Roman Mejias: Houston's First Major League Latin Star and the Troubled Legacy of Race Relations in the Lone Star State

Article excerpt

During the 1999 baseball season, businessman and owner of the Houston Astros Drayton McLane was involved in a controversy with the Texas Hispanic community. According to Marco Comancho, general manager of KTMD Television and a subsidiary of the Telemundo, and Rod Rodriguez, the station's sales manager, McLane made disparaging and belittling comments regarding Mexicans and Mexican Americans shortly before a dinner honoring the businessman with the Houston Advertising Federation's Trailblazer Award for service to the community. An outraged McLane vehemently denied having uttered any remarks that might be construed as racist.

Following an investigation of the incident, Telemundo's chief executive, Roland Hernandez, apologized to McLane, stating that he found no evidence of racially biased comments being made by the baseball owner. In a prepared statement, a relieved McLane insisted, "Having spent a lifetime honoring the values of integrity and honesty, this episode has been unsettling. Despite a rush to judgment by some, this action by Telemundo, hopefully, will help to speed the healing process." (1)

But if McLane devoted his life to the values of integrity, honesty, and community service, why were so many in the Hispanic community so quick to question the baseball executive's motives? The answer to this question may lie in the troubling history of race relations in the Lone Star State of Texas, where, in the words of Carey McWilliams, "Anglos have always been 'gringos' to the Hispanos while Hispanos have been 'greasers' to the Anglos." (2) In Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuna asserts that racial animosities in Texas are a result of Anglo economic domination of the Mexican community enforced by official state violence, such as that perpetuated by the Texas Rangers, an organization so much admired by the dean of Texas historians, Walter Prescott Webb. (3) Jose Angel Gutierrez, as well as other Chicano activists, argues that education in Texas is presented from an Anglo perspective, ignoring the fact that "the land of the West and Southwest, beginning with Texas, was stolen from Mexica ns." (4) While less confrontational and more scholarly in its approach, David Montejano's study of Anglos and Mexicans in Texas, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, which received the 1988 Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the American Historical Association, maintains that the history of Texas has been Anglo economic control perpetuated by cultural, political, and social Jim Crow legislation, the hegemony of which has been challenged by the Chicano civil rights movement. (5)

It is within this historical context that the alleged racist remarks of Astros owner McLane must be placed. While the Houston organization has produced such talented Latin players as Jose Cruz and Joaquin Andujar, it should be noted that Astros management, unlike the Los Angeles Dodgers with the marketing and pitching success of Fernando Valenzuela, has tended to maintain an Anglo identity, building the team around such stars as Nolan Ryan. Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio. While it is impossible to deny the athletic achievement of these ballplayers, the failure to develop and especially market more Latin star players flies in the face of southwestern demographics. From a 1980 base of 8.7 million people of Mexican origin, there was an increase of 4.7 million to a 1990 total of 13.4 million, a 54 percent intercensual increase. And the Mexican-origin people constitute approximately two-thirds of Latins, who, in turn, comprise more than 8 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 75 percent of all Mexican-origin per sons live in California and Texas, both of which have populations in excess of 25 percent with Mexican roots. (6)

Yet, the Major League Baseball establishment in Houston has historically failed to capitalize on these demographics by consistently developing and marketing Latin talent. While perhaps operating on an unconscious level, this policy, nevertheless, may be reflective of the city's conservative to reactionary political traditions. …