Another take on the Hall policy: Don’t shame, but encourage

Since my initial posts (such as here and here) about the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s policy toward possibly opening its door to segregation-era African-American players, managers and executives, I’ve been soliciting some thoughts from various and sundry fans, officials and others who care about the shining, everlasting legacy and tradition of the Negro Leagues. For example, sometime next week I’m going to write a post about the ideas for blackball managers who might deserve to be in the HOF.

Below (in italics) are the reflections of Dr. Ray Doswell, the curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, who offers a unique take on the situation. It’s important to note that these are Ray’s personal opinions and not in any way an official statement or position of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. So, without further ado, here are his thoughts …

Having worked with the staff at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I do believe these folks care about the history of the game and presenting all aspects of it. I consider them friends. I don’t think it helps “the cause” to shame or guilt the Hall into including more Negro Leagues players. Having said that, I would like to strongly encourage the Hall to consider the following:

• Create a consistent mechanism for Negro Leagues candidates. Once it was decided to include Negro Leagues players for induction, and taking into account the large number of players still worthy of review, something should be in place for them to be on a ballot. I field questions all the time at the NLBM from patrons as to why there is nothing in place more consistently. These other candidates at least deserve an honest vote, and I would hope that it would not be in just a “one off” ballot. There may be some way to create a committee with a start and sunset over a number of years perhaps? This is the only “classification” of players, currently included in the Hall, that does not get regular consideration.  

• Clarify or explain the “Pre-Integration” committee selection process. This has been commented on a lot recently, but it appears confusing to the public that candidates being considered from this period do not currently include any players or officials from the at least the pre-integration Negro Leagues.

What do you think about Dr. Doswell’s suggestions? I’d love to hear from you!

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Who holds Cristobal’s fate?

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Over the past week, I’ve been trying to keep several pots simmering on burners in an effort to churn out a bunch of posts about two primary subjects — opening the doors of the Hall of Fame once again to Negro Leaguers, and addressing the likelihood that Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente is buried in a mass, unmarked grave in Queens.

Those multi-pronged efforts are starting to bear fruit, so hopefully I’ll have at least a post every other day through the end of next week. That’s a hefty goal, but I’m trying to keep at it.

Today, though, the focus returns back to Torriente, whose situation I addressed, with valuable help from a few others, in these posts here and here, with the latter being very heavily researched-base.

But beginning last week, I went on an all-out, investigative-journalist blitz to pin down as many officials and media relations folks as I could to see if anyone in New York City might be interested in trying to bring a greater focus to Torriente’s sad situation in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

Hence, a week ago, I sent out a flurry of emails to various NYC offices and agencies — including the City Council — as well as the Archdiocese of New York. And, after a week of waiting and follow ups, the news ain’t good. It ain’t good at all.

I’d ideally like to start off with the response I got from the City Council, but, unfortunately, I haven’t received any such answer. I sent emails to three officers of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus — Co-Chairs Rosie Mendez and Andy King, and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — and heard precisely bupkis back.

I also dashed off an email to the Council’s press office, but after several days of waiting, my overture bounced back as undeliverable. So I called the Council press office today, when a staffer there asked me to send an email to her personal address, something I will do later today.

I had a little more luck with the City’s Health Department and with the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., a non-profit agency formed roughly 45 years ago to administer the city’s 11 public hospitals and other health-care services open to the public.

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Ramiro Ramirez, who reportedly claimed Torriente’s body (from Seamheads)

But before we get into the input from those two agencies, let’s go back a bit and recap what we do know about Cristobal Torriente’s last years, his death and his burial, much of which was uncovered by the Herculean research efforts of friend and fellow SABR member Ralph Carhart of the Hall Ball Project, as well as researcher extraordinaire Gary Ashwill

Somewhere in the mid- to- late-1930s, Torriente, who had settled in NYC after spending much of his playing career there with various teams and (apparently) retiring around 1933, checked into what was Riverside Hospital on the city’s North Brother Island on the East River in July 1937.

Torriente passed away at the hospital on April 11, 1938, with the coroner listing the primary cause as pulmonary tuberculosis. It was thought at the time and for many decades after that Torriente was originally interred at Calvary Cemetery — a massive, sprawling but densely packed (365 acres) Catholic facility owned by the Archdiocese of New York and that today contains the remains of an astounding 3 million people, the most interments of any cemetery in the U.S. — but was disinterred by the Cuban government a short time later and reburied with pomp, circumstance and high honors at the baseball shrine in Havana’s Cristobal Colon Cemetery.

That, though, now appears to be a huge fallacy, one likely originated and fabricated by a dictatorial Cuban government as a PR move to help retain power. Thanks to Ralph Carhart’s efforts, we are know almost positively certain that Torriente’s body was never disinterred from Calvary at all.

The truth is that Torriente, who by his death was, heartbreakingly, indigent and penniless, and was a ward of the state while at Riverside, which seems to have been basically a sanitarium designed to house massive of poor New Yorkers who were suffering from grave diseases and were most likely going to die pretty soon.

(In fact, one of Torriente’s co-residents was Mary Mallon, a.k.a. the infamous Typhoid Mary, patient zero in the typhoid fever epidemic that swept through the city in the first decade of the 20th century. In effect, Riverside was a gigantic hospice/warehouse for sick, poverty stricken people the city deemed unfit to be anywhere near the rest of society. In other words, a very dismal, terrifying place.)

To discern what happened from there, it’s partly a matter of studying Torriente’s death certificate, a copy of which was secured by Gary Ashwill. The record states that the informant of death was, somehow, Torriente himself (not sure how that’s possible, at least in a legal sense), and that the body was claimed by Ramiro Ramirez, a fellow Cuban who, like Torriente, also starred and managed in the Negro Leagues for many years.

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Cristobal Torriente’s death certificate (courtesy Gary Ashwill)

The certificate states that Ramirez, who took charge of the body with his signature, was Cristobal’s “cousin” and nearest next of kin. However, no proof has yet to be uncovered of any familial connection between Torriente and Ramirez, although they were teammates on occasion, I think. (Maybe Gary can confirm this.) That mystery — why Ramirez claimed the body, why he apparently lied about his connection to Torriente, and what Ramirez might have known about this whole situation — is something I’ll explore in an ensuing post.

Anyway, the funeral home in charge is listed on the death certificate as A.R. Hernandez, Inc., a long-time mortuary in Brooklyn that seems to have catered to local Latinos and African-Americans. (I’ve tried to look into why Hernandez was chosen, whether the proprietors have any link to Torriente, and whether the company’s history could uncover any keys to finding descendants or relatives of Torriente. More on that in a while, too, hopepfully.)

Then, crucially, we look at the line on the death cert indicating place of burial — the word “CITY” is crossed out and “Calvary Cemetery” is scribbled in its place. Ralph believes this means that Torriente’s body was originally intended for a city-owned cemetery but that Calvary stepped up and offered to house the remains at their facility. Again, what exactly went down between Torriente’s stated death at 9:20 a.m. on April 11, 1963, at Riverside Hospital and his listed interment date on April 15 is unclear, and it could stay that way.

But here’s the twist — despite what the Batista regime ballyhooed about bringing the Cuba legend back to his own country, Calvary staffers confirmed to me and Ralph that they have no record of Torriente’s remains ever being disinterred, which means he’s still there. Hence yet another question, and perhaps the biggest of all — why was such a legendary, admired baseball hero apparently spurned by his own country and left to tragic anonymity thousands of miles from his beloved hometown of Cienfuegos, Cuba? I’m trying to investigate that as well.

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Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista

Those Calvary staffers have also said that there’s nothing anything can be done to disinter any of the remains in that grave, an effort that would be necessary to do the required DNA testing on all 18 bodies in it to see which one is Torriente. The cemetery told me — and this could be a very key point — that mass graves like this one are “owned by the city” and, therefore, it’s the city and not Calvary (and, by extension, the Archdiocese) that would have any say on what happens to it and the remains located there.

So … I was hoping that a few inquiries to various NYC agencies and offices might help uncover any details about Torriente’s last days and his fate — as well as work toward hopefully bestowing recognition to the final resting place of a baseball legend.

My inquiries and conversations (both via email and over the phone) with these staffers answered some questions, but they also heaped on a bit more confusion, with the resulting conundrum being this — who controls the fate of that mass, unmarked grave and the body of a Negro Leagues star contained in it?

I managed to communicate with staffers from both the NYC Department of Health and the NYC Health and Hospitals Corp., and from both of those conversations, this is what I gleaned …

That, one, there’s a gargantuan problem right off the bat — that all of this is ancient history, and therefore, will always remain a mystery. Why? Because no one knows of the existence, let alone location, of any records pertaining to Riverside Hospital.

In fact, neither of the people to whom I talked had even really heard about Riverside before my queries, with the NYCHHC rep saying he wasn’t sure who or what owned Riverside at the time and added that he couldn’t venture a guess as to “who made the decision to shut it down or know where to tell anyone to go from here.” That, he said, definitely precludes any possibility of locating hospital records from 1938.

Because no one I’ve spoken with or any online information I’ve researched has been vague, I haven’t been able to discover conclusively who owned and operated Riverside Hospital. North Brother Island is located in the East River between the Bronx and Riker’s Island, where the city’s famous jail is.

Over its century-plus existence, Riverside Hospital/North Brother Island have housed a smallpox facility, an infectious/quarantibable diseases holding bin, and, in the mid-20th century, a treatment facility for teenagers with chemical dependencies, especially heroin addicts. So, again, definitely not a fun place to be.

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The remains of Riverside Hospital

Riverside was shuttered for good in the ’60s, thanks to alleged corruption and a general  inability to rehabilitate its young patients. Today, the 20-acre North Brother Island is a bird sanctuary and is completely off-limits and inaccessible to the public, or pretty much anyone. The remains of the hospital are crumbling, heavily deteriorated and completely obscured by dense forest growth.

One has to wonder … might there actually be hospital records contained in the rubble? Could documents, or any evidence, exist among the crumbling brick and mortar that shed light on a Hall of Famer’s final weeks? Due to likely exposure to the elements over at least a half-century, the likelihood of that is quite slim, but it’s still a tantalizing possibility …

But I digress, and back to the health officials … Here’s the email response I received from a source at the City Department of Health about Riverside’s records and the state of Cristobal Torriente:

“The Health Department does not maintain these records. The death record from 1938 is old enough to have been transferred to the New York City Municipal Archives; it is now a public record available through the Archives … You may check with Calvary Cemetery – it is an active cemetery and should maintain records.  We do not have information on Riverside Hospital [my emphasis].

As to your question about mass unmarked graves in New York City, the City has used many burial sites throughout its history. It currently uses Hart Island as its potters’ field, which is maintained by the New York City Department of Correction.  … there is a searchable database available.”

As to the first paragraph, we already have the Torriente’s death record, and we’ve already talked with the cemetery. The last paragraph, though, is quite intriguing … Was Hart Island — where penniless, indigent and/or unclaimed remains in NYC now go — where Torriente’s body was originally supposed to go, and would that online database — which, believe me, I’ll search soon — hold any clues about this mystery?

As a final note, I add that I’ve tried to reach out to the Archdiocese but haven’t had any success yet.

So what is the upshot of aaaaaaalllll this? Here’s a few concluding thoughts, based on my interviews, inquiries and research discussed herein:

• The New York City Council hasn’t gotten back to me about whether it might care about the sad state of a baseball Hall of Fame player.

• There’s in all likelihood no records or other physical documents, aside from the official death certificate that we already have, that could provide any clues about the fate of Cristobal Torriente’s death.

• That includes any conclusive evidence revealing the mechanism and chain of events — commitment to a sanitarium, the claiming of the body by a fellow ballplayer who lied on the record, original designation of the body to a city-owned potters’ field, the change of designated burial spot to a Catholic institution that stands as one of the largest cemeteries in the world, and the reason why Torriente wasn’t brought back to Cuba as previously thought — that landed him in a communal, anonymous grave with 17 other individuals.

We aren’t sure who, exactly, has charge of that grave today — does the grave belong to the city, or to the cemetery and archdiocese — and, subsequently, who would have the theoretical power to do something about it.

Now, any or all of those bullet points could change pending future inquiry and research. One key here is whether we can find any living relative, descendant or other human source who could shed any light on Cristobal Torriente’s death — and who might have the legal and emotional authority to demand something be done. That’s something else I’m working on, and something else I’ll yet again try to detail in later posts.

So, here we are. If anyone has any information, additions, corrections suggestions and/or leads that could help clear this up, please let us know!

Torriente: Slavery, politics, the sugar trade and the search for answers

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In early March 1938, a small cadre of dissidents were caught in an alleged plot to kill Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Among the group of conspirators was Cosme de la Torriente, a diplomat and statesman who had previously held several roles in post-independence Cuban government, including secretary of state and president of the ill-fated League of Nations.

It doesn’t look like de la Torriente suffered too much for his part in the alleged assassination; he went on to live a lengthy, comfortable life before passing away in Havana in December 1956.

Parallel to the machinations of the unsuccessful 1938 coup of Batista, though, was the death, in April of that year, of Cristobal Torriente, a native of Cuba and legendary star of the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues. By that time, Torriente — who in 2006 would be posthumously and very belatedly inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame — had faded into penniless obscurity in New York City and withered away from tuberculosis in NYC’s long-since-demolished and rather infamous Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island.

By all appearances, because of Torriente’s status as a pauper and ward of the state, he was unceremoniously dumped in a mass, unmarked, city-administered grave in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

The fable, as it’s been told for decades, then tells that the Batista government in Cuba had Torriente’s remains disinterred, shipped to Havana and placed in a shrine to Cuban beisbol greats in Cristobal Colon Cemetery.

But, according to recent research I attempted to summarize in this blog post, it looks like that last part never happened — there’s no record of Torriente ever being disinterred from Calvary Cemetery, as cemetery staffers have told both me and fellow researcher Ralph Carhart.

So it looks like the tale told by the Batista government — that Torriente’s body was feted like a national hero when it was brought back to Cuba — was a tall one, fabricated by a brutal dictatorship, possibly as a propaganda effort to secure popular support and bureaucratic stability in the wake of the attempted coup a month prior.

The question in my mind — or rather, one of the many rolling around in my noggin — is whether the political maneuvering of Cosme de la Torriente had anything to do with the unfortunate fate given to Cristobal Torriente? Was the baseball great punished in death by the Batista regime for a relative’s “crime” against the government?

On the one hand, that likelihood appears slim; as fellow baseball researcher and Cuban Leagues specialist Gary Ashwill noted to me, in the Spanish language, “Torriente” is a distinctly different surname from “de la Torriente.” Plus, Cristobal Torriente was from Cienfuegos, Cuba, while Cosme de la Torriente was from Matanzas.

And, finally, Cosme was white. Cristobal was black.

Why, though, does any of this matter? Why is it so important that we try to unlock the historical conundrum of how such a legendary, pivotal Cuban baseball player ended up in an unmarked grave?

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Calvary Cemetery, Queens

For one, I just like a mystery. Research is fun, investigation is fun, and historical quandaries are fun. And just discovering why history unfolded as it did might help fill in a small, missing piece of the greater baseball — and cultural — puzzle of the Americas.
But two, even beyond that, I feel that we might need to recognize and rectify the apparent fact that such a formidable hardball luminary and cultural ambassador as Cristobal Torriente is entombed in a mass, unmarked, undignified grave thousands of miles from his homeland.

And in my mind, arguably the best way to achieve that recognition is to somehow find a living relative or descendant of Torriente, someone who could personally and powerfully lobby on his behalf, who could draw intimate attention to the sad fate of their legendary ancestor.

To find a living descendant, I’m thinking that if we perchance delve back into history to unearth Torriente’s roots and genealogy, we could then move forward into the present along a divergent but still attached thread of his family.

So far, however, that’s been quite difficult, and I’m resorting to some halfway desperate measures to achieve that goal. In a future post (hopefully next week), I’ll discuss those attempts to find a family member.

And in yet another article, I’ll attempt to review the steps that have been taken to draw attention and recognition to Cristobal Torriente’s tragic postmortem plight.

But for the rest of this post, I’ll embark on an analysis of one chunk of Cuban history that could fill in some of the gaps in Torriente’s background.

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Cosme de la Torriente

One of those chunks is any possible connection between Cristobal and Cosme de la Torriente, and whether the political wrangling of the latter might have affected the post-death destiny of the former. However, that’s not what I’ll be fleshing out today, and I apologize for the bait-and-switch. I just liked the Cristobal/Cosme dichotomy as a method of introduction to the complexities of Cuban history as they relate to the Hall of Famer’s life and death.

Also, that’s not to say that Cosme de la Torriente doesn’t figure into Cristobal’s story somehow; in fact, the two plot lines could very well intersect, because, as I’ve found, there seems to be a lot of plot lines, or at least possible ones, and a bunch of them likely do criss-cross at some point. As a matter of fact, they just might later on in this post.

But, for now, here’s this narrative …

Cristobal Torriente — dubbed, later in life, the Black Bambino and the Cuban Strongman — was born on Nov. 19, 1893, in Cienfuegos, Cuba, a picturesque city on the island’s southern shore that has accumulated so much historical value, especially architecturally, that it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The name Torriente, while a popular one (along with de la Torriente) in Cuba, seems to be and have been especially prevalent in Cienfuegos. Also quite prevalent in the historic city was the sugar trade, including sugar plantations, sugar refineries and American businessmen exploiting the region for its resources and labor. Here’s a description of Cienfuegos from the UNESCO Web site:

“The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Situated on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area, the town first developed in the neoclassical style.

“It later became more eclectic but retained a harmonious overall townscape. Among buildings of particular interest are the Government Palace (City Hall), San Lorenzo School, the Bishopric, the Ferrer Palace, the former lyceum, and some residential houses. Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.”

One of those sugar kingpins in the area was a Spaniard named Esteban Cacicedo Torriente, who emigrated to Cuba in 1865 — when slavery was still in full force on the island — and formed a business partnership named Ruesga and Cacicedo in Cienfuegos in the 1870s. Esteban also opened a grocery store in the city a partner named Jose Garcia; the company was also involved in banking, and in 1922 the business was consolidated as Cacicedo & Co.

Esteban Cacicedo Torriente seems to have been a very influential man in Cienfuegos. Here’s a rough translation from an entry on ecured.cu, the Cuban version of Wikipedia. I’ll acknowledge right now that I don’t know a lick of Spanish, so I lamely translated the Ecured entry using a Spanish-to-English Web site:

“He was estimated as one of the richest men in the city. In addition to his large trade house, established in on Argüelles street at the corner D ‘Clouet, up the great central [road] to Santa Maria, since 1909 and under the direction of his son Stephen, he encouraged in the central Carolina the establishment of a pasture whose administration was in charge of his son Isidore, where the big shots and young horse stallion products imported from Europe and United States gave rise to domestic livestock.

“He was a City Councilman in the years 1878 and 1880; Treasurer of the Steering Committee of the Fire Department of Commerce several times; and President of Casino Spanish since 1918. In 1887, he was the deputy of a battalion of volunteers from Cienfuegos and was several times president of the Spanish Casino. …

“[The family] distinguished themselves in Catholic activities and charitable and pious works, contributing to the foundation of Nursing homeless, the institution of the Servants of Mary, the establishment of the Jesuits and others.”

(Yeah, like I said, that translation is quite mangled, for which I apologize, especially if some of it doesn’t make sense. If any of my Spanish-speaking friends reading this could correct me, I’d gladly accept it. 🙂

Anyway, by all accounts, including a bunch of documents I’ve found online, Esteban Torriente Sr., and his son Esteban/Stephen Jr. and Isidore — and therefore likely the whole family — were white. That’s also probably the case because they were direct immigrants from Spain, and because there’s likely no way a person of color would own that much property, and be that rich and powerful, in antebellum Cuba. (Slavery wasn’t abolished there until 1886.)

And here’s another very intriguing note — Esteban Sr. married his cousin, Ramona de la Torriente, the daughter of other wealthy landowners and merchants in Cienfuegos. With that, we have a possible linking between a family grouping with the “de la Torriente” and “Torriente” surnames.

Mushrooming out of that is the fact that the de la Torriente clan, including Cosme, seem to have been major sugar big wigs in Matanzas. So we could, here, have the mixture of several variables that could — and I emphasize could — start to bring some pieces of the Cristobal Torriente puzzle together.

But a little more on Esteban Torriente and the 19th-century Torriente family in Cienfuegos …

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Cienfuegos, Cuba

I uncovered a 1998 essay by Christopher Harris called, “Edwin F. Atkins and the Evolution of American Cuba Policy: 1894-1902,” in which Harris theorizes that Boston-based entrepreneur Edwin Atkins as well as Edwin’s father, Elisha, established a lucrative trading business — largely sugar-related — in Cienfuegos.

From there, Harris argues, Atkins, thanks to his big bucks and fortuitous political connections, Edwin Atkins greatly influenced the U.S.’s relationship with and approach to Cuba, especially during the crucial period encompassing the island’s war of independence from Spain and the ensuing Spanish-American War, when the States began to seriously flex its imperialist muscles.

In his essay, Harris doesn’t really state whether Atkins’ influence on turn-of-the-century Cuba was a good thing or not; at times the writer seems to hint that the American entrepreneur was a bit weasely (my words) in his dealings and therefore had a somewhat undue influence on the island’s development after independence.

But that’s a side note. For the purposes of this blog, this is the part of Harris’ work that’s important:

“… [Atkins’] company pursued a triangular trade: sending finished New England manufactured goods to Central America, picking up coffee, cochineal and granadilla, usually from Guatemala, and carrying these goods to Cienfuegos or Trinidad to trade for sugar. … The Torriente Brothers of Cienfuegos acted as agents for Atkins and Company [my emphasis], and the families developed strong personal relationships. By the 1860s, Atkins was becoming wealthy, owning a half dozen ships and running over 400 charters a year to Cuba in his own and others’ ships.

“By the mid-1860’s … Atkins’ business began to evolve. From simply trading, shipping and merchandising, the company began to extend credit and financing to planters, both directly and through the agency of the Torriente Brothers, their agents in Cienfuegos [my emphasis]. While under the Refaction Law (until 1880), credit to planters was secured only by a lien on crops, interest rates were high enough to make financing a profitable addition to merchant’s offerings.”

I have yet to conduct a lengthy investigation of the Torriente Brothers company, and when I do, I’ll try to write updates in ensuing posts.

But further on in Harris’ essay, the writer again brings up a variation of the Torriente name:

“With the outbreak of the Ten Year’s War in Cuba (1868-1878), the old Cuban plantation families began to be economically squeezed on all sides. Overseas beet sugar led to increased price competition. To be competitive, the Cuban producers needed new equipment and sugar processing machinery, which required capital. In was in this period that large sugar processing plants, called centrales, began to replace theingenios that formerly processed sugar on each plantation. Those who couldn’t afford to modernize and become centrales, were reduced to being colonos, plantations that only grew sugar cane, without processing it. But as a class, the Cuban planters carried a high level of debt even before the War, owing money, mostly to Spanish financiers and merchants who controlled the trade. To make matters worse, the Revolution itself caused considerable economic dislocation. …

“… Presumably, it was for this reason that Elisha Atkins sent his son Edwin to Cienfuegos in 1869 to learn the business from Ramon de la Torriente [my emphasis] rather than sending him to college. While profits may have been high, the risk from this business was large as well. The son was sent to protect the family’s interests.”

So here’s another cropping up of the Torriente moniker in Cienfuegos. But there’s one more, again from Harris:

“… At the end of the Ten Year’s War, only a few plantations around Cienfuegos continued to operate. … Atkins and Company was, in effect, forced into becoming sugar producers themselves. In 1882, the Atkins began collecting properties by foreclosure. …

“They foreclosed the Soledad and Rosario plantations of the Rosario family, Carlota from the Torriente family [again my emphasis], Caledonia from the estate of Diego Julien Sanchez, Guabairo from Manuel Blanco, and Limones from the Vila family. Vega Vieja and Manaca were purchased from the Yznaga family and Algoba was leased.Santa Teresa was acquired from Juan Perez Galdos, Veguitas from Jose Porroa, Vaqueria from the Barrallaca family and San Augustine from the Tomas Terry family. Leased properties included San Jose, Viamones, San Esteban and Algoba. …”

The whole scheme is summarized on the Web site of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which possesses a large collection of Atkins family documents and papers. States the MHS:

“E. Atkins & Co.’s most frequent business correspondents in Cienfuegos were the Torriente Brothers. After the Ten Years’ war in Cuba (1869-1878), Torriente Bros. had many sugar estates indebted to them, and the firm in turn was indebted to E. Atkins & Co. Torriente Bros. foreclosed on several estates, including the Soledad plantation in Cienfuegos …”

With those generalities established, let’s now take a closer look at a few seemingly loose ends and random strands of personal documents and records that might help to continue connecting the dots.

For example, there’s the fact that Esteban Sr. is referred to as Esteban Cacicedo Torriente, which could be very significant, because — while I again stress that I’m a bit deficient in the Spanish language and its naming traditions/procedures — it looks like that a theme running through many historical documents and records relating to his family members is the interchangeability and malleability of the Torriente and Cacicedo surnames.

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A Cuban sugar plantation

While Esteban Sr. died in 1932, it looks like several of his children — including Ramon, Esteban Jr. and Luis — filtered into the U.S. throughout the 20th century, some of them landing in Florida (more on that in an ensuing post), and some in New York City.

I think Luis, for example, studied at MIT, returned to Cienfuegos and became an engineer at one of his father’s plantations. Esteban Jr. was also an engineer, it seems, probably on one of his dad’s estates as well, and all of the documents pertaining to the latter son I could find refer to him as white.

The same goes for Luis. But Luis might be an even more fruitful figure to study, for two reasons: One, he traveled to and from New York City a lot, placing him in the same locale as Cristobal Torriente; and two, various documents list his name, somewhat interchangeably, as Luis Torriente, Luis Cacicedo and Luis Cacicedo Torriente.

Take, for example, his U.S. World War I draft card. He’s listed as Luis Cacicedo Torriente, with a permanent residence on Arguelles Street in Cienfuegos (the same street on which his father’s business was located) and a birthdate of 1887. The card lists Luis as white, and his profession is “chemical engineer” on a “sugar estate” in Cienfuegos. His nearest relative is pegged as Esteban Torriente at the same permanent address. (It’s not clear if that’s Esteban Sr. or Jr.)

What’s more, Luis’ listed surname varies from Torriente to Cacicedo on different ship manifests during the first two decades of the 20th century. He also shows up as Luis Cacicedo, a 22-year-old white male, in the 1910 Federal Census of Manhattan, where he’s a lodger on W. 115th Street. Finally, on his 1922 New York marriage certificate to one Rafaela Tess, he’s called Luis Cacicedo.

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But there’s one final component … Both Cristobal Torriente and Luis Cacicedo Torriente had multiple WWI draft cards — I’m not sure why, exactly, except the various ones have different permanent residences for each of them — and these documents could reveal something telling.

On one of Cristobal’s three (!) cards lists his birthdate of Nov. 16, 1893, his birthplace as Cienfuegos, and his current residence as Monroe County, Fla. (which is basically the Florida Keys). His race is stated as black.

Meanwhile, a second card for Luis states his name as Luis Cacicedo Torriente, his birthdate as Sept. 10, 1887, his birthplace/location of relative as Cienfuegos and his residence as … Monroe County, Fla.! The card, further, states that he’s white.

On top of that, the historical record is littered with documents involving various Torrientes or de la Torrientes of both colors living, going to or coming from Monroe County and/or Key West.

Finally (I know I’ve said finally a few times, apologies for the absurd length of this post), I might have come across documented proof that Luis Cacicedo Torriente — son of wealthy, white, 19th-century sugar planter from Cienfuegos — and Cristobal Torriente — black baseball legend and Hall of Famer now resting in a mass, unmarked grave — are indeed on different branches of the same family tree.

Umm, but unfortunately at this point, I can’t, uhh, confirm that last assertion because I haven’t quite figured out the details yet. I know, that’s a bit confusing and likewise a bit tenuous, but rest assured that I’m working to nail it down for certain.

But here’s my hypothesis: That the Negro League great was possibly descended from former black slaves belonging to white Esteban Torriente and his lineage in the city of Cienfuegos, Cuba, where, like much of the country, race and ethnic identity are slippery, elusive and firmly entwined in the complex social, political and economic history of the island nation.

Phew.

Having said that, I invite any other friends, peers or fellow researchers to step in and correct and/or add to my probably spotty interpretation of Spanish-Cuban language, genealogy and other traditions! My email is rwhirty218@yahoo.com, or feel free to leave a comment on this post.

I also stress that, because I’m a relative neophyte in Cuban culture and history, this post was written from a probably narrow, Americanized point of view and, as such, it could omit, gloss over, obscure or obfuscate many points mentioned in the article that could look differently from a Cuba-centric approach. Again, if that is the case, and if anyone reading this can clarify or fill in the narrative, please feel free to contact me.

Over the next week or so, I hope to write two more posts concerning Cristobal Torriente, one that deals with my effort to find a living relative or descendant, and the other detailing the effort to call attention to the deplorable state of his remains in Queens.
Hopefully, somewhere down the road, I’ll be able to somehow pull aaaaaaaall these strands together, but not without help from all of you!

HOF: No more Negro Leaguers, and no changes to policy

… At least for now, anyway.

According to National Baseball Hall of Fame Vice President of Communications and Education Brad Horn, for the foreseeable future, the Hall’s board of directors has no plans to change or even revisit its current policy of keeping additional segregation-era African-American candidates out of Cooperstown.

I spoke with Mr. Horn this morning, and he confirmed what many Negro Leagues enthusiasts have both feared and protested ever since a special committee elected 17 Negro League figures in 2006.

“The board is comfortable with its [election] process at this time,” he said. “It does not have a perpetual process to consider Negro Leaguers. The board said that at the time in 2006, and it hasn’t deviated from that at this point.”

I suggested to him that a few Negro Leagues fans and researchers such as my Malloy roommate Ted Knorr have crunched the numbers and found what they believe to be a woeful under-representation of segregation-era African-American players, managers and executives. Compared to the number of white, pre-1947 Major Leaguers, the number of black candidates in the hall is miniscule.

Mr. Horn said that he and the HOF’s board certainly understand that argument, but he added that despite any such ratios, right now the Hall is sticking to its guns.

“In 2006, the Hall of Fame said [the special committee] served as the final consideration for the Negro Leaguers,” he said.

“But,” he quickly added, “we kept the door open for new research to be considered. [The current policy] doesn’t mean that it won’t happen at some point.”

Still, he said, “At this time, the board is comfortable with the fact that it has given [Negro League and pre-Negro League figures] comprehensive consideration. It does not want to rewrite the policies and procedures.”

I noted to him that because the Hall has a Pre-Integration Committee that continues to elect white Major Leaguers from that era but still has closed the door to Negro Leaguers, many in the blackball community simply feel that such policies and mechanisms are unfair and unjust.

I also asked him whether the Hall feels that there are, in fact, segregation-era African-American candidates out there, but Horn declined to address that directly. He also hedged a bit when asked what it would take to have the policy changed eventually.

“The Baseball Hall of Fame remains committed to an election process that continues to meet the needs of preserving baseball history,” he said. “Certainly the argument that baseball has many individuals who are always going to be good candidates for induction is an argument that is recognized by the Hall of Fame.”

But, he added, “Our job is to allow for the best system possible, and at this point, the board remains dedicated to evaluating how the induction process affects all candidates.

“The board is always willing to consider candidates in its regular course of business, and it has the ability to change the process [at any time]. We continue to encourage baseball fans to send us letters stating their viewpoints and the board will consider them, but there are many fans who each have their opinions of the induction process.”

“At this point,” he concluded, “the board feels there is not the need for an election process that considers new [Negro League] candidates.”

What do you think about the Hall’s policy? Feel free to leave comments on this blog or on the various Facebook pages or to email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com. I want to hear from you!

A mass grave for a beisbol legend?

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The gentleman above is Cristobal Torriente, a Cuba native and African-American baseball — or beisbol — legend who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2006, the after which the Hall once again officially and unjustly its doors to segregation-era African-American players.

As I discussed in this previous blog post, in 2016 I’m going to try to sharpen Home Plate Don’t Move’s focus to advocating for two goals: one, to, with your help, get the BHOF to acknowledge its ignorance bigotry and once again allow Negro Leaguers into its hallowed halls; and two, try, again with help, to bring attention to the possibility that Cristobal Torriente, the “Cuban Babe Ruth,” is now the only Hall of Famer buried in an unmarked grave.

What’s worse, said burial location could be a mass grave in which Torriente — who, by the time of his death in 1938, was in all likelihood a penniless pauper (which was tragically the fate of many former Negro League stars — was unceremoniously laid to rest (if you could call it rest) with 16 other anonymous souls at the prestigious Calvary Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens.

And that discovery right there — that Torriente’s remains are in Queens, not Cuba — represents a stunning and monumental development that completely rewrites what we know about the fate of this outsized beisbol legend. (For example, the esteemed Find A Grave Web site still lists, mistakenly, that Torriente is interred in Cuba.)

Right off the bat, I’m to to credit three baseball researchers/historical enthusiasts with each doing a yeoman’s job in getting the ball rolling on identifying the exact location and status of Torriente’s remains.

The first is John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, who is arguably the leading light in the area of baseball research. The second is Gary Ashwill, whose incredible — and incredibly researched — blog, Agate Type, is located here. Gary specializes in Negro Leagues and, perhaps more importantly, Cuban beisbol.

The third person is Ralph Carhart, a SABR member and driving force behind the massive Hall Ball project, which is dedicated to criss-crossing the landscape with a baseball to as many Hall of Famers — both living Hallers and the graves of deceased ones — and take pictures with each man or burial location.

It’s a massive, remarkable, and incredibly admirable effort, one that has been underway for several years and one that continues in energetically full force. (Ralph has launched a Go Fund Me effort to help finance his work in this project. If you’re interested in helping out, go here.)

Now that relations between Cuba and the U.S. have thawed a bit, Ralph has zeroed in on bringing the Hall Ball to that once-prohibited island and visit the graves of multiple Hall of Famers from the Caribbean country, such as player, manager and owner of the famed New York Cubans Jose Mendez, and multi-tooled player Martin Dihigo.

Ralph sailed to Cuba last year, one of numerous baseball historians who have been itching for the chance to study the storied Cuban League, which has spawned countless beisbol stars over the years, a voyage I discussed in this blog post.

In his journey to Cuba, Ralph was able to visit Cristobal Colon Cemetery, which includes a towering monument honoring dozens of Cuba’s past baseball legends, including the nation’s Hall of Famers in Cooperstown.

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The majestic baseball memorial in Cristobal Colon Cemetery (photo courtesy of Ralph Carhart)

Correspondingly, Cristobal Colon Cemetery is the burial location of such beisbol luminaries, including Hall of Fame members Dihigo, Mendez and Cristobal Torriente.

Or so almost all of the baseball history community of researchers and fans thought. But, in a blockbuster revelation, Ralph firmly believes that Torriente is not, in fact, buried there, in his native Cuba, as previously believed.

After a gargantuan amount of research — largely on-site in Cuba and Ralph’s current domain in New York City — Ralph has determined, almost conclusively, that Cristobal Torriente is actually interred at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, one of 17 unknown former NYC residents who died in anonymity.

And, crucially, several historians believe that Torriente is sadly now the only Baseball Hall of Fame inductee buried in an unmarked grave. (Organizations such as SABR’s 19th-Century Baseball Grave Marker Project and Jeremy Krock’s Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, have diligently and tireless worked to place markers of dozens of late players’, managers’ and owners’ graves including several HOFers.)

Ralph chronicled this titanic endeavor on his Hall Ball Web site. (If you scroll down a ways to the February 2015 blog entries you’ll find it.)

As that post chronicles, Ralph attempted to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops — including speaking with staffers at Calvary Cemetery — to determine two things: one, if Torriente was, in fact, buried there; and two, if he is, if it would be possible to place a grave marker on the burial site honoring Torriente.

I spoke with Ralph earlier today to ascertain the status of the answers to both of those questions. As to the first query, Ralph said he is as sure as he can possibly be, given the strict rules employed by Calvary Cemetery and the steep financial necessities of the situation, that Torriente is indeed buried there in Queens, a finding that, at least in the Negro Leagues community, is simply gargantuan.

“I think it would be impossible to determine with the research resources we have at our fingertips now,” he said.

What would it require to definitely determine that Torriente is there? Ralph said, quite simply, that the mass grave must be unearthed and all the remains buried there to be DNA tested to identify which one, if any, is Cristobal Torriente.

Understandably, such an undertaking — especially without the official blessing of the cemetery itself — would require a massive amount of financial and logistical resources, as well as the backing of a hugely influential political, governmental or political figure who could throw his or her weight behind the effort.

And right now, Ralph says, that’s simply not the case, unfortunately.

“I certainly don’t have the resources for that, and I don’t know anyone who does,” he says.

Ralph has contacted and conferred with Jeremy Krock, the founder and driving force behind the nationally-known Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, to see if Krock and the NLBGMP could help out at this point.

Ralph says Jeremy is definitely willing and eager to do anything the NLBGMP can. But, given all the aforementioned limitations, what can be done to properly honor this towering baseball luminary?

“We likely can never but a stone at the grave,” he says, “so our best option would be a marker or memorial in the general area of the grave site.

“I’m going to give it a shot.”

At the moment, Ralph encourages anyone who might be interested to pitch in do so, with the best way to help being simply spreading the word about this deplorable situation.

“Advocacy,” he says. “Advocacy will help with that, just making people aware of this.”

If you’re interested in helping out, email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com, Ralph at thehallballproject@gmail.com, or Jeremy Krock at jlkrock@comcast.net.

But another question remains, one that may never be solved conclusively — why and how did Cristobal Torriente end up buried in an unmarked mass grave in Queens instead of, like other Cuban baseball legends, in a prestigious memorial in an historic cemetery in his homeland?

That, my friends, is a query I’ll attempt to address, however humbly, over the next few weeks and months. It seems to be an intricately woven and at times disheartening tale of governmental inertia, political intrigue, historic economic realities, and racial and ethnic mystery and fluidity.

It involves a brutal dictatorship, the rise and fall of the island’s massive sugar industry, the perhaps undo influence of a handful of American business and political kingpins, and the interweaving of racial and cultural definitions that combine to muddy the picture and prevent us from discovering both Torriente’s familial, geographic and ethnic background, as well as the intricate machinations that took place in the days, months and years after the beisbol great’s all-too-soon passing in 1938.

A new year, a new focus

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Cannonball Dick Redding, more than qualified for the Hall.

Greetings all … Many, apologies for not posting for almost two weeks. The holidays, as I feared, knocked me out a bit in terms of time and discipline to put toward this here humble operation.

I was also contemplating and planning new directions and goals for this blog for the New Year. Instead of dedicating it to research, I’d like to zero in on advocacy, to have a purpose being my own little, often sequestered historical studies, whims and article development.

I want to try — again, in my own modest way — to make a difference. I want to start and pursue — with any help y’all are winning to provide — a heightening of Negro Leagues preservation and recognition of the men and women of segregation-era African-American baseball. Much still needs to be done, I feel, to sufficiently honor these legends and their legacies and influence on both modern baseball and society as a whole.

To that end, I’d like to, with this blog, concentrate of two main goals.

The first one is pushing to rectify the fact that multi-talented Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente — a native of Cuba who was one of the greatest and most admired segregation-era players during the first two decades of the 20th century — might very well lay in a mass, unmarked grave in a New York City cemetery and could be the only Hall of Famer whose burial location is anonymous and unidentified.

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Cristobal Torriente

A few of us in the baseball research community have been batting around the exact location of Torriente’s grave and how, once that’s determined, to help make right this deplorable situation. Actually, the vast majority of the recent efforts toward this goal have been undertaken by Ralph Carhart, Gary Ashwill and John Thorn, with Ralph doing a yeoman’s job in the project. In fact, Ralph wrote a fantastic blog post here on his Hall Ball page about his mammoth task and adventure if the search for Cristobal Torriente.

The second goal is to, quite simply, work to open the Baseball Hall of Fame‘s doors to segregation-era, African-American players, managers, owners and executives, an injustice that has been sustained by the Hall since 2006. That insult is especially heightened by the fact that the HOF retains a “Pre-Integration Era Committee” that continue to elect white historical figures and not black ones, thereby further skewing the ration of Major League personalities to those of Negro Leaguers.

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Does Gentleman Dave Malarcher belong in the Hall?

Several blackball enthusiasts, such as my Malloy conference roomie Ted Knorr, have pretty successfully quantified this inexcusable inequity, a situation he detailed in this post on Home Plate Don’t Move. Others have striven to do much the same, and as their efforts bear out, the legendary figures of the Negro Leagues and Negro Negro Leagues are overwhelming underrepresented in an institution that purports to enshrine the best, most accomplished and most influential baseball figures ever.

We all know that such a claim is, at best, ignorance personified and, at worst, a flat out lie, a denial of justice, the galling equivalent of Hall officials covering their ears and shouting, “Nah nah nah nah nah I can’t hear you!”

This absolutely must change, and all of us in the blackball community must band together to make this change, to strive for fairness, to rectify a stubbornness that perpetuates prejudice and exclusion.

I want to do my own small part in this, and I know that one person can’t do it alone, and I hope a few of you will climb on board as well. If you’d like to help the effort, feel free to post a response to any of my blog posts and/or two email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com.

We can do this, and we must do this if justice — true justice — will ever be served.

Many thanks in advance for anything you can do to this end.