Press Release for Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball by Rita Rivera and Rafael Hermoso

Speak English!   The Rise of Latinos in Baseball

By Rafael Hermoso and Rita Rivera

Published by Kent State University Press

Latinos’ experiences in baseball through the decades

Latinos dominate baseball today, leading off the lineups of the best teams, making contenders strong up the middle, or helping to anchor pitching staffs. Vladimir Guerrero, Omar Vizquel, and Mariano Rivera are well-known professional baseball stars. But many Latinos had less flashy beginnings.

Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball chronicles how much— and how little—has changed since the first Latino played in the big leagues in the nineteenth century. By the middle of the next century, the Alous, Vic Power, and Rico Carty worked to earn their place in the game amid taunts and ridicule. Today, even established players and stars may be told to speak English in clubhouses—eliciting cringes or shrugs from individuals who are seemingly still hurting.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig offers a foreword full of nostalgia and pride. The afterword by Omar Minaya describes his experience playing ball in Queens and being the first Hispanic general manager in baseball. Speak English! selects the stories of 45 players to illustrate the collective history of Latinos in baseball and is illustrated with photographic portraits of many of them.

Today, more than a quarter of all major leaguers are Latino, and most began as outsiders. Globalization unearthed baseball in San Pedro de Macoris, Caguas, and Maracay. American teams looked abroad for talent and cheap wages, carving baseball diamonds out of sugarcane fields. Players in their teens left their families. Those from Cuba knew they were possibly leaving for the rest of their lives, just for the chance to play in a country still struggling with diversity in the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet many Latino players still speak as if not much has changed. Far from perfect, their no-rules journey to professional contracts has increased the risk of taking improper shortcuts. Several players were implicated recently in the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Others admitted to shaving years off their ages, allowing them to compete with an advantage against younger players.

The great Latino story is also one of glory, as some of the best players in major league history tell of their hard voyage to baseball’s mainland. The tale is likewise one of realists, and readers will not find anything in these stories that does not exist in other walks of life. The story is not clean, but it is compelling. Like baseball, there’s enough to love in it to keep coming back to it as generations learn from the ups and downs of the Latino role in baseball—and its rightful place in history.

 

 Cover of Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball photographs ©2013 Rita Rivera

Cover of Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball photographs ©2013 Rita Rivera

Photographs featured in Julie Grahame's Acurator.com blog

Rita Rivera: Speak English

Felix Rodriquez, San Francisco Giants 

Rita_Rivera_29.PitcherandballF.Rodriquez.jpg

© 2013 Rita Rivera

'Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball' (Kent State University Press. Text by Rafael Hermoso) is a new book featuring images by Rita Rivera. Rita was introduced to me by my friend and colleague Mary Engel whose mum, Ruth Orkin, Rita used to assist. Mary works hard to maintain the archive of both her parents - her dad was Morris Engel - and I'm thrilled she hooked me up with Rita and introduced me to this project about the important role Latinos increasingly play in league baseball and the prejudice they still face. 

Here's the blurb for you baseball fans.

"'Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball chronicles how much - and how little - has changed since the first Latino played in the big leagues in the nineteenth century. By the middle of the next century, the Alous, Vic Power, and Rico Carty worked to earn their place in the game amid taunts and ridicule. Today, even established players and stars may be told to speak English in clubhouses, eliciting cringes or shrugs from individuals who are seemingly still hurting."

"Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig offers a foreword full of nostalgia and pride. The afterword by Omar Minaya describes his experience playing ball in Queens and being the first Hispanic general manager in baseball. Speak English! selects the stories of 45 players to illustrate the collective history of Latinos in baseball and is illustrated with photographic portraits of many of them."

"Today, more than a quarter of all major leaguers are Latino, and most began as outsiders. Globalization unearthed baseball in San Pedro de Macoris, Caguas, and Maracay. American teams looked abroad for talent and cheap wages, carving baseball diamonds out of sugarcane fields. Players in their teens left their families. Those from Cuba knew they were possibly leaving for the rest of their lives, just for the chance to play in a country still struggling with diversity in the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet many Latino players still speak as if not much has changed. Far from perfect, their no-rules journey to professional contracts has increased the risk of taking improper shortcuts. Several players were implicated recently in the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Others admitted to shaving years off their ages, allowing them to compete with an advantage against younger players."

Ed Figueroa, The YankeesRita_Rivera_E.Figueroa.jpg


The great Latino story is also one of glory, as some of the best players in major league history tell of their hard voyage to baseball's mainland. The tale is likewise one of realists, and readers will not find anything in these stories that does not exist in other walks of life. The story is not clean, but it is compelling. Like baseball, there's enough to love in it to keep coming back to it as generations learn from the ups and downs of the Latino role in baseball, and its rightful place in history."

More pictures at http://www.acurator.com/blog/

All images © 2013 Rita Rivera



 

Review for Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball by Catherine Rendón in English and Spanih

 

Speak English! An On-Going Refrain                                                                    

       

                            Catherine Rendón, Savannah, Ga.

       

                Baseball is considered the great American game and pastime. Every town, no matter how small, has its collection of baseball teams, ranging from children pitching in back yards, parks and local school teams up to professional athletes playing for minor and major leagues in bigger cities. Savannah has its “Sand Gnats,” the New York Met’s Class-A affiliate, who play in Grayson Stadium on Victory Drive. The team is currently tied for first place in their South Atlantic League division.
    Each year a group of 6 to 12 players hailing from Latin America can be found playing on the Savannah team. Their ages range from 18 to 24 and their names ring out regularly over the loudspeaker as they pitch, bat and run.  This year the names in Savannah are Rojas, Ynoa, Piña, de la Cruz, Lara, Zapata among others. These players follow a long tradition of other professional baseball players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Mexico who have been providing players to U.S. teams since the 1950s.
    Lore has it that baseball was introduced in the Caribbean by American workers during the 1850s. In 1873 the first Latin American to play organized baseball in the U.S. was a Cuban, Esteban (Steve) Enrique Bellán.  Bellán was a catcher at St John’s College, later Fordham University in New York City, and is considered the man who took the sport back to Cuba.  Each country has its national heroes and baseball role models who opened the way for the latest generation of Latino players on U.S. soil.
    A fascinating new book, Speak English! The Rise of Latinos in Baseball by Rafael Hermoso, text, photographs by Rita Rivera (Black Squirrel Books, Kent, Ohio, 2013, $19.95) has just been published and offers a chronological history of the evolution of Latinos on U.S. baseball teams.    Speak English! has a foreword by Allan H. “Bud” Selig (the commissioner of Major League Baseball) and an afterword by Omar Minaya ( the current Senior VP of Baseball Operations for the San Diego Padres. 
    With Speak English!, Hermoso, a former sports writer for the New York Times now working for UNICEF, offers a collection of oral histories of some of the most famous Latino players of the last century and into the 21st. Hermoso was accompanied by talented photographer, Rita Rivera, who captures the spirit of these athletes in a series of revealing portraits. Rivera’s photographic work with Latinos and baseball dates back to 1993 when she gained special permission from Juan Alicea, the broadcaster for the N.Y. Mets on Spanish radio, to take photographs at  Shea Stadium (today known as Citi Field).
    During 2004 Hermoso and Rivera traveled to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and several parts of the U.S. to interview many of the pioneers of modern Latino baseball. Here you will find: the Alou brothers (Felipe, Jesus and Matty), Vic Power, Manny Mota, outfielder Rico Carty, Sandy Alomar Sr., Luis Tiant, César Gerónimo, Jerry Morales, Tony Peña, and José  Rijo among others.
    Hermoso and Rivera also went spent time in the dugouts at  Shea stadium in Queens and New York’s Yankee stadium where they were able to speak with Puerto Rican power-hitter Carlos Delgado, and Panamanian pitching ace Mariano Rivera, among others.
    Latino players have become a mainstay of almost every major and minor league baseball team in the U.S. today but Hermoso’s text shows how each decade brought changes in the hurdles Latino players had to surmount. Initially, the skin color of many Latino players segregated them from U.S. whites even though their ethnicity and sense of themselves was very different from that of their African-American counterparts. Nonetheless, for decades many Latin American players were barred from many public spaces owing to their skin color, a fact they took in stride as part of the job description of playing baseball in the United States.
    Puerto Rican Vic Pellot, known as Vic Power, could have easily been the first player of color to wear Yankee pinstripes but team owners chose Jackie Robinson instead. Power was a Puerto Rican who dated white women and was very outspoken. Because he was regarded as a “showboat” the Yankees felt Power wasn’t the right fit.
    The Hermoso-Rivera duo was fortunate to document Vic Power in words and pictures before his death in 2005. He gives an illuminating glimpse of the way it was back in the 1950s, when players of color faced overt racism just to get a meal or hotel room in the segregated South. The disadvantages Latino players faced were as great, if not, greater, owing to a double prejudice against dark-skinned Spanish speakers who were told to “Speak English!” when players  conversed with one another in the changing room or dugout.
    Each decade has brought advances and hard-won advantages to Latino players playing in the professional leagues. Those who make it into the major leagues, like Miguel Tejada and  Mariano Rivera, today are earning a lot more than their predecessors and many have chosen to invest their money back in their home countries to help young players advance in the sport. Each generation has made it easier in some ways for the next, although each individual has to cope with the unique challenges that opportunity offers them.
    More Latinos are managers today than in the past and that helps although the storied Puerto Rican slugger, Juan González, says: “They treat a Hispanic harder. There’s more pressure.  They’re harder on him. They have to have more discipline.  You need discipline here too, but in the minors they demand even more from you.” (p.101 in  Speak English!). 
    Many young players come from rural areas in their home countries and have only a basic education depending on their socio-economic background.  For them playing ball is a ticket out of poverty and a way to help their families live better. In more recent times, baseball has offered many Latinos celebrity and wealth. Miguel Tejada of the Dominican Republic is a hometown hero and built a 3,000 seat baseball stadium back in Bani where he grew up. In the book Tejada talks mournfully about the sudden death of his mother in 1989 when he was 15 years old. “There are so many things I could have given her, that I wanted to give to my mother, he said.”
    Although Latino names in baseball are more prevalent today than half a century ago, young Latino players continue to face many of the same obstacles as their predecessors. For years now, the New York Mets have offered English as a Second Language classes their Spanish-speaking baseball players. As the English as a Second Language teacher to the Spanish-speaking Savannah “Sand Gnats” since 2007 the book made me realize what a minefield language and culture are in the psyche of Latino baseball players.
    All the Latino players on the 2013 Sand-Gnat's roster want to make into the major leagues but statistically speaking they can count on playing in the minors for an average of five years before washing out or reaching their goal. On the whole, they recognize the odds are against them, but they focus on their Latino predecessors who are currently batting, pitching and running their way into the majors.   
    Latino players are generally housed together and lack the autonomy of their U.S. counterparts who have not only the advantage of feeling at home in any U.S. city, but often have cars of their own. For most Latino baseball players this is their first foray out of their home countries and the only support network they have are their companions and team. The Latino players tend to be a tightly-knit group and hold on to their native language as an affirmation of their identity. It doesn’t matter if one of their teammates comes from a different Spanish-speaking country, what matters is the culture that unites them through their mother tongue, music, dance and their love of the game.
    What surprised me most was how the refrain: “Speak English!” has remained a constant. Sometimes language is a protection and the final bastion of self-identity in a world where prejudice and a variety of disadvantages dominate. But language is also a joy, given the Latino penchant for nicknames and jokes. For example, my students refer to veteran baseball broadcaster, Vin Scully, as Excalibur, a nickname they invented on the spur while reading about  Cuban outfielder, Yasiel Puig’s latest exploits for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
    The current Latino Sand-Gnats found Hermoso and Rivera’s book compelling.  They loved the portraits and individual tables showing the baseball record of each great player and interviewee in detail. When asked who their favorite player and model is they unequivocally replied: Manny Ramírez. This Dominican is an American citizen who grew up in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. By the age of 39, Ramírez had an enviable record of having hit 555 home runs and a .312 lifetime batting average. As if this weren’t enough, in 2004 Ramírez was named the Most Valuable Player as he helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series, their first since 1918.
    Baseball remains part of the American dream in more ways than one. It is a shame this book hasn’t been translated into Spanish because it offers the reader a panorama of the trials and tribulations talented and sensitive athletes face and gives a wonderful account of what this sport has meant to Latino players and what Latinos have meant to the game of baseball in the United States. 
    For anyone who loves baseball and would like to immerse themselves in the life and times of a notable line-up of Latino players, we highly recommend Hermoso and Rivera’s: “Speak English!” The Rise of Latinos in Baseball.

                    Read this article in Spanish