‘Golden Era of Baseball’ in The Bahamas
The ‘Golden Era of Baseball’ in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas stretched from May 27, 1954 throughout the 1960s, the 1970s and into the early part of the 1980s.
During that time frame, there were many glorious moments that the sport and those closely connected to it, gave to the country. Sadly though, the special moments of the ‘Golden Era of Baseball’ or those akin have never revisited the local sporting scene with any appreciable regularity.
With the exception of Freedom Farm’s 12-and-under Cal Ripken World Series triumph in 2010 and Neil Forsythe’s 2-1 breakthrough victory for The Bahamas over Cuba at the 3rd World University Games, all else outside of the golden era paled in comparison to the milestones that highlighted an incredible development program under the guidance of the nation’s pioneers of organized baseball.
It was a grand sporting time in The Bahamas! Local baseball players and their mentors ushered in a culture of superiority. There would be a lot of signature happenings over the next 30 years, following the birth of the Bahamas Baseball Association (BBA).
Andre Rodgers who, up to this point in the country’s history has been most synonymous with baseball, led the way in 1957 when he was elevated to the major leagues to play with the New York Giants. Over the next 10 years, he would also play with the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He is the only Bahamian to have achieved a Major League Baseball (MLB) record of any kind. His was afield with Ken Hubbs in 1962 with the Cubs. As the regular shortstop, he teamed with second baseman Hubbs to set a league record for double plays. Rodgers was never on a championship team in the majors, but the 10 years he remained at the top level of the sport, set the standard for all who have followed.
In 1960, Tony Curry followed with the Philadelphia Phillies and had a torrid April before tapering off to hit .261 with six home-runs and 34 runs batted in (RBIs). He connected for 64 hits overall. Curry got into 95 games in his rookie season but just 15 the next year. He was sent down to the minors and did not surface in the majors again until 1966 when he was called up and played 19 games for the Cleveland Indians.
It was not until seven years later that The Bahamas would be represented in the majors again. One of the players was Ed Armbrister, the author of the controversial 10th inning bunt in Game Three of the 1975 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The play led to a 6-5 victory and the Cincinnati Reds went on to win the championship. Armbrister played with Cincinnati until 1977 and owns two World Series rings, one in 1976 to go along with the one in 1975.
Also in 1973, Wenty Ford pitched in four games for the Atlanta Braves and won one of three decisions. Ten years later, Will Culmer played seven games with the Cleveland Indians. His climb to the majors came as the golden era was closing out. Twenty-eight years later in 2011, Antoan Richardson played in nine games for the Atlanta Braves. Richardson is a part of the new era of baseball, orchestrated by the Bahamas Baseball Federation (BBF). He has been the best so far of a small group of professionals and a healthy number of players who were afforded academic scholarships through the BBF.
The ‘Golden Era of Baseball’ however had scores of players who would have earned scholarships through recruitment to colleges in the United States. The time was not right for them. Instead, the baseball scouts from the major leagues kept a strong focus on The Bahamas. The Bahamas was in fact a breeding ground for professional baseball players, comparable to the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. The sought-after diamond talent was here in abundance.
The names, for the most part, are legendary. They include other than the aforementioned early major leaguers, the following: Vincent Ferguson, George Weech, Edmundo Moxey, Lionel Rodgers, Adrian Rodgers, Hugh (Gris) Bethel, Randy Rolle, Eddie Ford, Vincent Albury, Henry Williams, Colin Thompson, Fred Smith, Jayson Moxey, Simeon Humes, Roy Bethel, Randy Rodgers, Frankie Sands, Roosevelt Turner, Fred Taylor, Sidney McKinney, Kendal Munroe, Sidney Outten, Keith Gomez, Crestwell Pratt, Shad Rolle, Louis McQuay, Andre Wood, Jackie Wright, Johnathon Armbrister, Randy Thompson, Douglas Smith and Ken Adderley.
New era professionals include Winston Seymour, Angelo Burrows, Jammal Johnson, Albert Cartwright, Geron Sands, Greg Burrows Jr., Neil Forsythe, Sean Albury and Ricardo Cartwright.
Many of the early professionals were superb performers and missed out on the major leagues only because they were not big bonus signees. Unfortunately, our ‘Golden era of Baseball’ overlapped the very heart of the ‘Bonus Baby’ age in the majors. That’s why many of the Bahamian professionals, no matter how well they played in the minors, had little chance for advancement. There were always players, primarily from the United States, who had signed for much more money and were accordingly considered greater investments.
For instance, when Fred “Papa” Smith stole more than 30 bases one year in the minors, he automatically would have been sent up to the majors toward the end of that season just to see how well he could make the adjustment. Some players were sent up (then and now) early enough to qualify for postseason play. Sadly, the signing disparity worked against the vast majority of those players from the ‘Golden Era of Baseball’ in The Bahamas.
In this, the 40th year of independence however, this is another category of sporting contributors who are worthy of being saluted.