The Rise of Latino Ballers
How names like Machado, Canó, and Hernández became synonymous with America’s Pastime.
Spring vibes are in the air, and soon Major League Baseball will be everywhere. Joining it, will be a massive following of Latinx fans who have less of a loyalty to any one team, but instead, rally to support individual players due to cultural pride. The MLB’s growing demographic of ardent supporters is not your common bunch. They demand representation in the sport. For major league teams today, acquiescing to this reality results in the ability to capitalize on a major cash cow.
Even though the prominence of Latinx ballers seems new, their presence has been longstanding (see: Lou Castro). Yet, only as recently as 2017, did fans begin to see the accent marks appropriately placed on the jerseys of foreign born players.
“…in a project that took two years to prepare, the Major League Baseball Association worked with Austin-based LatinWorks to launch Ponle Acento (Put an Accent on It), which rights a historical wrong—by putting accent marks back into names whose accents were dropped in the immigration process.”Angela Natividad, Adweek
Over the course of the last few decades there has been a seismic shift in the landscape of pro ball, and 2019 looks to continue the trend. We should expect an increase of diversity hires in management, the front office, as well as players for all clubs.
Back in 2018 Portada reported that Latinos accounted for 31 percent of all professional players in the majors. They also mentioned that of the 254 foreign born players added to the rosters that year, they hailed from 21 countries and territories. The National Foundation of American Policy broke it down further by clarifying in an article cited via Forbes:
“…under U.S. law, individuals born in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens. After eliminating those 20 players from the count, there are 234 foreign-born players, which means 27% of the 877 individuals listed as players by Major League Baseball are foreign-born.”National Foundation for American Policy
This was all buffered by a report showing that the MLB had received an improved score in the 2018 Racial and Gender Report Card. The comprehensive study is produced by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). The findings show that while there have been major strides toward the fulfillment of Jackie Robinson’s vision of a more integrated game, there is still so much work to be done.
Still, we can’t help but pause to admire the path of diversification the game has undergone. Especially on days like today, when the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s played in Japan, featuring the oldest player in the league, Ichiro Suzuki, who at 45, looked as vibrant as ever. In fact, this concerted effort has laid the groundwork for greater acceptance of immigrant athletes within the sport. Even while US-bred, African-American players in baseball have been in a steady decline, the number of Afro-Latino players from abroad has been on the rise. Of those 234 non-American players in the league last year, the Dominican Republic led the pack with 84. So what does this mean going forward?
This new wave has ushered new outlets, such as La Vida Baseball, so that fans can keep up with the backstories of their favorite players. That coupled with the recent news of Manny Machado scoring a record-breaking contract that catapulted him into bylines that include Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, it’s clear that Latino players have made the case for themselves. The attention given to Latin and Afro-Latinx players in recent years like Machado, Robinson Canó, and Félix Hernández is helping stir up a greater conversation that rivals the one happening in the American public square regarding immigrants and refugees. Are the major leagues simply a microcosm of the broader discussion? If so, how much influence will it yield over time?
We will know more by April 15, 2019, when the 72nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day makes its grand gesture by having all MLB players wear the number “42” to pay homage to the sports revolutionary player. Maybe the increased integration will help catalyst a discussion about the disparities in the relationships between the US and the countries where a sizable number of the best players in baseball come from. Or the buscones who form part of the mechanism that plucks talented poor kids out of barrios and funnels them into a pipeline for the majors.
After all, even Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the lead up to the playoffs.