Latinos and racism in baseball

It was in 1869 that the first Major League Baseball team was create, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Since then baseball has grown to be America’s nation past time. From San Francisco to New York City, every young boys dream is to one day grow up and play for the big leagues. The formal game of baseball originated in New York, and spread westward with the soldiers in the Civil War and those heading to partake in the Gold Rush. Presently the game of baseball is a world-renowned sport.

Countries from all over the world have baseball organizations. Yet still we can see racism and racist structures within the game of baseball. While it may be hard to imagine now, baseball’s originated as an elitist game. In 1845, a group of white collar New Yorkers founded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. The group was a club of elite men who liked to play baseball in their leisure. They were the first organized baseball team, many others played the game but none had officially organized themselves (Koppett 5).

Shortly after forming, the club published a set of rules dictating the size of the field, distance between bases, and distance between pitcher and batter. While most of the rules were altered over time, the transformation of a schoolyard game into an actual sport had taken place. The first official game played by the team was a disaster. They were a collection of well-to-do men who organized themselves based on social standing. However, the team they played was a collection of individuals who could play the game well, and the Knickerbocker’s lost 23-1.

As Leonard Koppett points out, this was an important moment for baseball because winning with good ballplayers became the central focus of teams, not merely serving as an elite gentlemen’s club. Between the first official game in 1845 and the 1860s, two events helped spread baseball from the East Coast to the rest of the country. The first was the Gold Rush. Citizens who had been familiar with the game in the East moved to California looking for gold. Baseball was a way of passing time and meeting new people for many men who had come west on their own.

In 1860 the first baseball game took place in San Francisco, matching two newly formed clubs against one another (Nelson 11). These players were not paid ball players, but just amateurs enjoying the game. As previously mentions, it wasn’t until 1869 that the first MLB team was created, and by doing so, creating the first professional baseball players, who were being paid to play. It is interesting to note that in 1869 the intercontinental railroad was also finished in the US. This allowed the players of the Red Stockings to travel “12,000 miles and play in front of 200,000 people (Spalding 10). Baseball, as historian David Vaught points out, helped distract people from their repetitive and difficult lives. Life was uncertain, and the game offered, “excitement, stability, diversion, mutuality, and gratification – all in powerful, albeit short-term doses (Vaught 9). ” This applies not only to a great many rural American citizens throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also to people from other countries. Life was rapidly changing, and baseball entertained and distracted audiences from their daily lives.

The first ever Latino baseball player happened to be the first ever Cuban baseball player. Esteban Bellan was born in Havana, Cuba in 1849. It was in Havana that he was first exposed to baseball. Bellan learned how to play baseball like many others in Cuba, from US sailors. After playing for two years in the Majors, Bellan returned to Cuba and in 1874 Bellan organized Cuba’s first baseball game. Since Esteban there have been almost 200 Cuban born MLB players (baseball Almanac). Cuba soon turned into a hot spot of players and recruits.

Many of the Major League ball players would go to Cuba in the winter. Bellan had a large part in starting the trend of professional players coming down in the winter to play in Cuba. Despite the desire for talented players, Cubans were still discriminated against. Many had to jump through all types of hoops, just to be able to gain access into the country. Even more appalling was how society viewed these baseball players. To be from Cuba and to play baseball in America had some major disadvantages. Most players were forced to play in the Negro Leagues.

In special cases some players were allowed to play if they could prove their “whiteness. ” “And to further appease the fans, the Reds required that both Cubans bring notarized paperwork from the Cuban authorities, certifying that Marsans and Almeida were indeed white of unmixed blood. Eventually the Cincinnati press must have been convinced of the racial purity of the Cubans, as a story appeared indicating that the Cubans were “two of the purest bars of Castille soap that ever floated to these shores. “(Campello 2). Players who came from Cuba, where baseball leagues were fully integrated, were put in the spotlight and forced to prove how European they were if they wanted to play in the non negro leagues. Arguably the most greatest Cuban baseball player of all time, Adolfo Luque, actively fought against many of the racist attitudes in baseball. As a pitcher he was one of the best of his time. While his pitching abilities gave him respect as an athlete, he would have to prove himself in other ways to gain the respect as a human.

Once, while pitching for Cincinnati, Luque heard insults coming from the Giants’ dugout. The fiery Cuban charged the dugout and punched Casey Stengel in the mouth (Stengel later claimed it wasn’t him who had called Luque a “Cuban Nigger,” but it was the man seated next to him, Bill Cunningham). The police sent Luque back to his bench, but his Cincinnati teammates took over the fighting to restore Luque’s honor, and a near riot began. In the chaos of the fighting, Luque grabbed a bat and headed back to the Giants dugout. Order was finally restored and both Luque and Stengel were ejected (Campello 3). After Luque retired he coached in the US major leagues and even managed a couple of teams in the Cuban league. Luque being so active in the game of baseball while not actually playing was a huge deal. He was one of the first Latinos to coach in the US major league. This helped to pave the way for other Latinos to do the exact same thing. Case and point being Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a catcher and played for 17 seasons in the US major league. His stats are nothing special, but he helped to break down many race barriers in baseball for Latinos.

The Cardinals hired Gonzalez after he retired from playing baseball to be a coach. Halfway through the season the manager was fired, and he became the interim manager. Making him the first ever Latino manager. Luque and Gonzalez had a huge role in the acceptance of Latino baseball players into the US major leagues. They fought hard to get players from Cuba into the US majors. They fought equally hard, if not harder to get US Major leaguers to come to Cuba for winter baseball. Gonzalez managed Cuba’s most famous baseball team for 56 years, until the end of professional baseball in Cuba.

For the beginning of his run as manager, he also played, leading the Habana Reds to 13 championships. The final barrier to be broken in US Major league baseball was broken by Orestes Minoso in 1949. Just two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Minoso began his first season on the Indians. Minoso was the first black Cuba to play in the US major league. Minoso is one of only 29 players in baseball history to date to have appeared in Major League games in four decades, and the only one to have made an appearance in a major league game in seven decades.

A three time golden glove winner and a nine time all star, Minoso was able to show the world that just because his skin was a different color and he spoke a different language didn’t mean he couldn’t play dominate baseball. Minoso worked hard at not letting his surroundings affect his game, and was a shining start that lead by example for Cubans of all ages. In the 1980’s Latino baseball players made up 13% of the MLB. As of last year, Latino baseball players make up almost 29% of the MLB. Yet to this day there are only 13 Latino baseball players in the Major League Baseball hall of fame, out of almost 300.

To this day there has only been one Latino owner in the MLB. Arte Moreno is the only Latino the MLB has ever seen. He is the shining example of racist structures still holding strong in the MLB organization. While the Latino population is greatly represented on the field, there is almost no representation in the executive levels of the MLB. Until Latinos are given more opportunities to be involved with MLB organization beyond the playing field, they will continue to be under represented in the higher levels of any MLB team organization.

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