Cuban baseball, Oscar Charleston, Roberto Gonzalez Echavarria, Santa Clara Leopardos, The Pride of Havana
On a per-person basis, Oscar Charleston was much better known in Cuba than he ever was in America. In the 1920s, the latter part of Cuban baseball’s Golden Age, he became a legend there.
Roberto Gonzalez Echavarria writes in The Pride of Havana that “in the recollections of my elders and in journalistic lore, the greatest team in the history of Cuban baseball, the equivalent of the ’27 Yankees in the United States, [was] the 1923 Leopardos of Santa Clara.” Echavarria means the 1923-24 team, which destroyed the league so thoroughly that in mid-January they were simply declared the champions and the teams reorganized to play a second season that officials hoped would be more competitive.
This second season’s games were played in Almendares Park in Havana. It was a huge diamond. The left-field fence was more than 500 feet away, and the right-field fence was 400 feet away. Echavarria writes that his “uncle Oscar, as a boy in Belen, the renowned Jesuit prep school in Havana, used to sneak into Almendares Park on Sunday afternoons. Until his death my uncle had engraved in his memory the figure of Oscar Charleston, the greatest player he had ever seen, sprinting through the outfield of that stadium.”
Charleston always left a lasting impression.