Cuban Stars of the New Britain Perfectos

Decades prior to the New Britain Red Sox, Rock Cats or Bees, Connecticut’s Hardware City had another minor league team. From 1908 to 1911, the New Britain Perfectos were a level-B club in the Connecticut State League. The Perfectos acquired their nickname after the arrival of four Cuban players: Armando Marsans, Rafael Almeida, Alfredo Cabrera and Luis Padrón. They were the first Cubans to become stars during baseball’s Dead Ball Era.

New Britain Baseball Club, 1908.

New Britain’s Nicknames

This Cuban-American tale traces back to when team nicknames were assigned by fans and sportswriters. The team’s official name was the New Britain Baseball Club, yet its many nicknames were subject to change. Before being dubbed the Perfectos, New Britain went by the Mountaineers because their ballpark, Electric Field, backed up into a rugged hillside. When the Cubans came to the affluent city of New Britain in 1908, the team’s new moniker reflected a general sense of culture shock.

Electric Field, New Britain, 1909.

The name “Perfectos” was a backhanded compliment directed at the Cuban players. The term alluded to the Spanish word for “perfect” and described the superb abilities of Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and Padrón. However, a Perfecto was also a type of Cuban cigar which referenced their appearance. Multiple Hartford Courant articles called the Cubans “smoke players” to cite their skin color and fast play. In the face of racial prejudice, the four Cubans would prevail to varying degrees of success.

Alfredo Cabrera, Rafael Almeida Armando Marsans and Luis Padrón.

The Cuban Sportsmen

Before coming to New Britain, the men were among baseball’s first Latino prospects. They were from well-off families and played baseball for sport. Alfredo Cabrera, known as Cabbage or Cabby, was allegedly the nephew of President Manuel Estrada Cabrera of Guatemala. Almeida was said to be Portuguese royalty. Armando Marsans was the son of a Havanan merchant who grew wealthy during the Spanish-American War and the Occupation of Cuba. In 1906 the men toured the United States with the Baseball Stars of Cuba, playing 122 games and winning 84 of them.

1908 Almendares Baseball Club

In 1907, Marsans and company were rumored to be headed for Scranton of the New York State League, but the move never materialized. Instead, they remained fixtures on the Almendares and Habana clubs of the Cuban Winter League. Meanwhile in New Britain, club owner Charles Humphrey vowed to assemble a contender for the 1908 season. Knowing of their exploits, Humphrey traveled to Havana and successfully recruited the four Cuban players. The men arrived to Connecticut via steamship and resided at Hotel Beloin, 91 Church Street, New Britain.

New Britain, Connecticut, 1908.

Mixed Public Reaction

Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and Padrón were immediately polarizing figures. While some fans compared them to heroes like D’artagnan and the Three Musketeers, others spurned the Cubans for disrupting “white” baseball. Non-whites were informally barred from participating in the Connecticut State League, but owner Humphrey maintained that they were descendants of Spaniards. A columnist ironically noted that Perfectos catcher, Nick Rufiange, had darker skin than his Cuban teammates, other than Padrón who was reportedly “half-African.”

1908 New Britain Baseball Club (Cuban players not pictured)

Despite objections from players, managers and fans, the Cubans were allowed to participate. They proceeded to solve the Connecticut State League. Padrón batted .314, ranking third in the league. He excelled as a two-way player, winning 18 games as a pitcher while hitting 7 home runs in the batter’s box. Almeida smashed a .291 average with 5 home runs. Marsans batted .274 while swiping 33 stolen bases.

1908 New Britain Baseball Club

New Management

Midway through the 1908 season, Charles Humphrey sold the New Britain Baseball Club citing financial issues. Even though the Perfectos drew 500 to 2,000 spectators at each home game, ownership transferred to William W. Hanna, a stone magnate and owner of the city’s roller polo team (an early form of ice hockey). The club took on new nicknames when Hanna bought the team, including: Bank Wreckers, Clam Bakers, Hannaites and Hanna’s Morro Castle Knights (referencing a historic fortress in Havana). A former pitcher from New London, Albert L. Paige was appointed as manager and oversaw a fourth place finish in the standings.

William W. Hanna, Owner & A.L. Paige, Manager, New Britain, 1908.

The Padrón Affair

Upon purchasing the New Britain club, Billy Hanna faced ongoing criticism for using non-white players. Manager Dan O’Neil of the Springfield Ponies took special issue with Luis Padrón, who happened to be a top performer in the state league. Because Padrón had darker complexion than his peers, O’Neil demanded proof of his Spanish heritage. However, p resident of the league, James O’Rourke declined to ban players on the basis of race. O’Rourke was approached by a New Britain Herald reporter who published the following account on the Padrón affair:

Luis Padron, c. 1906.

“…Officials say Padrón’s color was never a subject of talk at league meetings, and they claim there is nothing to indicate that there will be a discussion of the point. It is feckless business to bring up racial talk—a fact which the directors recognize. Padrón may be a negro, as many players and fans claim, but such an expert as James H. O’Rourke does not know of any written baseball law that would deny a negro the right to play. Of course there is an understanding that negroes will not be hired to play in organized leagues, and sentiment is strongly against the black man in league baseball. If Padrón is a negro—this has not been proved—he is the first to play in the Connecticut league. Mr. O’Rourke says in his years of experience he has heard of but one man in league baseball. Grant [Frank], who was believed to be a negro.”

New Britain Herald, July 24, 1908.
James H. O’Rourke, President, Connecticut State League, 1908.

Off to Cuba

Opposition to the Cuban stars forced owner Hanna to lead a fact-finding abroad. In December of 1908, Hanna sailed from New York to Havana around the same time that Frank Bancroft’s Cincinnati Reds were touring the island. Hanna made several visits to Almendares Park, home to many of Cuba’s best ballplayers. Presumably, Hanna investigated the lineage of his players because he decided to release Luis Padrón from New Britain.

1908 Cincinnati Reds and Frank Bancroft (wearing suit), Almendares Park, Havana, Cuba.

Padrón Released

Padrón was dismissed despite being a fan favorite in his first year with the Perfectos. He learned of his release in a handwritten letter from Hanna. Later, Padrón was rumored to have been scouted by Charles Comisky’s Chicago White Sox. He played several years in different minor leagues from Connecticut to California. Padrón would also make a comeback to New Britain at a later date.

Luis Padrón, Pitcher, New Britain, 1908 (c.)

Marsans Gets Sick

The following spring, Marsans, Cabrera and Almeida returned to New Britain for the 1909 season. In May, Marsans was stricken by a respiratory illness that landed him in New Britain Hospital. After a subpar experience at the hospital and fearing tuberculosis, Marsans returned to Cuba. Cabrera and Almeida continued on as everyday players. Almeida raked 10 homers with a .308 batting average.

Armando Marsans (left) and Rafael Almeida (right), c. 1908.

State Leaguers Cry Foul

As New Britain finished in third place in 1909, owner Hanna was again pestered by state leaguers calling for the removal of “non-white” players. According to the Hartford Courant, many opposing players did not want “brown players” to participate. Instead of caving to pressure this time, Hanna went to great lengths to legitimize his team. He hired as manager a former umpire turned President of the National League, Thomas J. Lynch. The Perfectos were fond of Lynch, though he would only manage for part of the season.

1909 New Britain Baseball Club (Cuban players not pictured)
Thomas J. Lynch, Manager, New Britain Perfectos, 1909.

The Cubans Strike

The Perfectos endured abusive slurs made by players and fans, especially from their rivals, the Hartford Senators. These insults may have revealed a jealous streak among state leaguers since Marsans, Cabrera and Almeida were top performers. They were said to have acted like gentlemen by not seeking revenge. Only once did the trio retaliate publicly as a form of protest. Around Christmas of 1909, the three men led a strike and refused to play in a Cuban Winter League game because their opponents had three American players.

1909 New Britain Baseball Club, Alfredo Cabrera (standing, far left) and Rafael Almeida (sitting, center).

Back in New Britain

Nevertheless, the protest controversy subsided and Marsans, Almeida and Cabrera rejoined New Britain in 1910. Owner Hanna hired Joe Connor as Perfectos player-manager, a big leaguer from Waterbury and younger brother to home run king, Roger Connor. The team slumped from April to May. Then, in a surprising twist, Billy Hanna sold the New Britain franchise to Manager Dan O’Neil for $3,500 on a few words and a handshake. It was claimed to be the fastest deal ever made in the Connecticut State League.

1910 New Britain Baseball Club (Cuban players not pictured)
Players with New Britain, 1910.

O’Neil Buys the Club

Upon purchasing the Perfectos, O’Neil was quoted saying, “If the team as it stands at present does not suit, why, I will go out and hunt up some players who will.” Baseball aficionados speculated that New Britain would sell off its players. Instead, O’Neil established a Board of Strategy headed by Charles “Pop” Irving and local hotelier Fred Beloin.

Dan O’Neil, Owner, New Britain, 1910.
Hartford Courant cartoon of the New Britain Baseball Club, 1910.

Baseball’s First Year-Round Players

New Britain’s existing roster thrived under O’Neil in 1910. The Perfectos set a scoreless streak of 33 innings and Marsans compiled a .304 batting average in 111 games. Fans anticipated a pennant bid but New Britain ultimately finished third. That offseason, Marsans, Almeida and Cabrera made their regular appearances for the Almendares club in Havana. They were among few professionals who played year-round:

1910 New Britain Baseball Club

“The average ball player thinks he has done enough diamond work when he puts in a couple of months at training, and then plays five or six months during the Summer. There are three Cuban players who engage in the grand old game of baseball practically the entire year. The players in question are Cabrera, Marsans and Almeida, all members of the New Britain team of the Connecticut League during the Summer months. Just as soon as they return to Havana at the close of the American season, they join the Almendares, playing first against the major league teams that annually invade the island, and then later in the Cuban League, which starts immediately on the departure of the big leaguers for the States. The trio are all clever infielders and play a fast article of ball.”

New York Times, December 18, 1910
Headlines from Cuba, Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), December 31, 1910.

The World’s Best Visit Cuba

In November of 1910, the isle of Cuba welcomed the apex of Major League clubs to Havana. A series of matchups were organized by Cuban officials and American baseball statesman, Frank Bancroft. The Almendares club, boasting Marsans, Almeida and Cabrera, pulled off an unbelievable defeat of the Philadelphia Athletics, World Series champions. Then, Almendares faced Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers, runner-ups of the American League. Of any American teams to visit Cuba, only the Tigers had won a series against Almendares thus far, winning 7 out of 12 games.

Ty Cobb at Almendares Park, Havana, Cuba, 1910.

The Perfecto Holdouts

As worthy opponents of the Athletics and Tigers, demand for Cuban players reached a fever pitch. Before the next season, owner O’Neil persuaded Cabrera to take a pay raise. When Marsans and Almeida held out for higher salaries, O’Neil turned to his bilingual associate, Billy Hanna for assistance. A frequent visitor to Cuba, Hanna boarded a ship to iron out new contracts with Marsans and Almeida.

Hartford Courant cartoon depicting Dan O’Neil’s New Britain Baseball Club, 1911.

Signed, Sealed, yet Undelivered

Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida signed with New Britain but were mostly absent for the 1911 campaign. Almeida never appeared for the club that season. When Marsans was present, he tussled with O’Neil. Marsans quit the team in mid-May after advising O’Neil to change pitchers in a game against Hartford. Some accounts blamed Marsans for disappearing when he lost a $50 bet on the Hartford game. Others held O’Neil responsible for scolding Marsans over his baserunning.

News report of Armando Marsans, May 17, 1911.

Marsans Comes and Goes

“O’Neil’s Chocolate Soldiers” were identified as deserters who wilted in the heat of battle. Local columnists slammed the two “dusky ball tossers” and recommended suspensions. Some journalists claimed that Marsans and Almeida were playing amateur ball in Brooklyn. Alfredo Cabrera was distressed and feeling abandoned by his friends. When Marsans departed, he wrote a short letter to Dan O’Neil, stating that his mother was sick and he was obliged to return home.

Armando Marsans, Cincinnati Reds, 1911.

Cubebs Sold to Cincinnati

The absence of Marsans and Almeida from New Britain precipitated a historic transaction. In June of 1911, Dan O’Neil sold Marsans and Almeida to the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the first Cubans in the National League. O’Neil profited handsomely. He received $2,000 upon agreeing to sell their contracts. O’Neil collected an additional $2,500 from Cincinnati when the transaction was closed. As part of the deal, O’Neil liquidated his shares in the team. He sold the New Britain franchise for an additional $2,300 to the next owner, James J. Murphy.

1911 New Britain Baseball Club with Alfredo Cabrera (standing, far left).

Armando Marsans

Marsans and Almeida debuted for Cincinnati at Chicago’s West Side Grounds on July 4, 1911. The 23 year old Marsans batted .317 and stole 35 bases in his second season with the Reds. He was sometimes called Cuba’s answer to Ty Cobb. Marsans played 8 seasons in the major leagues, earning a reputation as one of the game’s fastest outfielders. While in the big leagues, Marsans operated a cigar store and managed a tobacco farm in Cuba.

Armando Marsans, Cincinnati, 1912.
Armando Marsans, St. Louis, 1915.

Rafael Almeida

Rafael Almeida played three partial seasons in Cincinnati. His best year was in 1911 when he swatted a .311 batting average in 115 at bats while amassing an .890 fielding percentage at third base. At the time, Almeida was considered the strongest hitter ever produced from Cuba. His final stop in American baseball was for Scranton in the New York State League. Almeida’s professional career spanned more than 20 years and finally ended with Habana of the Cuban Winter League.

Rafael Almeida, Cincinnati, 1912.

Alfredo Cabrera

As for Alfredo Cabrera, the reliable shortstop had 407 base hits in 416 total games with New Britain. Following stints for Waterbury and Springfield in 1913, he suited up for a single big league game with the St. Louis Cardinals. Cabrera remained in the minor leagues and the Cuban Winter League for the rest of his career. He led Almendares to a pennant as player-manager in 1915. Cabrera’s latter years were spent as groundskeeper of Havana’s El Gran Stadium until retiring in the 1950’s.

Alfredo Cabrera (c.) 1940.

Luis Padrón

In August of 1911, Luis “Mulo” Padrón was invited back to New Britain. Ownership had received letters from fans requesting to sign Padrón. The remarkable Cuban was with the Mansfield club of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and threw a no-hitter in a Sunday league game in Brooklyn. His second stint with New Britain lasted just 12 days but he was a professional ballplayer in white, black and Cuban baseball for nearly twenty years. Padron wielded great power at any position and some accounts attested that he hit the longest ever home run at New Britain’s Electric Field.

Luis Padrón, 1910.
Luis Padrón, 1911.

The Perfectos’ Legacy

When the Connecticut State League collapsed in 1913, the New Britain franchise dwindled away. The team will forever be remembered as a stepping stone for Cuban players on their way to the National League. By 1915, Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and Padrón were back in Cuba for good. They were national heroes, pillars of Cuban baseball and eventual inductees into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

1913 Cincinnati Reds with Almeida and Marsan (sitting, middle row).

A Reporter Reminisces

“In my career as a sports writer, I have never encountered a colored athlete who didn’t conduct himself in a gentlemanly manner and who didn’t have a better idea of sportsmanship than many of his white brethren. By all means, let the Negro ballplayer play in organized baseball. As a kid, I saw a half dozen Cuban players break into organized baseball in the old Connecticut League. I refer to players like Marsans, Almeida, Cabrera and others. I recall the storm of protest from the One Hundred Per Centers at that time but I also recall that all the Cubans conducted themselves in such a manner that they reflected nothing but credit on themselves and those who favored admitting them to baseball’s select circle.”

Dan Porter, New York Daily Mirror, 1933.
Armando Marsans, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1918.

Sources:

1. Hartford Courant database at Newspapers.com
2. New Britain Herald, Connecticut
3. Agate Type: Reconstructing Negro League & Latin American Baseball History
4. The Montgomery Times, Alabama
5. Brooklyn’s Standard Union, New York
6. A.G. Spalding & Bros. Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide. Chicago; New York, 1910.
7. SABR Article by Stephen R. Keeney, Blurring the Color Line
8. New York Daily Mirror, Dan Porter quotation, 1933.

Painting of Almendares Park (I) by Jorge S. 1908.

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