The Havana Metropolitanos, step right up and Meet the Mets. I have spent an increasing amount of time trying to learn about the teams in the Cuban National Series and their histories. 1977 to present is considered the Modern Series. 1977 saw the realization of each province having a squad with a few additional quirks. Those quirks included Pinar del Rio and Matanzas having two teams for an extended period and Havana province having three teams. 1992 saw the amalgamation in Pinar and Matanzas resulting in todays Vegueros and Cocodrilos.
Industriales is of course the most famous Havana team. The La Habana Vaqueros had deep routes and even championship success on multiple occasions. They would be contracted or arguably reimagined as the Mayabeque Huracanes in 2011. This was because of the redrawing of Provincial boundaries. Two provinces were added including Artemisa which now home of the Cazadores baseball club. The most curious squad though is the now defunct Metropolitanos de La Habana. For one season the new squads and the Metropolitanos or Guerreros even co-existed. This 17 team league however was obviously uneven and the Metros would be the victim of achieving balance.
My introduction to the league came in the first season without the Havana Metropolitanos. Information on the league wasn’t as readily available, or at least I wasn’t yet aware of where to find it. I began to hear whispers of another Havana team but also saw that there was a La Habana team. La Habana won the 2009 championship and were gone two years later. Because of this I thought it was conspiracy.
I was convinced that La Habana who I confused for Metropolitanos were kept as the feeder team for Industriales, which is partially true. That somehow they had broken through to win the title against the efforts of the Cuban baseball federation. I theorized this must have aggravated the powers that be. Leading to the Metros being dissolved and the spare parts being banished to Mayabeque & Artemisa.
I like that story, the reality of course is much less cloak and dagger and much more about provincial representation and talent distribution. The story of the Metropolitanos is interesting though. I frequently try to draw comparisons between Cuba and MLB, if only to frame my own reference. I have written about which teams in Cuba are spiritual cousins to which Major League teams. The easiest comparison is Industriales to the Yankees. They have the most championships and play in the Media Capital. It would then seem to be an easy extension to say the second team in town are the Mets. It is actually eery that the New York Metropolitans and the Havana Metropolitanos are veritable namesakes. My research has made me realize that this comparison isn’t necessarily the best comparison.
The Metropolitanos more closely resemble the Kansas City A’s. A team that for it’s short history couldn’t shake the stigma of being a Triple-A team for the Yankees. The Metros felt like the Triple-A team for Industriales. Many key players started with the Warriors but were plucked by the Lions when convenient. Former Metro and Lion Roberto Ramirez recently spoke about his journey between the squads. He points to the fact that Industriales have not won a championship since the Metros left. It might seem ludicrous to say Industriales is in a title drought, but they haven’t raised the banner since 2010.
Ramirez thinks that for many players, their time with Metropolitanos was the best path for their development. Some of modern Industriales greatest players incubated with the Metros. Alexander Malleta, Frank Camilo Morejón and Stayler Hernandez just to name a few. Learning the game under the dimmer lights while facing the same level of competition is a unique structure. Many sports fans think their team will never be allowed to win and in many ways this was the case for the Metropolitanos. This lack of development stream and the overall increase of player movement on the island, but especially off the island has hurt Industriales’s talent pool.
The likely face of the franchise has to be Enrique Diaz. Incredibly he is the Cuban National Series leader in hits and stolen bases. He played 25 seasons in the Series and for a period of seven years was absorbed by Industriales. Diaz would return to the Metros for his Swan Song. He perhaps best personifies the Metropolitanos plight. His statistical accomplishments only garnered him a spot on the National Team for the famous two game series vs Baltimore in 1999.
The Havana Metropolitanos had limited success on the field and are in ways a paradox. Cuba is built on equality for all but nothing about the treatment of the Metros was equal at all. Their legacy thus is as the top Hotel for Cuban baseball players. You can check out any time you like, but yeah you can also leave.