The Card Collection That Blurred Baseball’s Color Line

In the pages of this album, players from Latin American Leagues, the Negro Leagues, and Major League Baseball appear alongside each other

Caramelo Deportivo album cover
Caramelo Deportivo baseball card album after treatment by conservation technician Verónica Mercado Oliveras. The album contains cards of umpires, coaches, and players from Cuba’s four professional teams: Habana, Marianao, Cienfuegos, and Almendares. It also lists past seasons’ champions and records from Major League Baseball. (2016.0369.04) NMAH
In his book A House of Cards: Baseball Card Collecting and Popular Culture, John Bloom states that baseball cards are “all at once, commercial artifacts, forms of visual media, advertising mechanisms, popular art, and objects of exchange.” This is certainly true of the cards in Caramelo Deportivo, a beautiful album of baseball cards featuring 100 players from the 1945–46 Cuban professional winter league. Baseball fans could purchase the album, distributed by the Cuban candy manufacturer Felices, for five cents and collect 99 of the cards to paste into the album. The last card, #73, was issued to collectors only after they had acquired the rest of the set.
Napoleón Reyes paper baseball card
Napoleón Reyes (73) played first base with the New York Giants, and in Cuba played for Cienfuegos. His card is stamped with the words “EXCLUSIVAMENTE Para Coleccionar” (For collecting only), as it was not in general circulation; the manufacturer only issued the card to collectors after they showed proof of having collected all other 99 cards. NMAH

Baseball card collecting has long been one of the most popular ways fans have engaged with the sport. Some relish the excitement of seeking out their favorite players, and others enjoy the satisfaction of collecting a complete set. Either way, baseball card collections serve as fan-made archives of baseball history, commemorating players through the eyes of fans rather than solely celebrating their accolades and achievements.

Caramelo Deportivo features some of the most prominent players of the day, including World Series Champion Lou Kline, Negro League star pitcher and Hall of Fame inductee Raymond Brown, and Cuban legend Martín Dihigo. In the pages of the album, the color line that segregated baseball in the United States is blurred; players from Latin American Leagues, the Negro Leagues, and Major League Baseball appear alongside each other, just as they did while playing in the Cuban winter league. For Major League Baseball, this vision of the game was not possible until Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, but the Caramelo Deportivo album reflected the realities of baseball in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America, where players from different sides of the color line could play together.

Three pages from the Caramelo Deportivo album. Each page features eight cards complete with portraits and descriptions of various players.
Lou Klein (45) was a World Series Champion with the St. Louis Cardinals, Raymond Brown (30) was a two-time Negro League World Series Champion with the Homestead Grays, and Martín Dihigo (65) was a four-time Cuban League MVP and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. Also pictured are players from the Mexican and Venezuelan leagues. NMAH
The album also features several Cubans who made a significant impact on baseball in the United States. Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso was a key figure in the generation that bridged baseball from segregation to integration. From 1946 to 1948, he played in the Negro Leagues with the New York Cubans, and in 1949 Miñoso debuted as the first Afro-Latino player in the majors, just as the color line was dissolving. One of the other players spotlighted in the Caramelo Deportivo collection is Negro League star pitcher Luis Tiant Sr., Miñoso’s teammate and father of All-Star Luis Tiant Jr.
Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso baseball card
Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso (27) is featured in Caramelo Deportivo playing for Marianao during his first year of professional baseball. Miñoso won the 1947 Negro League World Series with the New York Cubans and appeared in four All-Star Games while playing for the Chicago White Sox. He would go on to play in five more All-Star Games and win three Gold Glove Awards. NMAH
Yellowed baseball signed by members of the 1953 White Sox
Collecting autographs is another way that fans commemorate their favorite players. Collectors often treasure autographs, not only for the signatures themselves, but for the knowledge that a player has touched this object or for the memories they represent of a real-life interaction with a favorite player. Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso’s signature is at the bottom of the seal on this ball, signed by the 1953 White Sox and now available in 3D. (CL.310547.119) NMAH
Luis “Lefty” Tiant Sr. baseball card
Luis “Lefty” Tiant Sr. (66) was a veteran of the Cuban League and the Negro League New York Cubans. Along with Miñoso, Tiant Sr. won the 1947 Negro League World Series and was a two-time Negro League All-Star. Although he never had the opportunity to play in Major League Baseball, his son, Tiant Jr., did. NMAH
Luis Tiant Jr.'s signed baseball jersey
Luis Tiant Jr. signed this jersey in 2015. Tiant Jr. had a successful 19-year career (1964–1982), primarily with the Boston Red Sox, and was a three-time All-Star. After a nearly 15-year separation from his family in Cuba due to political tensions, Tiant Jr. was reunited with his father when Tiant Sr. came to see his son pitch in the 1975 World Series. (2015.0318.01) NMAH

Baseball fans collect as a way to engage with the game and memorialize their favorite players. Collecting is both participatory and creative, in that it allows fans to interact with players and with each other while at the same time generating a tangible archive of the sport.

The Caramelo Deportivo album and other objects featured above are part of the exhibition ¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues / En los barrios y las grandes ligas. You can now view the full album online. Search other names in the album to find other autographs in the museum’s collection. Hint: there are at least five!

¡Pleibol! received generous support from the Cordoba Corporation and Linda Alvarado, and federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

This post was originally published on the National Museum of American History's blog on October 8. 2021. Read the original version here.