Oct 29, 2022 - Sports

Afro-Latinos' baseball dominance

Carlos Santana #41 of the Seattle Mariners, Julio Rodriguez #44 and Yordan Alvarez #44 of the Houston Astros talk before the game in the Division Series at Minute Maid Park.

Carlos Santana #41 of the Seattle Mariners, Julio Rodriguez #44 and Yordan Álvarez #44 of the Houston Astros talk before the game in the Division Series at Minute Maid Park. Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images

Major League Baseball today is looking less like Jackie Robinson, but it's becoming more like Roberto Clemente.

The big picture: The World Series is expected to have no non-Hispanic Black American players for the first time in 72 years, yet games will feature Black Latino stars -- a group redefining America's pastime even as the nation can't define them.

By the numbers: On Opening Day this season, only 7.2% of players were Black or African American, according to a report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

  • That's the lowest percentage since 1991, when Black players were around 18% in MLB.
  • The report said Latinos make up around 28.5% of all MLB players.

Yes, but: Afro-Latino players are a major force in the MLB, even though this particular study didn't provide an estimate of how many Afro-Latino players there are.

  • Nearly every MLB team has Black Latino players on its roster and in its farm system.
  • Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez, 21, of the Dominican Republic, is this year's favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year.
  • The San Diego Padres' surge came from performances by Robert Suárez and Juan Soto.

The intrigue: Afro-Latino players also propelled their teams to victories throughout this season's baseball playoffs.

Rhode Island-raised, Dominican-American Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, known as JP3 or La Tormenta, took the American League Championship Series MVP for his heroics against the Yankees.

Between the lines: People see the Blackness first of an individual and the Latino part comes second, Louis Moore, a professor of history at Grand Valley State University, tells Axios. 

  • "It's always the Blackness when it's time to discriminate, when it's time to break down those barriers," he said. 
  • Demographic surveys don't always fully account for this population. After the 2020 Census included an option to identify with multiple ethnicities, the number of U.S. Latinos identifying as multiracial soared.

What they're saying: There's been an erasure of the Afro-Latino presence in baseball, which is part of a long history, Adrian Burgos, Jr., a sports historian at the University of Illinois, told Axios.

  • "In the baseball community, it's being seen as too Latino to be Black and in other settings too Black to be treated like other Latinos," Burgos, Jr. said.
  • Afro-Latino players have long existed in baseball including Cuban-borns Minnie Miñoso and José Méndez, both of them played in the Negro Leagues and are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Flashback: Future Hall of Famer and Puerto Rican-born Roberto Clemente broke into the majors for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955 and experienced intense discrimination.

  • Newspapers, even Black-owned ones, often poked fun at his accent and called him "Bobby Clemente." He'd repeatedly say, "My name is Roberto Clemente."

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