Three Afro-Latino baseball players you ought to know
Intern Jhensen Ortiz spent the summer researching integration narratives of Afro-Latino baseball players. Just in time for the World Series, he shares the stories of three players whose names may be less recognizable than Roberto Clemente.
Roberto Clemente (1934-1972) helped change American views of Latinos in baseball and helped open the door for many future generations of Latino ballplayers, but his is not the only Afro-Latino name worth knowing in the sport. Many other Afro-Latinos have made an impact on baseball, including "Minnie" Miñoso, Juan Marichal, and Matty Alou.
As I researched Afro-Latino baseball players' experiences and objects in the collection, I learned that because of their ethnicity, ballplayers of Afro-Caribbean descent were sometimes perceived as having an easier road to Major League Baseball compared to African Americans. But the stories of these players' lives aren't so simple.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1922, Saturnino Orestes Armas "Minnie" Miñoso played 14 seasons in Cuba and was one of the best players in the country prior to his arrival to the United States in 1949. He played left field and third baseman for 17 years with the Chicago White Sox, even earning the nickname "Mr. White Sox." He is one of only two players to have played in five decades, also spending time with the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and St. Louis Cardinals until retiring with the White Sox in 1980. Well-known for his breathtaking speed on the bases, the Afro-Cuban won the Gold Glove Award three times in 1957, 1959, and 1960.
While Spanish speaking players such as Luis Aparicio played in Major League Baseball before integration, players like Miñoso faced the additional difficulty of battling 1950s views on skin color. Miñoso holds a distinctive place in the history of baseball integration as the first black Latino in the Major Leagues, a place solidified by his role in the 1951 integration of the Chicago White Sox, the third American League club to integrate. Miñoso also contested notions of identity in baseball. Author and University of Illinois professor Adrian Burgos, Jr. notes, "Pioneering Afro-Latinos did not receive the same type of unwavering support from the Black Community in big league towns as that accorded African Americans." Miñoso challenged the question of whether one could be both Black and Latino.
Another important Afro-Latino in baseball and one of Roberto Clemente's many admirers was a young pitcher from the Dominican Republic named Juan Marichal, born in Laguna Verde in 1937. Marichal debuted for the San Francisco Giants in 1960, but as a player with minor league team the Michigan City White Caps in 1958, Marichal encountered a language barrier that, along with his skin color, compounded his struggles. Few players had language tutors in those days, most learning from teammates throughout their careers, and Marichal experienced a period of isolation and alienation as he dealt with communication frustration.
Marichal overcame these obstacles, however, and he is now considered one of the greatest pitchers of the 1960s, known for his unique high-kick delivery and finishing his career with impressive numbers: 243 wins against 142 losses and an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 2.89. Marichal was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
One of Marichal's childhood playmates and teammates in San Francisco was Mateo Rojas "Matty" Alou, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic who was part of the first wave of Dominicans to help change American baseball culture in the 1960s. Alou's older brothers, Felipe and Jesús, also enjoyed professional baseball careers, but it was Matty who achieved particular success. With the Pittsburgh Pirates, he worked on his swing with notable hitting coach Harry "the Hat" Walker and won the 1966 batting title with a .342 average before going on to win the World Series with the Oakland Athletics in 1972. Matty's career created an Alou legacy that lives on today with his brothers Felipe and Jesús still working in the sport.
While Roberto Clemente remains the most well-known Afro-Latino in baseball's history, players like Minnie Miñoso, Juan Marichal, and Matty Alou have left their own stamps on the sport and helped pave the way for others of Afro-Latino descent. Today, Afro-Latinos like David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox continue to build on the legacies of Clemente, Miñoso, Marichal, and Alou.
Graduate student Jhensen Ortiz is an intern in the museum's Home and Community Life Department and comes to us through our partnership with the City University of New York's Dominican Studies Institute.