For years, I have felt that the contributions of Latino ballplayers have been largely overlooked. My latest book gives more than 140 Latin American standouts due credit for their accomplishments. It's called Latino Stars in Major League Baseball and is scheduled for a June release. I'm posting the introduction here to give potential readers a feel for what it's all about.
Some of the best players in major league history were born outside the United States. According to an ESPN article, Latin American ballplayers held twenty-seven percent of all major league contracts and forty percent of all minor league contracts in 2013. In fact, Latino players represent one of the fastest growing ethnicities in baseball. But the road to “The Show” has not been easy for many.
MLB’s dreaded color barrier prevented many of the greatest players of all time from competing on baseball’s grandest stage. Though Cuban luminaries Cristobal Torriente, Martin Dihigo and Jose Mendez were all elected to Cooperstown, none of them saw major league action. The abolishment of the color barrier did little to alleviate other problems faced by Latin American ballplayers. Many grow up in poverty using improvised materials (such as milk cartons for gloves and tree branches for bats) to learn the rudiments of the game. Language barriers leave many feeling isolated and misunderstood once they reach America.
Recognizing the depth of the talent pool in Venezuela, major league teams began establishing training camps there during the 1990s. At one point, twenty-three major league clubs had set up operations. But by 2016, only four camps remained. Economic troubles, political unrest, food shortages and rising crime rates have made it difficult for the surviving facilities to function.
An entirely different dilemma is faced by players from Cuba, where the communist government prohibits prospects from signing with major league teams. Desperate to realize their dreams, many players risk life and limb escaping the country. Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig was held hostage by the criminals who smuggled him out of Cuba. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu nearly drowned in fifteen foot waves.
The struggles faced by numerous Latin American players make their stories all the more triumphant. And as the diversity of baseball continues to grow, the quality of play is enhanced exponentially. At the time of this writing, there were ten Latino players enshrined at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Many others have played on major league All-Star teams, led their respective leagues in various statistical categories, won prestigious awards and guided their clubs to the postseason. The most succesful Latino stars are profiled on the pages that follow.