Robinson opened door for black Hispanics

Originally Published: April 14, 2007
By Enrique Rojas | ESPNdeportes.com

Latin American ballplayers have been playing in the big leagues since the start of the 20th century, but there was one event, one that happened 60 years ago, that opened the flow of Hispanics into major league baseball: the collapse of the racial barrier.

When Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, not only did he break the hateful barrier that existed in MLB against African-Americans, but he also opened the door to all minority players, especially Latin Americans.

"What Robinson did was great because he opened the doors for all of us," said Cuban Hall of Famer Tony Perez.

"Like black Americans, we black Latinos couldn't play until after Robinson made his debut. He freed all of us," Perez added.

Before 1947, 47 white Latin Americans played in the big leagues, 39 from Cuba. Luis Castro from Colombia was the pioneer when he made his debut with the Philadelphia Athletics on April 23, 1902.

White Hispanics, such as Cuba's Adolfo Luque, who won 27 games with the Cincinnati Reds in 1923 and 194 in his 20-year career, left the first deep marks.

But many others, such as the legendary Martin Dihigo, could not reach the big leagues on account of the color of their skin.

"If it hadn't been for Robinson, I wouldn't be the Marlins' manager," said Cuban Fredi Gonzalez. "He gave us a chance to show we can play and manage this game."

Said Dominican shortstop Rafael Furcal, who might be activated from the disabled list this weekend when the Dodgers host the Padres: "I'm lucky to be able to wear the same uniform Robinson wore to fulfill the dreams of many men who weren't able to show their talent."

Statistics speak for themselves when measuring the impact of Robinson's feat in the development of the Hispanic ballplayer. Since 1947, more than 1,200 Latin Americans have played in the majors. According to a report issued by the commissioner's office, there were 246 foreign-born players from 15 different countries on major league rosters at the start of this season. This figure represents 29 percent of the total players in the majors (750 active, plus 99 on the injured list).

Out of the total number of foreigners, 210 come from Latin America, headed by 98 from the Dominican Republic and 51 from Venezuela. Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, Cuba, Colombia, Aruba, Curacao and Nicaragua also have representatives.

Latin American players have captured 16 MVP Awards, nine Cy Youngs, 16 Rookie of the Year awards and three Manager of the Year awards. All since 1947.

A dozen Latin Americans have even been immortalized in the Hall of Fame. Voted on by journalists, Puerto Rico's Roberto Clemente (1973) and Orlando Cepeda (1999), the Dominican Republic's Juan Marichal (1983), Venezuela's Luis Aparicio (1984), Panama's Rod Carew (1991) and Cuba's Tony Perez (2000) reached Cooperstown. Dihigo (1977) and fellow Cuban countrymen Jose Mendez (2006) and Cristobal Torriente (2006) were elected by the Negro Leagues Committee.

The group is complemented by three broadcasters: Argentina's Buck Canel (1985), Ecuador's Jaime Jarrin (1998) and Cuba's Felo Ramirez (2001).

"I thank Mr. Robinson in the name of all my family," said Dominican shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who won the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year award playing shortstop for the Florida Marlins.

"The best tribute we Latin Americans can pay Mr. Robinson is what we are doing now in big leagues: playing hard and being an example," Ramirez added. "Wherever Mr. Robinson may be, he must be happy because his legacy is paying out. May he rest in peace."

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.