Book review: “Cuban Star” by Prof. Adrian Burgos Jr.

2 08 2011

Just finished reading “Cuban Star,” a book about the fascinating life of Alejandro “Alex” Pompez,” a Cuban-American baseball legend who made his name not on the diamond, but off the field as a talent evaluator, owner of a successful Negro League franchise (the New York Cubans) and trend-setter in the game.

Took me a while. I’m so busy these days but I really wanted to finish it, and I thank Steve Weil, publicist for the book, for sending me an advance copy way back in April.

Great book, what an amazing story of a man born in the U.S. who worked his way from cigar factories in Florida up to Harlem during its heyday, making his name and reputation on the “numbers,” an illegal lottery but using the money to bring baseball to the area and attract the best players from Cuba and Latin America to his teams.

The story gets even better. With all of Pompez’s connections in the Caribbean and Latin America, he goes on to become a pioneer in importing Puerto Rican and Dominican ball players to the U.S., Hall of Famers like Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, to the New York and later San Francisco Giants. Pompez was also in large part the man behind Giants stars like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.

Basically, Pompez helped integrate baseball as much as Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson did,  if not more, and he was an advocate for all of his players in helping them adjust to, for the Latinos, another country and culture and customs, and for black Americans, keeping them protected from the racist laws of the South and segregation and veiled bigotry in other parts of the U.S.

The author, Professor Adrian Burgos Jr., is an associate professor of history at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana). I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him speak, and there is no question Burgos is among the leading authorities on Latinos in baseball in this country.

I’d read about Pompez before but never knew his life story. Burgos paints a vivid picture of the life and times of a man coming of age in America during turbulent times in our country’s history. A man who crosses racial divides and achieves the American Dream in a most unique way. It wasn’t always legal, but Pompez was a respected man throughout his life, as the book details.

I was amazed to see the links Pompez had to so many great stars of baseball, of all of the racism he had to overcome in his own life and that of his players and by how vast his connections were to the many people in the baseball world.

This book isn’t just about sports, though, it’s a novel about one man’s journey through American social history. I learned about the beginnings of a place I have visited, Ybor City in Tampa, Fla., and read about players who paved the way for today’s stars who make so much money because of all of the sacrifices of their predecessors.

If you want to read about a chapter in baseball history often overlooked, or just read the story of a man who beat the odds and lived a long life doing what he loved in a different America than the one in which we live today, “Cuban Star” is a book for you.




One response

2 08 2011

Wow! This sounds like a great book! My birthday is only about a month away…hint hint! 🙂 Good write-up hermanito!

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