A brief history of baseball’s other color line.
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. Of course, baseball was still segregated then. The Reds took great pains to highlight the irreproachable ethnicities of their newest employees: yes, they were Cuban, but they were purebred Spaniards, without so much as a trace of African blood.
One thing that was not in dispute was that the Cubans could play. “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, whose diamonds are off-limits to American prospectors, produces a small fraction of the Hispanic players who now 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 today without the likes of Pujols, Bautista and Reyes, and it all started with Almeida and Marsans, who played in their first major league game on — I’m not making this up — July 4, 1911.
So how is baseball honoring their legacy, almost exactly 100 years later? By holding its 2011 All-Star Game in the cradle of America’s new nativism.
That would Arizona, where MLB still hasn’t said anything about SB1070 and the insult it is to a large portion of MLB’s players and fans. I never expect much from Bud Selig, but he’s still managed to disappoint me here. Even a symbolic gesture would have been better than the nothing we’ve gotten, as it least then we’d know that he noticed. The silence so far is shameful.