For Latino baseball stars, a sad state of affairs
There is no Latin American Jackie Robinson, no single Hispanic ballplayer who lifted his people onto his back and crashed through baseball’s racist barricades. But there always has to be a first, and many of the game’s historians point to two Cubans, Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans, who made their debut with the Cincinnati Reds a century ago.
“Uncle Sam’s monopoly of the baseball market has been seriously threatened,” one reporter surmised, noting that “this little nation of brown men whom Uncle Sam set up in the nation business” was liable to “rise up and lick Sammy at his own game.”
Politics has prevented us from testing the accuracy of this prediction. As a source of talent, Cuba produces a small fraction of the Hispanic players who represent more than a quarter of all major leaguers and an even larger percentage of those in the minors.
No American institution owes a greater debt to Latin Americans than baseball. Our national pastime would be nothing without the likes of Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes, and it all started with Almeida and Marsans, who played in their first major league game on July 4, 1911.
So how is baseball honoring their legacy 100 years later? By holding its All-Star Game in the cradle of America’s new nativism.
It all started innocently when Arizona was awarded the game in spring 2009. This was before the state’s anti-immigration movement gave birth to Senate Bill 1070, which effectively legalized racial profiling by requiring Arizona’s police to question people about their immigration status under certain circumstances.
The law backfired, inviting national scorn, costly boycotts and a lawsuit from the Obama administration. Arizona was given an out last year when a federal court struck down some of the most controversial aspects of the law. The state pressed on, vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court. Its petition for a hearing will arrive in the justices’ chambers on July 11 – one day before the midsummer classic.
Mexican-American slugger Adrian Gonzalez is one of a number of Latino players who have talked about boycotting the game if it isn’t moved out of Arizona. Selig is no doubt hoping that because the courts have thus far prevented the law from being enacted, players will come. This is a technicality.
The larger truth is that Arizona’s anti-immigrant fervor is still very much alive, and Selig is putting his Latino players in the impossible position of having to choose between showing solidarity to their people or to the game that has enriched them even as they have enriched it.
It’s too late for Selig to move the All-Star Game. It’s not too late for him to speak out, forcefully, against the anti-immigration movement.
If he doesn’t, the choice he’s giving his Latino players may not be so impossible after all.
“We have to back up our Latin communities,” said the reigning home run king, Bautista, when asked about the game last year.
Who would blame him for staying home?