Before Canseco

Article excerpt

Prior to the officially mandated segregation of the sport in 1878, American baseball, in its humble and loosely structured beginnings, featured on its rosters scores of Latino players who are now stirring the attention of contemporary researchers and historians.

This research is focused on the obsession with America's pastime in Latin America and the generally unwritten history of the participation of Latinos in U.S. baseball.

Popular lore says that baseball came to Latin America during the many American occupations during the 19th century. But Lou Perez, history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that in many instances baseball actually came to Latin America via the "elite" upper-economic class families pursuing studies in the United States.

Fully Embraced

Writing in the September issue of the Journal of American History, Perez says that baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by returning students. The sport was fully embraced by all Cubans, particularly because it became associated with modernity, progress and independence. In the struggle for independence, many Cuban baseball players "put their baseball bats down and picked up the machete," says Perez.

By the time the United States arrived in Cuba in 1898 (during the Spanish-American War), Cubans were already playing baseball. Such was their zeal that, according to Perez, professional Cuban teams regularly beat visiting U.S. teams.

Angel Torres, a sports journalist and author of two self-published baseball books, "The History of Cuban Baseball, 1878-1976," and "The Baseball Bible," says that with the advent of segregation, Latinos in the United States were on both sides of the colorline. While some Latinos played exclusively in the major, or white, leagues, others -- and they were more prevalent -- played in the Negro leagues. Even light or "white" Latinos played in the Negro Leagues, he says. The reason all Latinos were welcome in the Negro Leagues is because Black baseball players -- who were not allowed to play in the U.S. major leagues -- were welcomed throughout Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries, where baseball was embraced and professional leagues flourished.

Not Black, Not White

Writing this year in Journal of Negro History Adrian Burgos, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, says that the U. …

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