We know it’s a lefties game, but increasingly, it’s also a LATINO game. When Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947, his appearance shattered an 80-year baseball color line that segregated the game as a “white only” sport. Now, more than 60 years later, the number of black players has dwindled and players of Latino heritage have become a major force on the baseball diamond in the United States.
Although there have been Hispanic players in the majors since the 1870s, the current trend of recruiting Latino players started in the late 1930s and early 1940s when the then Washington Senators, who eventually became the Minnesota Twins, were both a bad and frugal team. Senators owner Clark Griffith began using Joe Cambria to recruit players in Latin America, particularly in Cuba. The trend continued and really picked up speed in the late 1970s and ’80s.
Issues from geographic location to social changes in America have played into the influx of Hispanic players. For starters, Americans have started to pay more attention to football and basketball during the past several decades. White and African-American athletes in turn have followed the fame and the fortune of the more popular sports. Also, it’s more difficult to build a baseball diamond in urban areas, where many top athletes get their start. But because of baseball’s fame in Latin America, this has left a vacuum in the United States for Latino athletes to fill.
Sports culture expert Mike Schoenecke says, “Baseball is very popular in Latin American countries. Roberto Clemente, the Puerto Rican baseball legend, did a lot to build baseball diamonds all over Latin America. He was also very popular because he was the first Hispanic Player to win an MVP award.
“Because baseball is so popular in Latin America, players have moved into the major leagues here. And that’s angered some of the African-American and Caucasian players because now they can’t get into the show, although we know that if you’re not good enough to play the Game, you’re not going to play at all. I think a lot of Latin players have a lot more drive, and they want to succeed more.”
Historian Jorge Iber says, “There is an increase of Latino fans because they see more players like them out on the diamond so they start to come. Black players, however, are dwindling.”
In 1997, 17% of baseball players were black, but a 2007 study shows that only slightly more than 8% of major leaguers players were black. Iber thinks the exodus of black baseball players can be attributed to the fact that baseball facilities are difficult to find in the inner city. He says, “I think that to older African-Americans who can remember back to Jackie Robinson in 1947 breaking the color barrier, baseball is still important, but the younger African-Americans are no longer as much into baseball.”
Art credit: freeimages.co.uk
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