Cristobal Torriente, like most of the 2006 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees from Negro League baseball, had not been well-known to many baseball fans. That includes a long time one such as yours truly. His feats on the diamond had not been celebrated as contributions to Negro League lore similar to those of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and the other Negro League legends that had previously been enshrined in Cooperstown. But Torreinte deserved Hall of Fame recognition and he received it in 2006.
Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba on November 16, 1893, Torriente saw a few of his white countrymen play Major League baseball. However, he could not due to the dark hue of his skin. Just like African-American professional baseball players for nearly half of the 20th Century, he could not cross Major League baseball’s “invisible color line”. Instead, Torriente showcased his baseball talents in the Negro Leagues.
In a poll of former Negro League players and sportswriters conducted in the early 1950s, Cristobal Torriente was named one of the best outfielders to play in the Negro Leagues. Known as the “Cuban Strongman, the left-handed slugger stood 5’11”, 185 pounds, with broad shoulders, and a rifle for a throwing arm.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which profiles the Hall of Fame outfielder:
“Pitchers had a hard time getting him out due to his quick,
powerful swing. They could not throw strikes pass him. Getting him
to swing at pitches out of the strike zone also did not work because
the Cuban was a notorious bad ball hitter. Facing him was an
experience pitchers dreaded.
Many stories have been told as a testimony of the Cuban’s
power when batting. One is about a line drive he hit off the right
field wall in Indianapolis against the ABCs. Supposedly the ball was
hit so hard, it got to the wall so fast, the right fielder was able to
throw the speedy Torriente out at first base. Another story is about
a ball he supposedly hit in Kansas City against the Monarchs. It
smashed a clock 17 feet above the centerfield fence. According to
Torriente’s American Giant teammate shortstop Bob Williams,
“The hand of the clock started going round and round.” It is doubtful
all the stories of balls hit by Torriente are true. But there is no
doubt he was one of the best hitters seen by Negro League fans.
Little is known about the early life of Cristobal Torriente in
Cuba. From most information, he was born in 1893 in Cienfuegos.
His family worked in the fields and boiler houses of the area’s sugar
mills. By 17 he was in the Cuban Army displaying his physical
strength by loading heavy guns onto mules; while also blasting
baseballs around local sandlots.
After being a young phenomenon in the 1913 Cuban Winter
League, the 19 year old Torriente joined the Cuban Stars and played
his first season in the United States. The Stars were a traveling team
that played mainly against independent black professional baseball
teams. No official African American league existed at the time, but
the Stars competed against such black teams as the New York
Lincoln Giants, New York Lincoln Stars, Chicago American Giants,
and others. The change in surroundings did not hinder Torriente.
He quickly began to establish himself as the team’s hitting star
going up against the likes of “Smokey Joe” Williams, “Cannonball”
Dick Redding, ”Big Bill” Gatewood, and other Negro League
pitchers. By many accounts, Torriente hit .383 that first year. And if
the Stars’ opponents believed that was just rookie luck, the strong
Cuban put that to rest the next season by again hitting over .300. In
his years with the Cuban Stars, he reportedly never hit less than
For more of Cristobal Torriente’s Negro League baseball story, read Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. For more information, go to http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.