|Havana Sugar Kings|
|Minor league affiliations|
|League||International League (1954-1960)|
|Florida International League (1946-1953)|
|Major league affiliations|
|Minor league titles|
|IL: 1 (1959) |
FIL: 2 (1947, 1948)
|Havana Sugar Kings (1954-1960)
The Havana Sugar Kings were a Cuban-based minor league baseball team that played from 1946 to 1960. From 1954 until 1960, they belonged in the Class AAA International League, affiliated with Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds. Their home stadium was El Gran Estadio del Cerro (sometimes called Gran Stadium) in Havana.
The Sugar Kings began life in 1946 as the Havana Cubans, founded by Washington Senators scout Joe Cambria. They played in the old Class C (later Class B) Florida International League. The 1947 Cubans were recognized as one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time. In 1954, Roberto "Bobby" Maduro bought the team, moved it to the International League, and renamed it the Sugar Kings. Several talented Cuban players and other Latinos who eventually made it to the Major Leagues donned the Sugar Kings uniform, including Luis Arroyo, Pompeyo Davalillo, Tony González, Cookie Rojas, Elio Chacón, Danny Morejón, Preston Gómez, Leo Cárdenas, and Mike Cuellar.
Fidel Castro was a long-time baseball fan and often attended Sugar Kings games at Gran Stadium. In fact, Castro had been a pitcher during his days at the University of Havana. Soon after taking power, he pledged to underwrite the Sugar Kings' debts. In an exhibition contest between his own pickup squad Los Barbudos ("The Bearded Ones") and a military police team prior to a game between the Sugar Kings and the Rochester Red Wings on July 24, 1959, Castro pitched two innings. He ended up with two strikeouts.
The following day, another game between the Red Wings and Sugar Kings began late and continued into the night. Castro's supporters were in full force in the stands, and when midnight struck, they erupted into a torrent of lights, music, flag-waving, and even gunfire in a raucous celebration of the anniversary of the 26th of July Movement. The random gunfire continued, and Rochester third base coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo Cárdenas ended up with flesh wounds. The Red Wings' manager, Cot Deal, fearing for his team's safety, decided to pull Rochester from the game, and League officials cancelled the rest of the Sugar Kings' homestand.
Undeterred, the Sugar Kings -- led by future major league manager Preston Gómez -- eventually finished third in the IL standings, but upset Columbus and Richmond to win the League championship. They then ended up winning the 1959 Junior World Series in seven games over the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association.
However, in 1960, Castro nationalized all U.S.-owned enterprises in Cuba, and on July 8, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick (under pressure from Secretary of State Christian Herter) announced that the Sugar Kings would move to Jersey City, New Jersey, and became the Jersey City Jerseys. They lasted only through the 1961 season, then folded due to poor attendance. The franchise was then sold to a Florida group from Jacksonville and became the Jacksonville Suns, who began play in the International League in 1962. That franchise moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1969 and became the Tidewater Tides, and remains in that region as the Norfolk Tides.
In February 1987, the Miami City Commission voted unanimously in favor of the renaming Miami Stadium in honor of Bobby Maduro, who had migrated to USA. The ballpark became known officially as Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium one month later. In the ceremony Maduro's widow Marta said to herself, "Gordo (fat one), they finally know who you are."
The Sugar Kings won the Governors' Cup, the championship of the IL, once.
The Cubans won the Florida International League championship, twice.