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Last weekend, the Hall
of Fame opened a new exhibit, Viva Baseball, which chronicles the history of
Latin Americans in the game. Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando
Cepeda, a native of Puerto Rico and one of 11 Latinos currently enshrined in Cooperstown, attended the exhibit opening. During a wide-ranging
conversation with Mark McGuire of the Albany-Times Union, Hall of Fame researcher
Bill Francis, and me, Cepeda talked about his father, Negro Leagues shortstop Perucho
Cepeda, his own experiences playing in San Francisco, and his relationship with
fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente. Humble in discussing his own
accomplishments, Cepeda lavished praise on a number of lesser known Latino
standouts, including Minnie Minoso, Ruben Gomez, and Hector Espino.
McGuire: What do
you think, looking around this exhibit, seeing your dad’s stuff [on display]?
Awesome. Awesome. Incredible. You know, he never saw me play [in the major
leagues]. You know he died one day before I played my first pro game. He died.
I remember like in 1952, I was 15 and I got my knee operation. He had to talk
to the doctor and asked him, “Do you think my son will be able to play ball?”
My father always had it in his mind that someday I would be a ballplayer.
McGuire: Who was
better, you or him?
Cepeda: He was
McGuire: When you
look at the state of Latin players, we think of them as one big group,
regardless of what country they come from. Do you notice different styles of [Latino]
players from different countries? Or is it pretty much the same?
Cepeda: The same.
Baseball is [played] one way. They [the Latino players] are the same. So many
great players, from the Dominican, Venezuela, from Cuba, they never had the
opportunity to play in the big leagues–they never made the Hall of Fame–but
they were as good as people who are in the Hall of Fame. So many great Latino
players, like Minnie Minoso, they opened the door for us. He was the first
Latino star in the big leagues, Minnie Minoso. There was also Vic Power, Ruben
Gomez, so many great players that never made it to the Hall of Fame, but they
were very good players.
McGuire: What do
you think of the idea that you’re part of an exclusive club here in the Hall of
Fame of Latino players, but it’s pretty much going be doubled [in membership] soon.
Cepeda: Yeah, it
is. We’re so proud that we were the first ones in the Hall of Fame. A day like
today will live forever. So that’s why I say thank you to Hall of Fame
president Jeff Idelson for thinking about putting this [exhibit] together. It’s
a great day for Latinos.
kind of strange how you growing up couldn’t necessarily have dreamed of playing
in the major leagues [because of skin color], but with Albert Pujols, Jose
Reyes, Johan Santana now, you really can’t picture baseball today without
Cepeda: Al Kaline
told me last year that if it weren’t for the Latino player, baseball would have
been dead by now because there are just so many great Latino players today.
Earlier, Juan Marichal talked about how you and Felipe Alou helped him when he
first came to the big leagues with the Giants. Who helped you when you first
arrived in San Francisco?
Gomez. Ruben Gomez. In 1958, I lived with him. You need somebody to work with
you. And that’s what we did with Juan in 1960. We made him feel welcome right
Markusen: Of all
the major league cities you played in, which was the most receptive to Latin
Cepeda: Oh, San Francisco. San
Francisco, because they had so many people from different backgrounds, so much
diversity. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans. So they welcomed me
right away in San Francisco.
Francis: Can you
talk about how the Giants embraced the Latin American player? It seems like the
Giants had a lot of Latin Americans. Was it because of Alex Pompez [the scout]?
Cepeda: No, it
wasn’t Alex Pompez. The guy who signed me–his wife is here today– was Pete
[Pedrin] Zorrilla. Pedrin, he was very close to Horace Stoneham, the Giants’
At one time, the Giants had like 30 Latinos in the minor
leagues. Manny Mota, Jose Pagan, me. From 1954 on, a lot of Latinos.
Francis: Can you
talk about the Alvin Dark incident? Was that the worst experience you had in major
about that, he told me a few years back that he was very sorry that happened.
He didn’t know the Latino heritage, that for a Latino to come here and do well,
was very difficult. He was very sorry for that.
must have been tough.
very hard, very hard. Because baseball is a tough game in all aspects, and now
you had to deal with Dark and you had to deal with the pitcher. You had to deal
with the game every day; it was very hard.
close were you with Roberto Clemente?
Cepeda: Well, I
knew Roberto since 1950. He played for my dad, you know, for a couple of games,
but didn’t make the team. In 1955, we came here to the states. He came here in
1954, to Montreal.
In ’55, we flew together to Florida for spring
training to Fort Myers,
the Giants’ minor league complex. Yeah, very close. Still very close to the family,
his wife, Roberto Jr., who is here today.
must remember very well where you were when you heard that he had died.
Cepeda: Oh yeah,
I was at my brother’s house, when I heard the news.
player prominently featured in this exhibit is an underrated player, Hector
Espino, who was called the “Babe Ruth of Mexico.” Did you ever play against
Cepeda: Yeah, I
played against him in 1974. He came up, I believe it was in 1960, with St. Louis. He signed with St. Louis [but never
played in the major leagues]. I played against him in ’74, when he was in the
good was Espino?
Markusen: Do you
think he would have starred in the majors.
yeah. He was a great low ball hitter. If you’re a great low ball hitter, you
can play anywhere.
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In commemoration of Jackie Robinson Day, we present an excerpt from my original manuscript The Team That Changed Baseball: The 1971 Pirates. Since this chapter did not make the final cut for the book, it is published here for the first time ever.
Robinson’s entrance into the National League in 1947 did not signal the end of
racial bigotry in major league baseball. Nor did it lead to a stampede rush to
sign all of the best black and African-American talent available to major
league general managers and owners. Rather, the process of true racial
integration in baseball took place much more slowly–over a period that spanned
nearly two and a half decades. As a result, the major leagues could not boast
of a single significantly or truly integrated World Championship team during
the 1940s, fifties, or sixties.
On April 15,
1947, Robinson officially ended the practice of the color line when he made his
debut at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Team president Branch Rickey had
promoted Robinson from the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Montreal
Royals, where he had played in 1946. In
August, Dan Bankhead joined Robinson on the Dodgers’ roster to become the
majors’ first African-American pitcher. Earlier in the season, during the month
of July, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck made news when he signed outfielder
Larry Doby, who became the first African-American player in the existence of
the American League. That same month,
the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Willard Brown and Hank Thompson
from the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the best teams in the Negro Leagues. The five new African-American players joined
a handful of Latin Americans, including Mike Guerra and Jesse Flores of the Philadelphia
Athletics, who already held jobs in the major leagues.
Baseball’s integration proceeded at a snail’s pace over the
next three seasons. In 1948, the Dodgers
promoted former Negro Leagues star Roy Campanella, who became the first
African-American catcher in 20th century major league history. Only one other black player, venerable
pitcher Satchel Paige, debuted in 1948. Paige signed a contract with Veeck’s
Indians, drawing the wrath of such publications as The Sporting News, which railed against the wisdom of adding a
fortysomething hurler well past his prime.
Meanwhile, the Washington Senators, one of the most progressive teams in
their pursuit of Latinos, added two Cubans to their roster: shortstop Angel
Fleitas and pitcher Moin Garcia. The
Senators, who employed full-time scout Joe Cambria in Cuba, had
signed a number of Cuban players in 1944 and ’45, but by now, they had
disappeared from the roster. (Prior to Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the
major leagues in 1947, a number of Latin Americans–generally light-skinned–had
played in the majors. Although some
baseball historians have argued that some
of these Latinos were also black in color, and that some so-called Cubans were
actually African Americans, none of the pre-1947 teams could be considered
truly integrated. Major league teams
simply refused to sign black players who did not have Latino-sounding names, or
who did not at least contend they
were of Latin American descent. These
men continued to be barred because of baseball’s most significant unwritten
rule: the color line.)
Although some baseball historians have contended that racist
motivation prevented a faster rate of integration, one of the most significant
writers of the time cited a completely different reason. Wendell Smith, writing for the black
newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier,
believed that a shortage of black players in 1948 had slowed the pace of
integration. “The scouts are out there
snooting around like Scotland Yard detectives looking for talent,” Smith wrote,
“but having a difficult job uncovering it. The fact that Cleveland signed the 40-year-old Page
indicates that there is a definite shortage of talent, both white and Negro.”
Smith argued that the Negro Leagues had featured far more
talent during the 1920s and thirties.
“It was better talent than we have today,” wrote Smith in the Courier, “and plenty of it. That’s why there won’t be a large number of
Negro players in the majors for some time to come.” Smith believed that the
major leagues would have to wait several years for young black players to graduate
from American sandlots.
In ’49, only four African-American players were added to
major league rosters: Luke Easter and Minnie Minoso (Indians), Monte Irvin (Giants), and Don Newcombe (Dodgers). A few Latinos made their inaugural big league
appearances, including Mexican second baseman Bobby Avila with the Indians and
Cuban pitcher Enrique Gonzalez of the Senators. In 1950, the influx of new African-American
players featured only one addition, Sam Jethroe, who debuted with the Boston
Braves. As Wendell Smith reiterated in
the Pittsburgh Courier that summer,
the wellspring of black players continued to run dry. “When Brooklyn
signed [Jackie] Robinson in 1947, there was a wealth of Negro talent,” Smith
contended. “Today, however, good Negro
players are hard to find.” The solution?
Smith called for black colleges to do a better job of developing players.
Among the Latino entrants, Venezuelan shortstop Chico
Carrasquel of the Chicago White Sox highlighted the newcomers, while the Senators
continued their Cuban infatuation, signing five pitchers from the island. None of the five Washington
newcomers had a major impact in 1950, however, as Washington finished 67-87, 31 games out of
The annoyingly slow pace of minority integration quickened
significantly in 1951, when eight African-American players entered the major
leagues, including a young superstar named Willie Mays. Integration seemed to
be enjoying its first major breakthrough thanks to an influx of young black
talent from the college and high school ranks.
“There are now 13 Negroes playing in the majors and twice that many in
the minors,” wrote Wendell Smith in the Pittsburgh
Courier. “In practically every
league, whether major or minor, it is possible to find an outstanding Negro
player.” In addition, five Latin
Americans joined big league clubs, although Ray Noble of the New York Giants
and Luis Marquez of the Boston Braves were also included on the list of players
who could be called blacks. At one point
or another during the season, the Indians featured four black players (Easter,
Doby, Minoso, and newcomer Bobby Avila). The Dodgers carried four African
Americans in Robinson, Campanella, Newcombe, and Bankhead, but no Latinos. The Giants also carried four black players:
Irvin, Mays, Artie Wilson, and Noble, who was also Cuban. The Senators added two more Cubans–Cisco
Campos and Willie Miranda–while dropping two of their Latino pitchers. The St. Louis Browns promoted pitcher Tito
Herrera, of Mexico.
In 1952, the Dodgers added two more black players, Joe Black
and Sandy Amoros (a Cuban), but dropped Dan Bankhead from the roster. Amoros
played in only 20 games, so, in essence, the Dodgers’ total number of black
players remained at four. (Don Newcombe missed the season while serving in the
military.) The Boston Braves signed Buzz
Clarkson and George Crowe, who along with Sam Jethroe, made for a total of
three black players. Washington
imported hurlers Miguel Fornieles and Raul Sanchez from Cuba, adding
the duo to holdovers Connie Marrero, Julio Moreno, and Sandy Consuegra on the
While the influx of new minority talent in 1952 ranked as
fairly unimpressive, the minor league picture brought some hope for the
future. A survey by the Pittsburgh Courier showed that the St.
Louis Browns led all organizations with 22 black players in their farm
system. The Boston Braves ranked second
with 14 black athletes in the minor leagues, while the Pirates followed suit
with 12 and the Senators with nine.
In 1953, major league teams reached double figures in black
newcomers, adding 11 to their rosters.
The Chicago Cubs jumped into the integration business in that season,
promoting Gene Baker and Ernie Banks from the minor leagues. The Indians added Al Smith and Dave Hoskins,
the Milwaukee Braves signed Billy Bruton and Jim Pendleton, and the Dodgers
promoted Junior Gilliam. Yet, racism
still existed in terms of unstated and unpublicized quotas. While the total
number of minorities was rising in the minor leagues, individual ballclubs
continued to resist the idea of having too
many black players on their
team. As baseball columnist Dick Young
wrote in a 1971 edition of the New York
Daily News: “We are talking about 1953.
Black ballplayers had been in the majors for only seven years, and there
was still a quota system. I think the
stylish maximum for that year was four. At least the Dodgers had four, and whatever
the Dodgers had was accepted as the maximum.
Don’t laugh. That was very
serious business in those days. ‘If you have more than four of them on the
field,’ I used to hear, ‘the people will quit on the club. They’re not ready for it.’ ”
The quota system may have cost Brooklyn
the services of the dark-skinned Roberto Clemente. Since the Dodgers already
had three black position players and one African-American pitcher, they may
have been reluctant to sign Clemente to a major league contract. Teams simply did not want more black players
than whites in their everyday lineup. Instead, the Dodgers signed Clemente to a
minor league deal in February of 1954, meaning they would have to expose
him to a draft of other major league teams after the season. That’s when the
Pirates swooped in, taking Clemente with the first choice.
In addition to the quota system, other problems existed. No
teams, including the Dodgers, made much progress in bringing Latinos to the
major leagues in 1953. The Pirates did
sign their first two Latin Americans, both outfielders: Felipe Montemayor of Mexico and Carlos Bernier of Puerto
Rico. The Giants added a
black Puerto Rican, Ruben Gomez, to their pitching staff. Hardly a new wave of
Prior to 1954, only a few major league teams (the Dodgers,
Braves, Giants, Indians, and White Sox) had shown any real interest in signing
and promoting black players to the big leagues.
In fact, most of the 11 remaining teams had yet to debut a black player
at the major league level. Thankfully,
that trend began to change in 1954, when the St. Louis Cardinals (Tom Alston),
Cincinnati Reds (Nino Escalera), and Senators (Carlos Paula) all debuted their
first black on-the-field performers. The Senators also signed right-hander
Camilo Pascual, who would become the best of their Latino pitchers, but
retained only one Latino holdover from the previous season, Connie Marrero. The
Cardinals also added Mexican left-hander Memo Luna, albeit for one game. Future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron joined the
Milwaukee Braves in 1954, as did an obscure African-American player named
Charlie White. But since George Crowe
and Buzz Clarkson had already been dropped from the Braves, the club’s total
number of black players remained stagnant.
All in all, 14 black players, several of whom were also of Latino
descent, made their major league debuts in 1954.
Baseball’s rate of African-American integration remained
relatively steady over the balance of the decade, while the number of Latino
entries increased, and then dipped. In
1955, 12 black players made their major league debuts, including a black
Latino, the Pirates’ own Roberto Clemente.
In terms of Latino talent, three Puerto Ricans (including Clemente),
eight Cubans, and three Panamanians joined major league clubs that season. Thirteen blacks entered the majors the
following season, including Curt Flood with the Cardinals, Bill White with the
Giants, and Frank Robinson with the Reds.
Only seven Latinos debuted that season, including Venezuelan Luis
Aparicio. The 1957 season saw the number of black entrants drop slightly–to
10–and featured no major stars. The
number of new Latino players plummeted to three. The class of 1958 black newcomers totaled 13,
including African Americans Jim “Mudcat” Grant (Indians), Vada Pinson, (Reds)
and Leon Wagner (San Francisco Giants), and Latino standouts Felipe Alou and
Orlando Cepeda (also with the Giants).
Alou and Cepeda represented the best of the eight Spanish-speaking
The Giants were now challenging their fellow West Coast
transplants–the Los Angeles Dodgers–for superiority in the chase for black and
Latino talent. The additions of Wagner,
Alou and Cepeda to a team that already featured Willie Mays, Bill White, Andre
Rogers, and Ruben Gomez gave San
Francisco an impressive mix of players. But the Giants were not yet a championship
team. The Giants’ 80-74 record put them
12 games out in the 1958 National League pennant race.
In 1959, major league clubs added a record number of 16
black newcomers, most of whom joined National League teams. The new wave of black stars was laden with
impressive talent, including future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (Cardinals),
Willie McCovey (Giants), and Billy Williams (Cubs), All-Stars like Tommy Davis
and Maury Wills (both Dodgers), and solid journeymen performers in Jose Pagan
(Giants) and Earl Wilson (Red Sox).
Pagan, a native of Puerto Rico, and
Cubans Mike Cuellar (Reds) and Zoilo Versalles (Senators) highlighted the class
of five Latinos who debuted in ’59.
While the Giants continued their aggressive integrative efforts by
adding both McCovey and Pagan, they also dispatched Bill White (to the
Cardinals) and Ruben Gomez (to the Phillies), leaving them with the same number
of minorities as the previous year. The
Giants remained third in the National League standings, but did close the gap
to within four games of the first-place Dodgers.
The Reds also showed some aggressiveness in adding
minorities to their roster, including Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson to the
everyday lineup, and Cuellar, Luis Arroyo, Don Newcombe, and Orlando Pena to
the pitching staff. But of that group,
only Robinson, Pinson, and Newcombe enjoyed a high level of impact, and the
Reds, as a team, enjoyed little success. In 1959, Cincinnati finished in a fifth-place tie, 13
games behind the Dodgers.
In 1960, both the Reds and Giants regressed in the
standings, although they continued to recruit and promote minority talent. Dominicans Matty Alou and Juan Marichal
debuted for the Giants in 1960, while the Reds added Latinos Leo Cardenas, Elio
Chacon, Tony Gonzalez, and several other lesser players to their team. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Cardinals improved from
second-division status to finish a strong third in the National League. Although the Cardinals had not yet reached
championship level, their everyday lineup now boasted three minorities: Bill
White, Julian Javier, and Curt Flood.
The bench included George Crowe and Leon Wagner, and the pitching staff
featured a talented but ineffective Bob Gibson. While the Cardinals, Dodgers,
Giants and Reds continued to lap their competitors in the integration race,
American League teams lagged well behind in the promotion of black and Latino
players to the major leagues.
Although baseball had stepped up its level of integration in
the mid-1950’s, none of the pennant-winning or championship teams from 1947 to
1960 could be considered heavily, or substantially integrated. In 1947, and from 1949 through ’53, the New
York Yankees won the World Series. The
Yankees, however, did not debut their first black player until 1955, when
Elston Howard earned a promotion from the minor leagues. In four of those World Series, the Yankees
defeated the Dodgers, who had unquestionably led the way in the effort to
integrate major league baseball with black players. Despite their impressive pioneering spirit,
the Dodgers numbered no higher than five black players on any of those National
League pennant winners. Although the
presence of five black athletes on a 25-man roster (or 20 per cent) was
probably considered progressive at the time, it would hardly be considered a heavily integrated roster in the
contemporary context. The Dodgers had
also signed very few Latino players during that span of years.
In 1948, the Indians defeated the Boston Braves four games
to two in the World Series. The Indians
boasted only two black performers, Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige,
while the Braves featured nary a single African American or Latin American on
the roster. The 1948 Dodgers, losers to
the Indians in the World Series, included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella,
Latino outfielder Luis Olmo, and Don Newcombe.
The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, who lost four straight games to the
Yankees in the Series, possessed no black or Latino players.
That brings us to 1954, when the Giants and Indians squared
off in the Fall Classic. With Paige no
longer on the team and Luke Easter reduced to six at-bats during the regular
season, only Doby and Dave Pope contributed significantly as minorities to the
Indians’ cause. A Puerto Rican pitcher,
Jose Santiago, pitched in only one game during the regular season. Meanwhile,
the Giants found themselves down to two African Americans: Mays and Irvin, and
one Latin American, right-hander Ruben Gomez, who won 17 games.
The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers made several major inroads on the
integration path. For the first time, a
World Championship team featured as many as four black players in the regular
lineup: Junior Gilliam at second base, Jackie Robinson at third base, Sandy
Amoros in left field, and Roy Campanella behind the plate. The team’s best starting pitcher, Don
Newcombe (20-5, 3.19), became the first black hurler to post two 20-win seasons
in the major leagues. Yet, the Dodgers,
after trading pitcher Joe Black in mid-season, carried no other
African-American players on their pitching staff. Similarly, there were no
black players on the bench. In total,
black players represented less than 20 per cent of the Dodgers’ roster.
In 1956, the Dodgers again faced the Yankees in October, but
lost to New York
in seven games. Gilliam, Amoros,
Robinson and Newcombe continued to play key roles for the Dodgers, while Elston
Howard represented the Yankees’ sole black contributor. In ’57, the pennant-winning Yankees added
Harry Simpson to the roster, while the World Champion Milwaukee Braves used two
African-American regulars, Hank Aaron and Billy Bruton. The two teams met again in ’58, with the
Braves adding only Puerto Rican left-hander Juan Pizarro to their pitching
staff, and the Yankees trading away Simpson in mid-season.
In 1959, the Dodgers won their first World Championship
while in Los Angeles,
but by this time their roster composition had changed drastically. Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe had already
retired, and Sandy Amoros totaled only five games and five at-bats during the
regular season. On the plus side, Maury
Wills and Tommy Davis made their major league debuts in 1959, although Davis received just one
at-bat, while Wills served primarily as a utilityman. The Dodgers’ opponent in the World Series,
the Chicago White Sox, carried only two black veterans for part of the season,
Harry Simpson and Larry Doby.
In 1960, the Yankees returned to the World Series and faced
the upstart Pirates. New York carried two African-American
players in Elston Howard and Jesse Gonder, and two Latin Americans in Hector
Lopez and Luis Arroyo. The Pirates featured Roberto Clemente in their starting
lineup; Gene Baker, Joe Christopher (a native of the Virgin
Islands) and R.C. Stevens off the bench; Cuban outfielder Roman
Mejias; and Benny Daniels and Diomedes Olivo on the pitching staff. The racial makeup of the ’60 Pirates was far
different from the composition of their teams in the early 1970s.
Baseball entered a new era in 1961, when the American League
expanded by two teams. The National League followed suit with two expansion
clubs in 1962. In theory, the four new teams would provide additional
opportunities for minority players to make major league rosters.
In the early 1960s, the Dodgers once again set the trend for
signing, developing and promoting black stars to the major leagues. Maury
Wills, Junior Gilliam, Tommy and Willie Davis, and John Roseboro formed a large
percentage of the starting lineups employed by manager Walter Alston. Yet, the Dodgers’ pitching staff, with no
black Americans and only one Latino on the 1963, ’65, and ’66 staffs, lagged
behind the progressiveness the organization had displayed in the development of
minority position players.
The Giants of the early 1960s featured a number of black and
Latino standouts. The 1962 team, which
included eight minorities, won the National League pennant before bowing to the
Yankees in the World Series. In 1963,
the Giants maintained their minority corps of Orlando Cepeda, Jose Pagan,
Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, and Juan Marichal, and added players
like Jim Ray Hart, Jesus Alou, and Jose Cardenal to the mix. So with such an array of talent, why did the
Giants fall off to 88-74, 11 games behind the league-leading Dodgers? The cause, in part, may have been the
handling of the team’s racial makeup by San
The front office discouraged Latino players from associating with each
other. Manager Alvin Dark banned the
speaking of Spanish in the clubhouse and on the field, a decision that made
Latino players even less comfortable in unfamiliar environs. “Alvin Dark segregated the team,” recalls
Orlando Cepeda. “He [divided] the
whites, the blacks, and Latins. We had
to strike against that, you know, being black and being Latin.”
Cepeda says that Dark regularly blamed Giant losses on the
team’s minority stars, including himself, Mays, and McCovey. Such criticism affected the team’s morale and
performance. The Giants eventually traded off many of their best Latino and
black players, including Cepeda (to the Cardinals), Cardenal (Angels), Pagan
(Pirates), Matty Alou (Pirates), and Felipe Alou (Braves) in a series of
disastrous deals. If not for those
regrettable decisions, the Giants might have become baseball’s first heavily
integrated championship team.
The compositions of teams like the Dodgers, Giants, and St.
Louis Cardinals throughout the 1960s displayed the National League’s
superiority in the quest to fully integrate the major leagues. As Frank Robinson, a veteran of both the
American and the National leagues, pointed out in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine, the NL had outdone the AL from the start in the
effort to integrate. “The National
League was the first to sign black players and it has remained ahead all of
these years,” Robinson told sportswriter Bill Libby. “And so many outstanding players are black
that it’s hard to have an outstanding team without your share of black
players.” As a result, the quality of play in the National League had surpassed
that of the American League by the mid-1960s.
“It seemed like the National League teams were willing to sign any
promising prospect, regardless of color,” said Robinson, “while the American
League was only interested in the outstanding, ‘can’t-miss’ black prospect.”
In 1969, the major leagues expanded by four teams, and
re-aligned into four divisions, with East and West factions in both the
American and National leagues. Both divisional winners, the Baltimore Orioles
and Minnesota Twins, exhibited some of the typical progress enjoyed during the
sixties, when several teams made strides in integrating their rosters. But neither club’s level of integration was
particularly astounding. The Orioles, winners in the American League East,
featured Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, Don Buford, and Elrod Hendricks in the
starting lineup; Dave May, Chico Salmon, and Curt Motton off the bench; and
Mike Cuellar and Marcelino Lopez on the pitching staff, That gave the Orioles a
total of nine minorities. The champions
of the American League West, the Twins, numbered five African-American and
Latino starters in their lineup: Rod Carew, Leo Cardenas, Tony Oliva, Cesar
Tovar, and John Roseboro. Off the bench,
the Twins’ roster included Jim Holt and Herm Hill, while the pitching staff had
only one black contributor, Tom Hall.
In the National League, the eventual World Champion New York
Mets featured Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Donn Clendenon, Ed Charles, and Amos
Otis as black position players, but only one African-American pitcher, Al
Jackson, managed to play a full season in the majors. Another African American, left-hander Jesse
Hudson, pitched in only one game. In the West, the Atlanta Braves featured a
nearly all-black infield, with Orlando Cepeda, Felix Millan, and Sonny Jackson,
and an all-minority outfield of Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, and Tony
Gonzalez. In fact, it seems that only
the lack of an African-American or Latino catcher prevented the Braves from
fielding the major leagues’ first all-black starting lineup. The Braves’ bench featured Rico Carty, Gil
Garrido, Tommie Aaron, Ralph Garr, Oscar Brown, and Dusty Baker. Yet, the numbers on minorities on the bench,
which appear impressive at first, are deceiving. Of that group of reserves,
only Carty had any significant impact.
Garr, Brown, and Baker, all young players recently promoted from the
minors, played very briefly that season. And in contrast to their everyday
lineup, the Braves’ pitching staff was completely white.
In 1970, the Orioles repeated as American League Eastern
Division champions, and returned all of their African-American and Latino
players from the previous summer. The
Orioles added rookie outfielder and future star Don Baylor, giving them a total
of 10 minorities. But, of that group,
Curt Motton had little impact off the bench, Dave May accumulated only 31
at-bats before being traded during the season, and Baylor played in only eight
games, batting just .235. Out West, the
Twins repeated as divisional winners, after adding Latino utilityman Minnie
Mendoza and dropping veteran catcher John Roseboro. The pitching staff included only two
minorities in Tom Hall and Luis Tiant.
In the National League, the Reds captured the West, kicking
off what would become one of their most successful decades in franchise
history. The starting lineup featured
two American blacks, Lee May and Bobby Tolan, and two Latinos, Tony Perez and
Dave Concepcion. Off the bench, the trio
of Hal McRae, Angel Bravo, and Pat Corrales (an American-born Mexican) provided
quality play. The pitching staff
included an African-American starter, Wayne Simpson, who won 14 games, and a
Latino reliever, Pedro Borbon, who struggled in 12 appearances. All in all, the 1970 Reds featured a decent
level of integration, but nothing that could be considered eye-popping.
In 1970, the Pirates won the first of three straight
National League Eastern Division titles.
Danny Murtaugh’s regular lineup included Manny Sanguillen, Willie
Stargell, Matty Alou, and Roberto Clemente, while the bench boasted a number of
black and Latino contributors: Al Oliver, Jose Pagan, Johnny Jeter, Dave Cash,
Gene Clines, and Jose Martinez. Dock
Ellis headlined a starting rotation that also included Bob Veale. In the bullpen, Mudcat Grant, Orlando Pena,
Al McBean, and Eduardo Acosta each pitched for the Bucs during the season.
In total, 15 minorities played for the Pirates in 1970. So why not consider them the first heavily integrated championship team in
history? While Sanguillen, Stargell,
Alou, and Clemente all had an impact as starters, the Pirates did not feature
an African American or Latino who played the infield as a regular throughout
the season. Dave Cash had not yet overtaken
Bill Mazeroski at second base, and Jackie Hernandez had not yet joined the
team. Of the bench players, neither Martinez nor Jeter
enjoyed much success, while Gene Clines spent most of the season in the minor
leagues. Of the relievers, only Mudcat
Grant pitched effectively, and he actually spent less than half the season in Pittsburgh. Important role players like Vic Davalillo,
Rennie Stennett, and Ramon Hernandez had yet to make their Pittsburgh debuts. Furthermore, the Pirates of 1970 were not a
championship team in the classic sense. They won the division with a record-low 89
wins, but failed to win the National League pennant, losing to the Reds in
three straight games.
In 1971, the Orioles repeated as American League champions,
but their level of integration had once again remained stagnant, what with the
addition of Grant Jackson and the subtraction of Marcelino Lopez from the
pitching staff. In the West, the Oakland A’s won the first
of five straight division championships with an interesting mix of black,
Latino, and white players. Campy
Campaneris and Reggie Jackson served important roles as starters, while Tommy
Davis and former Pirate Angel Mangual headlined a productive bench that also
included George Hendrick, Felipe Alou, Frank Fernandez (an American-born
Spaniard), Dwain Anderson, and Ramon Webster.
On the pitching staff, Vida Blue, Diego Segui, Blue Moon Odom, and
Mudcat Grant all contributed to a team that piled up 101 victories during the
regular season. In total, 13 African
Americans and Latinos made appearances for the A’s that season. On the down side, the ’71 A’s featured only
two African-American or Latino regulars in their lineup; Felipe Alou batted
only eight times before being traded to the Yankees; and Hendrick, Fernandez,
Anderson, and Webster had no impact. The
’71 A’s, much like the Pirates of 1970, lost the playoffs in three straight
games, falling to a superior team from Baltimore.
The San Francisco Giants claimed the National League West in
1971, and featured a number of African-American and Latino standouts, including
Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Tito Fuentes, and Juan Marichal. A young George Foster, veteran third
baseman-outfielder Jim Ray Hart, and three obscure players (Bernie Williams,
Frank Johnson, and Jimmy Rosario) saw playing time off the bench. Of that
group, however, Foster batted only 105 times before being traded to the Reds in
the infamous Frank Duffy deal, and Hart played in only 31 games because of
injuries. Furthermore, the pitching
staff, outside of Marichal, contained no minority hurlers.
Quite clearly, a number of teams–beginning with the Dodgers,
Cardinals, Giants, and Reds in the early 1960s–had enjoyed substantial progress
in populating their teams with high-quality Latino and African-American
players. These National League teams had
all succeeded in scouting and signing minority players, and promoting the most
talented ones to the highest professional level. During this time period, the starting lineups
in Los Angeles, St. Louis,
San Francisco, and Cincinnati served as evidence of the National
League’s willingness to bring the American black and Latino player to the
forefront. Yet, most of the minority
players on these–and other–teams played as regulars, particularly at first base
and in the outfield. For example, the
1967 World Champion Cardinals included only three minorities on their bench:
Alex Johnson, Dave Ricketts, and Bobby Tolan.
In general, very few African-American and Latino players made major
league rosters as utility players, lending credence to the theory that most
teams were operating under the following unwritten rule: If you were an African American or Latino in the fifties and sixties,
and weren’t considered a star, or at least good enough to make it as a starter,
you generally weren’t going to be included on the roster–at all. The utilityman, backup and pinch-hitting jobs
would fall to the white players, unless you, as a black player, had shown that
you were far and away a superior player.
Much like the tendency to keep black and Latino players from
having bench jobs, many clubs discouraged the development of minority pitchers
and catchers. Even the most progressive National League teams of the sixties
had lagged behind in their development of African-American and Latino pitchers. Black players like Bob Gibson and Don
Newcombe and Latinos such as Juan Marichal represented a minuscule percentage
of teams’ pitching staffs.
Unfortunately, very few organizations exhibited trust in the mental
capacities of African Americans and Latinos as pitchers. Therefore, those teams rarely recruited
minority amateurs as pitchers, but
sought to convert them to the so-called “athletic” positions of center field
and shortstop. Secondly, only the most
dominant minority pitchers gained advancement to the majors. Borderline black and Latino pitchers
competing for fourth starting spots and long relief roles often lost out to
white pitchers of similar abilities.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Jackie Robinson and
others, minority players had long since proven their worth to major league
teams, but only as everyday star players. Yet, most major league teams had
little interest in keeping African Americans and Latinos around in any other
capacity. In that way, some general managers and owners could maintain an acceptable
quota of dark-skinned players while still keeping the overall minority numbers
down. At the same time, they could continue to reinforce their own unfortunate
beliefs in the mental shortcomings of black and Latin American players.
Thankfully, those trends began to diminish by the late
1960s, when teams like the Pirates and Cardinals advanced their levels of
integration. By 1971, the idea of a racial quota received a severe blow when
the Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in major league history. That
occurred on September 1. Less than two months later, those same Pirates became
world champions of baseball.
As with any all-time all-star team, nominations and final selections will stir the pots of argument and debate. That’s a good thing, because it forces us to learn more about the players involved, while bringing to better light the accomplishments of those who have been overlooked for too long. And the passion in our voices reminds us of how important it is to pay homage to those who performed so well in past generations. In the case of Major League Baseball’s Latino Legends ballot, there is an added element that raises another question: how exactly do we define Latino? There is no definitive answer to this complex question–almost every scholar will propose a different formula–but for the purposes of this promotion, the following seems simple and reasonable. Let’s define Latino players as those who were either born in Latin American countries, or those who have Latino heritage on both their mothers’ and fathers’ sides of the family. By using that definition–and this is what Major League Baseball seems to have done with its ballot–we exclude Reggie Jackson (who was Latino only on his father’s side) and Ted Williams (whose mother was half-Mexican). Besides, Jackson and Williams have never really been referred to as “Latino” in previous baseball discussions, so it might make sense to maintain the status quo on that one.
Even without Jackson and Williams, there is no shortage of talent on an all-Latino team. Here is one writer’s opinion on who deserves to make the final cut–and who just missed:
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez: Rodriguez is showing signs of decline in Detroit this season, but that’s understandable for a player who’s been catching the bulk of his teams’ games since the middle of the 1991 season. After making his major league debut at the age of 19, the native of Puerto Rico quickly established himself as the best throwing catcher in either league, drawing comparisons to the defensive standards established by Johnny Bench. Quick and agile behind the plate, Rodriguez also became a force with the bat, setting an American League record for catchers by hitting 35 home runs in 1999. He also batted .332, giving him the best single-season average for an AL catcher since Bill Dickey in 1936. Such numbers earned Rodriguez a controversial selection as league MVP, as he surprisingly beat out Pedro Martinez. I-Rod didn’t deserve the MVP that year, but he certainly deserves the ranking as the greatest Latino catcher of all-time… There’s really no one who comes close to Rodriguez among Latino receivers; he’s a future Hall of Famer who ranks several notches ahead of 1970s standout Manny Sanguillen. The former Pirates’ catcher was overrated offensively–he never saw a pitch he didn’t like–but was an underrated defender, baserunner, and team leader… Jorge Posada could move past Sanguillen on the list, but he’ll have to reverse a downward trend that might put him in a part-time role by 2006.
Orlando Cepeda: An underrated defensive first baseman, Cepeda built most of his reputation as one of the game’s most feared sluggers of the 1960s. The Puerto Rican-born Cepeda nearly won a Triple Crown with the Giants in 1961–a year that saw him overshadowed by Roger Maris–but it was as a member of the Cardinals that Cepeda achieved the most glory. Filling the team’s need for a cleanup hitter, “Cha Cha” won the National League’s MVP Award in unanimous fashion in 1967, leading St. Louis to the World Championship. Cepeda later had success with Atlanta and Boston, helping the Braves to their first playoff berth and serving as the first DH in Red Sox franchise history… Based on pure hitting ability and defensive play, Cepeda rates one notch above Tony Perez, who fell short of the “Baby Bull” on both sides of the ball. One could also make an argument for Perez as a third baseman; he played five seasons there, though not particularly well, making him too much of a liability on an all-time team. And then there’s Rafael Palmeiro, who remains a kind of candidate-in-waiting until more is learned about the extent of his steroid use.
Roberto Alomar: The spitting incident and his listless tenure with the Mets will always taint Alomar’s record and will likely cost him some Hall of Fame votes, but they shouldn’t prevent acknowledgment of his five-tool greatness. A native of Puerto Rico, Alomar piled up ten Gold Gloves, the most by any second baseman, surpassing Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski and Ryne Sandberg. Alomar’s combination of soft hands, acrobatic range, and quick trigger on the double play, coupled with his ability to steal bases and hit for average and power, made the switch-hitter the preeminent second baseman of the 1990s and early 2000s… Among Latino second basemen, only Rod Carew was a better hitter than Alomar, but Carew’s lack of power and his defensive limitations in the middle infield–which forced a mid-career switch to first base–make Alomar the deserving choice.
Alex Rodriguez: This ranks as the weakest position historically for Latino players, motivating me to cheat (but just a little bit) and give the nod to Rodriguez based on a sampling of less than two seasons at the position. Assuming that he can stay healthy and put in at least three more productive seasons at the corner, I’ll go with A-Rod over the underrated but unspectacular Mike Lowell (born in Puerto Rico) and career journeymen like Edgardo Alfonso, Vinny Castilla, and the original A-Rod (Aurelio Rodriguez). In making a nearly seamless transition on the left side of the infield, Rodriguez has displayed the necessary quickness, smooth hands, and strong arm that the hot corner requires. And now that’s he more comfortable in his second season in the Bronx, he’s regained the ferocious hitting stroke that once appeared to be in decline, but now has him ranked among the top three players in the game… Castilla’s numbers will always be treated with some contempt because of Coors Field, but he does have longevity on his side, enough to place him at No. 2 on the third base depth chart. In his earlier years, Castilla was a fine third baseman, having made a successful conversion from shortstop. If not for mid-career back problems, Alfonso might have achieved a higher ranking than Castilla, but it doesn’t appear that Alfonso’s physical condition will allow him to hit .320 or reach 25 home runs ever again. As for Lowell, he could certainly move up on this list, but he’s only been a fulltime player since 2000 and will have to prove that his 2005 performance was just a momentary blip and not the start of a downward trend.
Luis Aparicio: With A-Rod tucked away at third base, Aparicio becomes the logical choice at shortstop. In the current-day era of massive shortstops who have builds like outfielders from the 1950s, the merits of Aparicio might not be fully appreciated. That’s unfortunate, given the Venezuelan’s prowess in the field–some historians believe only Ozzie Smith was better–his ability to spray singles to all fields, and his proficiency in stealing bases. Aparicio’s .313 on-base percentage won’t impress many, but his “small ball” approach at the plate and artful work at shortstop fit in well with pennant winners in Chicago and Baltimore… Like several current-day players on the ballot, Miguel Tejada will move up the charts as he builds up years on his major league resume. For now, the multi-tasking Tejada will have to settle for the honor of being the game’s best active shortstop–and one of the top five players in the game.
Manny Ramirez: His lapses in concentration in the outfield and on the basepaths can be maddening, but when it comes to action with a bat in his hand, no Latino has ever been better than Ramirez. Defying the stereotype that Latino players lack patience at the plate, Ramirez understands the parameters of the strike zone better than most, which explains his .411 career on-base percentage coming into the current season. With 423 home runs as of this writing, he could very well surpass both Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa as the Latin American home run king. Ramirez rarely swings at pitches that stray from the plate, uses both sides of the playing field, and absolutely murders two-strike breaking balls… Minnie Minoso’s career took a hit because of racism that delayed the start of his major league career–he didn’t debut as a rookie until the age of 28–but he was the kind of dynamic, enthusiastic player who used his blazing speed and daring baserunning style to pile up loads of triples and stolen bases. Minoso was also a patient hitter who compiled a lifetime .391 on-base percentage, and a rangy left fielder with enough athletic ability to play third base. In the minds of some, he’s a Hall of Fame talent.
Bernie Williams: If I had simply picked the three best outfielders regardless of position, the third choice would have been Vladimir Guerrero, but an all-time team should distinguish corner outfielders from center fielders. Though probably a hair short of the Hall of Fame, Williams accomplished what few athletes in New York City have been able to do: he remained an underrated star, despite playing for both a baseball dynasty and the most successful franchise in the sport’s history, all the while performing in the country’s largest media market. While watching Williams stumble and stagger in 2005, it’s easy to forget how great a player he was from the mid-1990s through the start of the new millennium. After emerging as the MVP of the American League Championship Series in 1996, he batted .328 with 21 home runs in 1997, and finally achieved some recognition for his standout defensive play, overcoming his below-average throwing arm and lack of natural instincts to garner his first Gold Glove Award. The following three seasons, Williams’ performance reached its peak. In 1998, he won the American League’s batting title with a .339 mark and captured his second straight Gold Glove. The following season, Williams put up some of the best offensive numbers of his career– including 202 hits and a personal best 116 runs. In 2000, Williams drove in a career-high 121 runs as the Yankees claimed their third consecutive set of World Series rings. Other than Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, no player meant more to that Yankee dynasty than Williams did… There haven’t been many great Latino center fielders in major league history, but a solid backup to Williams would be former National League standout Cesar Cedeno. As a young player with the Astros, he once stirred comparisons to Willie Mays, but a voluntary manslaughter conviction haunted Cedeno for years. The effects of the Astrodome didn’t help Cedeno either, compressing his 40-home run potential to the 25-and-under range. Still, Cedeno enjoyed a solid career, which he capped off with a spree of clutch hitting for the Cardinals during their pennant-winning season of 1985. Cedeno hit .434 in 28 late-season games, as the Cardinals sealed another National League East title… Carlos Beltran could easily surpass Cedeno in due time, but keep in mind he’s only 28 and struggling in his first season with the Mets. If the Beltran of the 2004 playoffs ever shows up, he could become the No. 1 Latino center fielder by the end of his career.
Roberto Clemente: Clemente will never gain total favor with the Sabermetric crowd because of his lack of patience at the plate, but he did most everything else at a superior level. Though not a pure power hitter by any means, the native of Puerto Rico hit 240 home runs (impressive given that he played all but two and a half seasons at cavernous Forbes Field), while compiling a .317 lifetime batting average, collecting four batting titles, and featuring unmatched baserunning skills. On the defensive side, “The Great One” remains the standard-bearer among right fielders, combining the best throwing arm of my lifetime with the quickness and agility usually seen in a shortstop (his original position as an amateur). And let’s not forget his postseason contributions, which were crucial to the Pirates’ ability to win two World Championships. In 14 World Series games, Clemente batted safely in each, delivered critical hits in two Game Seven situations, fielded his position flawlessly at all times, and made two of the most outlandish throws a major leaguer has ever made… In time, Vlad Guerrero may surpass Clemente as the greatest Latino right fielder in major league history. In addition to having far more power, the free-swinging Guerrero covers both sides of the plate better than his Latino predecessor. Whether Guerrero ultimately surpasses Clemente will depend on Vlad’s back and knees. If he can stay healthy and retain his peak for four or five more seasons, we might have to start calling Guerrero “The Greatest One.”
Edgar Martinez: Like right field, this selection requires little angst. The choice must be Martinez, a borderline Hall of Famer who won two batting titles and was probably the most disciplined Latino hitter of all-time. Born in New York but a descendent of Puerto Rican heritage, Martinez led the American League in on-base percentage three times, all the while spraying hits to every corner and gap in the outfield… If I’m going to pick players who actually DH’ed for much of their career, then my second choice will have to be a personal favorite, Rico Carty. From 1975 to 1979, Carty prospered as a DH with the Indians, Blue Jays, and A’s, despite having to endure some of the worst knees this side of Orlando Cepeda. A phenomenal two-strike hitter, Carty regularly walked more than he struck out, an unusual feat for a man with 200-home run power.
Juan Marichal: This is one all-time position that could change in the near future, especially if fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez continues to pitch at his 2005 level. But for now, we’ll go with the historical choice of Marichal, a mound magician who used an assortment of pitches to confound National League hitters throughout the 1960s. Though not overpowering in the classic sense, Marichal did accumulate six seasons of 200-plus strikeouts, all the while showing amazing durability (he led the NL in complete games and innings pitched two times apiece). With Gibson, Koufax, and Seaver as contemporaries, it doesn’t surprise me that Marichal never won a Cy Young Award; but it is amazing that Marichal earned only one Cy Young vote along the way… Martinez is the runner-up for now, but closing fast against Marichal, who had the benefit of pitching many of his prime seasons in a pitcher’s era. If Martinez can come close to matching Marichal’s 16-season longevity (which included a prime run of 11 years), then Pedro will take over the top spot.
Mariano Rivera: This might have been the easiest position to make a pick; no argument can be made for anyone but Mariano Rivera, who might be the game’s greatest reliever regardless of heritage. And yet it almost didn’t happen. If the Yankees had re-signed John Wetteland after the 1996 season, Rivera might have remained in a set-up role for two or three more seasons, thereby wasting some of the Panamanian’s prime years. Thankfully, the Yankees made the right decision, let Wetteland go to Texas, and watched Rivera become the class of closers from 1997 to the current day. Eric Gagne and Trevor Hoffman have been more dominant at various times, but neither has sustained Rivera’s year-to-year excellence nor come close to matching Mo’s sparkling October resume–now at 10 postseasons and counting… If I’m forced to pick a second reliever (and I guess I must), then I’ll take onetime MVP and Cy Young Award winner Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez. Though Hernandez didn’t enjoy long-term prosperity as a closer, he did have several successful years in a set-up role for the Cubs and Phillies before reaching his peak with the 1984 Tigers. Hernandez also pitched well in two World Series, holding opponents scoreless for the Phillies in the ’83 Classic and notching two saves for the Tigers in the ’84 Series.
The last time that Detroit hosted an All-Star Game, fans at the ballpark and around the country were treated to arguably the greatest Midsummer Classic in history. The game not only provided a spectacular mid-season showcase for the National Pastime, but also came to represent an entire era of major league baseball.
The ’71 All-Star Game was played at Tiger Stadium, one of the game’s most traditional and beloved ballparks. Given the number of venerable stars who participated in the game (many of whom were nearing the end of long careers that began in the 1950s and early 60s), Tiger Stadium seemed like an especially appropriate gathering place for this particular Midsummer Classic.
The ’71 game featured 20 Hall of Famers who were selected to participate in the game, a veritable “Who’s Who of Baseball” during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The list of 1971 All-Stars enshrined in Cooperstown is as follows: Hank Aaron, Luis Aparicio, Johnny Bench, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton (who did not play), Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver (who did not play), Willie Stargell, and Carl Yastrzemski. The careers of most of these players started in either the mid-1950s (Aaron, Aparicio, Clemente, Kaline, Killebrew, Mays, B. Robinson, and F. Robinson), or the early 1960s (Brock, Marichal, McCovey, Stargell, and Yastrzemski).
A 21st player, Pete Rose, would almost certainly be a member of the Hall of Fame if not for his banishment from Major League Baseball. Two other players (Tony Oliva and Ron Santo) remain strong candidates in future Veterans Committee elections. In addition, the two All-Star managers (Baltimore’s Earl Weaver and Cincinnati’s Sparky Anderson) have both gained election to the Hall of Fame.
In an intriguing and somewhat haunting side note, three of the game’s most tragic figures participated in the ’71 All-Star Game. Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, and Don Wilson, who each appeared in the game as reserves, all died unexpectedly while they were still active players. Clemente and Munson perished in plane crashes in 1972 and 1979 respectively, while Wilson died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1975, in what was believed to be a suicide.
The ’71 Midsummer Classic made history by becoming the first All-Star Game to feature two African-American starting pitchers. In fact, no African-American had ever started an All-Star Game for either league prior to 1971. In 1965, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants had become the first Latin-born pitcher picked to start an All-Star Game. In 1968, Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians became the first black Latino to start in the All-Star classic.
Prior to the naming of two African-American pitchers for the ’71 All-Star Game, Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates had created some controversy by predicting that National League manager Sparky Anderson would not name him the starter for the All-Star Game, for the specific purpose of avoiding a matchup of two minority starters. Ellis reasoned that with American League manager Earl Weaver likely to select the sizzling Vida Blue as his starter, baseball’s powers-that-be would want at least one white pitcher starting the midsummer classic in Detroit. “They wouldn’t pitch two brothers against each other,” Ellis told reporters. Ellis had offered a secondary reason for a possible snub. “Sparky Anderson doesn’t like me.”
Much to the pitcher’s surprise, Anderson announced that Ellis would start and would indeed face Blue in Detroit. Anderson denied that Ellis’ comments had, in any way, swayed his decision. “His 14-3 record and the fact that he hasn’t pitched since last Tuesday is what forced me to choose him,” Anderson said, while defending Ellis’ outburst against him. “I think everybody has a right to say what he wants.”
Ellis received a number of angry letters from fans, who criticized him for being so presumptuous about Anderson. Ellis also received a positive letter from the major leagues’ first black player of the 20th century. “I don’t mind those [negative] letters,” Ellis said, “but there was one letter I was particularly pleased with. Jackie Robinson wrote me a letter of encouragement. I met him last April in New York, and then I received this letter from him.”
On Tuesday, July 13, just hours before the start of the All-Star Game, Ellis offered no apologies for his recent remarks about African-American pitchers starting the national pastime’s showcase game. “When it comes to black players, baseball is backwards, everyone knows it,” Ellis told the New York Times. “I’m sort of surprised that I am starting, but I don’t feel my statements had anything to do with it.” Ellis also complained about the lack of endorsements for black athletes, compared to the commercial opportunities given to white players. A reporter asked Ellis if he had received any endorsement offers in light of his brilliant pitching in the first half of the season. “Aw, man, c’mon,” Ellis said incredulously. “Come to me for endorsements?”
Throughout his life, Ellis had bristled at racist treatment. During his first spring training in 1964, Ellis had argued or fought with seven different teammates who had used ethnic slurs in conversing with him. By 1971, instances of racism still bothered Ellis, but he had learned to use restraint. During the season, Ellis and a black friend visited a high school that had been affected by racial divisions. On the way to the school, a police officer called out to the two men, referring to them as “boys.” “That’s where I’ve changed,” Ellis told Sport Magazine. “Three years ago, I would’ve jumped on the cop’s chest. But all I did was to correct him [this time].”
Ellis now found himself at Tiger Stadium for the All-Star Game, facing off against Blue in an historic matchup of minority pitchers. Furthermore, a total of five National League starters were black or Latino, while three minorities started for the American League. In total, a record-breaking number of 27 minorities (17 African Americans and 10 Latinos) were chosen for the 1971 All-Star Game. The game’s racial composition accurately reflected the integration of major league baseball that had begun to progress rapidly in 1959, when 16 black players (a record number) made their debuts in the American and National leagues.
Two of the game’s minority players took center stage in the bottom of the third. With the Nationals leading 3-0, Ellis faced Boston Red Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio, the inning’s leadoff man. Aparicio, who was batting only .209 in regular season play, singled up the middle. American League manager Earl Weaver called upon Oakland A’s slugger Reggie Jackson to pinch-hit for Vida Blue. Jackson, a last minute All-Star Game replacement for the injured Tony Oliva, drove a mediocre Ellis fastball deep toward right center field. The ball, seemingly still on the rise hundreds of feet away from home plate, caromed off the light tower that perched above the right field section of the Tiger Stadium roof.
Observers estimated that Jackson’s home run had traveled 520 feet. Reggie claimed he had never hit a ball harder. Aparicio and fellow All-Stars Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski said that Jackson’s blast was the hardest they had ever seen. Norm Cash said the home run was the longest he had seen. And Ellis, despite his brilliant first-half pitching, would now be remembered more vividly for giving up an embarrassingly gargantuan home run on national television.
Unfortunately for Ellis, his problems had just begun. After a walk to Rod Carew, Frank Robinson clubbed another Ellis fastball into the right field stands, giving the American League a 4-3 lead. Robinson, who had gone hitless in his last 14 All-Star at-bats, was on his way to winning the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player Award. Ellis was on his way to a loss in his first All-Star game appearance.
In the eighth, with the American League leading, 6-3, Roberto Clemente to the plate to face Detroit Tigers’ left-hander Mickey Lolich. Although most of the 53,559 fans at Tiger Stadium were focusing their concentration on their hometown pitcher, their collective attention would soon shift to the batter’s box. Clemente was about to produce one of the game’s most memorable batting sequences.
Lolich, it seemed, wanted no part of pitching to Clemente. Even though Lolich enjoyed a three-run lead, he threw two consecutive pitches well out of the strike zone. Clemente, visibly upset, stepped out from his accustomed position deep in the batter’s box and flipped his bat in the air. Lolich delivered another pitch, one that appeared to be sailing high and away from Clemente, again out of the strike zone. Surprisingly, Clemente swung at the rising fastball. At first glance, it appeared that Clemente would be able to do nothing more than pop the pitch–which wasn’t close to being a strike–weakly toward the second baseman. Clemente flicked his wrists, and launched the ball deep toward right-center field. The ball carried–and carried some more–and finally landed in the right field bleachers.
It was as if Clemente had challenged Lolich to throw him a strike, and when he refused, he simply expanded his strike zone, determined to deliver a hard-hit ball. Clemente wanted no part of drawing a walk in baseball’s most exalted exhibition game. In a showcase like the All-Star Game, Clemente wanted desperately to show the nationwide fan base watching on television that he could hit.
Clemente’s home run was the sixth by an All-Star that night in Detroit, joining Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, and Harmon Killebrew in the long ball parade. In addition to representing a new All-Star record, the six home runs were all hit by future Hall of Famers (In the 1956 All-Star Game, four home runs were hit, all by Hall of Famers.) While Clemente’s home run against Lolich failed to prevent the National League from losing the game, 6-4, and was overshadowed by the monstrous home run hit by Jackson–perhaps the most famous longball in All-Star game lore–it remains a stunning example of the intriguing confrontation between pitcher and hitter.
Still, the 1971 All-Star game represented so much more–even beyond the exploits of Clemente and Jackson. Virtually every superstar of the late 1960s and early seventies played in the game, truly indicating the era’s depth of talent. The ’71 All-Star Game also displayed the diversity of talent in baseball during that era. Black stars like Aaron and Mays. White stars like Bench and Yastrzemski. Latin American stars like Clemente and Aparicio. By merely watching a two-hour tape of the 1971 All-Star Game, one can obtain an accurate snapshot of what the national pastime was like in the era that began in the late 1950s, enjoyed its peak years through the sixties, and ended in the early 1970s.