Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Luis Castro as the 1st Latino Major Leaguer?

It's funny how things work out. In my last post I list the pioneers of Latino baseball players. Since the last post, there has been some activity and debate on various websites on whether Luis Castro was the 1st Latino Major Leaguer. The debate is not on whether he played in the Major Leagues. That much is sure, it's whether he was born in Colombia, Panama or the United States that the issue gets confusing. To further muddle the debate, if Castro was not the 1st Latino Major League then who was, and under what criteria should the decision be made. First let me describe who Luis Castro was.

Irregardless of where he was born, it is known that he was born in 1876 (Some dates place it at November 24th). Similar to Esteban Bellan (who was profiled in my last post), Castro played his initial baseball at school while attending Manhattan College in New York City. Some dates place him there starting in 1891 and 1894, but it is known that he played for the Manhattan College team for three years. From there, his baseball experience is within various leagues. In 1898, he played for Utica, 1900 he played for Atlantic City and in 1901, he played in the Connecticut State League. How he came to be discovered by the Philadelphia Athletics for the 1902 season is not known but he did play for the Athletics in the 1902 season.

Due to a contract dispute between The Athletics and their second basemen Nap LaJoie, the second basemen position became available. The manager of the Athletics, Connie Mack, chose Luis Castro to be his second basemen. Here are his statistics for 1902:


Castro was let go after the 1902 season and played Minor League baseball among various leagues for about 17 years. What he did after baseball is not known but it is known that he lived with his wife in Flushing, NY and died in New York City on September 24, 1941. Pretty straightforward or so it seems.

The debate starts at this point. As per the 1910 census, Luis Castro is listed as being born in Colombia but this changes with the 1930 census where his birthplace is listed as New York City. Why the change? Speculation lies in that he was afraid of being deported. Also, since it is believed that he was in financial straits in his later years, in order to get benefits he may have needed to be a citizen of the United States. Who truly knows. The following piece of information may shed some new light where he was truly born. Based on the research of Nick Martinez, a ship's log of the SS Colon which left Colombia in 1885, a man named Nestor Castro and his eight year old child Luis (who was born in Colombia) were on the ship coming to New York City for business. Instead they stayed in the United States to make a new life for themselves.

So was he the 1st Latino Major Leaguer? If he was born in Colombia, then absolutely. If he was born in NYC, then I guess not if you subscribe to the idea that a person born in a non Latino country to a Latino parent(s)is not Latino. Though my position lies somewhere between both points of view. I believe that at least for the 1st Latino Major Leaguer he should have been at least born in Latin America. For later players, I think that if at least one of your parents were Latino, then you are Latino. Some authors have different views which can be seen in the following links:

Ian Herbert Smithsonian Magazine 9/1/2007
Peter Bjarkman's blog post 9/25/2007
Louis Castro website by Nick Martinez
Jesse Sanchez article on MLB.com 4/23/2007

So let me be devil's advocate for a second. If Castro wasn't the 1st, then who was. I personally think that Esteban Bellan should be listed as the 1st since he played in the Major League of his time (National Association) and whether the MLB, Elias Sports Bureau or any other agency doesn't recognizes it shouldn't change the fact that Bellan played Professional baseball before any other Latin ballplayer. But if we do go with the theory that the National Association wasn't a major league then who should it be. I just found about a baseball player called Charles "Chick" Pedroes who in 1902 played 2 games for the Chicago Orphans who was born in Havana but came to Chicago at the age of 2 years old. So where does he stand. I believe that this issue will only be further developed though research and I hope to be able to bring you some of that research in the near future.


Monday, August 13, 2007

1st Latino Pioneers

Latinos have been a part of professional baseball for over a century. Playing throughout the many varied leagues in the United States, Latinos have played an important role in not only advancing the game in The United States but also in their homelands. Here is the list of the 1st Latino ballplayers from Latin America. Though the list is not in order of appearance for each individual Latino, it is broken down by the 1st player from each represented country to play in the Major Leagues.

Colombia: Luis Castro 1902 Philadelphia Athletics
Cuba: Armando Marsans/Rafael Almeida 1911 Cincinnati Reds
Mexico: Baldomero “Mel” Almada 1933 Boston Red Sox
Venezuela: Alejandro Carrasquel 1939 Washington Senators
Puerto Rico: Hiram Bithorn 1942 Chicago Cubs
Panama: Humberto Robinson 1955 Milwaukee Braves
Dominican Republic: Osvaldo Virgil Sr. 1956 New York Giants
Nicaragua: Dennis Martinez 1976 Baltimore Orioles
Honduras: Gerald Young 1987 Houston Astros

Now, technically the 1st Latino to play professional baseball in the United States was Esteban Enrique Bellan (1850-8/8/1932) of Cuba. Also known as Steve Bellan, he played his college baseball at The University of Fordham during the years of 1863-1868 on the Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club. The Fordham Baseball Club had the distinction of being the first school to play in the first ever nine-man team college baseball game in the United States against St. Francis Xavier College on November 3, 1859.

Professionally, Bellan played for the Unions of Morrisania, an upstate New York team. In 1869 Bellan joined the Troy Haymakers for whom he played third base until 1872. In 1871 the Haymakers joined the National Association of Professional Baseball Players (NAPBBP) also known as the National Association. Eventually a number of its teams became the National League on February 2, 1876.

After his time with the Haymakers, Bellan played a year with the New York Mutuals and then returned to Cuba. On December 27, 1874 Bellan played in the first organized baseball game in Cuba. From 1878-1886 he served as both a player and manager for the recently founded Havana baseball team. He led Havana to multiple Cuban baseball championships (1878-79, 1879-1880, and 1882-1883).

Why is Bellan not recognized as the 1st Latino to play in MLB?
Though the National Association is commonly considered the first professional baseball league, its status as the first Major league disputed. By the official history of Major League Baseball, the National Association is not recognized as one of the recognized historical major leagues and MLB does not recognize the compiled statistics from that league. So, based on that reasoning, Bellan is not considered to be the 1st Latino to play in MLB.

In future posts, I will attempt to highlight each of the 1st Latino Baseball players. If you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post and comment. Any and all information helps to round out my blog.

Thank You.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Inter-American League of 1979

This is the last of a four-part entry on the role of minor league teams in Latin America. As we highlighted in the three prior posts, Cuba was the location of the first two minor league teams in Latin America (Havana Cubans and Havana Sugar Kings). This time around, the idea was more ambitious. Organized by Roberto “Bobby” Maduro, the league was to be played within the U.S. and Latin America. The league was to be played within the framework of an AAA class league with no affiliation to Major League Baseball. With the league commencing play in 1979, the following cities were chosen:

Miami Amigos (U.S.)
Caracas Metropolitanos (Venezuela)
Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia (Venezuela)
Santo Domingo Azucareros (Dominican Republic)
Puerto Rico Boricuas
Panama Banqueros

Though the idea that baseball was very popular in Latin America, the interest in the new league by the local population did not reflect that. Very often, the team’s average attendance was in the low one thousands and in some cases in the hundreds. This lack of revenue from the gates with limited revenues from radio and television plus the expense of international travel put a dent in the league’s operations. With the financial losses mounting, the Panamanian and Puerto Rican franchises folded on June 17 leaving only 4 teams continuing play. This was only to last for another 13 days when the rest of the league was disbanded. Of the six teams, only the Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia and Miami Amigos were the only teams remaining that wanted to continue the financially troubled league.

The final team standings were as follows:
Inter-American League Standings 1979
Santo Domingo 3829
Puerto Rico 1639

Here is a description of the 6 franchises:

1. Miami Amigos

The team played its games at Miami Stadium leading the league with a 51-21 record. With the league folding during its inaugural season, the Amigos were crowned as the only Champion of the Inter-American Baseball League. Being the best team of the league, they naturally led in the league in most categories. Former Major-League player and future Major-League manager Davey Johnson managed the Amigos. The team’s average attendance was 1,350 fans per game.

2. Caracas Metropolitanos

The team played its games within the Venezuelan capital of Caracas finishing with a record of 37-27 for second place. Jim Busby managed the team, and the team drew an average 3,500 fans per game, which made it the most popular team in the league in terms of attendance.

3. Santo Domingo Azucareros

The team played its games within the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo finishing with a record of 38-29 for third place. Mike Kekich managed the team, and the team drew an average of 1,000 fans per game.

4. Maracaibo Petroleros de Zulia

The team played its games within the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo; the team went 31-36 for fourth place. Former major leaguers Pat Dobson, Gus Gil and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio managed the team, and the team drew an average of 1,100 fans per game.

5. Panama Banqueros

The Panama Banqueros went 15-36 for fifth place. Chico Salmon and Willie Miranda managed the team, and the team drew an average of 800 fans per game.

6. Puerto Rico Boricuas

The team played its games within the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan; the team went 16-39 for sixth place. Jose Santiago managed the team, and the team drew an average of 650 fans per game. As with the Panama Banqueros, financial difficulties forced them to fold at the end of the first half of the season.

Why did the league fail?
For obvious reasons, a lack of profits was the main reason. With only one team having a television deal (Caracas) and only three with radio deals, it was hard to promote and generate revenues from a product that was not visible to the local population. In addition, the expense of international travel between locations was crippling league’s dwindling finances.

Similarly to the situation with the Montreal Expos who played a number of games in Puerto Rico a couple of seasons ago it was hard to convince the local population to attend games. In comparison to the Winter League games that are played in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean, many of the fans are allowed free entry after a certain amount of time after the game has started. In addition, the expense of attending a Winter League game is less for the fan that it would be for a fan at a Major League Game.

Can a league like this succeed today?
In my opinion, if the league does not have substantial financial banking then it can’t survive. Only with the backing of Major League Baseball can an endeavor like this succeed. The league would need operate within the off-season of the Caribbean Winter Leagues so as to not affect their season. With the potential shift of power in Cuba at the end of the Castro regime, the movement for the reintroduction of professional baseball in the Caribbean/Latin American could be looming on the horizon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Havana Sugar Kings 1954-1960

Continuing with the four part series on Minor League baseball in Latin America, this third entry is about the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. This period was one where baseball and politics walked hand in hand. Things not only in the Minor Leagues changed but things were never the same in organized baseball.

The Havana Sugar Kings were an AAA affiliate of The Cincinnati Reds from the years 1954-1960. Playing within the prestigious International League, the league truly had an international feel, with teams in Cuba and Canada (Havana and The Hamilton Tigers, Montreal Royals, Toronto Maple Leafs).

Though the team was short lived, it did find success. Twice the team reached the post-season in 1955 and 1959, and it was in 1959 that the team reached its peak. Ending up with 3rd place in the league, The Sugar Kings upset both the Columbus Jets (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Terry Proctor for the correction in the comments section. The Columbus Jets played from 1955-1970 before moving to Charleston, West Virginia becoming the Charleston Charlies in 1971. The Columbus Clippers were created in 1977) and the Richmond Virginians in the playoffs for a berth in the Junior Series. Politically, the rise of the Havana Sugar Kings was paralleled by the rise to power of Fidel Castro.

Meeting the representative of the American Association and the defending Junior World Series champion Minneapolis Millers (An affiliate of The Boston Red Sox with a young Carl Yazstremski on the playoff roster), the series was a riveting affair. Going the full seven games, two of the games (including the decisive seventh game) were decided in the last of the ninth inning, as well as, two others being decided in extra innings.

The series opened at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. Though winter weather tends to come to the Minneapolis area earlier than other locations in the US, a rare blast of early winter weather arrived leading to small crowds. With the series tied at one (Havana won Game One 5-2, Minneapolis won Game Two 6-5), and snowflakes dotting the Minneapolis landscape, the series was shifted to the warm weathered locale of Havana. Though the weather was to the liking of both teams, the political climate was not. Armed troops were located throughout the city and especially at the Gran Stadium where the games were being played. The Millers were told not to leave the hotel during their free time, for their own safety.

Havana jumped out to three games to one lead on two consecutive extra inning victories (3-2 in 10 and 4-3 in 11). Not conceding defeat, the Millers roared back with two consecutive victories, tying the series and forcing a deciding Game Seven which Havana ended up winning leading to a massive celebration within the city of Havana. The celebration and joy would be short lived.

Though Castro vowed to support the Minor League endeavor, his nationalization of American industries in Cuba led to the eventual withdrawal of the Havana Sugar Kings. On July 13, during the 1960 season, The Havana Sugar Kings were no more. With the move to Jersey City, they became known as the Jersey City Jerseys. They played out the 1960 season in Jersey City to a 76-77 record. The move of the Sugar Kings not only signaled the end of Minor League baseball in Cuba, but also the end of all professional sports in Cuba. Many Cuban born professional athletes decided to stay in the United States, never again seeing their native land becoming enemies of the state. Throughout the years, a many number of players would also defect the island nation to the shores of the United States and the fulfillment of the dreams to play professional baseball.

Though the loss of Havana was felt throughout the International League, the league officials tried to maintain a foothold in the Caribbean. In 1961, the Miami Marlins (the same of the former Florida International League with the Havana Cubans from 1946-1954) were moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Financial difficulties led to the team to be moved to Charleston, West Virginia becoming the Charleston Marlins.

Playing on the Sugar Kings championship team of 1959 was Mike Cuellar, a Cuban from Las Villas who would pitch on the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles of the late 1960’s, Luis Arroyo, a Puerto Rican who played on the 1961 Yankees, and former major leaguer Cookie Rojas. Here is the final record count for the Havana Sugar Kings:
Havana Sugar Kings 1954-1960
Lost 1st Round

Our next and last post on Minor League Baseball in Latin America is an ambitious effort to bring Minor League Baseball to the Latin Caribbean basin. Though the idea had potential, it was possible way ahead of its time.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Havana Cubans 1946-1953

The next stage of Minor League baseball in Cuba was made up in two parts. From 1946-1954 the Havana Cubans were a part of the Florida International League (FIL). The team was put together by famed Washington Senators scout Joe Cambria who was known as the main finder of Cuban baseball players for the major leagues. Originally a Class C league, the league moved up to Class B in 1947. The league was made up of teams that played in Miami, Miami Beach, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Key West. The team was an affiliate of the Washington Senators and was made up of the following future major leaguers: like Conrado “Connie” Marrero, Julio Moreno, Miguel “Mike” Fornieles and Sandalio “Sandy” Consuegra.

Success came quickly for the Havana Cubans in its early years. For its first five years in the league (1946-1950), Havana won titles in each compiling a combined 474-249 record. As quickly as success came, rougher times lay ahead. In the final three years of the Havana Cubans, the team fared no better than fourth place (1953) though they were managed by Cuban legends Adolfo Luque (1951) and Armando Marsans (1953). The best of the Havana Cuban teams was the 1947 team.

The 1947 Havana Cubans led the league with a 105-45 record and defeated the Miami Sun Sox in a five game series and defeated the Tampa Smokers four games to one to win the Championship banner of the FIL. Though the Cubans led the league with a .268 team batting average, their strength was with their pitching. Led by future major league Conrado “Connie” Marrero, won the pitching Triple Crown with a 25-6 record, a 1.66 ERA and 251 strikeouts with only 46 walks in 271 IP.

By 1954, team owner Bobby Maduro (who we’ll hear more about in the next post) decided to change the name of the team from the Cubans to the Sugar Kings and moved the team from the Florida International League to the AAA International League. The Florida International League eventually folded with the exit of its Havana franchise. All of the other franchises, except for Miami, joined the Class D Florida State League. Miami became Miami Marlins of the International League in 1956.

For our next post, I’ll be highlighting the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. I’ll try to highlight how outside factors led to the demise of not only the Sugar Kings but of professional baseball on the island of Cuba.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Minor League Baseball and Latin America Part 1

Though baseball has always been known as America’s Pastime, it’s connection with the small island nation of Cuba has been so since the late 19th century. As early as the late 1860’s, the role of baseball on the Spanish controlled nation was one of rebellion against the status quo. Where sports such as Bullfighting and Polo were deemed as diversions for the elite, baseball was embraced by the college youth as a mode of resistance against the Imperialist Spanish.

The first Cuban to play professional baseball in the United States was Esteban Bellan, who played for the National Association from the years of 1871-1873. By the early 20th century, two Cubans played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1911: Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida. What was important to note was that while the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that kept blacks from playing in the professional baseball leagues was in place, light skinned Cubans were allowed to play. This would prove to be important to future relations between the Major Leagues and Cuba. Also equally important was the man who managed the Cincinnati Reds: Clark Griffith. Griffith, who as the owner of The Washington Senators would employ more Cuban players than the rest of the Major League teams combined.

For many years there were exhibition matched between the Major League teams and the Cuban teams. Very often, the Cuban teams were successful against their American opponents. The relationship between the league and the island expanded within the 30’s and the 50’s with various teams holding Spring Training in Cuba. Most notable was the New York Giants (1937) and The Brooklyn Dodgers (1941, 1942, 1947) who attempted to evade the racial climate of the time with their rookie prospect Jackie Robinson. It wasn’t until 1929 that the idea for bringing professional baseball to Cuba really became a serious option.

With the eventual expansion of the Class B Southeastern League of six to eight teams in the fall of 1929, Havana was chosen to be one of the potential expansion cities. In addition to Havana, Miami was to join the cities of Jacksonville (FL), Tampa (FL), Pensacola (FL), Montgomery (AL), Selma (AL), and Columbus (GA) within the expanded Southeastern League. Though the National Association approved the expansion into Miami and Havana, the National Board of Arbitration refused to make the players fly if they did not want to. Unlike today where travel to and from the above listed cities would be easy via airplane, in 1929, commercial air travel was basically in its beginning stages. Other options would be introduced to facilitate travel to Havana but internal problems within the league would place Havana’s bid in jeopardy.

From the time of the expansion vote in December to the league meeting in February 1930, Miami’s bid was rescinded and St. Petersburg would join the league with Havana. Without having the port of Miami, which is of close distance to Havana, to fly from would cause logistical problems with travel. It was believed that the P&O Steamship Company could be used with their Tampa-Havana route to transport the players and equipment. By March of 1930, the St. Petersburg bid was also rescinded leaving the Havana franchise in jeopardy. Though the league spoke of adding Havana for the 1931 season, the Great Depression hit the league hard causing it to go out of business half way though the 1932 season.

Though the first attempt to add a franchise in Havana was unsuccessful, there would be other attempts where success would be attained. Out next blog post will highlight the Havana Cubans, who would be the First successful Minor League franchise in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My All Time Latino All Star Team

I was talking to my friend Carlos Hernandez this past Friday about baseball and he came up with his all time Latino All Star team. What I found interesting about the list is how much generational differences can influence who will be placed on lists. Now in terms of Latino players, it really wasn't until recent years where Latinos really started to dominate. Where maybe 20-30 years ago you had 2 or 3 dominant players, now you have 10-15 players who are at the top of the league statistics. Why?

For one obvious reason, there are more Latino players in the league than there were even 10 years ago. They are not only relegated to such positions as pitchers and shortstops. They are playing all positions which leads to more opportunities to play and dominate. So, in looking over his list, it made me wonder who I would place on my list.

Anyways, here is Carlos' list by position:

C: Manny Sanguillen
1B: Orlando Cepeda/Tony Perez
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Luis Aparicio
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Roberto Clemente
CF: Mateo Alou
RF: Manny Ramirez
SP: Juan Marichal

And here is mine:

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Vic Power
2B: Roberto Alomar
SS: Luis Aparicio/Omar Vizquel
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Roberto Clemente
CF: Bernie Williams
RF: Manny Ramirez
DH: Edgar Martinez
SP: Juan Marichal
RP: Mariano Rivera

What do you think. Who do you believe should be on the list or should not be on this list. Drop me a line. Let me know.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente 1954

Imagine sitting in a stadium during a warm sunny day. The game is to start within a few minutes and the home team is taking their places in the field. As you scan the players on the field you recognize two players in particular. In center field you notice the “Say Hey” kid himself Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Next to him in right field is his fellow Hall of Famer, Roberto Clemente. Sounds unreal? Think of it as something that you could only do in a game like Strat-O-Matic or by flipping baseball cards? Well, it really happened. When you ask? Read on and find out.

The year is 1954 and the location is Puerto Rico. Playing in the Puerto Rican Winter league on the team known as the Santurce Cangrejeros. Now the 1954 season in the United States was punctuated by the arrival on the national scene of a young 23-year-old named Willie Mays. This was seen specifically with arguably with the over the head catch by Mays off of a blast of the Cleveland Indians’ hitter Vic Wertz during Game 1 of The World Series. In contrast, Roberto Clemente had come off of a frustrating rookie season with the Montreal Royals, which was an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was frustrating in that The Dodgers were trying to hide him from all of the other scouts and wanted him to get proper seasoning by playing a number of years in the minors. So his playing time was limited. In the end, their hesitance to play him worked against him as the Pittsburgh Pirates took Clemente with the 1st pick of the Rule V draft in the Winter of 1955. But let’s get back to Puerto Rico in late 1954.

So again, you’re sitting in this stadium watching two of the most exciting ballplayers to ever grace the diamond in any stadium and they are playing on not only the same field but on the same team! Now you may ask, how does this happen. The economic reality of the game in those years was much different than today. Where today’s player makes at least six figures at a minimum, players in the 1950’s didn’t make much money. So when the opportunity to play baseball year round in an ideal setting like the Caribbean came along the ballplayers took it. In addition to making more money, players who were either Black or Latino found that the exclusionary racial environment they faced on a daily basis in the United States was virtually non existent in the Caribbean. They were able to dine and go where they wanted and were treated with respect.

So, once again, you’re sitting in the stadium and have the luxury of knowing what kind of players Mays and Clemente would become. It’s easy for us to know how the players would develop, but in reality so did the Puerto Rican fans. Mays was already known and Clemente had been playing for the Santurce team from the age of 19 and he was known from his High School days as being an amazing player. So, though the Santurce team won their league and advanced to the Caribbean Series, Mays and Clemente were not the only ones who contributed. The vaunted lineup was also made up of sluggers Buster Clarkson, Bob Thurman, and George Crowe. Together with Mays and Clemente, they were known as El Escuadrón del Pánico (The Panic Squad). Also on the team was Puerto Rican legend Luis Rodriguez Olmo and a young shortstop named Don Zimmer.

Playing against the Legendary Almendares of Cuba, Carta Vieja of Panama and the home team Magallanes of Venezuela, The Puerto Rican team was able to win the round robin tournament by going undefeated (5-0). Mays ended the tournament with 2 homers and 9 RBI’s. Clemente also had one homer. Surprisingly, the MVP of the tournament was the unlikely hero, Don Zimmer, who hit 3 homers to take the honors.

There are many players that I personally could say that I wish I had the privilege to see in person. Though I could see footage of Mays and Clemente nothing could compare with seeing these Hall of Fame ballplayers in person. I can see in my head images of Mays making amazing catches with the ease that only he could. I also imaging Clemente running full speed to make an amazing basket catch then firing the ball to any base (And most times successfully) throwing runners out on the fly. I hope that as baseball fans you can imagine what I can and then some. Enjoy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cuidad Trujillo Dragons 1937

I’m going to take a bit of a different take on this week’s blog entry. I know that this blog is about Latin American baseball history. And trust me it is. But I’m going to mix in some Negro League flavor into the mix. Now the path of the Negro League baseball players and the Latin American baseball players is one that has been the same. Many of the Latin American players of color during the 1930’s and 1940’s were relegated to being able to play ball in the Negro Leagues due to “The Gentlemen’s Agreement” in Major League Baseball. Now, not that the Negro Leagues was a lesser league. The competition in the Negro League was on par with the competition in MLB but talent wise it might have been superior.

It was this superiority that led to 1937 tournament in the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic. We all know today that the effect of the Dominican baseball players is great. With the Dominicans making up the largest amount of foreign born players in the majors. But that was not the case in 1937. The Dominican Republic was considered vastly inferior to the Cubans in terms of not only Negro League talent but also Major League talent (Adolfo Luque of the Cincinnati Reds for one). I believe that before I go on, a little bit of background information is in order.

General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina (a.k.a. Trujillo) who presided as the absolute ruler of the country for a total of 31 years (1930-1961) was the engineer of the baseball tournament of 1937. He ruled the country with vicious precision, eliminating enemies without recourse. His high handed rule went hand in hand with a massive megalomania. Many a town was named after him including the capital city of the Dominican Republic (From Santo Domingo to Cuidad Trujillo). So it was within political climate that politics intermingled with baseball.

With the victory of the 1936 Dominican League of the team from San Pedro (Las Estrellas Orientales), Trujillo wanted to make sure that the teams from his city would not lose again. So for the next season, the two teams that played in the nation’s capital, Los Tigeres de Licey and Los Leones de Escogido, had their best talent raided by Trujillo who made one team, named Los Dragones de Cuidad Trujillo. In response, the owners of the other teams in the league brought in some high paid talent from the Negro Leagues and Cuba. Trujillo also realized that he would need to raise the stakes by bringing in some high-class talent of his own. Trujillo would not tolerate anything short of victory.

With the recruitment of Negro Leaguers, certain factors came into play. First of all, the Latin American leagues were usually limited in how many foreign players they could have on their teams. In doing so, they often paid top dollar for the talent. By signing with the Latin American teams, the Negro Leaguers made more money in Latin America than they would have in the United States. Secondly, the potential of more pay went hand in hand with a racial environment that was different than they were used to. Unlike the blatant racial segregation that was in place through much of the United States, they did not have to deal with that in Latin America, whose population was very much made of many races and cultures.

So, when Trujillo (with the aid of Dr. Jose Aybar who ran the Cuidad Trujillo team) decided to recruit Negro League players, the action was done in earnest. Satchel Paige was the first to be approached. Then came Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Sammy Bankhead, Cy Perkins, Leroy Matlock and Harry Williams. Also on the team was Puerto Rican baseball player named Perucho Cepeda, the father of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. Countering the power play of the Cuidad Trujillo team, the Santiago team (Las Aguilas Cibaeñas) countered with Negro Leaguers Horacio Martinez, Luis Tiant, Sr., Chet Brewer and Martin Dihigo (Baseball Hall of Famer). The San Pedro team was made up of a mix of Dominican and Cuban players. The Negro Leagues in contrast, had to play their 1937 season without it’s biggest and best drawing players. Those Negro leaguers who played in the Dominican faced lifetime suspensions from the league. Played in the baseball-crazed environment of The Dominican Republic, the tournament is still being talked about on the island among the baseball old timers.

With games being played on weekend, the tournament came down to the final game. In a matchup between Cuidad Trujillo and Santiago, the game was moving along swiftly with the Santiago team leading 2-0. On the mound was Negro Leaguer Chet Brewer, who had only a week earlier thrown a 1 hit shutout of the Cuidad Trujillo team. By the 5th inning things were about to change. A series of hits, capped off by a Sammy Bankhead grand slam chased Brewer from the game. The Santiago tram was able to cut the lead of the Cuidad Trujillo team to two runs (8-6) before Satchel Paige came in close the game and win the tournament for the Dragons.

Professional baseball would never be the same on the island. Due to the great cost that was incurred by all of the owners of the Dominican teams, professional baseball would not return to the island until 1951. That did not mean that there was no baseball. Amateur games were being played in the schools and among the sugar mill workers throughout the island. Also, the military had their own teams that played throughout the island. This led to the future advancement of The Dominican Baseball player in Major League Baseball with Osvaldo Virgil being the first Dominican Baseball player in the Majors (1952) and the arrival of such players as the Alou Brothers and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. As for the Negro Leaguers, the lifetime ban was not a prudent move. They were allowed to return to their respective team by paying a week’s worth of salaries as fines.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

1st Latino Baseball Superstar?

I know many of you will probably disagree with me on this post but if you give me a chance I think you might see things my way. Now I have always said that Roberto Clemente is the best Latino player to ever play the game of baseball. This can always be debated in the same manner with respect to the Black and Latino players of color who were not allowed to play with the White players until 1947. Without the benefit of having a level playing field where all played against each other, it’s hard to make comparisons on who was the best across generations.

Now, in terms of Latino ballplayers, the Latinos have been playing baseball since pretty much the beginning of the game. Even with the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” which was used to restrict the blacks from playing professional ball with the whites, Latinos have been a part of the game. Many of them were marginal players who really couldn’t compare statistically with the superstars of their generations. This was so until the 1st real Latino superstar came on the scene. Now there was only one problem, it wasn’t until recently that it came to light that this ballplayer was of Latino descent. So to get to the point of my discussion and possible disagreement, I have only one name: Ted Williams.

Ted Williams (1918-2002) was born Theodore Samuel Williams on August 30, 1918 in San Diego California. His father, Sam Williams, was a World War I veteran of Welsh-English descent and his mother, May Venzor, was half-Mexican. Now the question is why wasn’t this fact ever brought out at the time. Ted Williams himself relates this in his 1969 autobiography, "My Turn At Bat," written with John Underwood. Williams said:

"If I had my mother's name, there is no doubt that I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in Southern California."

It has also been said that Ted Williams spent time with his maternal grandmother, who barely spoke any English and learned to play the game of baseball through his maternal uncle, Saul Venzor. Similarly, Reggie Jackson (who like Williams has Latino blood: His maternal grandmother is from Puerto Rico), has been excluded from many lists about Latino baseball players. As recent as October 2005, with the Latino Legends team vote on mlb.com, neither Williams nor Jackson were included on the list. Whether or not they wore their Latino heritage on their sleeves or in their hearts, it doesn’t diminish their being Latinos. I believe Reggie Jackson puts it best:

"They (Baseball) have no right to pass judgment on what I claim about my Latin heritage," said Jackson, whose middle name is Martinez. "I just don't run my mouth off about it."

Whether Williams shunned his Mexican heritage by choice, pressure or racism will never be fully and accurately known but to exclude him from any lists of Latino superstars and/or Hall of Fame lists is ridiculous. Now let’s see some stats. Williams has the following numbers:

- Lifetime batting average of .344 (8th on the All-time list)
- 521 Home-runs (12th on the All-time list)
- .483 On Base Percentage (1st All-time)
- 1839 Career Runs Batted In
- 2654 Career Hits (Never had a season of 200 hits in a season)
- .634 Slugging Percentage (2nd All-time)
- 2019 Walks (11 Years of more than 100 per season)
- 1942 American League Triple Crown (.356, 36, 137)
- 1947 American League Triple Crown (.343, 32, 114)
- 2 time MVP (1946, 1949)
- 17 Time All-star
- Last player to ever hit .400 or higher (.406 in 1941)
- Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966

In addition to the baseball statistics, Williams was a two-time US veteran (World War II and Korean War) as a pilot. Missed a total of 801 career games (Almost 5 seasons) due to his two tours of duty. Had he played in those games, he would have potential played a total of 2,909 games. His projected numbers would have been:

- 2,332 Runs Batted In
- 2,583 Walks
- 657 Home Runs
- 3,383 Hits

So is there really a debate? I hope so. Let’s start a spirited, educated but civil debate. Please check out the following WebPages for more information on The Splendid Splinter:

Official Ted Williams Homepage
Baseball Reference: Ted Williams
NY Times Sports Article 8/26/2005
Hispanic Baseball Museum News Clips Page

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Latinos in The Baseball Hall of Fame

With the recent Hall of Fame election in Major League Baseball, I figured that I'd shed some light on the Latino baseball players and administrators that are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Though many Latinos have been playing in the Major Leagues since the early 1900's, it wasn't until the late 1960's that a Latino ballplayer was inducted into the Hall. Starting with the best, here is the current list (With Year of Induction and Latino Country of birth/heritage):

- Ted Williams (1966 Mexico via California)
- Roberto Clemente (1973 Puerto Rico)
- Martin Dihigo (1977 Cuba)
- Juan Marichal (1983 Dominican Republic)
- Luis Aparicio (1984 Venezuela)
- Rod Carew (1991 Panama)
- Reggie Martinez Jackson (1993 Puerto Rico via Pennsylvania)
- Orlando Cepeda (1994 Puerto Rico)
- Tony Perez (2000 Cuba)
- Alejandro "Alex" Pompez (2006 Cuba via Florida Negro Leagues)
- José Méndez (2006 Cuba Negro Leagues)
- Cristóbal Torriente (2006 Cuba Negro Leagues)

In the weeks to come, I'll be profiling all of these talented individuals that have reached the pinnacle of achievement for Major League Baseball. Any opinions, ideas, suggestions for future posts? Let me know.