Osvaldo Salas (1914-1992)
Internationally acclaimed Cuban photojournalist Osvaldo Salas captured the new faces of major league baseball in the decade following integration. His photographs celebrate the influx of Latin and African-American players into the game after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Serving as a photographer for influential Spanish-language newspapers and magazines in New York, Cuba, and other Latin American countries, Salas responded to the demand of Latino audiences for images of the era’s new big league stars. Salas’s portraits depict pioneering players of the 1950s and their teammates against the backdrop of New York City’s three big league ballparks.
Salas’s portraits of baseball players date from the earliest part of his long career as a photographer. Opening his first professional studio in Manhattan in 1950, he joined the photographic staff of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro by the decade’s end. Salas launched his career as a press and publicity photographer in New York by capturing notable icons of the post-World War II era with his camera. He photographed famous boxers, actors, artists, and musicians. The success of his early work earned him press passes to baseball stadiums where he took informal player portraits in the dugout, beside the batting cage, and in the clubhouse.
Known as the “Latino Jackie Robinson,” Minnie Miñoso was the first Afro-Latino big leaguer and the first black player to don a Chicago White Sox uniform. The “Cuban Comet” had a stellar rookie year with the White Sox in 1951, batting .324, leading the league with 14 triples, and stealing 31 bases. His remarkable success vaulted him to stardom across the Caribbean and inspired other Afro-Latino players eager to pursue opportunities in the United States.
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks joined the Chicago Cubs in 1953 as the club’s first black player and stayed for 19 seasons. One of a handful of players who went directly from the Negro leagues to the majors, Banks was a feared power hitter with excellent defensive skills, adept with both his bat and glove.
Honoring Valmy Thomas
To express its pride in New York Giants catcher Valmy Thomas, the first Virgin Islander to play in the majors, the Islands’ legislature passed a resolution designating May 12, 1957 as Valmy Thomas Day. The day before, Thomas hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 15th inning for a 6-5 win over the Dodgers, providing the delegation with the perfect occasion to honor Thomas.
Havana-born Carlos Paula was the first black player on the Washington Senators. Known for their active recruitment of Cuban players, the Senators were nonetheless slow to add Afro-Latino players to their roster. Paula debuted in September of 1954, making the Senators the 12th of the 16 major league teams to integrate.
New York Giants star Willie Mays excelled at every aspect of the game. He could hit for average and with power, field with grace, throw with accuracy, and run the bases — all with an infectious exuberance. An electrifying presence on the team, he led the 1954 Giants to a World Championship, hitting 41 home runs, driving in 110 runs, and batting .345. His stunning over-the-shoulder World Series catch capped a year in which he was selected the National League’s MVP and the Associated Press’s “Male Athlete of the Year.”
The Cuban Decade
Osvaldo Salas photographed the most significant era for Cuban baseball players in the major leagues. Of the more than 100 foreign-born Latin Americans who played big league ball between 1947 and the end of professional baseball in Cuba in 1961, over half were Cuban. More than fifty years later, this remains the greatest period of opportunity for Cuban players in the United States. Almost a third of all Cuban-born baseball players in major league history debuted during the first fifteen years of integrated baseball.
Before 1961, the United States and Cuba enjoyed a long, shared baseball history. American players traveled to the island to play exhibition games, participate in spring training, and join Cuban teams during the winter months. Cuban players were recruited for Negro league teams and formed the largest group of Latin American players to join big league rosters before integration. In the 1950s, the intermittent trickle of Cuban players to the States became a steady flow. These new Cuban stars delighted fans in stadiums in New York City in the summer and Havana in the winter.
The revolution that drew Salas home altered both Cuban baseball and its relationship with the United States. Castro banned all professional sports on the island, and increasingly hostile relations with the U.S. signaled the end of Cuba as the main source of Latin American big leaguers.
The Washington Senators recruited more Cuban-born players than any other team in the major leagues. They worked with Joe Cambria, one of baseball’s most prolific scouts, who signed over 400 Cuban players to professional contracts in the years between 1932 and 1962. Strapped for cash, the Senators actively sought cheap new talent in Cuba. Cambria and his group of “bird-dog” scouts in Cuba served as the primary conduit for Cuban players coming to the U.S. in the early integration era. This 1955 group portrait depicts five Cuban Senators players: Carlos Paula, Pedro Ramos, José Valdivielso, Camilo Pascual, and Juan Delis.
The son of a star shortstop in Venezuelan baseball, Luis Aparicio set the standard at shortstop in the U.S. between 1956 and 1973. He was the first Latin American player to win the Rookie of the Year Award in 1956, and eventually collected nine Gold Glove Awards before becoming the first Venezuelan elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.
Like many Latin players, Chico Carrasquel returned home annually to play winter ball in the Caribbean professional leagues, taking part in as many as 300 games in a single year. The slick-fielding shortstop’s commitment to appear in front of Venezuelan fans made him one of the country’s most popular athletes.
Reading El Diario
Salas photographed for numerous Spanish-language newspapers including El Diario de Nueva York, read in this image by three Senators players from Cuba: Sandy Consuegra, Roberto Ortiz, and Connie Marrero. Salas’s work was published in other notable periodicals such as Bohemia, a bi-weekly general interest magazine published in Havana with the largest circulation of any Latin American periodical, and Alerta, a Cuban daily newspaper.
Ted Williams described Joe DiMaggio as “simply the greatest player I ever saw, as well as the most graceful.” DiMaggio’s consistency and caliber of play inspired his New York team to win and win again. DiMaggio retired in 1951 after helping the Yankees capture ten American League pennants and nine World Series crowns.
The Integration of Baseball
Salas focused his camera on the new ballplayers entering the big leagues in the wake of Jackie Robinson’s historic debut. By the end of the 1950s, players of color, and of different nationalities and cultures gained a foothold in the majors. More than 100 black ballplayers from the United States and Caribbean basin played on major league teams by the decade’s end. These pioneers changed the game, combining speed with power and playing with panache. They claimed their place among the greatest ballplayers to take the field. Today, professional baseball is diverse and international because these trailblazing players used their skills and courage to redefine baseball and American society.
Jackie Robinson will always be celebrated as the first player to cross the color line in the modern era, enabling others to follow. Robinson’s mastery on the big league diamond forever discredited the traditional basis of segregation. Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn executive who signed Robinson, wrote: “I believe that the American public is not as concerned with a first baseman’s pigmentation as it is with the power of his swing, the dexterity of his slide, the gracefulness of his fielding, or the speed of his legs.”
One of the many Cuban teenagers recruited by Senators’ scout Joe Cambria, Cholly Naranjo joined Washington’s stable of cheap, young talent in 1952, signing without a bonus at the age of 17. Naranjo made 17 major league appearances in 1956, his only season in the big leagues, joining starter Bob Friend (left) as a pitcher for the Pirates.
Starring in both the National and Negro National leagues, Hall of Famer Monte Irvin straddled the pre- and post-integration eras. Debuting as a teenager with the Newark Eagles in 1938, he spent nine seasons in the NNL. In 1949, Irvin and Ford Smith became the first black ballplayers to sign with the New York Giants.
The Latin Quarter
A common language and shared experience as outsiders often drew players from Latin America together, creating a “Latin quarter in the clubhouse.” The cultural heritage Salas shared with other Cubans enabled him to capture this informal portrait of Cuban players on the 1952 Chicago White Sox gathered in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. The four island-born players depicted here include: Héctor Rodríguez, Willy Miranda, Minnie Miñoso, and Luis Aloma.
The first Caribbean-born Latin American player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente amassed an incredible record over his 18-year major league career. One of the greatest right fielders of all time, he won 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. He posted a career .317 batting average, with 240 home runs and 3,000 hits.
No one hit more home runs (326) or collected more RBI (1,031) during the 1950s than Brooklyn’s “Duke of Flatbush.” The graceful centerfielder was the Dodgers’ most dangerous slugger in an exceptionally powerful lineup. Brooklyn’s “Boys of Summer” won six pennants during Snider’s 11 years with the club. Depicted here with four bats, Snider remains the only player to hit at least four home runs in two separate World Series: 1952 and 1955.
The Pan-American Game
Many of the ballplayers in Osvaldo Salas’s portraits played throughout the Americas, moving between leagues in the Caribbean, Latin America and North America. The establishment of professional leagues in Caribbean-basin countries allowed for year-round play. The Cuban League, the oldest and longest lasting professional league outside the United States, formed in 1878. By 1945, winter leagues were established in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Panama.
Players from Latin America often went home to play winter league ball in their native countries. Other players were tempted south by the prospect of a year-round income, larger salaries, or the chance to improve their game. Most of these leagues were integrated long before the end of segregated baseball in the United States.
Cuban-born Héctor Rodríguez’s baseball career exemplified the Pan-American scope of the game in this era. He played 19 seasons in the Cuban League, nine seasons in the independent Mexican League, seven seasons with Canadian clubs in the International League (AAA), as well as various stints in the States. He is depicted here with the Chicago White Sox in 1952, his sole season in the big leagues.
A legendary figure in Cuba, Connie Marrero remains the most celebrated pitcher in the long history of Cuban amateur baseball. Known for his windmill windup, high-kicking delivery, and exceptional control, Cuba’s star curveballer made his major league debut in 1950 at the age of 38, playing five seasons on the Senators. In this 1953 image, he stands next to 25-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Yo-Yo Davalillo.
First All-Black Outfield
Challenging an unwritten quota limiting the number of black players who could simultaneously appear on the diamond, the New York Giants fielded the first all-black outfield in Game One of the 1951 World Series, starting Hank Thompson, Monte Irvin, and Willie Mays. Thanks to their collaboration with Alex Pompez, Negro National League team owner and scout in Latin America, the Giants had one of baseball’s most diverse rosters throughout the early integration era.
Ozzie Virgil was the first ballplayer from the Dominican Republic to play major league baseball, serving as the pioneer for the more than 600 Dominican players who followed him. The third baseman debuted with the New York Giants in September of 1956, and two years later became the first black player on the Detroit Tigers.
One of the most dominant pitchers in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in the 1950s, curveballer Ramón Monzant pitched six seasons for the Giants. He appeared on the mound in the franchise’s last game at the Polo Grounds in New York and in their first night game in their new home in San Francisco.
Welcoming Governor Marin
In 1957, high-velocity Puerto Rican pitcher Juan Pizarro (left) joined his fellow countryman Félix Mantilla on the Milwaukee Braves roster in time to earn a World Series ring. In this image, the two players laughingly linked hands with Luis Muñoz Marin, the first elected governor of Puerto Rico, who honored them with a visit to the stadium. Greatly celebrated in their home communities, many Latin players in the big leagues received special honors and recognition.
The Golden Age of New York City Baseball
Osvaldo Salas established his New York City studio during a period when the city was at the center of the baseball universe. Simultaneously supporting three major league teams, New York baseball fans of the era enjoyed a golden age. Intense team loyalties and rivalries sparked passionate interest in the game among supporters of the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and New York Yankees.
Collectively, New York teams won 14 pennants between 1950 and 1958. During these nine seasons, a New York team played in each World Series and the city hosted five Subway Series. The eyes of the baseball world repeatedly turned to New York, and their star players attracted the attention of fans around the globe.
The Scottish-born Bobby Thomson hit one of the most famous home runs in the history of baseball. Immortalized for his “shot heard ‘round the world,” Thomson capped the New York Giants’ 1951 pennant drive, blasting a three-run, walk-off homer in the ninth inning of the third and final playoff game to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers. This photograph shows the Giants’ hero posing for an adoring media.
One of scout Joe Cambria’s young Cuban recruits, pitcher Mike Fornieles debuted with the Washington Senators in 1952 with a one-hit, 5-0 shutout victory over the Philadelphia Athletics. Traded to the White Sox the following year, Fornieles forged a 12-year major league career, primarily as a reliever.
Latin Players and the Media
This photograph captures three Cuban-born players — Luis Aloma, Willy Miranda, and Héctor Rodríguez — on the 1952 Chicago White Sox talking to a Spanish-language reporter in the Yankee Stadium dugout. Sportswriters and photojournalists working for the Spanish-language press shared the stories of Latin players with an international audience.
Along with a fourth of the Afro-Caribbean players who played in the majors in first decade of integrated ball, Cuban catcher Ray Noble started his U.S. career in the Negro leagues. He played for four years on Alex Pompez’s New York Cubans, including their 1947 Negro League World Championship season. In 1949, he was sold to the New York Giants along with black teammates Ray Dandridge and Dave Barnhill. In his rookie year of 1951, Noble filled in for injured Giants catcher Wes Westrum, and continued to serve as their backup backstop through the 1953 season.
New Face of the Hall
The first black player in the American League, Larry Doby signed with the Cleveland Indians on July 2, 1947. In the face of racial prejudice, Doby “fought back by hitting the ball as far as I could.” He became the first black player to lead his league in home runs and slugging average, and to hit a World Series home run. In this photograph, Doby stands with Luis Aparicio of Venezuela in Yankee Stadium. Both players joined more than a dozen integration pioneers who were later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Bob Trice’s decade-long pitching career took him from the West Virginia steel town of Weirton to cities in the eastern United States, Canada, and Mexico. After winning the AAA International League’s Pitcher of the Year and Rookie of the Year Awards as a star hurler for the Ottawa A’s in Canada, Trice debuted as the first African-American player on the Philadelphia Athletics in 1953.
Revolution in Cuba
The Cuban Revolution transformed Osvaldo Salas’s career as a photographer. He closed his New York City studio and returned to Cuba in 1959. Serving as photographer for Fidel Castro’s government newspapers, Salas documented Cuba’s turbulent social and political transformation, creating a body of work for which he is best known and most celebrated.
Salas’s photographs have been exhibited in dozens of solo and group shows all over the world. He received more than 50 prizes for his work in contests and salons. In addition to other awards, he was acclaimed an International Master of Photography by the International Press Association in 1983.
— The National Baseball Hall of Fame gratefully acknowledges Rick Swig for
his generous donation of the Salas photograph collection and his support of
— The National Baseball Hall of Fame gives our special thanks to Roberto Salas,
Osvaldo’s son, for sharing his recollections of his father’s career.