There’s a rich history when it comes to Cuba baseball. The country’s tradition of professional baseball goes back to 1878, two years after the National League was founded. Even so, Havana was the home of winter baseball, including two Negro League teams and several MLB spring training games. But in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, that isolated most of the island’s talent for years. Now, Cuba has multiple stars in the majors from the likes of Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox and José Abreu of the Houston Astros. Robert and Abreu continue to carry on that legacy now all thanks to the ones who paved the way for them. So, continuing with our Best Players Series, putting together Cuba’s best baseball players doesn’t mean who has the best WAR, but considering players from a variety of areas and circumstances.
Best Baseball Players From Cuba
La Habana, Cuba
SP, 1914-1915, 1918-1935
Stats: 194-179, 3.24 ERA, 550 G, 367 GS, 206 CG, 29 SV, 3,220 1/3 IP, 1,130 SO, 1.288 WHIP, 48.1 WAR
Accolades: 2x World Series Champion, 2x ERA title
Dolf Luque is a pioneer of Cuban baseball. Lueque was the first Latino pitcher in MLB history. Luque made his debut with the Boston Braves in 1914. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1918 and appeared in the iconic 1919 World Series. Luque was with the New York Giants when they won the 1933 World Series. He won the fifth and final game of that Series, becoming the oldest pitcher to win a Fall Classic game. In addition, he was the first Latino with a World Series victory along with leading the league in wins and shutouts.
La Habana, Cuba
Stats: 174-170, 3.63 ERA, 529 G, 404 GS, 132 CG, 10 SV, 2,930 2/3 IP, 2,167 SO, 1.287 WHIP, 40.9 WAR
Accolades: 7x All-Star
From 1959 to 1964, Camilo Pascual won at least 12 games while leading the league in complete games, shutouts and strikeouts three times. The five-time All-Star had his best season in 1963, posting a 21-9 record with a 2.46 ERA while once again leading the league in complete games and shutouts. When Pascual pitched his final big league game in 1971, he struck out more batters, started more games and threw more shutouts than any other Cuban pitcher in MLB history.
Stats: 44-35, 2.48 ERA, 667 G, 315 SV, 640 IP, 1,045 SO, 1.069 WHIP, 19.0 WAR
Accolades: 7x All-Star, 2016 World Series Champion
Aroldis Chapman remains one of the most dominant relievers in his era. Chapman broke the record for the most consecutive relief appearances with a strikeout in 2014. He struck out at least one batter in 40 consecutive appearances with him reaching 49 games altogether. Chapman currently holds the record for the fastest recorded pitch speed in MLB history, at 105.1 mph. For the first three years of Statcast, Champan required his own filter since he threw harder than anyone else.
Villa Clara, Cuba
Stats: 178-177, 4.44 ERA, 519 G, 474 GS, 50 CG, 1 SV, 3,189 IP, 1,976 SO, 1.440 WHIP, 30.0 WAR
Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1997 World Series Champion, NLCS MVP, World Series MVP Silver Slugger
Liván Hernández is known for being an outstanding defensive pitcher, recording 15 errors in his career. His longevity was something else, throwing more than 200 innings for eight consecutive seasons. When the Flordia Marlins reached the 1997 NLCS, he struck out a postseason record 15 batters in Game 5 against the Atlanta Braves. In the 1997 World Series, Hernández won both his starts in Games 1 and 5, en route to winning the World Series MVP.
La Habana, Cuba
1B, LF, 1986-2005
Stats: 3,020 H, 569 HR, 1,663 R, 1,835 RBI, 97 SB, .288/.371/.515, 132 OPS+, 71.9 WAR
Accolades: 2x Silver Slugger, 3x Gold Glove, 4x All-Star
It’s no secret that Rafael Palmeiro’s Congressional testimony and failed drug test changed how fans feel about him. However, it’s worth highlighting how great of a career he had. He’s one of the Cuban baseball players to play in the majors. Plus, Palmeiro is one of six players to have 500 home runs and 3,000 hits- a club that includes Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Eddie Murray, Willie Mays and Jose Pujols. Palmeiro even played 150 games or more from 1988 to 2004, except for two.
La Habana, Cuba
OF, DH, 1985-2001
Stats: 1,877 H, 462 HR, 1,186 R, 1,407 RBI, 200 SB, .266/.353/.515, 132 OPS+, 42.4 WAR
Accolades: AL Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, 2x World Series Champion, 4x All-Star, 6x Silver Slugger
Even though José Canseco admitted to steroid use, he was one of the biggest stars in the eighties. Canseco helped the Oakland Athletics reach three consecutive World Series from 1988 to 1990, winning the title in 1989. He earned AL MVP honors in 1988 in a season where he declared to become the first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season. He went out and did just that. From 1994 to 1999, Canseco continued to be a menace at the plate, hitting 186 home runs with a .898 OPS.
Pueblo Nuevo, Cuba
SS, 1964-1981, 1983
Stats: 2,249 H, 79 HR, 1,181 R, 646 RBI, 649 SB, .259/.311/.342, 89 OPS+, 53.0 WAR
Accolades: 3x World Series Champion, 6x All-Star
Bert Campaneris retired with the seventh most steals in MLB history with 649. One of the mainstays of the Athletics championship teams from 1972 to 1974, Campaneris holds franchise records for career games played (1,795), hits (1,882) and at-bats (7,180). One notable highlight of Campaneris’s career was in his sophomore season. He not only played all nine positions in a game but pitched left-handed against lefties and right-handed against righties.
1B, 3B, 1964-1986
Stats: 2,732 H, 1,272 R, 1,652 RBI, 49 SB, .279/.341/./463, 122 OPS+, 54.0 WAR
Accolades: 2x World Series Champion, 7x All-Star, All-Star MVP, 2000 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee
A seven-time All-Star, Tony Pérez played first base in the early part of his career before becoming a third baseman. Pérez averaged more than 100 RBI per season between 1970 and 1976. Pérez never won an NL MVP but did finish in the top 10 in voting for the award on four separate occasions. His 287 home runs are fourth in Reds franchise history. He was second among all players in RBI with 954 which was behind his teammate, Johnny Bench.
Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Stats: 1,917 H, 220 HR, 870 R, 947 RBI, 86 SB, .304/.353/.476, 131 OPS+, 43.0 WAR
Accolades: 1964 AL Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove Award, 3x Battling Title, 8x All-Star, 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee
Tony Oliva was tremendous during his career with the Minnesota Twins. Oliva had a .30 career average while leading the AL in hits five times. He won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1964, and he led the AL in average, hits, runs, doubles and total bases. In fact, Oliva and Ichiro Suzuki remain the only players in MLB history to win a battle title as a rookie. But, the right fielder batted .337/.369/.546. Unfortunately, knee injuries derailed his career but he remains one of the best players in franchise history.
Stats: 229-172, 3.30 ERA, 573 G, 484 GS, 187 CG, 15 SV, 3,486 1/3 IP, 2,416 SO, 1.199 WHIP, 66.1 WAR
Accolades: 2x ERA title, 3x All-Star
Luis Tiant’s contract was purchased by Cleveland months before the Bay of Pigs invasion. He eventually made his major league debut in 1964 but didn’t solidify himself until 1968. In the Year of the Pitcher, Tiant posted a 1.60 ERA, but it wasn’t until joining the Boston Red Sox three seasons later that he found his most tremendous success. “El Tiante” went 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA in 1972, completing 12 of his 19 starts that season. He was a household name during the 1975 World Series, throwing a shutout against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in Game 1.
LF, 3B, 1946-1949, 1951-1964, 1976, 1980
Stats: 2,113 H, 195 HR, 1,227 R, 1,089 RBI, 216 SB, .299/.387/.461, 130 OPS+, 53.8 WAR
Accolades: 1947 World Series Champion, 3x Gold Glove, 13x All-Star, 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee
Minnie Miñoso was the first black baseball player in Chicago. Over parts of two decades, Miñoso had a slash line of .299/.387/.461 with 195 home runs, 216 stolen bases, 1,089 RBI and 1,227 runs scored. He’s a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner, averaging .300 in eight seasons. He even led the AL in stolen bases three times and topped all hitters in triples in three different seasons. Miñoso’s 79 triples tie for sixth in Chicago White Sox history.
Photo Credit: The Enquirer/Craig Ruttle
Luis Robert, José Abreu, Dolf Luque, Camilo Pascual, Aroldis Chapman, Liván Hernández, José Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Eddie Murray, Willie Mays, Jose Pujols, Bert Campaneris, Tony Pérez, Johnny Bench, Tony Oliva, Ichiro Suzuki, Luis Tiant, Minnie Miñoso