Minor League history: Florida International League

The Florida International League was a rather stable baseball league that lasted from 1946 though 1954. In fact it was a continuation of the 1940-1942 Florida East Coast League with a couple of the same cities. The backbone of the league were the teams in Miami, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Havana. The team in Havana earned the league the name “international”. 

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Florida International League baseball
Official Florida Int’l League ball

The Florida International League or FIL for short, saw the light in 1946. In its first three years it was rated as a Class C league. In 1949 the league received an upgrade to Class B. The Havana team was one of the best in the first years as it finished on top of the standings in the first five years and won the FIL championship in 1947 and 1948. Because of the distances, the league was the first league to use airplanes to transport its teams.

Cities repesented:

Fort Lauderdale, FL: Fort Lauderdale Braves 1947-1952; Fort Lauderdale Lions 1953
Havana, Cuba: Havana Cubans 1946-1953
Key West, FL: Key West Conchs 1952
Lakeland, FL: Lakeland Pilots 1946-1950; Lakeland Patriots 1951; Lakeland Pilots 1952
Miami, FL: Miami Sun Sox 1946; Miami Tourists 1947-1948; Miami Sun Sox 1949-1954; Greater Miami Flamingos 1954
Miami Beach, FL: Miami Beach Flamingos 1946-1952; Miami Beach Flamingos 1954
St. Petersburg, FL: St. Petersburg Saints 1947-1954
Tallahassee, FL: Tallahassee Rebels 1954
Tampa, FL: Tampa Smokers 1946-1954
West Palm Beach, FL: West Palm Beach Indians 1946-1954

The Havana Cubans were one of the few teams with an affiliation in the league. They were Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Florida International League baseballaffiliated with the Washington Senators from 1947 through 1953. The Miami Beach
Flamingos had an affiliation with the Boston Braves in 1946. The West Palm Beach had a special affiliation. In 1950 they were affiliated with the Philadelphia Athletics but in 1954 they were the Class B affiliation of the Havana Sugar Kings, the team that used to be the Havana Cubans in the FIL until 1954. The Miami Sun Sox were affiliated with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1949 through 1954.

Due to the low altitude, the FIL was a pitchers league. In 1952 Gil Torres and Billy Harris each had ERAs under 1.00. Gil Torres, who usually played as an outfielder, stepped in as a pitcher at times. In 1952 he turned to pitching fulltime and posted a 22-8 record with an ERA of a microscopic 0,86.
Other indications that the league was a pitchers league are the number of homeruns. The homerun champ of 1946, Armando Valdes, had seven homeruns. The most homeruns hit by a team in that season were eighteen.
The batting average of the 1946 batting champ, Ralph Brown of the Tampa Smokers, contradicts this. His average of .381 was the best in the league. But the second best average was .338, not bad either. Another example of a great hitter was Roberto Fernandez who, except for two seasons, hit well above .300 from 1949 through 1954 for the Havana Cubans.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Florida International League baseball
Havana Cubans program

The FIL always was a competitive league. But the 1952 season was something special. Especially because of the tight pennant race between the two Miami based teams.
The Miami Beach Flamingos were close of disbanding due to financial difficulties but a Kansas City (Missouri) business man stepped in, purchased the club and  and assumed all of its debts. All season it was a neck-and-neck race between the two Miami teams. Eventually the Miami Sun Sox finished on top of the standings with a 104-48 record, one game in the lead over the Flamingos, who went 103-49.
In the play offs both teams won their semi final series 3-2 and the heated rivals met again in the championship series. Both teams made it a show and needed seven games to decide who would win the title. With a 5-1 victory in game seven, the Sun Sox would clinch its second FIL title.
That 1952 season will also be remembered as the season in which the league took over the Fort Lauderdale Braves on June 1 and moved them to Key West, where they played the remaining season as the Key West Conchs.

Paul Waner, a (future) hall of famer, who played his final MLB game in 1945 was the player/manager of the Miami Sun Sox in 1946. With the Sun Sox he hit a decent .325. The Sun Sox/Tourists had other former MLB players as their manager. In 1949 Pepper Martin became the manager of the Sun Sox. Martin had an extensive MLB career with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1928 through 1944. As MLB Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Florida International League baseballplayer, Martin had a life time batting average of .298. He won two World Series with the Cardinals, was a four time All Star and led the National League in stolen bases three times. Next to managing the Sun Sox, Martin had other managing stints in the FIL. In 1952 and 1954, Martin managed the Miami Beach Flamingos and in 1953 he was at the helm of the newly established Fort Lauderdale Lions and brought them the FIL championship. Despite winning the championship, the team would not return to the FIL in 1954.

In 1952 the Florida International League started a discussion to include some Florida State Negro Baseball League teams in the spring of 1952. But in that year many of the FIL teams had started to sign black players, to this became a moot point.

In the early fifties Havana Cubans pitcher Carols Pascual pitched a 14-inning game against the Miami Beach Flamingos that was ended due to a curfew with a 1-1 tie. In those days Fidel Castro had started his revolution against dictator Bautista.

Florida International League championship series:

1946: Tampa 4 games, West Palm Beach 2
1947: Havana 4 games, Tampa 0
1948: Havana 4 games, Tampa 3
1949: Tampa 4 games, Havana 0
1950: Miami 4 games, Havana 1
1951: St. Petersburg 4 games, Miami 0
1952: Miami 4 games, Miami Beach 3
1953: Ft. Lauderdale 4 games, St. Petersburg 2

The FIL had a booming attendance. The number of spectators in 1949 well exceeded 900,000 in 1949. But in 1953 the numbers declined rapidly, like many minor leagues. And when Havana left the league to join the International League in 1954, the FIL collapsed rapidly. The league did take off in 1954 but did not make it ’till the end. After the Tampa Smokers and the Miami Sun Sox disbanded on May 5, the Miami Beach Flamingos moved to Miami on May 22. Eventually the now four team league folded on June 27.

The Miami Beach Flamingos wore pink shorts (photo: flannelofthemonth.blogspot.com)
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