Posts Tagged ‘Hank Aaron’

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American. They’re not us. They’re impostors”

-Torii Hunter

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52 

Note: This article is the start of something, the history of the Afro-Latino in baseball cannot be summed up in one blog post or even a series of blog posts. It began as a simple email response and it has grown into an ongoing project whose end date I’m not sure of. This is a snippet.

It’s pretty clear that people just don’t know what to do with Latinos. In the Trayvon Martin case Zimmerman was labeled a minority by some because he has Spanish roots, thus making him Mexican or something. The Ozzie Guillen story provided an interesting chance for Latinos to have a serious conversation about race and hate within the community, instead we got an overreaction to the suspension with no real discussion on why what he said stung so much. One of the more surprising aspects of this controversy was the lack of cultural awareness when it comes to Hispanics. People genuinely did not know that Castro is seen as a tyrannical despot on the level of Hitler with the Cuban community. The caricature was the only impression people had of him and were shocked that Ozzie’s comments cut so deep.

The inspiration from this commentary, however, came from a nugget of information that Dan Bernstein gave us 2 weeks ago. The Chicago Cubs are currently shopping most of their big league roster, and it’s been speculated for months that Marlon Byrd will be traded. Should he find a new home between now and April 15, Jackie Robinson day, Chicago will have no African-American representative on #42’s day. That is a rather interesting piece of information, and I don’t have much issue with it. A caller brought up the name Alex Rios, who was born in Alabama and is considered Puerto-Rican-American.

And that’s what really got me thinking about what Jackie Robinson day means. For the purposes of his point, I can somewhat see where Mr. Bernstein was coming from, he dismissed Rios as a Latin born player and not African American in the typical sense of the term. However, I think this is a classic example of the media, and the world in general, having no idea what to do with Afro-Latinos. Torii Hunter’s quote above illustrates that point as well. Afro-Latinos are not properly represented nor are they accounted for in America.

The implication that Mr. Bernstein was making is that Afro-Latinos shouldn’t count as proper representatives for Jackie Robinson Day. That’s a dangerous implication to make and I think it’s one that a lot of people make. The inverse of this is also dangerous however, to consider Alex Rios as simply black without considering what his heritage and his lineage is. The point of Jackie Robinson day is to celebrate the tearing down of the color barrier. That’s a broad term, color, and it’s one that’s classically been assigned to African-Americans throughout history, with a good reason. It was the label that an oppressive white society put on blacks to strip away their sense of worth. But color is a defined differently today as it applies to a broader population.

The truth is that the gentleman’s agreement about “colored” players extended beyond just the African-American players. If you sent Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios, Carlos Marmol, Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez, Hector Santiago, and even Geo Soto back into a time machine set for the 30’s, not a one is playing in the Majors. They would all be New York Cubans.

The history of the New York Cubans is muddled, which is common for a Negro League team. For the purposes of this column, understand that they were a Negro League team comprised of mostly Afro-Latinos, but occasionally they took on lighter skinned Latinos because MLB didn’t want anything to do with people of color. They began in 1899 as the All Cubans, became the Cuban Stars in 1907, folded in the late 20’s and were recreated by a former member of the Cuban Stars, Alex Pompez, in 1930. If that name rings a bell White Sox fans, it’s because he scouted Minnie Minoso and brought him over from Cuba to play ball in the US.

The New York Cubans employed players of color that were not allowed to play in the Majors. These were not strictly African American players that fit neatly into a small category. The NY Cubans took on all that were of color and shunned by MLB, until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and opened the door to all people of color, not just American born Blacks. The Negro Leagues were where Minnie Minoso got his start in professional baseball.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson was 0/3 with a RS, but on that day he began the process that cemented himself as arguably the most important player in baseball history. In the wake of integration  we had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Minnie Minoso. That’s a lot of talent that MLB was ignoring before Jackie. A date that should be similarly remembered is May 1, 1951.

The “Cuban Comet” paved the way for Latino players, but is remembered by the White Sox as being their first black player in the post Jackie Robinson era. On May 1, Minnie paved the way for Latino players to enter the Majors, which of course came at the price of discrimination, racism, and untold stress and heartache. Reporters rather famously phonetically spelled his quotes in print, he was called all sorts of names everywhere he went, and he had to use the “Coloreds Only” stalls as well.

It’s irresponsible to dismiss Afro Latinos because they aren’t the “right kind of black.” I think it’s about time to have a serious discussion about race in America, one that centers around Hispanics. The race issue is alive and well in America, it’s disguised as other things and somewhat hidden, but we Hispanics have a lot of issues to resolve with ourselves. There’s an alarming trend of self hate and lost identity within our community. Ozzie’s insensitive comments confront us with an uncomfortable reality that we aren’t as unified as we’d like to think sometimes. I’m guilty of talking shit to Puerto Ricans, and I’m sure most Hispanics have similar stories. We’ve come a long way since Minnie, but we still have a long way to go. Our story is frequently misunderstood in America, let’s work on that.

After all, My erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was no love,
Just because it perished?

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

America had a love affair with baseball. It was a slow burning love that lasted generations, a constant companion during hard times. Baseball was there everyday, during the depression, during WWII, during the communist scare, baseball was always there, giving you living legends. Williams, DiMaggio, The Holy Trinity, Koufax, Gehrig, Ruth, Foxx, Rose, Aaron, the list goes on and on.

Of recent vintage, the love affair has cooled as a sleeker, much faster sport has taking it’s place as sports king of America. Football reigns supreme and that’s fine. It’s the hot one. Football gives you collisions and car crashes, but with human bodies. Football gives you the cheap quick entertainment that the twitter generation enjoys so much. It’s the most popular sport in the US by a mile, nothing else really comes close to it.

We’ve forgotten about baseball, and it’s because it strayed away from the one thing that made it personable. We loved baseball, but we loved its players even more. They weren’t steroid infested freaks in the past. The bodies weren’t cartoonish. Ted Williams looked like a butcher at the corner store.

Yep, greatest hitter of all time.

For years you could imagine yourself playing baseball and it wouldn’t look clownshoes ridiculous. You can still kinda do it now, but this was especially true in an era before off-season training and, well, steroids.

I understand the drive to become the greatest player you can be, the drive to make the most money, I really do. While I don’t despise roided up players, I do not like them for the negative contributions they’ve made to a game I adore. The relationship between baseball and it’s fans is fractured. An entire generation of fans is growing up not knowing if their favorite player is a cheater or not. See, this doesn’t matter in football. Those guys are just things in helmets that run into each other for our personal enjoyment. They’re like NASCAR vehicles to us. Their personal health matters little because if it did, we’d outlaw the sport.

Baseball on the other hand is a game that is married to history and context. It’s the only game where you can compare players now to players of a generation ago. George Mikan would get destroyed in the modern NBA. Red Grange would be knocked out on his first snap in the NFL. Babe Ruth would still mash in the modern MLB.

History and relatable stars are the main draws with baseball. The true legends of today are awe inspiring because of the legends that they walk with. Greg Maddux is a living legend, a giant in the historical baseball world. The man has amassed 355 wins, he can hang his hat with legends like Warren Spahn (363), Steve Carlton (329), Christy Matthewson (373), and Pete Alexander (373). When you think about Maddux, it’ll be in the context of Greatest Players of All Time. His name is intertwined with players from the aughts, the teens, the twenties, the thirties, and the fifties and sixties. What other sport does that?

In a roundabout way, that brings me to Ryan Braun.

He did indeed test positive for performance enhancing drugs. He did indeed get off on a technicality. He did not, however, exonerate himself whatsoever from being a steroid cheat. The thing with urine is that it doesn’t magically grow testosterone when it’s refrigerated.

Crazy, I know.

Ryan Braun had a 20:1 ratio, which means whatever it means to you. It was high, but it wasn’t the highest in history as he’ll have you believe. There have been 70:1 positive results in the past. The sample was not tampered with, the seals were intact, and while they did sit in the collector’s fridge over the weekend, the alternative was to have them sit at Fed-Ex for the same amount of time. Again, I have yet to hear of the case where testosterone grew in urine because it was cold.

The crime Ryan Braun committed doesn’t just taint his legacy. The continued use of performance enhancing drugs has driven away fans. Baseball is slowly recovering from the steroids scandal, and it finds itself in an odd place. It is trying very hard to actively eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs, but the athletes themselves are finding exotic ways to cover up the use.

Ryan Braun, baseball is partially at fault for the “Guilty until proven innocent,” stance that the general public has taken in past years. More to blame are the players, however, like yourself and Rafael Palmiero, that use and deny so fervently. Baseball has lost a lot of fan credibility, and that’s unfortunate. Living legends are more difficult to identify, I have no idea who’s clean now. I can make my assumptions, but the last round of “damn he’s juicing too?” was too damn painful to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Yeah, everyone in baseball is guilty until proven innocent. It’s not really safe to point at anyone and say “He’s completely clean.” It’s not the era we live in.

That still doesn’t give players an excuse to use. You’re hurting my game man, and I’d appreciate it if you cut that shit out.