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Cristobal Torriente

Cristobal Torriente
a.k.a. Christobel (Carlos) Torriente

Career: 1913-1928
Positions: cf, lf, rf, p, 3b, 1b
Teams: Cuban Stars (1913-1918), All Nations (1913, 1916-1917), Chicago American Giants (1918-1925), Kansas City Monarchs (1926), Detroit Stars (1927-1928), Gilkerson's Union Giants (1930), Atlanta Black Crackers (1932), Cleveland Cubs (1932)
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Height: 5' 9''   Weight: 190
Born: November 16, 1893, Cienfuegos, Cuba
Died: April 11, 1938, New York, New York
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2006)

The slugging superstar of Rube Foster's great Chicago American Giants of 1918-1925, he was also an outstanding fielder with great range and a strong, accurate arm. This muscular left-handed power hitter was the only legitimate slugger on Foster's team, and although primarily a pull hitter, he hit with power to all fields. A notorious bad-ball hitter, any pitch that left the pitcher's hand was likely to end up against the outfield wall. The stocky center fielder combined exceptional power with deceptive speed, and was an accomplished base stealer who could fit into Foster's bunt-and-run mold when the need presented itself.

In the first three years of the newly formed Negro National League, 1920-1922, Torriente led the American Giants to consecutive championships, with averages of .411, .338, and .342. He claimed the league batting title mark in 1920 and again in 1923, when he topped the league with a .412 average. Setting the table for the slugger during these years were several players from Rube Foster's stable of racehorses, including Bingo DeMoss, Jimmy Lyons, Jelly Gardner, and Dave Malarcher. Torriente, Gardner, and Lyons formed one of the fastest and best defensive outfields of all time.

In postseason play Torriente is credited with a .302 average for the 1921 playoffs. The following season, the Cuban superstar lost playing time due to an injury, but Foster had acquired the services of slugger John Beckwith, who picked up the slack until Torriente got back into the lineup. In addition to his tremendous hitting, the Cuban superstar, who began his career as a pitcher and had a 15-7 lifetime league ledger, often displayed his versatility by taking a turn on the mound.

Torriente's predilection for "nightlife" contributed to his being traded to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1926, where his team-leading .381 batting average sparked the team to the first-half championship. His temperament manifested itself again in mid-August, when he quit the Monarchs after being refused reimbursement by the owner for a lost diamond ring. His absence during this dispute was critical and may have cost the Monarchs the second-half title, as they lost out to the Chicago American Giants. In the playoff against his old teammates, the burly outfielder hit for a .407 average in a losing effort. His difficulties with the Monarchs' management facilitated his exit from Kansas City, and he signed with the Detroit Stars, where he hit .339 and .320 during his two seasons (1927-1928) in the Motor City.

As the 1930s approached, Torriente was winding down a career that started during the deadball era with two independent ballclubs, the Cuban Stars and the All Nations team. Rube Foster coveted the stocky Cuban's skills and secured his services for a short time in 1914, before landing him to stay in 1919. That year, Torriente hit .325 and paired with Oscar Charleston in the American Giants' outfield to form a deadly duo.

Jocko Conlan, a Hall of Fame umpire who barnstormed against black teams as a player, regarded Torriente as a great hitter. A lifetime .333 hitter in the Negro Leagues, he also recorded a lifetime average of .352 for thirteen seasons in the Cuban winter league. Other than his first year (1913), when he hit .265 and his last year (1927), when he hit .222, he batted over .300 in every season except one. Counting two batting titles among his credits while playing in his homeland, he put together a string of seasons with averages of .337, .387, .402, .360, .296, .350, .346, .380, .344, and .375. Torriente, along with Dihigo and Mendez, are considered the greatest of the Cuban players from the Negro Leagues, and Torriente was among the first group of ten players elected to the Cuban Hall of Fame.

The Cuban slugger also hit for an average .313 against major-league competition in exhibitions. One series played in Cuban in the winter of 1920 is particularly noteworthy. Almendares, with Torriente, played a nine-game series against the New York Giants, who had added Babe Ruth to their roster for the tour of the island. Torriente out-hit Ruth. 378, to .345, out-homered him 3 to 2, and compiled a .757 slugging percentage as Almendares edged the Ruth-assisted Giants by a 1-game margin.

A complete ballplayer with superb talent, if he were playing today he would be considered "the franchise" of any team on which he played. Indianapolis ABCs' manager C.I. Taylor stated, "If I should see Torriente walking up the other side of the street, I would say, 'There walks a ballclub.' " The New York Giants, recognizing the potential impact his talents would have on a ballclub, scouted the light brown Torriente and would have signed him to play in the major leagues except for the rough texture of his hair.

After his skills began fading he played with teams of lesser quality, including Gilkerson's Union Giants, the Cleveland Cubs, and the Atlanta Black Crackers. Torriente left baseball in the mid-1930s but while making his home in Ybor City, Florida, in 1938, he was being sought by Black Crackers' acting manager Don Pelham to play again in Atlanta. However, there is no record that Pelham was successful in his quest, and the greatest Cuban home run hitter in baseball history faded into obscurity as a lonely, impoverished alcoholic. He was reported to have died in New York City of tuberculosis a short time afterward, and his body was returned to his homeland draped in a Cuban flag for interment.

Torriente was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Cristobal Torriente photo

Cristobal Torriente