A few years ago, I rediscovered my baseball card collection while sifting through one container after another in my humble home in Boyle Heights. Going through nine heavy 45lb. containers completely filled definitely makes for a lot of baseball cards and collectibles to rummage through.
Through these sports cards, the past returned. Where did the time go anyway? I tried to remember every detail about the cards from Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, and every other brand that I put my money into.
I grew up a Boston Red Sox fan attending baseball games at Dodger Stadium. It was all about Fernandomania at the time. I even got to see him in person at El Hoyo (Boyle Heights Recreational Park). The Dodgers won the World Series in 1981.
As youngster, I didn’t know that Dodger Stadium had been built on land known as Chávez Ravine.
I also didn’t know that in the 1950s, the City of Los Angeles with the financial help of city business leaders and the anti-Mexican propaganda of the L.A. Times forcefully evicted the Mexican community to make room for a new baseball stadium.
I didn’t learn this fact until I ended up taking a Chicana/o Studies class at East Los Angeles College. And people wonder why we need Chicana/o Studies in our schools? American history is purposely omitting some important facts from the past.
Anyways, I decided to begin my personal boycott of Dodger Stadium one that would eventually last nearly fifteen years or so. But who’s counting?
Rediscovering my card collection forced me to reflect on and reconsider my position about possibly attending games at Dodger Stadium again.
Fate intervened and the Midsummer Classic was awarded to Anaheim in 2010. I ended up getting one of those season packages for the Angels so that I could get on the list to attend the All-Star game. That decision opened the door for me to attend some Dodger games mainly to get the collectibles that were distributed on select games.
2010 was a great year for adding to my sports cards and collectibles collection. I was in collector’s heaven, I tell you.
In my quest to build my sports collection, however, I felt like I had betrayed the Chávez Ravine community and myself. In fact, many former Chávez Ravine residents have refused to attend a Dodger game in protest for their eviction. And here I was trying to get bobble-heads.
Baseball as resistance seems like a contradiction. But it’s really not. The history of Chávez Ravine has continued to teach me lessons about history, community, labor and race relations.
The game of baseball has not been able to escape the political realities of American society. Baseball has had its share of racist and segregationist moments. Baseball will, for the most part, omit these painful moments from the history of the National Pastime.
Baseball, though, has been a place where ballplayers have come together to negotiate and resist American society by transforming the dynamics of the sports culture, which is emblematic of society as a whole.
Some baseball players like Boston Red Sox legend “The Splendid Splinter” remained silent about their ancestry for decades. You might know the “The Splendid Splinter” better as Ted Williams. Williams entered the major leagues in 1939.
More on Ted Williams later.
If you ask most people today, even if they don’t follow baseball, they are most likely to tell you that Jackie Robinson in 1947 broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. This is true.
Since Americans tend to see American society solely from a Black & White paradigm it is easy to neglect the Chicana/o experience altogether, especially in sports.
In fact, with a little research, you’ll find that there were over fifty players with Mexican roots playing in the major leagues before 1947.
Indeed, years before Jackie Robinson set foot on a major league field, Mexican players were already playing. Players such as Baldomero “Melo” Almada, José Luis “Chile” Gómez, and Jesse Flores made the major leagues.
In 1933, for instance, “Melo” Almada became the first Chicano to play in Major League Baseball. He played for the Boston Red Sox, the Washington Senators, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played in the major leagues for seven seasons. It is a remarkable feat.
Other early players included, Tito Cortez, Ray Delgadillo, Remi Chagnon, Bobby Perez and Louis Uribe.
Tito Cortez, for instance, threw five no-hitters for the Corona Athletics, a Chicano baseball team. He was eventually scouted by the Cleveland Indians farm system in Tucson, Arizona. Pitching for the Tucson Cowboys, Cortez helped the team make the playoffs.
His promising career, however, was cut short when he was hit in the left eye leaving him partially blind. The Tucson Cowboys suspected he had been playing in the Mexican League, which offered higher salaries and bonuses to its players.
In response, baseball’s second commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler blacklisted Cortez and about a dozen players for five years for joining the Mexican League.
We all know about “Shoelace” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose getting banned from baseball, but not too many know that a dozen or so Chicanos were blacklisted from baseball.
These early baseball pioneers are now forgotten by baseball and American history, but not by Chicana/o history. Their legacy remains an important part of our history.
Since the early 1900s, Chicanas/os have played professional baseball and softball. Similar to the experiences of Blacks who had to resort to forming Negro Leagues because racism in American society had filtered down even to sports, Chicanas/os were forced to form their own baseball and softball leagues to showcase their talents.
One of the earliest known teams was the 1914 Groves baseball team of Tucson, Arizona.
From the 1900s to the 1950s, Chicanas/os formed leagues in Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and other areas were Mexicans were working and living. I bet you didn’t know Mexicans lived in those places?
Racial segregation forced Mexicans to form social and recreational networks to resist the onslaught of racist American laws and policies. The game of baseball was a logical outlet for the Chicana/o community to respond to racist and segregationist attacks from about 1900 to 1940.
Ironically, baseball was introduced to the Chicana/o community who worked and lived in the agricultural industry by American companies as a way of introducing modern industrial values, such as teamwork and self-discipline. In other words, baseball was viewed a form of social control.
The opposite, however, took place as Chicanas/os used these social and recreational networks to organize, (re)assert their identity, and resist company officials and law-enforcement agencies. In one instance, a Mexicano in Corona was caught with subversive communist literature during a raid in a community so the need to organize was important.
Many of these early Chicana/o baseball players learned the dynamics of organization and leadership skills, which would lead to their eventual transition from sports clubs to political union activism during the 1940s and 1950s.
The formation of Chicana/o baseball leagues and teams in the early part of the 1900s is an important part not only of Chicana/o history but American history.
This leads me back to Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams. Ted Williams remained silent for decades regarding his ancestry. As Williams once stated of his Mexican ancestry: “If I had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, [considering] the prejudices people had in Southern California.”
One can only imagine where we might be if Ted Williams had taken a stand. What if Ted Williams had had the courage to speak up and call attention to racism not only in baseball, but in American society?
With his talents and influence perhaps the issue of race could have been addressed earlier. Upon arriving in the major leagues, Williams was an instant star and he could have used his platform to engage society in an honest discussion on race, but he didn’t.
Perhaps it was not his role and responsibility, but he knew full well that remaining silent on the issue had severe consequences for Mexican and Black communities. He witnessed first-hand the impact of racism and segregation.
Of course, he probably didn’t want to get blacklisted as a ‘communist instigator,” and his baseball career might have ended pre-maturely but this should serve as a lesson and reminder to us all in the words of Edmund Burke: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In the summer of 2010, at the height of Arizona’s passage of SB1070, several baseball players vocally expressed that they would boycott the All-Star game that was to be held in Arizona in 2011. SB1070 requires individuals to carry documentation to verify that they are “legally” in the United States.
Not much was made after those initial statements and calls for a boycott of the All Star game, the game went on as scheduled. It did, however, re-ignite the idea that baseball is the perfect venue where politics meets sports.
Just as the early efforts to desegregate baseball took place in a climate of national hate towards people of color, today baseball can quite possibly be a platform for some of the league’s Mexican star players to focus attention to discriminatory laws, such as in Arizona. Its time today’s ballplayers used their influence to make societal change.
Baseball as resistance made sense in the early 1900s and makes sense today in 2012. Chicanas/os have not been given their proper credit for battling discriminatory practices in society let alone in baseball.
Know Your History!!!