Legacies at Stake in MLB
Byline: Thom Loverro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The baseball playoffs are a reflection of the game today - a strong Latin presence.
Bartolo Colon, Rafael Furcal, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera and Albert Pujols are All-Star players and examples of the growing Latin influence in the major leagues. At the start of the 2005 season, about 26 percent of major league players were of Latin descent.
But while Latin players grow in numbers, the opposite is happening with African-American ballplayers. In 1975, an estimated 27 percent of major league rosters consisted of black players. Today, that number is around 10 percent - and falling.
Those numbers, going in different directions, seem to have sparked tension between Latin and black players - not current players, but those from days past. There is a fight brewing between old-time Latin and black ballplayers over their legacy in the game, with Latin players rising in prominence, and black players seeing their place in the game disappearing with the new generation of ballplayers.
Right now, the celebration of the contribution of Latin players has gained momentum. Watching the playoffs, you can see the superimposed sign behind home plate during these games pushing Chevrolet's "Latino Legends Team," an all-20th century team of Latin players, making up for the fact that none were voted to the MasterCard All-Century team in 1999.
Recently, a terrific film about the struggles, conflicts and triumphs of Latin players from the 1950s through the 1970s - "Viva Baseball," produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Dan Klores - made its debut on Spike TV. It featured the stories of great players like Juan Marichal and Roberto Clemente - who was called "Bob" by Pittsburgh announcers during his career - and the issues those generations of Latin players faced breaking into major league baseball.
"It is very important [that] people know what we went through," Orlando Cepeda said. "This movie shows how much we had to overcome and suffer to make it all the way to the top. It is a very important message for Latin kids, American people, anybody."
There is the story of Vic Power - whose real last name is Pellot - and how one of the best fielding first baseman of his time was held back in the Yankees organization for many years because he was considered too flashy. He tells the story about how he was always asked by baseball people why he made so many one-handed catches. "If they wanted me to catch with two hands, they would have given me two gloves," he said, jokingly.
It is a wonderfully entertaining film, but it is another ingredient to add into this bubbling tension between retired Latin and black players, along with the Latino Legends team and efforts by the Hispanics Across America advocacy group to get Clemente's number 21 retired by all major league clubs, the same way Jackie Robinson's No. …