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“Joe Cambria: Saint or Scoundrel? The Controversial Life of the Washington Senators ‘Super Scout’ "

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#1 ashbury

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Posted 12 July 2020 - 08:05 PM

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in another thread an upcoming talk, as part of SABR's 2020 virtual convention, concerning the old Senators' scout Joe Cambria. The presenter is Paul Scimonelli, a retired schoolteacher in Bethesda, Maryland; he's working on a full length book about Cambria. The talk was given last Thursday (a recording of it is on YouTube) and here is my summary.

 

The title, "Saint or Scoundrel?" focused more on his sketchy business practices (for the scoundrel part). He sounded typical of a small time operator trying to skirt the limits of the rules, although maybe a little moreso than most, as regarded contract signings for the minor league teams he owned in the 20s and 30s, including conflicts of interest since minor league team ownership while also scouting for a major league team was frowned on. This applied regardless of the race of the player, as he was at one time part-owner of a Negro Leagues team, the Baltimore Black Sox.

 

Turning to the Cuban signings during his Senators days: in addition to Versalles and Oliva, Cambria was also credited with scouting/signing Carlos Paula, the first Senator to break the color line late in 1954. There were a couple of other players of color (Angel Scull, Raul Sanchez*) who were slated to reach the majors a little sooner, but injury and sub-par performance short-circuited both of those projects in the pipeline.

 

The author was pretty adamant, when I asked specifically, that Joe Cambria wasn't an obstacle to integration, even though the record shows that the majority of Cubans he is credited with signing were light-skinned. He believes, on the contrary, that Cambria had advocated Minnie Minoso and Roy Campanella to Washington, right after the War, just before Jackie Robinson made the scene. The Griffith family's qualms about the financial wisdom of embracing black ballplayers had more to do with Washington's slowness to join the integration process, if I may paraphrase. (As a side note, if you watch the video at around the 1:32:00 mark, you may notice the moderator being a little careful, hesitant, or even uncomfortable while reading my question to the speaker. It's a touchy subject, no matter how you approach it. I am grateful that he did pass it through, and that the speaker accepted the question in the open spirit it was offered.)

 

The author won't get his book out the door until next year, as he has some research yet to do and the libraries not being open are a current obstacle. But the state of the research at present seems good - I saw multiple comments from fellow SABRites saying this was meticulously researched. I'm looking forward to seeing the book when it comes out.

 

* I took a look at Raul Sanchez on baseball-reference.com, and he looks pretty light-skinned to me. I think the presenter simply mis-spoke and had a different pitcher in mind.

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#2 SkyBlueWaters

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Posted 12 July 2020 - 10:31 PM

Aside from watching the game: a batter in the box, a pitcher going into the windup, I can't think of anything that gets to the essence of what I love about baseball more than a post like this.(Okay, maybe a close second: reading of how fans in Minneapolis and St. Paul used to attend doubleheaders between Nicollet Park and the other side of the Mississippi when the Millers and Saints played home and away in the same day. I want to take the streetcar from one park to the other. I want to buy a Hamms in each park and see games between the same teams on the same day.) 

 

To add to what Ashbury gives us above, many baseball historians say that the relationship between Clark Griffith and Cambria was unique.

 

The pipeline of talent from Cambria to the Senators is noteworthy, but nowhere else in baseball do you have a guy operating, over the course of his life, so many minor league teams at different levels while selling up to an MLB team. It's the obverse of the fat cats. The 21st century version is called arbitrage, like how Tampa Bay works to develop then deal talent.

 

Cambria operated between Boston and Baltimore, but by the end of his life he's bigger than life in Cuba, right through the revolution, because he knows Castro. Who was, as is well known, a pitcher. And yeah, Cambria still worked in Cuba after the revolution. I want to see the movie.

 

Cambria had worked with Clark Griffith for so many years, he said he wanted to be buried in a Senators jersey. At the end, in Minneapolis, Calvin made a joke before the press about how it now had to be a Twins jersey. Cambria went along with the gag, until Calvin left the room. Then told the reporters:I'll be buried in a Senators jersey. He died in Minneapolis in '62; I hope he got his wish.

 

Thanks, Ashbury, great stuff.

 

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