Cuban baseball has a new champion: the team of the Alazanes of Granma won the 56th National Series and got the first crown for this province after 40 years in the championship (they made their debut in 1977). With that victory they also became the island’s representatives in the Caribbean Series, which concludes today in Culiacán, Mexico.
Playing better baseball than their opponents in the post season, the Granma baseball players did away with forecasts, brought down prejudices and favouritisms, while generating the empathy of a mayor part of the national fans. The fact that they were not among the favourites in the journalistic predictions – more inclined toward Matanzas and Ciego de Avila – won them that popular esteem, to which they responded with flying colours.
As if winning in the semi-finals against a Matanzas team that had broken a record of games won in the regular season were not enough, the Granma team struck 4-0 in the finals against the twice champion Ciego de Avila.
The truth must come out: the Granma team is indisputably the champion and both the leadership body as the technicians and the players deserve recognition, but this is another stage, totally diverse, because the reinforcements turn the teams into multi-provincial teams.
The Champion of one more structure
Granma is now the first team to be crowned in the new structure applied in the Cuban baseball championship, which boils down to being change number 17 carried out in the 56 seasons, according to my estimates. I have no news of any other sport league in the world that has made so many modifications. Following is their list:
1-4. In the first 4 national series there were 4 teams, but the amount of games varied in each season: 27, 30, 36 and 39.
- In the two following seasons there were 6 teams and the games played increased to 65.
- Starting with the 7th Series, the teams increased to 12 and the games grew to 99.
- Since the 9th up to the 11th, with the same amount of teams the games decreased to 66.
- In the 12th and the 13th, 14 teams played 78 games.
- From the 14th to the 16th a similar amount of teams remained, but playing only 39 games.
- Since the 17th to the 22nd, 18 teams participated, playing 51 games.
- In the 23rd and the 24th the 18 teams were divided into two divisions and they played 75 games.
- Since the 25th to the 31st the 18 teams were divided into two zones (western and eastern) and they played 48 games plus 6 playoff games.
- Between the 32nd and the 36th, the two zones were divided into groups of four teams each one (A and B for the west; C and D for the east) and the 16 teams played 65 games during the regular season; later they played against each other in the post season, which includes the semi-finals of both zones and the final between the winners.
- Starting with the 37th 90 games start to be played between 16 teams from the four groups.
- In the 51st Series there were 17 participating teams: Havana was left out because that province was divided into Artemisa and Mayabeque, the name given to the two new teams that joined.
- The 52nd Series (2012-2013) introduces important modifications: the two zones are united in a single one; the teams play 45 games during a first part of the regular season, with 16 teams, and a second stage where the first 8 play 42 games to seek 4 semi-finalists; in addition, Metropolitanos, which has been in the Series since the 14th (1974-1975), disappeared.
- In the 56th Series (2016-2017), the 16 teams played 45 games to seek 8 classifications. The first 4 went directly to the second stage of another 45 games, while of the last 4 two winners game out to play in the rest of the regular season, at the end of which the last two contenders were eliminated and the advance quartet went on to the semi-final playoffs.
Among these 17 modifications in the national series I did not include the change in the names of the vying teams, nor did I count the variations introduced in the playoffs; neither did I take into account the tournaments that have given continuity to the championship, such as the Star Series, the Selective Series, the 10 Million Series (1970) or the Special Series (1974-1975).
What calls the most attention (negatively) in the latest implemented structures is the reduction in the number of games (45), first for half of the provinces, and now for 10 of them, with the supposed objective of raising the standard of baseball and bringing about a better spectacle. How can a sport that is increasingly played less going to develop.
The Caribbean Series and the World Classic
The strengthened Granma team, the Cuban representative in the Caribbean Series, aims to improve the result of Ciego de Avila in the previous edition, but independently of the place they come in, its director already scored a victory by being able to take to Mexico the majority of the players with which he won the championship.
The following chapter in the international arena is much more complicated: the World Baseball Classic. The Cuban team will travel to the Asian continent in March in search of its classification for the next stage of the tournament. The forecasts about its performance are very difficult because the level of national baseball has considerably decreased. In any case, good luck to Granma in the Caribbean Series and let’s hope for a miracle for the island’s team in the Classic.
When the previous Classic ended, from this same column I wrote that I had high hopes that for this one the Cuban baseball players who play in the U.S. Major Leagues could be present in the national team. It was not possible. Let’s dream they can be in the next one; that would surely be a big and significant change. (2017)
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