There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s plenty of bad blood. (LM Otero / AP)

That’s béisbol. In English or Spanish, that’s baseball, the hallowed institution that serves to remind us of the way we were in those innocent days when George Halas’ Chicago Bears were the Decatur Staleys, named after the local corn-processing magnate in the little Illinois town, population 43,818. Times have changed in sports and life, but the brawl between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays suggests how slowly change happens in our national pastime. Underlying the feud between the teams was a bat flip by Toronto’s Jose Bautista after his three-run homer in the deciding Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division series, a grandiloquent gesture—more so because it was in the postseason on national TV—that was either iconic or will live forever in baseball infamy. Underlying that is the ongoing and only occasionally acknowledged rift between U.S. and Latino players. This brawl started between two Latinos only because Rougned Odor, a Venezuelan, was in the path of Bautista, a Dominican, who was hit by a pitch likely ordered up by Texas manager Jeff Bannister, who waited until Bautista’s last at-bat in the teams’ last regular season meeting to get even for last fall’s bat flip. The bad feelings with the longstanding Latino-Anglo divide, however, go a lot further back than last fall. Baseball takes great pride in its history of integration. After decades of being for whites only, the league now presents itself as a social pioneer with an annual Jackie Robinson Day in which everyone dons his No. 42. Meanwhile, baseball takes little or no cognizance of its current problem. The problem isn’t that Latinos are being barred. On the contrary, with most Latinos signed outside the draft process, giving the game a steady stream of cheap, dirt-poor, hungry, blue-chip prospects, there are more of them—29 percent of the major league players in 2016. Acceptance is something else. Latinos are living in a time like African-Americans did in the 1950s and 1960s—after Robinson’s arrival, but before everyone realized there was no other way—and the Red Sox became the last to integrate, with infielder Pumpsie Green in 1959. What’s in people’s hearts changes at its own pace, and in baseball, it’s a slow one. Robinson retired in 1956 after the Dodgers, who had been praised as liberal pioneers, traded him to their archrival, the Giants. Viable as Robinson was commercially—he was hired as a vice president by Chock full o’Nuts—he had no place in baseball until becoming a part-time Montreal Expos broadcaster in 1972. You can argue whether the divide between U.S. and Latino players is racial or cultural, but there’s no doubt that it’s there. As chronicled by Matt McCarthy, a pitcher in the Angels system, in his 2009 book, “Odd Man Out,” Latinos dominated on the field and went their own way off it.
“Separate but equal,” was how [teammate] Blake Allen described the team dynamic to me. … “You’ve got your Dominicans and you’ve got everybody else. You don’t want anything to do with the Dominicans. They’re loud, they have no respect for nobody and for God’s sake, don’t ever go in the shower when they in there.” The team was in fact divided between the Dominicans (a catchall phrase for Hispanic players) and those of us from the United States. There were a dozen Dominicans on our team from Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and, yes, the Dominican Republic. And Blake was right. They were loud and didn’t speak English. Just 17 or 18 years old, many had been snatched out of poverty within the last year and signed to lucrative six-figure contracts. Wearing large smiles, larger gold chains and designer sunglasses, they seemed to be playing life with Monopoly money. … “But I tell ya what [Allen told McCarthy], in every goddamn town we go to this year, the Dominicans will have fat white girls waiting for them.”
Anonymous as McCarthy was—his 2002 season in Provo, Utah, was his only one in organized professional baseball, after which he graduated from Harvard Medical School—his story was too nitty-gritty to go down easily with the powers that be. The New York Times noted McCarthy’s manifold errors of fact, noting that he quotes “people stating incorrect facts about their own lives and tells detailed (and mostly unflattering) stories about teammates who were in fact not on his team at the time.” The Times went on to ask the publisher, Viking Press, and Sports Illustrated, which ran an excerpt, about its fact-checking lapses. Nevertheless, as far as the big picture—the disturbing accounts of prejudice—is concerned, the Times article didn’t deal with McCarthy’s credibility or lack thereof. Actually, the Anglo-Latino divide McCarthy cited dovetails with other accounts. In a 2014 piece for Bleacher Report, Dirk Hayhurst, who pitched briefly in the majors and was hired as an in-house correspondent by the Blue Jays, quoted an elderly scout, noting, “This team has too many Latinos on it to win. Get too many of them together on a club and they take over.” You could have heard that one about Latinos in baseball 50 years before. In 1960, Look Magazine did a cover story about the Giants, the Blue Jays of their day with all their African-American (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey) and Latino (Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou) stars. The handsome Cepeda, known as the Baby Bull, was on the cover, naked from the waist up. The story, however, was anything but a puff piece. In it, manager Alvin Dark said Cepeda wasn’t the team player that Mays was, claiming Harvey Kuenn and Jim Davenport were more important to the team than Cepeda was.
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