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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.

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

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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

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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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