Cuba’s Playoffs: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Peter C. Bjarkman

HAVANA TIMES, March 2 — As I have so often written on this website, Cuban baseball is always full of mild and sometimes even alarming surprises.  Most of these—for example the pair of first-inning grand slams by Alexei Bell in this year’s season opener—are good, often even exciting and unprecedented.  But occasionally we witness the bad, and even the truly ugly.

This was certainly the case with an unfortunate incident that marred Sunday’s first-round playoff match between host Sancti Spíritus and visiting Havana Industriales at José Huelga Memorial Stadium.  What transpired this weekend in Sancti Spíritus has to rank as one of the most regrettable moments of recent National Series league history.

In the ninth inning of Sunday’s one-sided match, tempers boiled over for a number of frustrated players on the capital city Industriales squad.  Backup catcher Lisvan Correa, leading off the final frame for the trailing Blue Lions, was struck by an errant pitch tossed by Sancti Spíritus reliever Yaniel Sosa.

An overly enraged Correa next charged the mound and attempted a violent retaliatory attack on Sosa with his hefty bat.  A wild bench-clearing brawl immediately ensued and police eventually had to enter the playing grounds when the six-man umpiring grew (headed by home plate arbiter Jorge Luis Pérez) were unable to restore order.  The melee eventually spread into the outfield grounds and several Industrial players reportedly attacked police officers attempting to bring an end to the hostilities.

The lamentable event predictably brought swift and decisive action from the Cuban Baseball Federation late Monday afternoon.  Lisvan Correa was suspended from further play for the remainder of the post-season and it is almost certain that Correa will be subject to further disciplinary action at season’s end.  A lifetime ban from the sport is certainly likely in Correa’s case.

Pitcher Yaniel Sosa was also suspended, but in his case the ban will be only for his team’s next three post-season matches.  The aftermath melee also brought ejections and one-game suspensions for the following Sancti Spíritus ballplayers: reserve catcher Yoani Delgado and substitute outfielder José Luis Sáez.  Receiving similar sanctions were the following Industriales trio: catcher Frank Camilo Morejón, outfielder Stayler Hernández, and outfielder Eliut Torres.

The incident was of course reminiscent of one of the darkest moments of major league history—the infamous Juan Marichal attack on helpless Dodgers backstop John Roseboro.  In that earlier incident San Francisco Giants ace pitcher Marichal clubbed the head of Los Angeles Dodgers receiver Roseboro with a Louisville slugger bat during a home plate altercation at Candlestick Park (August 22, 1965).

That earlier incident plagued the Dominican hurler’s subsequent career for years to come and long delayed The Dominican Dandy’s eventual election to the MLB Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

This more recent incident on Cuban soil is only the latest setback for a once-proud Industriales ball club which has suffered numerous unseemly embarrassments over the past couple of season.

Last spring the Blue Lions (playing their maiden season under former all-star shortstop Germán Mesa) failed to reach the year-end playoffs for the first time in fourteen years.  This season the island’s most popular ballclub earned a last-minute playoff slot only on the final weekend of the campaign, after injuries to star outfielders Yoandry Urgelles and Carlos Tabares crippled the team’s offense for the last two months of the campaign.

Now this latest incident leaves Mesa’s club without two starters (catcher Frank Morejón and center fielder Stayler Hernández, two of the team’s hottest hitters during the final stretch run) for the crucial third game of a quarterfinal series currently tied at a game apiece.  That prospect is not a welcome one for the Blue Lions, who are already a decided underdog against the league’s most talented offensive team.

Read our special on the  playoffs.