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The 10 Greatest Cuban Major Leaguers

Baseball has long been Cuba’s national obsession; but few of the island’s stars ever made it to the majors. These are the best that found their way to MLB

The 10 Greatest Cuban Major Leaguers

Introduced to Cuba in 1866, and played professionally there since 1878, baseball is an integral part of the island nation's culture, and the list of great Cuban ballplayers is a long and immensely colorful one. Unfortunately, thanks to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, relatively few of them have been able to strut their stuff in the major leagues during the last half-century.

But President Obama's surprise announcement this week of a "new chapter" in U.S.-Cuba relations, which would include the lifting of the trade embargo, potentially opens up a new chapter in Major League Baseball, as well.

There may soon be a time when Cuban players will not have to defect from their homeland in order to play in the majors; it's also conceivable that we may once again see MLB teams holding spring training in Cuba – as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees did in the 1940s and 50s, before the Cuban Revolution – or that, far down the road, there might even be a MLB franchise in Havana. (Hell, the Tampa Bay Rays or Cleveland Indians could significantly increase their attendance figures by moving there for 2015.)

That's all in the future, of course. So, with a tip of the cap to "El Inmortal," Martín Dihigo – who never got a shot at the majors – here's our list of the greatest Cubans to play in the bigs thus far.

Camilo Pascual

CHICAGO - MAY 22: Pitcher Camilo Pascual #17 of the Washington Senators warms up prior to the first game of a doubleheader on May 22, 1960 against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Diamond/Getty

7

Camilo Pascual

A five-time All Star pitcher for the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins, Pascual – nicknamed "Little Potato" – utilized a devastating curveball that enabled him to lead the AL in strikeouts three times during the early 1960s. He averaged 17 wins a season from 1959 through 1964, including two 20-win seasons.

Dolf Luque

ORLANDO, FL - CIRCA 1926: Pitcher of the Cincinnati Reds Adolfo Luque poses for a portrait before a game circa 1926 at the Reds' spring training site in Orlando, Florida. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Transcendental Graphics/Getty

6

Dolf Luque

"The Pride of Havana," as the 5'7" righty hurler was known, was the only Cuban player to achieve MLB prominence in the pre-integration days; his light skin allowed him the playing opportunity that was denied his darker countrymen. In 1923, when he went 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds, Luque became the first Latin 20-game winner in MLB history, as well as the first to lead the majors in wins and earned run average.

Mike Cuellar

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 16: Mike Cuellar #35 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the New York Mets during Game 4 of the 1969 World Series at Shea Stadium October 16, 1969 in the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets won the series 4-1.. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Getty

5

Mike Cuellar

Described by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer as "arguably the best left-hander in the game from 1969 to 1974," Cuellar won 125 games for the Baltimore Orioles during that period (including four seasons of 20 wins or better), averaging 19 complete games per season and a 2.99 ERA; in 1969, was named co-winner of the AL Cy Young Award with Denny McLain.

Nicknamed "Crazy Horse" because of his many rituals and superstitions, Cuellar always ate Chinese food the night before he pitched, wore blue suits while traveling to games in other cities and refused to accept a thrown ball from a teammate at the beginning of an inning – he would only pick it up off the ground.

Tony Oliva

UNDATED: Tony Oliva of the Minnesota Twins poses for a portrait circa 1962-1973. (Photo by Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tony Oliva

MLB/Getty

4

Tony Oliva

Though only fully active in 11 of his 15 major league seasons, the Minnesota Twins star made the most of his time in the bigs, winning the 1964 AL Rookie of the Year award, leading the AL in hits five times and winning three batting titles. Oliva, who was voted onto the AL All-Star team in eight straight seasons from 1964-71, narrowly missed making the Hall of Fame in this year's Golden Era Committee vote.

Tony Perez

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1972: First Baseman Tony Perez #24 of the Cincinnati Reds goes to his left to make a play on the ball against the New York Mets during an Major League Baseball circa 1972 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. Perez played for the Reds from 1964-76 and 1984-86. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Getty

3

Tony Pérez

The only Cuban major leaguer currently in the Hall of Fame, Perez (an All-Star at both third and first base) was a cornerstone of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine, averaging 26 home runs and 103 RBIs per season from 1967 through 1976, and helping power the Reds to two consecutive World Championships in 1975 and 1976. Many believe that the Reds blew their chance to extend that streak by another ring or three when they traded "The Big Doggie" to Montreal at the end of the '76 season.

Minnie Minoso

Cuban professional baseball player Minnie Minoso of the Cleveland Indians runs to catch a ball in the outfield during a road game, late 1950s. (Photo by Robert Riger Collection/Getty Images)

Robert Riger/Getty

2

Minnie Miñoso

MLB's first Latin superstar, Miñoso was one of the most exciting players of the 1950s and early 1960s, leading the AL in triples and stolen bases three times, winning three Gold Gloves in the outfield and posting a .298/.389/.459 career slash line.

He returned to the majors in 1976 as a coach for Bill Veeck's Chicago White Sox, and –  though he was fifty at the time – wound up DHing for three games that year, becoming one of the oldest players to hit safely in a major league game. He also made professional appearances in three subsequent decades (with the White Sox in 1980, and with the independent St. Paul Saints in 1993 and 2003), becoming baseball's first seven-decade professional player. Like Oliva, Miñoso also fell short in this year's Golden Era HOF voting.

Luis Triant

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 14: Pitcher Luis Tiant #23, of the Boston Red Sox, on the mound during a game on July 14, 1977 against the Cleveland Indians at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by: Ron Kuntz Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Ron Kuntz/Getty

1

Luis Tiant

No one who saw "El Tiante" pitch will ever forget his seemingly endless array of windups, many of which involved the fearsomely Fu-Manchu'd hurler completely turning his back on the batter. Tiant's comical ads for Yankee Franks and California Paints are also the stuff of legend, as are his penchant for sporting funky duds and for puffing cigars in the shower or whirpool tub.

But Tiant was no joke to face; he twice led the AL in ERA, he won 20 games or more in four different seasons, and his career numbers – which include a record of 229-172, a 3.30 ERA, a 114 ERA+ rating, 49 shutouts and 2,416 strikeouts – match up pretty impressively with those of Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning and Don Drysdale. As with Oliva and Miñoso, El Tiante failed to make it into the Hall on this year's Golden Era ballot; what's mind-boggling is that, unlike his countrymen, Tiant couldn't even muster more than three votes from the committee's 16 panelists.

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