus Alvarez,Luis Arroyo, Miguel Cuellar, Jim Novak, Octavio Rojas, Frank Obregon, Orlando Pena, Vic Davalillo and the all time Jersey City favorite his brother Yo-Yo Davillillo. Nap Reyes became their new manager.

    The team arrived in Jersey City as 1959 International League Champions and were in first place at the time of their arrival in the 1960 season. Th upheaval took it toll on the field and the team plummeted to finish the 1960 season near the bottom of the standings. They played the 1961 season in Jersey City (Finishing Last) before moving to Jacksonville Fla. for the 1962 season.
    I have some very fond memories of this team and as a youngster did not understand just how difficult it was for these players and their families.. These men were strong in heart and spirit and I am sure their loyalties and faith must have been severley tested. May their memory remain alive through these recollections.

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  • Sergio Garcia

    These are all great memories. My father, Rai Garcia, was in charge of media relations for the team. All these players were great and dedicated to winning. I remember going to training camps before the season started and spend time with all of them. Those were great times.

    Unfortunately, my father passed away last Thursday, Dec. 4th, 2008 at the age of 86, in Puerto Rico. He spend 46 years in the island and during that time he was the general manager for 3 different professional baseball teams. Some of the same players mentioned by all of you either played or managed for his teams.

  • Carlos E Obregon

    Sergio:

    I do remember your father. He was also a good newspaper man. He used to write for Prensa Libre an evening newspaper in Havana. I also remember him as part of the team the covered the Sugar Kings on Union Radio the Sugar Kings flagship station. My condolences on the death of your father.

    Carlos E Obregon

  • http://none Johel Cruz

    Hi people,

    If some of you are interested in knowin about the life and
    thoughts of Mr. Asdrubal Baro, i would be pleased to hook you up with him. I’m his grand daugther boyfriend, i met him, he and his family doesnt realize how popular he is around the globe.

  • Terence Scantlebury

    My father pitched for the Sugar Kings in the ’50s. I even got to travel with them. He also played for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    • Sugar Kings

      Your father had a great curve ball and should have played longer in the big leagues. He was one of the best pitchers for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He may not have had the reputation of a Don Johnson, but his was consistently good.

  • Eddie Martinez

    Its with great sadness that we inform the baseball community of the passing of Daniel Morejon. For the last 30 years he was a valued employee at Tropical Park. He will be soley missed.

  • eduardo miranda

    i remenber the sugar king deep in my heart i close my eyes and still remenber luis arroyo and johnny lipon don nicholas emilio cueche pompeyo davalillo nino escalera ted wiend miguel cuellar orlando pena raul sanchez rodolfo arias pedro formental ted wiend corky valentine angel scull walter craddock tony gonzales daniel morejon and i also remenber rocky nelson triple crown, also still remenber the home run that luke easter with buffalo bison at the time hit against the cubans that clear the center field wall and people said was the biggest home run ever hit in stadium of cerro people claim the ball traveled over 530 feet also remenber tom lasorda panchon herrera satchel paige with the miami marlins forrest smith miami marlins humberto robinson forest jacobs who like rocky nelson were very popular with the cubans fans because they used to play winter ball in cuba will like to exchange informations with other fans thank you and viva cubanos reyes del azucar or cuban sugar king

  • eddie miranda

    the line up used by the cubans sugar king to win the little world series against minneapolis millers in 1959, catcher jesse gonde hit 238 and enrique izquierdo hit 218 first base rogelio borrego alvarez who hit 22 home runs second base elio chacon hit 255 third base was pompeyo davalillo who hit 248 short stop leo cardenas hit 254 they also have cookie rojas at 233 and lou skizas 286 both as utility players in the outfield was tony gonzalez at 300 and 20 homers and club leading rbi with 81 left field was daniel morejon with 248 average and right field was larry novak with 216 and carlos paula with 312 and 10 homers chuck coles 181 and the pitchers were ted wieand with 16 wins and ll loses walter craddocl l2 wins 9 loses raul sanchez 11 wins 5 loses mike cuellar 10 wins 11 loses emilio cueche 9 wins 8 loses vicente amor 9 wins 8 loses luis arroyo 8 wins 9 loses era leader was mike cuellar 2.80 preston gomez was the team manager the team mvp was tony gonzalez not too much power but plenty of heart

  • http://webmail lazaro ramirez

    QUIERO DARLES A USTEDES LAS GRACIAS Y A TODOS LOS COMENTARISTAS
    QUE DIERON SU OPINION SOBRE LOS CUBAN SUGAR KINGS,ESO ME TRAJO
    MUCHOS RECUERDOS A MI MEMORIA,CONRADO MARRERO FUE UNO DE LOS
    MEJORES PITCHERS QUE DIO EL BASEBALL CUBANO,DESAFORTUNADAMENTE
    SE VOLVIO COMUNISTA Y TRABAJO COMO DIRECTOR DE DEPORTES EN CUBA,
    HASTA QUE FALLECIO A LOS 85 ANOS.

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  • Leo Frank Crisostomo

    Cubans Sugar Kings…… Slogan

    UN PASO MAS Y LLEGAMOS

    I was born in Havana I saw many games in Stadium del Cerro when I was a kid I loved baseball, I remember a sunday doble game the first was at 7 inn and Rodolfo Arias won but by NO HIT NO RUN
    Sam Calderon Catcher Don Nicholas rf Tony Gonzalez (el haitiano) cf
    Julio Becker 1b Vicente Amor P there are other players
    In 1959 Iam 14 years old when CSK won the MLWS but I remember like today, we were wating the upgrade to American o National League

    Para Lazaro Ramirez: Amigo Conrado Marrero lo conoci te puedo decir casi de Bebe pues asistia despues del juego de la Liga Cubana de BB Profesional al Restaurante Puerta Tierra en la esquina de Monserrate y Muralla al costado del III estacion de Policia y conversaba mucho con mi padre pues compraba muchos tabacos en la vidriera. Luego lo vi varias veces pues paso a pitcher de entrenamiento de equipos de Oriente en Cuba o sea ya luego de abolido el profesionalismo

    We need mention to BOBBY MADURO

    my best wishes for all

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  • Carlos R. Garcia

    Not to be picky, but a couple of the comments on the article are a bit, let us say, not exactly right.
    1)Johnny Powers never played for the Habana Sugar Kings. He was a major force in the Intl. League for a couple of years (hit 29 Homeruns one year), but he played for Columbus, a 1955 entry (took the place of the Syracuse Chiefs)which was a Pirate farm. I think you may be thinking about Larry Novak, who did play for Habana in 1959-60.
    2) Novak, incidentally, was nor the only American to play
    for the Sugar Kings that year. They had actually several “americanos”
    play for them every year: Charlie Harris, Johnny Lipon, Rudy Minarcin,
    Ted Weiand, Jesse Gonder, Paul Smith, Dutch Dotterer, Owen Friend, Ken
    Raffensberger, Clint (Hondo) Hartung, Walter Craddock, Don Nicholas, Jerry Lane, Joe Hatten, Don Rudolph, and on, and on…. My guess is that in the seven years they were in the league, they must have had 40
    to 50 American players. They also had several Latin American players not from Cuba, such as Pat Scantlebury, Emilio Cueche, Davalillo, Ni-
    no Escalera, Luis Arroyo, etc., etc..
    3) I hope you remember the Maple Leafs as the very good
    team they actually were. I don’t really agree that not too many of their players made the major leagues. Many of them had not been STARS,
    but they were major league journeymen (Rocky Nelson, Hector Rodriguez,
    Mike Goliat, etc.) who could have been on major league rosters, but
    elected to come to Toronto, lured by the very high salaries (for the
    time) payed by owner Jack Kent Cooke ($13-$15 G’s/season). This, comp-
    lemented by a Winter League salary of app. $6 G’s made for a very good
    living in the 1950′s.
    Also, Toronto was not affiliated to any major league or-
    ganization, which means they simply bought and sold contracts, and were
    able to keep their players year-to-year. Thus they were insured of
    being a contender almost every year. Goliat, Rodriguez and Archie Wil-
    son were with Toronto evey year that I remember them (1954-60).
    I have very good record books, both of the Interna-
    tional League and the Sugar Kings, so feel free to continue this cor-
    respondence in the future for any reason you would like.
    Thank you for your love, care and memories.
    An ex-bat-boy,
    Carlos Garcia

    • Reinaldo

      I have to agreed with you 100%.

  • Terry Proctor

    I grew up and still live near Rochester. I began following the Red Wings and the International League in 1958 when I was 11 years old. Listening to the games on the radio I enjoyed all of the exotic-sounding names of the Havana Sugar Kings players.

    The shooting incident involving the Red Wings and Sugar Kings happened on July 25-26, 1959. Julio 26 is Cuba’s Fourth of July. That was the night that Red Wings coach Frank Verdi was struck in the head by a stray bullet. Because Verdi wore a hard, plastic skull cap under his wool cap the bullet tore the material, hit the plastic, and fell off, not wounding Verdi. Aside from a headache he was OK.

    Verdi was filling in as third base coach because manger Cot Deal had been ejected from the game. Deal did not wear the cap liner so one can only guess what would have happened if the slug hit Deal.

    The Sugar Kings were finally moved out of Havana in mid-1960 because of all the hassle that Uncle Fidel’s government was causing Cuban-born players for other teams. It got so bad that Cuban-born players for other teams stayed in Miami while their club went to Cuba. Finally the league said “enough!” and moved the team.

  • http://orlandosentinel.com George Diaz

    I am a sports columnist in Orlando (also a Cuban-American). Sad to report that i saw Mike Cuellar today and he is on his last legs…stomach cancer…in the hospital. I plan on writing a column about him this Thursday, honoring his great legacy.

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  • http://mopupduty Bill G.

    As a teenage fan of the Buffalo Bisons, I also loved watching the Sugar Kings in old Offerman Stadium. I tried to follow the major league careers of the Kings after 1959–clearly Cuellar was the biggest star, but Cookie Rojas hung around a long time as a coach after his playing career.
    Didn’t Angel spell his last name “Scull?”

    • eddie miranda

      yes his name was angel scull

  • Tanya Gonder

    I celebrated my 2nd birthday in Cuba when my father played there.

    • Brian P. Scantlebury

      Tanya,

      I just wanted to say hello. Your dad and my dad were friends from their time in AAA. As a matter of fact, when I was 9 years old my dad and I went to a Met game and walked down to the bullpen where he, your dad, and Al Jackson had quite a long conversation. After the game we went into the Met club house. I’ve been a Met fan ever since. My dad was Pat Scantlebury. He played with the Sugar Kings, Maple Leafs, and Cincinnati Reds (amoung other teams). Just wanted to say hello.

      • Tanya Gonder

        Thanks!

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  • KnotholeClub1957

    Emilio Cueche, Raul Sanchez, Vincente Amor, and Luis Arroyo were other Sugar King pitchers who went on to the majors. Cookie Rojas first played in the majors with Cincinnati, was somewhat of a star at Philadelphia before ending his career with the Royals. Tony Gonzalzes had a long and distinguished career with Cinci, the Phillies, the Angels, and maybe somewhere else. Orlando Pena was never an all-star, but he had good years with a number of teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City, and….

    I remember listening to a Rochester Red Wings-Havana game on the radio from Gran Stadium when either the Rochester playing coach, Cot Deal, or their 3rd baseman, was struck in the helmet by a bullet from the stands. The next year, Havana became the Jersey City Jerseys.

    I always wondered what happened when the Sugar Kings (an almost all-black team) played in Richmond vs. the Virginians (an all-white team).

  • KnotholeClub1957

    Oh yes, I remember Pat Scantlebury, a left-hander, who had great years with the Leafs. Toronto also had Billy Moran at ss/2nd, Hannah catching, Frank Funk who threw a no-hitter with about 11 walks, Steve Demeter, Jack Daniels, Don Johnson, Hal Woodeshick, Al Cicotte, Billy Plews, Steve Ridzik, and a host of others. Many great memories from the Flat Street Flats.

  • Info

    Great article. Can we add it to our VisitCuba.com web site? It’s a site produced in Canada and focuses on all things Cuban including beisbol. If that works for you, please email the article and visuals to info@visitcuba.com We’d really appreciate it.

    John for VisitCuba.com

  • willy gonzalez

    hi all–anyone still here

    • Sugar Kings

      Yes, I grow up as a fan of the Havana Cuba Sugar Kings and the Richmond Virginians along , with the Leafs. I still have some old programs from those days and some photos I took of Havana’s pitcher, Emilio Cueche. My favourite pitchers were Orlando Pena, Cuellar, Cueche and Raul Sanchez. On the field, I liked Morejon, Tony Gonzalez, Chico Cardenas and Rojas. I believe their white players were Shearer and Novak. Richmond, on the other hand, had no black players.

      The Sugar Kings were fun to watch with their fires in the dugout and so on.

      I believe in one playoff game with the Rochester Red Wings in Havana, the playing coach of Rochester, Cot Deal, had a bullet from the stands hit his helmet.

  • Clay Marston

    These are all tremendous memories … The good olde days of great baseball in the International League … We sat in the boxes right behind Jack Kent Cooke as the Cookes were friends of my parents … So many very talented players were with the Maple Leafs and the other teams coming through Toronto … The Sugar Kings always seemed to be one of the more popular teams when they were in Toronto … Angel Scull and Pat Scantlebury were two of the most popular to ever appear for the Maple Leafs as well … Good to see so many who remember these marvelous days of baseball.

    • Jerrry 3 nohit brown

      I won a trip for 2 to watch the opening series in Havana vs. Maple Leafs. That summer I was the visiting team batboy and met a lot of future major league players ,Tim McCarver,Gene Oliver Charlie James Bob Veale Dallas Green Miguel Cuellar

  • Natalie Chacon

    My name is Natalie Chacon, I am the daughter of Elio Chacon. I have been told He has two sons. If anyone has any information could you please E-mail me at natc0517@gmail. Com.
    Thank you