Hundreds gathered at Babylon’s Argyle Lake Sunday, April 18, for a plaque dedication, honoring the Cuban Giants baseball team from 1885.
The Giants are most notable for being the first professional black baseball team in America and the ceremony, packed with dignitaries, baseball enthusiasts and many from the community, helped shed light on a group of men that helped pave the way for baseball and African Americans.
Situated on the northwest corner of the lake, the ceremony took place where many figure the baseball field was. The hotel was a luxurious getaway for wealthy folk of that day. The team gathered after their workdays to play ball, make extra cash and have fun. They probably didn’t know they’d be making history.
Town of Babylon Councilwoman Jacqueline Gordon spoke of the profound strides America has made to honor African Americans and their offerings to society.
“It’s been in the recent past that the contributions of African Americans to the backbone of this country has really begun to be revealed and today is one of those days,” she said after joking that she thinks baseball is boring. “Although baseball is just a sport, it’s part of who we are as a nation. We are finally getting our just due and being recognized in the part that we played in making this is a great nation.”
The longest speech of the ceremony was given by Long Island favorite Bud Harrelson, who is known for helping the New York Mets win a World Series in 1969 and for being a co-owner of the Long Island Ducks. His 12-minute oration touched upon everything from his golf game to his experiences with Willie Mays. He did, however, let the audience in on a lie he’s told for awhile.
“For many years I’ve been telling people I brought the first professional baseball team to Long Island,” he said, “so for 10 years I’ve been lying. The Cuban Giants are the first team. I could imagine these guys working all day in the hotel. What a beautiful thing it must have been for these players to come outside and entertain a lot of people.”
Author and historian Lee Lowenfish, as well as former major league pitcher Fred Cambria, former baseball scout John DeLuca and former New York State Senator Owen Johnson were also in attendance.
“It’s amazing to think that this team in 1885 came together 60 years before the color barrier was broken in baseball,” said Town of Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone. “We celebrate with this team a story of our nation; it’s past and our nation’s ability to overcome sins of the past and to continually renew itself to achieve its highest ideals. Fundamentally, it’s about a group of guys who liked to play baseball and what’s more American than that.”