Baseball Across Borders

El Paso Shoe Store team

Before African American legend Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, racial restrictions and segregation kept non-white players from playing in Major League Baseball. The Negro Leagues were professional baseball leagues made up of African American, and some Latino, players. Between the 1930s and 1950s, many Negro League players—including stars like Buck Leonard—made their way to leagues throughout Latin América, where they found a more accepting racial climate.

Buck Leonard

In the first half of the 1900s, more than 240 Latinos played in the Negro Leagues because Jim Crow segregation blocked them from Major League Baseball. Players learned that talent alone did not result in acceptance. Latin American leagues also presented opportunities for African Americans and Latinos when Major League Baseball did not.

Buck Leonard played baseball year-round, especially as he ended his career. He participated in the winter leagues in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela between 1935 and 1955, and in the Mexican League from 1951 through 1955.

Buck Leonard playing for Negro Leagues team the Homestead Grays, Washington, D.C., 1940s

Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

American All-Stars, Caracas, Venezuela, 1945

Buck Leonard (far right, top), Jackie Robinson (far left, bottom) and other Negro Leagues All-Stars on tour in Venezuela.

Gift of Walter “Buck” Leonard

Look Closely

How much was Buck Leonard paid in 1951?

The Mexican League often paid more than the Negro Leagues, but neither paid their players as much as Major League Baseball. In more recent years, multimillion-dollar contracts look much different than the single double-sided page Buck Leonard signed with the Mexican League. Look at the details of this contract.

Buck Leonard’s Mexican League contract, 1951

After his career in the Negro Leagues, Buck Leonard played in the Mexican Leagues.

Gift of Walter “Buck” Leonard

International Careers

Baseball scrapbooks demonstrate international lives and, in this case, feature women’s invisible work to remember the careers of male family members. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Rose Marie Salazar meticulously recorded baseball clippings of her husband, Alonzo Orozco, and brother David Salazar, in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico.

El Paso Shoe Store team, Los Angeles, California, early 1930s

Rose Marie Salazar-Orozco kept this photo of her husband, Alonzo Orozco, and her brother, David Salazar. The teammates are indicated in marker.

Gift of Elisa Orozco-O’Neil

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Rose Marie Salazar-Orozco’s silver bracelet, 1935

Rose Marie Salazar-Orozco received this bracelet from her younger brother, Ernesto, as thanks for writing to him during his time in the Mexican Baseball League.

Gift of Elisa Orozco-O’Neil

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Salazar and Orozco families’ baseball scrapbook, California, around 1920s

Gift of Elisa Orozco-O’Neil

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Many would rather play with makeshift equipment than not at all. Handcrafting baseball and softball gear is a tradition found in Latino communities across the Américas.

Handmade ball, Havana, Cuba, 1993

Gift of Pedro Chávez

See Pleibol in 3D! Explore a model of the ball.