From the Press Box
by: Amaury Pi-González
Elefantes de Cienfuegos (Cienfuegos Elephants) was a Cuban baseball team that played in the old Cuban League from 1878 to 1961. In 1961, the last year of existence for the most popular winter league in the world, where many American-born stars also played with Cuban players after the primary league season. In 1961, the Cuban communist government eradicated all professional sports, including professional baseball, which is the #1 sport on the largest island in the Caribbean. The Cienfuegos team won five Cuban League championships, including the last one in 1960-61; they also won two Caribbean Series, in 1956 and 1960.
Cienfuegos was one of the four teams that played in the Cuban Winter League, also Leones del Habana, (Havana Lions), Alacrames del Almendares (Almendares Scorpions) and Tigres de Marianao, (Marianao Tigers). Although back then, Cuban baseball was very much like US baseball, and the green logo of the Elephants of Cienfuegos was not an affiliate of the Philadelphia, Kansas City, or Oakland A’s, who also had an Elephant as their logo.
Below is the list of some players who proudly played for the Cienfuegos team; if you are a real baseball fan, you will recognize over 90 percent of these names.
Adolfo Luque, George Altman, José Azcue, Octavio “Cookie”Rojas, Martín Dihigo, Sandy Consuergra, Cool Papa Bell, Leo Cárdenas, Don Zimmer, Alejandro Olms, Sam Maglie, Camilo Pascual,Curt Roberts, Pedro Ramos, Willie Wells, Napoleón Reyes, Humberto “Chico”Fernández, Tomy González.
Every team in the Cuban Professional Winter League had a distinctive narrative about their logo; in the case of the Elefantes de Cienfuegos it was: “El paso del Elefante es lento pero aplastante”. Translation- “The pace of the Elephant is slow but crushing”. The Alacranes del Almendares, who had a Scorpion as their logo, read: “El que le gane al Almendares se muere” Translation- “Whoever beat Almendares will die”. The passion of the Cuban people ran high among fans of these four teams. Some people never sat down during a game; people would take bets on their team against the other team they were playing, and some fans were real characters. Fans attending these games did it with pleasure and great passion and a celebration of the game.
One of the best Cuban-born players in recent history made his debut with the Oakland A’s in 2012, Yoenis Céspedes, The Cuban baseball star had fled Cuba with other Cubans in search of a prosperous life with the opportunity and the freedom that is not available for the citizens of Cuba, it was not easy to escape as well as for Céspedes family who escaped later. Céspedes, born in 1985 (25 years after Cienfuegos won the last Cuban title), only heard about this league from his parents and older folks.
Quote: “My life has changed in many ways, both economically and personally. All major league players are accorded the respect they deserve. In Cuba, it was not that way. National team players were not respected. The treatment was not adequate. -Yoenis Céspedes.
Amaury Pi-González is a member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research). He has spoken about the Elefantes de Cienfuegos and other historic teams during SABR conventions. He is a co-founder and vice president of The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.https://hhbmhof.com/