Written by Ozzie Gonzalez
April, 1999 -- From Roberto Clemente and Juan Marishal to Sammy Sosa and Felipe Alou, Latinos are transforming the sport of baseball in every aspect
In the 90's, Latino baseball players in the Major Leagues are known for their excellence and dominance in the game. Current Latino superstars like Juan Gonzalez (1998 American MVP), Sammy Sosa (1998 National League MVP), Bernie Williams (1998 American League batting champion), Vinny Castillo, Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and many others have proven that Latinos in the Major Leagues are getting bigger and better. With such an abundance of talented Latinos, how can you not recognize and fortify them as a dominant force. In fact, in this year's All-Star game in Fenway Park it's estimated that there will be nearly 20 Latinos representing their respective Major League team, with Dominican superstars Pedro Martinez and Sammy Sosa starting.
Those facts are current in today's game, but 30-40 years ago, baseball wasn't always embracing to Latinos. In fact, Latino baseball players faced similar negative perceptions and prejudices that many of the early black players had to endure and overcome. An example of that was in 1964, when Alvin Dark, manager of the Giants was quoted saying during a losing season, "We have trouble because we have too many Negro and Spanish speaking players on this team, they're just not able to perform up to the White players when it comes to mental alertness".
Prejudice against Latinos in the Majors was prevalent, but less subtle to Black players. For example, the Yankees had Vic Power, a Puerto Rican (Arecibo) first baseman in their farm system batting .331 and with all the talent to become a superstar, but the Yankees gave up on him because he had a dark complexion and was rumored to date White women. In 1954, the Yankees traded him without giving him a single at bat to the Philadelphia Athletics. Power then went on to have a stellar career batting .284 lifetime and becoming a perennial All-Star and a fan favorite.
* During this decade, the emergence of Latino baseball players has increase dramatically. In 1990, Latinos made up 13% of Major League baseball players. In 1997, that number increased to 24% surpassing the amount of Black baseball players (17%) in the Major Leagues.
Here is a geographical breakdown of Latinos at the start of the 1999 season which were on a Major League Roster:
66 players from the Dominican Republic
31 players from Puerto Rico
25 players from Venezuela
12 players from Mexico
11 players from Cuba
7 players from Panama
3 players from Colombia
1 players from Argentina
1 from Nicaragua
* Total = 157 Baseball Players
* Source: Major League Baseball
While Latino baseball players are exploding in the Major Leagues, the number of Latinos in coaching and front office positions are scarce. Only two Latinos have broken through the barriers. The Montreal Expos' Felipe Alou is often considered the best manager in baseball, while the Mets' assistant general manager Omar Minaya may be the most promising young executive.
Still, Alou doesn't foresee a wave of Latinos moving into positions of authority, mainly because of racism. "The numbers of Latino players will continue to mount" he says, "but I don't believe that managers will". Increasing the amount of Latinos in management positions while ensuring a fair shot at it will be a tough challenge for Latinos in baseball.
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