Cuban National Series Baseball History: 1961 to Present

Baseball’s roots in Cuba can be traced back as far as 1864. Cuban students returning from studying in America brought the game with them. The first official game was in 1874 at Palmar de Junco in Matanzas. The site is still preserved and in use today. Let’s take a look at Cuban National Series Baseball History 1961 to Present.

Cuban Pro Baseball League Poster
The main squads of the Cuban Pro Baseball League

The first half century of organized baseball in Cuba was very Havana Centric. The top league consisted of 3 or 4 teams in different periods. These teams usually represented Havana, Matanzas & Cienfuegos with all teams playing out of the capital. Smaller feeder leagues started to develop across the country with teams in every city. Trades workers often comprised the teams. The team names were often inspired by these professions.

Affiliated Professional baseball would arrive in the late 1940’s. The Havana Cubans would represent the Florida International League. The Cubans floated between class C/B roughly equivalent to A/Double-A in different seasons. The Triple-A Havana Sugar Kings of the International League replaced them. The leagues would co-exist with the Cuban Pro League operating in Fall/winter (The Cuban Winter League traces back to 1900) while the Sugar Kings played during the summer.

Cuban Baseball History pivots with Fidel Castro’s rise to power. His revolution saw him nationalize all industry and sports and designate all athletes as amateurs. After a short hiatus baseball was reimagined as the Cuban National Series. The Cuban National Series is still in existence. 2020 is the 60th iteration of Cuba’s Top League. The league has seen many structure and rule changes over the years. Lets take a look at some of the major features and changes in its existence.

1961–1962 The First Cuban National Series of Baseball

The first Cuban National Series looked fairly similar to previous Cuban leagues. Four squads played ostensibly in Havana, however the four teams attempted to provide a bit more National representation. Season length 39 Games.

Abreu Aquino Azucareros

AZUCAREROS (The Sugar Harvesters)- They were known briefly as Las Villas. They are part of the Santa Clara/Villa Clara/Azucareros franchise lineage. The Villa Clara Naranjas are colloquially known as the Azucareros to this day. They also use the name Leopardos in homage to the Santa Clara Leopardos. They Represented the Sugar cane workers of Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spiritus & Cienfuegos.

Champions 1968–1969, 1970–1971,1971–1972. Active 1961–1962 to 1976–1977.

REVISION 11/05/2021

Industriales (La Habana/Havana City)- They Represented the Industrial Factory workers of the Capital City. Also known as the Azules Leones, The Blue Lions, The Blues or the Lions. Still active today, they are considered the Yankees of Cuban Baseball. During baseball’s infancy in Cuba it was truly a pastime for workers during breaks in their day or season. Club teams grew into some of the top league franchises. They were comprised of workers from Industrial factories. The best comparison in the American pro landscape might be the Green Bay Packers. The Lions paid homage to the former La Habana Leones by assuming their monicker and borrowing the blue color scheme of Almandares.

Industriales monicker was assumed in the 2nd National Series of 1962-1963. The Squad representing Havana City in the First Series went by Habana. This Habana team is often considered as part of the lineage of Industriales but for accuracy they should be acknowledged.

Champions 1962–1963,1963–1964,1964–1965,1965–1966,1972–1973,1985–1986,1991–1992,1995–1996,2002–2003,2003–2004,2005–2006,2009–2010. Active 1961–1962 to Present

OCCIDENTALES (Western Provinces)- Cuba at this point was smaller in terms of population but also had many fewer provinces. There is some obvious overlap here with Havana and Santa Clara residing in Occidentale province. The squad was made up of players residing outside these two main hub cities. They effectively reached as far west as Today’s Sancti Spiritus.

Champions of the first series 1961–1962.Active 1961–1962 to 1967–1968

ORIENTALES (Eastern Provinces)- Orientales should have drawn from the biggest talent base in the early series. They were competitive, however baseball was much more western centric. Occidentales and Orientales would both eventually give way to the expansion of teams representing new provinces. These boundaries have been adjusted many times over the years. The most recent change saw the addition of Mayabeque and Artemisa in 2010.

REVISION 11/05/2021

Oriente and Orientales were both used regularly or alternatively depending on the year. Oriente appears to be the name used for the first two National Series before chaning to Orientales but the Oriente monicker would appear again at different points in the future.

Champions 1966–1967 disbanded after 1967–1968 season. Active 1961–1962 to 1967–1968

1965–1966 The First Expansion

Changes to the Cuban National Series often moved in conjunction with changes to political or provincial boundaries. The objective was always to bring baseball to every part of the island. 1965–1966 was the first step to move further east and play more games in the towns the teams represented. Two teams added/boundaries amended, schedule expanded to 65 Games.

New Teams

Centrales (Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus) although an expansion team, they appear to be the successors to Azucareros. They would return in 1968 after a brief hiatus while Las Villas received it’s own team. Centrales after a brief run was splintered into 2 squads.

Champions None. Active 1965–1966 to 1967–1968

Granjeros (Camagüey) Representing the farmers of Camagüey and the central portion of the island.

Champions None. Active 1965–1966 to 1976–1977

Henequeneros (Matanzas) Representing the rope/fibre material harvesters of Matanzas province.

Champions 1969–1970, 1989–1990, 1990–1991. Active 1965–1966 to 1991–1992

Returning Teams

Industriales (Havana City)

Occidentales (Pinar del Rio)

Orientales (Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago, Guantánamo)

1967–1968 The Second/Big Expansion

1968 saw the league double in size to twelve teams and the schedule expand to 99 Games.

New Teams

Azucareros (Villa Clara) Name returns after brief stint as Centrales. Las Villas continues to play. Oddly both lineages are considered consistent. Available information is incomplete but it appears Villa Clara (Santa Clara province) grew large enough to warrant its own team while Las Villas continued on as squad representing neighbouring Cienfuegos/Sancti Spiritus.

Champions None. Active 1961–1962 to 1976–1977

Camagüey (Representing the Province of Camagüey) Considered the Spiritual successors to Today’s Camagüey Toros and part of the direct lineage, took a brief pause in the mid 70’s before returning.

Champions None. Active 1967–1968 to 1973–1974 & 1976–1977 to Present

Habana (Representing the Province of Havana) La Habana often refers to the province while Habana or Havana frequently refer to the city. La Habana would later be granted the Vaqueros who in turn would be the precursor to the Mayabeque Huracanes.

Champions 1967–1968, 1973–1974, 2008–2009. Active 1967–1968 to Present (if accepting lineage as uniform)

Las Villas (Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus) former Centrales/Las Villas they appear to splinter with revival of Azucareros. They represented Villa Clara more directly with Las Villas representing the neighbouring municipalities of Cienfuegos & Sancti Spíritus. They are later granted provincial status and their own teams.

Champions None. Active 1967–1968 to 1973–1974

Matanzas (Representing the province of Matanzas along with Henequeneros) The lineage for Matanzas is complex. At points represented by multiple teams and many different names. This iteration is considered the spiritual successor to today’s Matanzas Cocodrilos. This is despite the Cocodrilos technically forming out of the merging of multiple teams.

Champions 2018–2019. Active 1967–1968 to 1973–1974 1992–1993 to Today. Champions None. Active 1967–1968 to 1976–1977

Mineros (Representing the Ore Miners of Cuba) Based in Santiago however they are not considered the predecessors nor part of the lineage of today’s Santiago Avispas.

Champions None. Active 1967–1968 to 1971–1972

Pinar del Río (The second squad representing the town of Pinar del Río) Surprisingly even though Pinar isn’t a huge town it was able to sustain two teams for a long period of time. This squad would later change its name to the Forestales (The woodsmen) before merging with the Vegueros to form today’s Vegueros in 1992–1993. As with the Vegueros some debate exists about lineage. It seems this Pinar squad is considered a more direct predecessor to today’s squad and the lineage is considered direct or at least links to Forestale.

Champions None. Active 1967–1968 to 1973–1974

Vegueros (Representing the Farmers/Growers of Pinar del Río) The original squad from Pinar del Río and the current name of the squad in the Province, however due to the merger with the Forestales there is debate about which is the true predecessor and which lineage is direct. It appears these Vegueros are considered their own entity.

Champions 1977–1978, 1980–1981, 1981–1982, 1984–1985, 1986–1987, 1987–1988. Active 1967–1968 to 1992–1993

Returning Teams

Henequeneros (Matanzas)

Industriales (Havana City)

Granjeros (Camagüey)

Occidentales (Pinar del Rio)

Oriente slight pivot in naming from Orientales (Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago, Guantánamo) Oriente the name of the Province, Orientales referring to those from the province.

1972–1973 Two Team Expansion

After five years of stability the Cuban National Series added two teams to bring the total to 14. The previous 12 squads continued on with no apparent changes. The schedule consists of 78 games.

New Teams

Constructores (Representing the Construction Workers or builders of Cuba) Information is incomplete but it appears the Constructores were another team in the City of Havana. They weren’t able to build much success in their short stint.

Champions None. Active 1972–1973 to 1976–1977

Serranos (Representing the MountainMen or Highlanders) Limited information is available on the Serranos, including exactly which province they represented. Of note Cuba had two distinct mountain ranges. The Sierra del Rosario in the East and the Sierra de los Organos in the West. Previous nicknames of the Granma Alazanes include Cafetaleros (more on this later) and Montañeses which translate to Mountaineer, Highlander or Mountain Dweller. A team named the Serranos later competed in the Selective Series. In the 1980s they had key players in Antonio Pacheco & Orestes Kindelan, longtime stalwarts for Santiago. This would be greater evident of them representing Santiago.

Champions None. Active 1972-1973

Returning Teams

Azucareros (Villa Clara)

Camagüey (Camagüey)

Granjeros (Camagüey)

Henequeneros (Matanzas)

Industriales (Havana)

La Habana (Havana Province)

Las Villas (Santa Clara, Cienfuego, Sancti Spiritus)

Matanazas (Matanzas)

Mineros (Santiago)

Oriente former Oriental (Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago, Guantánamo)

Pinar del Río (Pinar del Río)

Vegueros (Pinar del Río)

1974–1975 Different names in familiar places

The league structure looks very familiar with 14 teams ostensibly in the same locations. Many of the names changed for a short period of time. The lineages are somewhat confusing as information is incomplete. The structure change coincides with the halving of the schedule from 78 to 39 games. A 54 game special series and the Series Selectivas were added in the spring/summer.

New Teams

Agricultores (Representing the Agricultural workers/farmers) Based in Havana won the Championship in the 1st season of the new alignment, played three seasons, little else is available through conventional sources.

Champions 1974–1975. Active 1974–1975 to 1976–1977

Arroceros (Representing the Rice Farmers of Cuba) Most of the Rice fields or at least rice processing plants are to the western boundary of Havana and although information is sparse it appears they were also based in Havana.

Champions None. Active 1974–1975 to 1976–1977

Cafateleros (Representing the Coffee growers of Cuba) Similar to many of the new teams during this period information is incomplete. However the former nickname of the Granma Alazanes is the Cafetaleros. No direct line is drawn to include this lineage or the Serranos. This is despite some logic suggesting these squads represented key topographic features and vocations associated with Granma Province.

Champions None. Active 1974–1975 to 1976–1977

Citricultores

(Representing the Citrus Growers of Matanzas) They appear to have replaced the previously monikered Matanzas team joining the Henequenero in representing Matanzas. These two teams would merge in 1992 to form today’s Matanzas Cocodrilos. As mentioned prior it appears the Henequeneros are considered the true predecessors and the more pure lineage to today’s franchise.

Champions None. Active 1974–1975 to 1991–1992

Forestales (Representing the Arborists, Lumberists/Lumberjacks of Pinar del Río) Would later merge with the Vegueros in 1992 to form the modern day Pinar del Río Vegueros. Their lineage appears to be considered unique from the modern squad although they didn’t have immense success to claim as their own.

Champions None. Active 1974–1975 to 1991–1992

Ganaderos (Representing the Ranchers of Camagüey Province) The Ganaderos would be replaced in 1976–1977 by the current Camagüey Toros. It is uncertain if they are considered the true predecessors to and if their lineage is considered part of modern day Camagüey baseball. Their 1975–1976 championship isn’t listed as part of the Toros ledger.

Champions 1975–1976. Active 1974–1975 to 1976–1977

Metropolitanos (Representing the Urban Dwellers of Metropolitan Havana) The Metropolitanos also referred to as the Guerreros or Warriors would survive to become the figurative New York Metropolitans to Industriales Yankees, often acting as a feeder team to their stadium mates even though they frequently played in the same league although Industriales pivoted from the National Series to Series Selectivas for a 3 year period in the 1970’s. The Metropolitanos would often share Estadio LatinoAmericano with Industriales however the much smaller Estadio Santiago Changa Mederos is considered their true home. Provincial boundaries were ammended in 2010 and after the 2011–2012 the Metros closed shop effectively becoming the Artemisa Cazadores.

Champions None. Active 1974–1975 to 2011–2012

Returning Teams

Azucareros (Villa Clara/Santa Clara)

Constructores (Havana)

Granjeros (Camagüey)

Henequeneros (Matanzas)

Mineros (Santiago)

Serranos (Granma)

Vegueros (Pinar del Río)

Missing In Action

Industriales (Havana) For a brief 3 year period Industriales moved to the Series Selectiva, despite this their lineage in the Cuban National Series is considered continous.

1977–1978 A Bridge to the Future.

1977 saw the addition of 4 squads to bring the total to eighteen and the introduction of aluminum bats. This is considered the true modern beginning of the Cuban National Series. The Majority of teams we know today can trace their direct roots to this reconfiguration. Season length 50 games.

New Teams

Ciego de Ávila Tigres (The Tigers of Ciego de Ávila City/Province) 1977 saw a redrawing of provincial boundaries, Ciego was formerly part of Camagüey and this represents the first exclusive baseball team for the central Province whose main city shares the same name. A middling squad for most of its existence before breaking through with a near dynasty in the early 2010’s winning 3 titles in 5 years.

Champions 2011–2012, 2014–2015, 2015–2016. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Cienfuegos Elefantes (The Elephants of Cienfuegos City/Province) The Elefantes have perhaps the longest history of any Cuban team with a large gap in operations from the advent of the Cuban National Series until relaunch here in the late 70’s. Although the lineage isn’t technically linear. They can stake claim to being the successors to the Original Oilers/Elephantes teams that first appeared in 1927–1928. They won 5 league Championships and were the original team for Cuban legends Martin Dihigo & Cristobal Torriente. It is generally accepted that these Elefantes are the same franchise due to the impressive lore surrounding the original squads and the fact none of the other squads from this era live on in name anywhere. The Elefantes are still searching for their first title.

Champions None. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Granma Alazanes (The Ponies of Bayamo, Granma Province) The province takes it name from the Granma, the famous yacht that was the main vessel of Castro during the revolution of 1959, hence why a boat feature prominently in their alternate logo along with their main imagery of a horse. As stated before information on certain previous squads is sparse but speculation is The Alazanes are the spiritual successors to the Serranos and/or the Cafateleros as Granma is known both for it’s mountains and it’s coffee production. The wait for a title was a long time coming but Granma did claim back to back championships in the late 2010’s.

Champions 2016–2017, 2017–2018, 2020-2021. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Guantánamo Indios (The Indians of Guantánamo City/Province) Guantánamo as a city is better known as the furthest eastern point of Cuba and for being the location of a U.S. Naval base and detention centre, The Indios have yet to break out and have much success on the field. Guantánamo was historically represented by Orientale squads before receiving its own franchise.

Champions None. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Holguín Cachorros (The Greyhounds or Puppies/Cubs of Holguín city/Province) Holguín is surprisingly the third most populous province in Cuba behind Havana & Santiago, yet only arrives on the baseball scene as a unique entity here in the late 70’s. Technically known as the Sabuesos (Hounds or Greyhounds). The name Cachorros (Cubs or puppies) is used in some official capacities. This name is used somewhat pejoratively as they have frequently been Lovable Losers. Like the Chicago Cubs but more likely this is just coincidence and refers more to the fact that these dogs haven’t grown up. This is despite shocking the Cuban baseball world and actually winning the Title in 2001–2002.

Champions 2001–2002. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Isla de Pinos Pineros (The Island of Pines/Trees) This moniker would be used for 1 season as the special municipality of Isla de Pinos would be granted a squad but the island would change its name to La Isla de la Juventud (The Island of Youth) which is still the name today and home to today’s Las Isla Piratas (The Pirates of the Island of Youth) although they were originally known as the Toronjeros or Grapefruit croppers. These Pirates have yet to plunder much and their youth is starting to wane, but they have put more competitive teams on the field in the mid 2010’s.

Champions None. Active Isla de Pinos 1977–1978 La Isla de la Juventud 1978–1979 to Present

Las Tunas Leñadores (The Crosscutters/Lumberjacks of Las Tunas City/Province) formerly represented as part of Oriente Province, Las Tunas received it’s own team with its designation as its own province. Dates on the usage of an alternate name are incomplete but it also appears they were known as the Magos or in English Wizards/Magicians for a period. Las Tunas finally chopped down the competition in 2018–2019 winning its first title.

Champions 2018–2019. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Santiago de Cuba Avispas (The Wasps of Santiago City/Province) The second biggest city in Cuba and the second most successful squad (tied for 8 titles with Villa Clara)in the modern Cuban National Series. Their lineage is considered unique although they can stake claim to being the spiritual successors to The Mineros and were a large component of the Oriente Province/Orientale Squads.

Champions 1979–1980, 1988–1989,1998–1999,1999–2000,2000–2001,2004–2005,2006–2007,2007–2008. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Sancti Spíritus Gallos (The Roosters of Sancti Spíritus City/Province) Formerly part of Centrale/Las Villas Sancti Spíritus joined the league at the same time it received provincial designation. While most of the other squads in the modern Cuban structure play exclusively in the largest city of the province, Sancti has been unique in breaking up portions of its schedule to play in smaller jurisdictions within Sancti province.

Champions 1978–1979. Active 1977–1978 to Present

Villa Clara Naranjas (The Orange or Orange Harvesters of Santa Clara City/Villa Clara Province). This is technically a rebranding as the lineage for Villa Clara is directly linked to the Azucareros from the launch of the National Series in 1961. The Naranjas are tied with Santiago for second most titles with 8. They unofficially use the Azucareros name to this day in alternate branding. As well they occasionally use The Leopardos (Leopards) name in a nod to even more distant baseball history and the original team in the area predating the National Series.

Champions 1968–1969,1970–1971,1971–1972,1982–1983,1992–1993,1993–1994,1994–1995,2012–2013. Active 1961–1962 to Present

Returning Teams

Camagüey Toros -Camagüey had been represented for many years by the eponymous Camagüey teams, the Moniker Toros or Bulls is added.

Citricultores -Matanzas along with Henequeneros

Forestales -Pinar del Río along with Vegueros

Henequeneros -Matanzas along with Citricultores

Industriales -Havana City, returns after brief stint in Series Selectiva

La Habana – Havana Province, La Habana adds moniker of Vaqueros or Cowboys

Metropolitanos -Havana City, The Capital’s second squad

Vegueros -Pinar del Río along with Forestales

1992–1993 Mergers & Delineations

From 1977–1978 to 1992–1993 the team structure of the league stays constant. There are multiple changes to division alignments and season length but all teams remain the same. 1992 sees the merger of teams in Matanzas & Pinar del Río to form singular entities in each City/Province. The league moves to a 4 Group structure with greater influence on divisional play. Season length 65 games.

New Teams

Matanzas Cocodrilos (The Crocodiles of Matanzas City/Province) The merger of Citricultores & Henequeneros sees the birth of the Cocodrilos. The lineages of the previous squads are considered independent of the current franchise although encompassed under the broader history of Matanzas baseball.

Champions 2019–2020. Active 1992–1993 to Present

Pinar del Río Vegueros (The Tobacco Growers/Cigar Makers of Pinar del Río City/Province) The merger of Forestales & Vegueros see the birth of the unified Pinar del Río Vegueros. Similar to Matanzas the lineage of the contracted squads appears more attached to the provincial history than to the current franchise.

Champions 1996–1997,1997–1998,2010–2011,2013–2014. Active 1992–1993 to Present

Returning Teams

Group A

Isla de La Juventud Piratas (La Isla)

Metropolitanos (Havana City)

New Matanzas & Pinar teams join this group.

Group B

Cienfuegos Elefantes (Cienfuegos)

Industriales Azules Leones (Havana City)

La Habana Vaqueros (Havana Province)

Sancti Spíritus Gallos (Sancti Spíritus)

Group C

Camagüey Toros (Camagüey)

Ciego de Ávila Tigres (Ciego de Ávila)

Las Tunas Leñadores (Las tunas)

Villa Clara Naranjas (Santa Clara)

Group D

Granma Alazanes (Bayamo)

Guantánamo Indios (Guantánamo)

Holguín Cachorros (Holguín)

Santiago de Cuba Avispas (Santiago)

2011–2012/2012–2013 New Provinces need New Teams

La Habana Province is broken into a new provincial boundary. This shrinks the overall size and creates neighbouring Artemisa & Mayabeque. Both provinces receive teams. The La Habana Vaqueros are effectively absorbed into Artemisa. The Metropolitanos will survive one more season before effectively feeding Mayabeque. The league plays one season with 17 teams before the dissolution of Metropolitanos brings it back down to 16. From 1992–1993 the league sees team stability other than re configurations of divisional alignments, going from 4 groups to the new Eastern/Western designations. Season Length 96 Games.

New Teams

Artemisa Cazadores (The Hunters of Artemisa City/Province) La Habana’s reward for capturing their third Championship in 2009–2010 was to be contracted 2 years later. This was due to the redrawing of La Habana provinces boundary and the creation of Artemisa Province. Many of the players from La Habana joined Artemisa and it is considered by many to be the spiritual successor, but not a direct lineage.

Champions None. Active 2011–2012 to Present

Mayabeque Huracanes (The Hurricanes of Mayabeque) Similar to Artemisa created with the redrawing of La Habana province. Where as many players from La Habana joined Artemisa, while it appears others joined Industriales or Metropolitanos, Mayabeque was effectively a pure expansion team. The contraction of the Metropolitanos a year later saw much of this talent join Artemisa or Industriales and not Mayabeque.

Champions None. Active 2011–2012 to Present

Returning Teams

Oriental (Eastern)

Camagüey Toros (Camagüey)

Ciego de Ávila Tigres (Ciego de Ávila)

Granma Alazanes (Bayamo)

Guantánamo Indios (Guantánamo)

Holguín Cachorros (Holguín)

Las Tunas Leñadores (Las Tunas)

Santiago de Cuba Avispas (Santiago)

Villa Clara Naranjas (Santa Clara)

Occidentale (Western)

Cienfuegos Elefantes (Cienfuegos)

Industriales Azules Leones (Havana City)

La Isla de la Juventud Piratas (La Isla)

Matanzas Cocodrilos (Matanzas)

Pinar del Río Vegueros (Pinar del Río)

Sancti Spíritus Gallos (Sancti Spíritus)

New Artemisa/Mayabeque squads

The Cuban National Series celebrated its 60th competition in 2020. The teams outlined in the 2012–2013 provincial realignment all remain. there have been changes to the schedule structure however. East & West divisions have been scrapped in place of all 16 teams in 1 large division. From 2013 to 2020 The first half of the season has been comprised of 45 games. During which the top 4 teams qualify for the 2nd phase with the next 4 squads playing a wild card playoff to designate the other 2 teams to advance. The second phase of the season consists of these 6 teams playing 45 games to determine playoff seeding with Semi-finals & Finals series consisting of best of 7.

The proposed structure for 2020 would have seen a similar structure but with an expanded number of games. All teams would be guaranteed 75 games in the first phase. The Top 4 still advance with wild card playoff, however the second phase would now consist of 50 games before a similar playoff structure. The objective was also to shift the schedule to commence in April and run through a contiguous calendar year. Complications from the global pandemic Corona Virus currently have these plans on hold.

Phil Selig

I am Phil. I write things