Twenty percent of Cuba’s population has fled the island in the more than half-century since Fidel Castro’s Marxist revolution. Roberto “Bobby” Maduro (1916–1986) was one of those two million-plus individuals compelled to abruptly leave behind an established career or cultural way of life. Although he lost all of his wealth in the process, he was luckier than many Cuban émigrés in that he escaped with his immediate family unit intact. With all his personal wealth and corporate assets confiscated, including the 15-year-old cutting edge stadium he co-built, Maduro was forced to start all over again, with a large family to support, in a new country.
“I remember most of all my father as being a very dedicated, almost fanatically so, person who really cared about the game of baseball,” says Maduro’s oldest surviving son Jorge. “He had a mission to help Cuban kids to be able to develop a better life and proudly represent the country he loved so much. His most dedicated mission was trying to get his team into the major leagues.”
That team was the Cuban Sugar Kings (1954-1960). A popular club both at home and away, the 1959 Sugar Kings won the AAA Junior World Series against the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers in a thrilling seven-game series.
The baseball visionary’s dream of establishing the first international franchise in the major leagues in Havana seemed close at hand, as suggested by its team slogan: Un Paso Mas y Llegamos (One More Step and We Arrive). But the sociopolitical upheaval that convulsed the island of Cuba in the early 1960s and altered baseball in the Caribbean for the remainder of the century put that dream asunder.
Bobby Maduro’s dedication to promoting the game internationally from the 1950s through the 1970s remains unrivaled. He headed Havana-based clubs in the Cuban Winter League and teams in the U.S. minor leagues, which helped brand Caribbean baseball in the eyes of North American fans.
No One in Baseball History Has Worn as Many Important Hats Within the Game
Maduro was born in Cuba in the second decade of the 20th century. Raised in a well-bred, wealthy family, he received his higher-grade schooling abroad in North Carolina, perfecting valuable language skills that helped him seamlessly navigate the cultural divide between the United States and Cuba all throughout his adult life. In later years, because of his earlier accomplishments and reputation, Maduro was able to integrate himself into different levels of U.S. corporate baseball.
Maduro became co-owner of the Cuban Winter League’s Cienfuegos Elephants in 1949, and then the majority owner of the Florida International League’s Havana Cubans a few years afterward. In 1954 Maduro shifted his Class B franchise to the International League as the re-christened Cuban Sugar Kings.
Professional baseball in Cuba had long been integrated, but due to segregation laws in Florida the Havana Cubans maintained an all-Caucasian composition. In the more tolerant International League, the Cuban Sugar Kings, under Maduro, promoted a diverse lineup of multiracial players from its inception. Men of color, from all over Latin America and the United States, played for the Sugar Kings throughout their seven and one-half season franchise history.
In 1960, unable to guarantee the safety of its players in Cuba, the International League ordered Maduro’s Sugar Kings team out of Havana, gutting the proprietary revenue stream associated with the club. Relocated to Jersey City, New Jersey, Maduro’s new life in exile in the U.S. began first as a minor league owner, then as a front office executive.
The renamed “Jersey City Jerseys” team did not draw well and moved again a year and a half later, to Jacksonville, Florida.
The Jacksonville Suns won two International League pennants (1962 and 1964) under Maduro’s tenure as owner, then general manager.
In December 1965, having sold his interests in the Suns, Maduro, who believed “in the value of baseball as the most effective possible instrument for creating and maintaining Good Will and understanding between the U.S. and Latin America,” was appointed to a unique position in baseball commissioner William Eckert’s “cabinet.” Maduro accepted the job of the first “Coordinator of Inter-American Relations”—a cultural liaison post between organized baseball and Latin American baseball’s winter and summer leagues, including amateur development.
More than a decade later, Maduro founded the short-lived Inter-American League (AAA) in 1979, composed of five Caribbean-basin teams and one U.S. entry from his adopted hometown of Miami.
Perhaps no one in baseball history has worn as many important hats within the game as Bobby Maduro. He co-built the first million-dollar ballpark in Latin America (Gran Stadium del Cerro de la Habana). Maduro was also owner of multiple clubs, general manager, scout, agent, youth baseball league organizer (Los Cubanitos), creator of baseball academies, major league baseball’s only named ambassador to Latin America, 1965-1978), and founder of a league.
“Maduro had an organizational set up like organized baseball. He had scouts all over Cuba,” stated former Sugar Kings pitcher and Puerto Rican native José Santiago. “Fidel [Castro] used what Maduro had set up in the provinces, that infrastructure, for developing players for all those years.”
Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn said of his many achievements, “No one was more dedicated, more knowledgeable or more concerned about the game than Bobby Maduro.”
In 1985, a year before his death, the man HOF manager Tommy Lasorda called the “Father of Latin Baseball” was elected into the Cuban Hall of Fame by the Federation of Cuban Professional Players in exile. The Dominican Republic-based Salon de La Fama del Béisbol Latino selected Maduro for its inaugural induction class in 2010—the only executive in the 11-person honorary field.
In a life of selfless dedication to the sport he loved—spanning five decades of triumph and tribulation—Maduro tirelessly applied himself in all of his various capacities, with diversity, promotion and expansion as resonating themes in his major undertakings.
Lou Hernández is the author of several baseball histories and biographies, including Bobby Maduro and the Cuban Sugar Kings. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bobby Maduro’s Baseball Resumé
Co-builder and owner (with Miguel Suárez) of Havana’s Gran Stadium (confiscated and renamed Latinoamericano by the Cuban Revolution).
Gran Stadium was the first million-dollar sports complex built in Latin America.
Helped negotiate Cuban Winter League entry into Organized Baseball as a non-classified affiliate during the Mexican League’s player raids, which threatened the “reserve clause” of major league contracts.
Caribbean Series co-founding broker. The Caribbean Series inaugurated in 1949.
Co-owner (Luis Parga and Emilio de Armas) of the Cienfuegos Elephants of the Cuban Winter League.
Owner of the Havana Cubans (Florida International League Class B)
Created Los Cubanitos (Cuban Little Leagues with an enrollment of 5,000 youthful participants).
Established Baseball Academies (tryout camps with sleeping facilities).
Owner/founder of the Cuban Sugar Kings (International League AAA). The Sugar Kings won the AAA “Junior World Series” in 1959 against the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers in a thrilling seven-game series.
July 1960-Sept 1961
Ownerof the Jersey City Jerseys (team relocated from Havana).
Owner of the Jacksonville Suns (team relocated from Jersey City).
General Manager of the Jacksonville Suns; Latin American scout, St. Louis Cardinals.
Director of Inter-American Relations under baseball commissioners William J. Eckert and Bowie Kuhn. (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela.)
Founder of the Inter-American Baseball League (AAA). A circuit with six teams representing the countries of United States, Panama, Venezuela (2), Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Inducted into the Cuban Hall of Fame in Exile.
Miami Stadium renamed in his honor (Bobby Maduro Stadium).
Inducted into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame, La Romana, Dominican Republic (Inaugural Class).
Marlins Park Street Designation (Bobby Maduro Drive).