The 107th World Series is underway, with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers vying for the championship of Major League Baseball. The Cardinals’ star, Albert Pujols, has already entered the record books, joining Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players ever to hit three home runs in one World Series game. This historic slugging performance follows that of Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who broke a record earlier in the postseason by hitting six home runs in one playoff series.
Pujols and Cruz share not only an ability to crush home runs. They are also both originally from the Dominican Republic. Of the 50 total players on the Cardinals’ and Rangers’ rosters, 14 are of Latino background, with seven of those coming from the Dominican Republic. Many of the biggest stars in American baseball today are originally from Latin America, players like Pujols and Cruz, top hitters Miguel Cabrera, José Bautista, and Robinson Canó and two of the game’s premier pitchers, Félix Hernández and Mariano Rivera. Indeed, players of Latino background have long been an important part of professional baseball in the US. More than a half century before Pujols, and even decades before Reginald Martinez Jackson was hitting his World Series home runs, a Cuban named Miguel González was managing the Cardinals.
But the history of Latinos in baseball and other American sports is not a convenient story of opportunity and inclusion. When white settlers first introduced modern team sports to the American Southwest in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, their approach resembled that of other colonial powers taking over a subject land, like the British in South Asia and the Japanese in Taiwan. As Jorge Iber explains in our interview, team sports was a means of both distinguishing Latinos as inferior and assimilating them into white American society. In their book Latinos in U.S. Sport: A History of Isolation, Cultural Identity, and Acceptance (Human Kinetics, 2011) Iber and his co-writers make the point that the use of sports as a vehicle of social integration is still visible today, but has moved beyond the borderlands of the Southwest to places like Arkansas, Nebraska, and Michigan. And just as political parties today have recognized the importance of courting the growing “Hispanic demographic,” so have the marketers of professional and college sports realized that Latinos in the U.S. have potential not just as athletes but also as viewers and ticket-buyers.