- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
LA TimesFor nearly 40 years, Cuba has been the forbidden fruit of baseball:
close enough to tempt and luscious enough to be desirable but, owing to political differences on both sides of the Straits of Florida, officially off-limits to professional clubs in North America. As a result, Cuban baseball has taken on a romance and allure of almost mythic proportions, which makes the subtitle of this timely book-one of a spate of recent releases on the subject-so appropriate. Peter Bjarkman, a prolific author and widely respected expert on Caribbean baseball, paints a warm and vivid picture of Cuba's 125-year-old love affair with America's pastime, including the island's role in developing talent for the old Negro Leagues and, later, the U.S. major leagues. Cuban interest in big-league ball was initially fostered by a series of barnstorming exhibitions just after the turn of the century, and by 1910 crowds numbering in the tens of thousands and lining sidewalks in Havana to follow the progress of World Series games on makeshift scoreboards erected outside teletype offices. A year later there were two Cubans playing in the major leagues, opening a pipeline that would eventually provide more talent to professional baseball than any other foreign country.
"Smoke" follows Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria's long, detailed "The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball" into bookstores next month, but unlike Gonzalez's dense academic tome, Bjarkman's chronicle is a fan-friendly Cliff's Notes version-brightly written and breezy but still managing to hit all the high points. And in a break from most books on Cuban baseball, Bjarkman segues from a history of Cuban baseball to a detailed account of the current state of baseball on the island, including the national team's success in international play and the recent defections of some of its top players to the U.S. "Smoke" is also richly illustrated. Baseball archivist and photographer Mark Rucker has collected dozens of rare and historic black-and-white photos that are already beginning to fail the test of time and paired them with glossy four-color pictures of current Cuban stars such as Omar Linares, Antonio Pacheco, Ermidelio Urrutia and Lourdes Gourriel. And if that's not enough, the book closes with 14 pages of statistics, listing Cuban baseball records from both before and after the 1959 revolution.