"Playing America's Game"

"Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line," makes an excellent case for understanding baseball's long and embarrassing tradition of institutionalized racism as a disgrace that wasn't just black and white. Professor Adrian Burgos, Jr. tells the stories of the Latinos who played in the Major Leagues well before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in deemed acceptable because their heritage, like Joe DiMaggio's, was European, and because their complexions were relatively light. Of course he also explores the careers of the Cubans and other Latinos who were considered too black to play alongside their countrymen in the Major Leagues, though for years the black, brown, and white players were teammates on ball clubs in Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in winter league ball.

Burgos makes clear at the outset that he does not intend to diminish the achievement of Robinson, but he establishes that the first Latino players in the early years of the 20th century and the black Hispanic players who found their way to Major League Baseball after 1947 faced difficulties at least as dramatic as any Robinson encountered. The racism directed toward Latinos was also more enduring. As Burgos points out, fifteen and more years after the integration of the Major Leagues, Alvin Dark, the manager of the San Francisco Giants, forbade players such as Felipe Alou, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda from speaking Spanish in the clubhouse, a policy that would have effectively infantilized the Latino players if they'd paid any attention to it.

Adrian Burgos, Jr. is a professor of history, and he's concerned with concepts such as "racial knowledge," "the flawed hypothesis that baseball's popularity among Caribbean Latinos was primarily an outgrowth of U.S. imperialism," and "transnational labels." But "Playing America's Game" is never merely academic. Burgos includes accounts of players whose lives were controlled by assumptions that were elitist, vicious, self-serving, and ignorant. His discussion of the extent to which the winter leagues successfully employed not only players but managers and coaches without regard to race long before Major League Baseball did so demonstrates that in various respects, the allegedly backward countries were much more progressive than the alleged land of the free. Toward the end of "Playing America's Game," he establishes that Major League Baseball's teams are still recruiting and signing Latino talent for a fraction of what they pay players born and raised in the U.S., so while much has changed, some things have not. Burgos quotes the same Felipe Alou who was told he couldn't speak Spanish in the Giants' clubhouse: "I want people to be aware that some of the things I had to hear when I was 20, all of a sudden, I have to hear now when I am 70."

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Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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