There isn't any mention of the Great Frozen Daiquiri Derby in all those file cabinets full of records they have in Cooperstown. That's a pretty big oversight, because the derby lasted for six baseball seasons in and around Havana.
I bring this up now because it looks like the U.S. State Department and Bowie Kuhn are going to do Cuba a big favor and send an All-Star team of major-leaguers down there. Some favor; actually, it'll only be partial payment of a tab long overdue.
The derby was fiercely contested by a hearty assortment of players, coaches, managers, club officials and writers. The major league Scotch or gin or bourbon drinker may sneer at the frozen daiquiri, but that just wasn't so in Cuba, where tourist bureau officials met teams deplaning from Miami with courtesy jars of the loaded snow cones. As a reporter who covered the Rochester Red Wings, I was a frequent recipient of these freebies.
The derby started in 1954, when International League officials begged Havana to join up. Before the league finished strip-mining Havana in the middle of the 1960 season—at which time the Sugar Kings were transplanted to Jersey City—a bunch of baseball people had sucked up a lot of paid vacations on the island. When it was all over, an honorable and once-wealthy Cuban named Bobby Maduro wound up holding the sack. He lost everything and defected to the U.S. (This wasn't the first time Maduro got zapped by his colleagues from the north. The league's directors once boosted his per diem ante for visiting teams from $200 to $800. A lot of this was, of course, used to buy frozen daiquiris.)
While it lasted, baseball in Havana was colorful and exciting. The Cubans were shy on power, so they perfected the whisper rally: walk, infield hit, stolen base, sacrifice fly. And woe to the player—on either side—who failed to hustle. The fans in Havana were not only emotional, but they also loved to gamble on every pitch. With both their hearts and their pesos riding on each delivery, it was no wonder that they whistled up ear-splitting criticism for players who dogged it.
Certainly very few visiting players let up off the field. Sunshine and salt water and glittering casinos made Havana a composite of Miami Beach and Las Vegas. But you were better off sticking your fingers in an electric fan than buying chips in the bust-out casinos run by U.S. mechanics. They could break both the pass and don't pass shooters within the same hour. The operators all became lamsters shortly after Fidel Castro replaced their silent partner, that bandit-murderer Fulgencio Batista.
Other diversions in Havana included buying hot watches and jewels at super-bargain prices. A guy from down on the docks known only as China would say, "Take it home. Have it appraised. Pay me next trip."
Whether they were watching a game or taking part in Havana's other pastimes, the Americans who came to Cuba for baseball were hardly ever seen without daiquiris in their hands. We kept cumulative records on the walls of the iron-lung press box. They were impressive, because something about the climate permitted massive consumption without too much damage.
Herewith are the results from the six-year Great Frozen Daiquiri Derby:
Out of respect for his survivors, the winner shall be identified only as a veteran scribe out of Buffalo. His winning score was 56 daiquiris from noon until dawn. He was abetted, however, by a rain-out.