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
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