Viva Baseball Essay Research Paper Subjects HISPANIC

Viva Baseball Essay, Research Paper


HISPANIC American baseball players; BASEBALL — History


Hispanic, Apr99, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p42, 2p, 1c


Regalado, Samuel O.


Details the history of Hispanic American baseball players. Trials and tribulations that

parallel the Hispanic community; Hunger of the Hispanic Americans for recognition in

the field of baseball; Importance of the Latin contingent in American baseball;

Language barrier; Racism; Expansion of baseball’s Latin contingent in baseball;







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Latin Major Leaguers and Their Special Hunger

The successes of today’s Hispanic ballplayers are not surprising. Consider the home-run race

between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, which took place during the 1998 baseball season.

While McGwire may hold the record, Sosa’s achievements were equally noted and received wide

media attention.

Latinos, however, have not always been welcomed by America’s favorite game. In Viva Baseball!

Samuel O. Regalado documents the history of Latino ballplayers, chronicling trials and tribulations

that parallel the Hispanic community itself. The history begins in 1871 and delves into the stories of

many great players.

Regalado, the nephew of former major leaguer Rudy Regalado, is a professor of history at the

California State University, Stanislaus. He has had articles published in Journal of the West and

Baseball History. Reprinted from Viva Baseball! Latin Major Leaguers and Their Special Hunger,

by Samuel O. Regalado. Copyright 1998 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press. (Available with a new Afterword in

April 1999.)

Chapter 1 That Special Hunger

They come from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and Venezuela, mostly, but they might as

well come from the same place. The same thing drives them. They don’t want to go back home to a

standard of living they tried so hard to leave. They all had the “special hunger.”

–Octavio “Cookie” Rojas

Dodger Stadium reverberated with excitement on the warm evening of May 14, 1981. Dodgers

fans had come to see a young pitcher’s attempt to establish a major league record for the most

consecutive wins by a rookie at the start of a season. Moreover, they came just to see him. None

of the 56,000 seats was empty as patrons sat impatiently in the ballpark awaiting their hero’s

attempt to capture his eighth straight victory. As the Dodgers took the field, the roar of the crowd

reached a crescendo when Fernando Valenzuela, the twenty-year-old Mexican star, popped out of

the dugout on his way to the mound. Throughout the stadium fans shouted encouragement in both

Spanish and English as Helen Dell, the Dodger Stadium organist, used the “El Toro” theme instead

of the more familiar “Charge” for that evening’s battle cry.

In the press box, journalists from around the nation jockeyed for space as they sought to cover the

phenomenon dubbed “Femandomania.” Behind their microphones, Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully

prefaced the contest with a dramatic analysis of Valenzuela while Jaime Jarrin, the “other voice of

the Dodgers,” did the same for his Spanish-speaking listeners, which numbered well into the

millions. Indeed, in the next several weeks similar scenes occurred in other National League cities

when Valenzuela pitched. The native of Etchohuaquila in Sonora, Mexico, had captured national

attention. Fans clamored to get his autograph; reporters groped for new information on him.

English-speaking baseball followers were captivated by the young man from a humble background

who seemed to spin magic on the pitcher’s mound. Their Spanish-speaking counterparts saw

him–and the surrounding delirium–as symbolic of Latin influence in the United States. Latins had


Clearly, the attention directed toward Valenzuela was a watershed in the history of Latins in

America’s national sport. Although prior to 1981 Latins had never received such nationwide

acclaim, Fernando Valenzuela was nonetheless simply the most celebrated representative of a

distinguished group of athletes who have helped shape major league baseball and American culture.

Talented stars such as the Alou brothers, Luis Aparicio, Jorge “George” Bell, Orlando Cepeda,

Roberto Clemente, Adolfo Luque, Juan Marichal, Dennis Martinez, Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, and

Ruben Sierra were prominent during their respective years of play. Most were driven by a

desperate desire to succeed–what Octavio “Cookie” Rojas described as that “special hunger. …. I

knew it was going to take a lot of hard work, desire, and determination [to succeed],” reflected

Dominican Manny Mota in 1982. “When I came to the United States to play professional baseball,

I wanted .something that nobody was going to give me. I had to go and get it myself.”

As these baseball pioneers explored their frontiers in search of stardom and the financial rewards

often denied them in their native lands, they expanded the American national pastime into a truly

international sport. Latin ballplayers coming to the United States entered a sporting institution that

personified the American dream of opportunity, upward social mobility, and success. They brought

to major and minor league baseball not only their remarkable skills but also flair and charisma that

enhanced the game’s spectator appeal. Ultimately, their achievements motivated clubs and the

American media to modify their infrastructures, such as expanding scouting regions and employing

bilingual personnel.

The importance of the Latin contingent in American baseball, however, transcended the sport.

Players often bridged gaps between Latin America and the United States–and their distinct and

often conflicting cultures. Throughout most of the twentieth century, major league rosters included

those from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and other

Central and South American countries. Brothers joined brothers and sons followed fathers as

generations of Latin players gave America’s national pastime an international composition. Often

heroes in their own lands, they sought to exhibit their national pride on the diamond. Most Latin

players saw themselves as “ambassadors” representing their respective countries and frowned at the

stereotypes that homogenized all Latins. At the same time, their Spanish-speaking tongue was a

crucial bond between players in spite of their varied nationalities. Their language both shielded them

from criticisms and served as an impediment in their quest for recognition.

Moreover, the language barrier highlighted the difficulties of Latin acculturation into the United

States. Separated from family and home, players struggled daily with loneliness and the pitfalls of a

foreign cuisine. For many, such problems were sometimes complicated by the starting points of their

American careers. While some Latins landed in areas with large Hispanic enclaves, others were less

fortunate. Rico Catty traveled to Yakima, Washington; Juan Marichal went to tiny Michigan City,

Indiana; and Zoilo Versalles was a seventeen-year-old in Elmira, New York, places with almost no

Latin residents. In addition, political tensions all too often disrupted the lives of Latin players. In

1961 broken diplomatic ties virtually eliminated recruiting in Cuba, which up to that point had been

an important source of talent.

But according to Latin American baseball players, their most troubling encounter was with racism.

Brought to the United States because of their skills, most Latin players believed in the great

American dream. And they assumed that success came by virtue of merit. Too often, however, they

learned otherwise. Professional baseball in the United States mirrored the larger American society.

The major leagues had excluded African American players from the late nineteenth century until

1947. After the color barrier was breached, the turbulence created by the civil rights movement in

the ensuing decades proved unsettling for Latin players on and off the field. Often singled out

because of their background, Latins repeatedly felt the stings of American racial prejudice and

discrimination. Finally, while Latins and American blacks confronted racism together, Latins alone

dealt with the additional trauma of acculturation.

Yet for many players from Spanish-speaking countries, their negative experiences faded into the

background when compared with the poverty found in their own countries. Baseball for many was

clearly the only way out. Furthermore, it embodied the Latin virtues of individualism, personal

honor, and integrity.

Starting in 1911 Latin players came to the United States with growing regularity, and with each

wave their impact in the major leagues enlarged. From 1911 to 1947, they entered the majors

almost exclusively via the rosters of the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Senators, who fostered

scouting efforts to recruit low-cost talent, primarily from Cuba. But after Jackie Robinson joined the

major leagues, black Latins poured into the United States during the integration years of the 1950s

and 1960s. The influx reflected expanded scouting efforts that drew players from Latin regions well

beyond Cuba. By the 1970s and 1980s, as incoming talent from Cuba diminished, major league

programs, such as those found in the small Dominican town of San Pedro de Macoris, were

created to develop talent and orient players to U.S. culture. Early Latin pioneers such as Felipe

Alou, Santos Alomar, Tony Oliva, and Manny Mota served within the major league framework to

help coach the future stars seeking the gold and glory that their predecessors had achieved.

Moreover, Roberto Clemente’s legacy proved to be an important inspiration.

Like their African American counterparts, Latins played magnificently. From Roberto “Beto” Avila

in 1954 to Jose Canseco in 1988, Latin players captured the Most Valuable Player award six

times, in addition to seven Rookie of the Year titles, three Cy Young trophies, and seventeen

batting championships. By the end of the early 1990s the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted five

Latins: Luis Aparicio, Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, and Rod Carew were honored for their

outstanding careers in the major leagues while Martin Dihigo, a Cuban player, represented the

American black leagues

The expansion of baseball’s Latin contingent in baseball mirrored the growing importance of Latin

cultures in the United States. Victims of racial and cultural stereotypes prior to World War II,

Spanish speakers struggled to gain a foothold in mainstream U.S. culture. As the Hispanic

population increased, social and political organizations developed to address a variety of urban and

rural issues. Benefiting from the gains of the activism of the 1960s, a greater number of second- and

third-generation Latins, armed with education and advanced skills, entered the larger corporate and

media markets. Many were determined, however, to maintain their cultural heritage. Most certainly

the successes of Latins gave rise to optimistic thinking; one Latin leader eagerly announced that the

1980s would be the “Decade for Hispanics.”

The achievements and turmoil faced by Latin players coincided with major developments in the

larger Spanish-speaking world. Other Latins sought to maintain cultural ties in an unfamiliar and

arbitrary environment. The struggle to achieve recognition and parity in the major leagues was part

of the larger Latin quest for equality in the United States. Indeed, the experiences of Latin players in

the major leagues provided a unique perspective and often brought into clearer focus the larger

Hispanic experience.

PHOTO (COLOR): Viva Baseball


By Samuel O. Regalado

Copyright of Hispanic is the property of Hispanic Publishing Corp. and its content may not be copied without

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Source: Hispanic, Apr99, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p42, 2p, 1c.

Item Number: 1783747

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