On This Day: International League abruptly moves Havana Sugar Kings to Jersey City
The Havana Sugar Kings, the defending International League champions, were abruptly moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, by league officials on this day in 1960.
The unexpected move, which was announced by league president Frank Shaughnessy, was quickly criticized by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a former baseball player and devoted fan of Havana’s Triple-A franchise. Castro denounced the unexpected shift as an act of American aggression which violated every principle of good sportsmanship.
Similarly, team owner Roberto “Bobby” Maduro called the decision to move his franchise to Jersey City “completely outrageous” — a decision that Cubans, who were some of the most loyal baseball fans in the league, would interpret as intending to harm their country.
“For me, it means bankruptcy and loss of an entire holding of $400,000,” said a disappointed Maduro. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Regarded as one of the most popular owners in the league, Maduro owed a Cuban bank $100,000 and was in debt to the tune of $60,000 to other investors at the time of the abrupt move. In addition to losing a portion of the team’s season ticket sales, Maduro was also forced to return $100,000 for radio rights to Havana’s games.
In defending the league’s decision, Shaughnessy said International League players “can no longer be given any guarantee of safety” — a comment that Castro quickly took issue with.
American players were treated with nothing but respect and admiration when they played in Havana, said Castro. “The people treated them cordially and there was no record of attack on players of any kind…”
Cubans, of course, loved their Triple-A franchise and were treated to quite a few outstanding players who later went on to have terrific careers in the majors during the franchise’s 6 ½ years in Havana. The team’s 1959 championship roster, for instance, included such major-league standouts as Leo Cardenas, Mike Cuellar, Tony González and Cookie Rojas, among others.
The Sugar Kings, who had eleven Cuban players on their roster at the time — several of whom subsequently quit shortly after the move was announced — were an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. They played their remaining home games that season at near-empty Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, where they were renamed the “Jerseys.”
The Jersey City franchise finished the season with a record of 76-77, but drew poorly. Following the 1961 season, the Jersey City club — again plagued by poor attendance — was purchased by a group of Jacksonville businessmen eager for a Triple-A team.
The Jacksonville Suns, who competed in the International League from 1962-68 and later supplied many of the players, including dual aces Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, on the improbable “Miracle Mets” of 1969, won the International League’s regular season title with an impressive 94-60 record during their inaugural season — a remarkable feat in and of itself — and six years later captured the coveted Governors’ Cup in their final season at the Triple-A level.