By Reynaldo Cruz
Right now, there are two pairs of Cuban ballplayers in the MLB who have surnames that are unique in the sport. Obviously, one of those pairs is that of brothers Yuli and Lourdes Gurriel. However, the other might surprise many: the Iglesias surname has only existed TWICE in the history of the majors, with José and Raisel.
On some occasions, the repetition of the name is only due to the fact that they were relatives. However, there are other cases in which the relationship has not been proven, and in many cases there has been a considerable time difference.
In total there are 19 surnames that have been repeated in the major leagues and that are either Cuban or have roots on the Island.
Relatives and strangers
Until December 16, 2020, the name Tiant had been seen only once in the history of major league baseball. Everyone knows Luis Tiant Jr. who was undoubtedly one of the greatest pitchers of his era. Likewise, it was known that his father, Luis Tiant Sr. had pitched in the Negro Leagues. When the news came out that the colored circuits were to be recognized as Major Leagues, Tiant’s name was repeated for the first time. In other words, Tiant has, in addition to the merit of being the best Cuban pitcher in the history of the MLB, the merit of having a unique surname.
One of the first Cubans to debut in the major leagues was Ángel Aragón. The Havana native was the first Antillean to play for the New York Yankees. His son Jack would go on to play for one of the two subway rivals, the New York Giants. The Aragón last name, common in baseball, boxing and music in Cuba, had not been seen before or since in the history of the majors. Interestingly, Jack’s Aragon does not have a graphic accent, but we can assume that this is an error in registration.
Few players received as much attention for good and bad causes as José Canseco. From the second half of the 1980s to the present day, the Regla native received as much praise as criticism. From Rookie of the Year and MVP, he became a pariah and ostracized when he wrote his tell-all autobiography. However, it is curious to know that Jose has a twin brother named Osvaldo, known as Ozzie, who played with him for the Oakland Athletics. Evidently, Ozzie’s only merit as an athlete is his physical resemblance to José.
Oscar Luis Colás is shining today in the Minor Leagues. His promotion to the majors seems to be a matter of time, and when he does, he will be the third player with his last name in the Show. Before him, brothers Carlos and José Colás did it in the Negro Leagues. We cannot determine if there is any kinship between the Santiago prospect and these two brothers, since they were born in Havana.
Very little is known about Domingo Gámiz and Márgaro Gámiz, and it is not known with certainty if they are family related. Márgaro participated as a pitcher and second baseman in a Negro League campaign. Meanwhile, Domingo played a little more as a catcher, from 1926 to 1929.
Few families in Cuba have had as much attention as the Gurriel family. First, Lourdes Gurriel shined with Sancti Spíritus and Team Cuba in international events. Then, when he was manager, he welcomed his first two sons, Yunieski and Yulieski, to the team. Despite being the eldest, Yunieski only reached the Independent League with the Quebec Capitals, with whom he won a batting crown. It was Yuli and Lourdes Jr. who took the Show by storm.
René Monteagudo played pitcher and outfielder for four years in the 1940s. Meanwhile, his son Aurelio pitched seven years in the 1960s and 1970s. This father and son pair are part of the unique duo of ballplayers who bear the Monteagudo name.
One of the most successful pitchers in the transition from the Washington Senators to the Minnesota Twins was Camilo Pascual. The curious thing is that although Pascual is also used as a first name, its use as a surname in MLB is only exclusive to Camilo and his brother Carlos. The latter played a lackluster season with the Senators four years before his younger brother’s debut.
Also without apparent family ties are Rafael Pedroso and Eustaquio “Bombín” Pedroso. Both performed in the color circuits, however, they barely coincided. While “Bombín” finished his career with the Cuban Stars East 1926, Rafael made his debut that same year with the Cuban Stars West. It is curious that both played first in the CSW and finished their last game in the CSE.
Anyone would think that the Soler name has been repeated many times in the major leagues. As it turns out, only two players have carried it. The first was Pinar del Río pitcher Alay Soler, who pitched in 2006 with the New York Mets. Eight years later, Jorge Soler would make his debut and now he is preparing to play his tenth season this 2023.
Distant and without family ties
Sharing surnames at different times and without any apparent family ties are Hank Izquierdo and Hansel Izquierdo. The former, a catcher, was born in Matanzas and played with the Minnesota Twins in 1967. The latter, a pitcher, is a native of Havana and won his only two decisions in the year he played (2002) for the Florida Marlins.
Although the first player with the name Cañizares played in 1945, it was not until 2009 that it appeared in the major leagues. Bárbaro Cañizares, with an unexciting season with the Atlanta Braves, made his debut that year. It was not until 2020, when the inclusion of the Negro Leagues as major leagues was approved, that Avelino Cañizares was included. The latter played one year with the Cleveland Buckeyes.
Daniel Morejón and Adrián Morejón also appear in different stages, but with the same family name. The former, despite not having shined much with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958, his only season, was the hero of the Havana Sugar Kings’ victory the following year. The latter is currently pitching as a reliever for the San Diego Padres.
Curious cases of shared surnames
The most curious case of repeated surnames is that of Ibáñez. It turns out that former outfielder Raúl Ibáñez was not born in Cuba, but he does have Cuban ancestry. This name has been repeated only one other time in the majors, and this is the case of Isla de la Juventud’s native Andy Ibáñez, currently seeking a spot with the Detroit Tigers.
Also interesting is the case of two ballplayers who were even teammates. In 2019, Cubans Raisel Iglesias and José Iglesias were seen defending together the Cincinnati Reds’ jersey. Moreover, in 2021, they did it in the Los Angeles Angels. Although “Candelita” is currently a free agent, both players are still active. The Iglesias name, although common in Cuba, has not been repeated in the history of the Major Leagues.
Relatives not born in Cuba
Although not born in Cuba, Robert M. Estalella has Cuban blood. The Hialeah native catcher who played nine seasons in the Show is the grandson of Roberto “Tarzan” Estalella, a native of Cárdenas, Matanzas. Although he played nine seasons like his grandson, he played as a regular in four of them. After being out of the game for three years, he participated in the 1949 competition.
Controversial like Canseco, but being the Cuban slugger with the best numbers in history, Rafael Palmeiro also falls in this group. Raffy had a cousin who played at the same time, although he was not born in Cuba. He was Orlando Palmeiro, who was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. Although only the Baseball Reference Bullpen lists him as Rafael’s cousin, it is true that he is Cuban-American. Likewise, Preston Palmeiro, Rafael’s son, is currently in the Minor Leagues, and could be promoted at any time.
Leo Posada played parts of three seasons in the major leagues with decent numbers. More famous, however, was his nephew Jorge, born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Jorge had 17 successful seasons with the New York Yankees.
Another uncommon name is Seguí. The surname has been seen only twice in the major leagues. The first case was that of Diego Seguí, who stood out as a reliever and was until last year the leader in games pitched among Cubans. The second was his son David, born in Kasas City, Kansas, who played 15 seasons, some of them outstanding, as first baseman and outfielder.
Likewise, Cuban José Tartabull had a son who made it to the big leagues and was not born in Cuba. José played parts of nine seasons with two franchises, while his more successful son Danny did so in 15 years. Danny was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and during his time with the Yankees even appeared on the comedy show “Seinfeld” playing himself.
Those who could be coming
At this time, there are unique Cuban surnames that could also have a duplicate with a baseball player from the island. If Lázaro Armenteros were to be promoted to the Show, he would join Rogelio Armenteros as the only players with that surname in the history of the majors. Likewise, a promotion of Andy Pagés would unite him with New York Cubans member Pedro Pagés.
Yoelqui Céspedes has it more complicated, because although only his brother Yoenis has taken that name to the Show, there are currently other non-Cuban Céspedes in the minors. At some point Yoelqui is going to make it with the White Sox, that is undeniable. However, the question is whether any of those who carry his last name in the minors will get there before him.
So far, the number of unique surnames repeated with Cuban ties is 19. This 2023 the number could reach 22, and drop to 21. The interesting thing is to see how some family names that seem so simple to us can be exclusive to Cuba in the major leagues.