• Peter C. Bjarkman

José Fernández ROY Award Ups Slim List of Cuban Winners


Nothing underscores more dramatically the recent influx of young Cuban talent into the big leagues than the recent Rookie of the Year vote totals which found island refugees occupying three of the top four slots in the respective league polls.


Miami Marlins novice hurler José Fernández walked off with the senior circuit title on the strength of a 12-6 won-lost mark and sterling 2.19 ERA that also marks him as a strong contender in the yet-to-be-announced Cy Young category. Fernández (born in Villa Clara but largely raised in Tampa) was trailed in the ROY polls (142-95) by flashy Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, an actual Cuban League “defector” who early-on seemed a top-heavy favorite but in the end garnered only four of thirty first-place ballots.



Over in the junior circuit the ROY title went to Tampa outfielder Wil Myers who edged another Cuban League refugee, Detroit shortstop José Iglesias (131-80 was the final vote total). Ironically, Myers’ overall offensive stats (88 games 13 homers, .293 BA) did not match those compiled by National League runner-up Yasiel Puig (104 games, 19 homers, .319 BA).


Iglesias (who began the season in Boston) was technically still a rookie, although he had already appeared in a Red Sox uniform briefly during both the 2011 (10 games) and 2012 (25 games) American League campaigns.


With his ROY title Fernández becomes the third Cuban native to win the award, joining José Canseco (1986) and Tony Oliva (1964) in that exclusive club. Oliva remains atop the list with the most sensational debut season by a Cuban big leaguer, having also claimed a league batting title (the first ever to do so) during his maiden campaign in the big time.


Oliva would also claim a second batting title the very next year (again a big-league first) and later capture still a third crown (in 1971) before his injury-riddled career took a precipitous dip during the late seventies.


Despite the heavy presence of Cubans in this year’s top rookie balloting, the actual ledger of Cuban MLB award winners remains quite small, totaling only eight entries for the three most prestigious ballot-determined honors: MVP, Cy Young (top pitcher), and Rookie of the Year. All six honors captured by Cubans have come in the post-1962 epoch, again suggesting that Cuba’s post-revolution-era baseball boasts a more lustrous face than the island game of the pre-Castro epoch.


Liván and Orlando Hernández between them picked up a trio of post-season MVP honors to up the Cuban ledger to a grand total of nine trophies. Ironically, when it comes to non-ballot-determined honors (batting championships, home run titles, and RBI and ERA crowns), the overall Cuban list also now checks in at an identical total of nine total winners. And here again, all except one (Dolf Luque’s 1923 ERA crown) have come during the post-1962, post-revolution epoch.


It should be noted, however, that despite all the hoopla surrounding the small flood of recent Cuban League “defectors” only Liván and El Duque in that group have so far found their way onto the below list of native Cuban MLB award winners.


(Top photo of José Fernández/MLB)