The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport

The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport

by Tim Wendel
     
 

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Going as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, to the early days of Cuban baseball, Wendel traces the spread of American baseball fever in the Caribbean and Mexico; discusses lesser-known historical standouts, including Adolfo Luque and Martin Dihigo; and describes the days when only light-skinned Latinos wereallowed to participate in Major League competition as

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Overview

Going as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, to the early days of Cuban baseball, Wendel traces the spread of American baseball fever in the Caribbean and Mexico; discusses lesser-known historical standouts, including Adolfo Luque and Martin Dihigo; and describes the days when only light-skinned Latinos wereallowed to participate in Major League competition as well as the linguistic barrier many Latinos faced when playing on teams with "English only" rules.

Featuring interviews with Latino superstars past and present; a foreword by Bob Costas; the first-ever-published Latino All-Century Team, featuring players selected by Omar Minaya; and photos taken by award-winning Sports Illustrated photographer Victor Baldizon, The New Face of Baseball helps fans of America's favorite pastime to understand the history of those who bring hope and honor every season to the teams they have given their lives to, and the Hispanic culture that, if allowed, can lie hidden and unnoticed under a team jersey.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wendel's story of the Latino experience in baseball is a faithful and functional roundup of player mini-bios and factoids. With a foreword by Costas, the book's got the black-and-white down, but one wishes for more color: Wendel, a founder of USA Today Baseball Weekly, gets his subjects' on-field accomplishments, but could have dug deeper to explore their experiences as people, not mere athletes. Such episodes as Pirate Roberto Clemente's insistence that people call him by his given name and not "Bob," as on his baseball card, and his speaking Spanish during a national television interview following the Pirates' World Series win in 1971 are inspired glimpses into the player's psyche and excellent examples of the strides Latinos have made in the game over the last century. However, while the 1998 home-run duel between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire is an intriguing swatch of baseball lore, the reader only partially gets a sense of where the Dominican-reared Sosa's unique enthusiasm for the game comes from. Similarly, an excerpt about miscreant slugger Jose Canseco reveals little more than even a casual baseball fan would have read in the tabloids. At times, Wendel is guilty of suspending objectivity in praising his subjects: in detailing the infamous incident of superstar second baseman Roberto Alomar spitting in an umpire's face, the ballplayer becomes the victim, and fans who still remember "the unfortunate situation" are seen as the transgressors. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Not the first books on Latinos in American baseball, these are nevertheless long overdue given the numbers cited by Wendel-at the start of the 2001 season a whopping 20 percent of major leaguers were of Latin American descent. After a short historical overview-the subtitle proves misleading since, despite the early presence of a few light-skinned Cubans in the majors, it wasn't until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 that the rise of the Latinos was enabled-Wendel (Castro's Curveball) focuses on the achievements of a number of stars from Latin America and the Caribbean. Fans will recognize names like Minoso, Clemente, Cepeda, or Sosa, but it is enlightening to see them presented as part of a single accomplished group. We might wish that Wendel had elaborated a bit more on the obstacles he acknowledges they faced-discrimination, stereotyping, and the government quota placed upon foreign-born ballplayers-but this is an excellent overview. Breton, a Sacramento Bee columnist, has taken a different approach, teaming with Bee photographer Villegas to produce what is more an eye-pleasing photo essay than strictly a history. Like Wendel, he gives us a brief history and then provides biographical sketches of Latino players. However, he also offers the benefits of Villegas's excellent camera work and a bilingual text. Further, he better shows the long row that Latinos have to hoe in order to make the majors, including many sobering photos and accounts of faded prospects back in the barrio. Both books are highly recommended for public library baseball collections, with Wendel's stronger on overall content and Breton's more appropriate for young adult readers and for Spanish-speaking populations.-Jim Burns, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A workmanlike overview of the giant contribution Latinos have made to the game of baseball. No one who watches the game can doubt that Latino players bring a hustle and flash to baseball: "That impromptu game of pepper down the third base line before the game, the way the base runner raced from first to third without a backward glance?" It is a style of baseball's mythical past, writes journalist and novelist Wendel (Castro's Curveball, 1999), "and that is how we are beginning to see it played more and more here today, thanks to the flow of talent coming from Latino countries." Wendel is not interested in disparaging non-Latino players, but these mini-biographies of Latinos put their prodigious talents on full display. From the pioneers, the men Roberto Clemente referred to as a "double minority"-black and Spanish-speaking-like Orestes "Minnie" Minoso, who came to the Chicago White Sox in 1951, Wendel tells the stories of players whose names are now household words: Rod Carew (of whom Ted Williams said, "He's so smooth he seems to be doing it without trying," like hitting .388 in 1977), Sammy Sosa, and the $252-million man himself, Alex Rodriguez, who may well become the Michael Jordan of the diamond. Wendel's writing at first can seem simplistic, but that is because the style has an easy conversational tone, and more than enough enthusiasm. He gives his opinions of the players, but like the good reporter he is, he has, when possible, interviewed the players themselves as well as gotten the impressions of other players-Latinos and non-Latinos-to gauge where the players stand in the estimation of their peers. Wendel has also traveled throughout Latin countries, especially Cuba, to convey asense of where these players come from. No great surprises here-but deeply affecting and impressive under one roof. (16-page color photo insert, not seen) Agent: Philip Lief/The Philip Lief Group

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060536329
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/06/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

The New Face of Baseball
The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport

Chapter One

Lost in the Shadows

They play baseball everywhere -- in the alleyways and on the narrow streets beyond the columns, in the small parks that line the wide boulevards coming into Havana and near the sweeping Malecon seawall. Everywhere they play. For in Cuba there may not be much, but there is always baseball.

Love for the game moves beyond the political and the past. In the years after the Soviet Union's collapse, baseball has become more important than ever on the island. The people know about those who have left to play in the major leagues in El Norte. They build makeshift radio antennas that rival the Tower of Babel in hopes of picking up the signal of a game, any major-league contest, across the Straits of Florida.

"It's like a huge curtain separates us," a fan in Havana tells me. "We can hear what is happening out there, with the sport. But, we can never see. We never really know."

For centuries Havana has been called the city of columns. The nickname reflects the architecture, especially in the old part of town, near the harbor and El Morro Castle. Many storefronts are adorned with columns. They can divide the world into what is going on in the street and what is happening on the sidewalks near the shops. The columns remain symbolic of what has happened in this land since 1959, when Fidel Castro, a baseball fan, one who understands his people's passion for the game, came to power. For the figurative columns and curtains divide this land into loyalists and exiles. Who has stayed and who decided to leave.

Rafael Palmeiro was born across the harbor from old town Havana, where the city soon opens up into two-story cementblock houses and the horizon of the island's vast interior is clearly visible. Not that Palmeiro remembers much from those early days. He left Cuba with his family at the age of five. He passed beyond the columns and has never returned.

Palmeiro's father, Jose, played amateur baseball back in Cuba. But again those images have been lost to the past. Palmeiro never saw his father play. His earliest memories are of his family fleeing Cuba and moving to Miami and putting down new roots. While his father didn't speak English when they moved, they had baseball and the game offered much in their new land. Soon after the family arrived in the United States, Palmeiro's father brought him a glove and the two of them began to play catch in the small backyard. Soon they were spending late afternoons in the neighborhood park a few blocks away, where the father would pitch to Rafael and his brothers and then hit them grounders and fly balls.

"My father was a hard worker in everything he did, and he carried that into baseball for me," Palmeiro says. "He worked construction after we came to this country, and I didn't understand it back then, but the last thing he probably wanted to do during the hot days in Miami in the summer was go out and play baseball when he got home from work. But he did. His main thing was to keep us off the streets. To keep our minds on good things. I know he enjoyed baseball, that he wanted me to play baseball, but I realize now that he also did it to keep me and my brothers off the streets. We grew up in a bad part of town. We were right there in Liberty City. Tough place to grow up. But we never knew that."

The sweet swing from the left side of the plate and the defensive ability that won him three Gold Gloves were a result of those after-school workouts. But at no time did the father ever tell the son that he could be a major-leaguer. The world can be a hard place, especially when you're new to this land. Daydreams are something to be wary of.

"He was very critical of me," Palmeiro tells me. "But he did it for my own good. I think he knew I could handle it. I saw [my father] as a hero, as somebody who worked really hard and didn't accept any handouts or gifts from anyone. just by watching him, I learned to work for the things that I wanted to achieve."

Growing up, Palmeiro dreamed of one day playing in the major leagues. But it wasn't until he was named the nation's college freshman player of the year at Mississippi State that he began to believe that his dream was a realistic one. Now in the twilight of his career, Palmeiro finds himself with more career RBIs than Mark McGwire and more Gold Gloves at first base than Willie McCovey. Barring injury, he will finish his playing days with more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Nobody who has reached such heights has been refused entry into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

"In the end those are numbers nobody can overlook," says Luis Mayoral, former consultant to the Texas Rangers and radio commentator. "I can remember when people said Raffy couldn't hit for power. You could say that he's hurt himself because he keeps things to himself. He's not after the headlines. When he played in Baltimore he was overshadowed by Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar. In Texas, there's 'A- Rod.' Raffy's overshadowed. But nothing can take away from his numbers."

In August 2002, in an inconsequential game between the Rangers and the Indians in Cleveland, Palmeiro homered to win the contest. The homer was his thirtieth of the season, the eighth straight season he had reached that plateau. He was only the tenth player in baseball history to achieve that feat.

"I know I've been overlooked in my career," Palmeiro told me that day. "But it hasn't been unfair, because you look at guys like Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. I've played with Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg; I'm playing with Alex Rodriguez and Ivan Rodriguez right now. Those guys are Hall of Famers, too. I feel recognized. Maybe not as much as I should. But I don't play this game for recognition. I play this game to satisfy myself; to win, to earn respect from my teammates and opponents. If I get recognition, that's great, but inside I know I've done everything I can do."

The New Face of Baseball
The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America's Favorite Sport
. Copyright © by Tim Wendel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Tim Wendel is an award-winning journalist and the author of Castro's Curveball, a novel about baseball in Cuba. Wendel is one of the founders of USA Today Baseball Weekly, where he served as an editor and writer. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University and lives, in Vienna, Virginia.

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