Baseball's opening day was yesterday (and it's safe to say that the Beacon Press staff as a whole is unimpressed with the start to the season). Although the Red Sox may be off to an inauspicious start, we'll take this opportunity to share an excerpt of the recently published Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game by Rob Ruck.
The colliding histories of black and Latin ballplayers in the major leagues have traditionally been told as a story of their shameful segregation and redemptive integration. Jackie Robinson jumped baseball's color line to much fanfare, but integration was painful as well as triumphal. It gutted the once-vibrant Negro Leagues and often subjected Latin players to Jim Crow racism. Today, Major League Baseball tightens its grasp around the Caribbean's burgeoning baseball academies, while at home it embraces, and exploits, the legacy of the Negro Leagues.
After peaking at 27 percent of all major leaguers in 1975, African Americans now make up less than one-tenth-a decline unimaginable in other men's pro sports. The number of Latin Americans, by contrast, has exploded to over a quarter of all major leaguers and roughly half of those playing in the minors. Award-winning historian Rob Ruck not only explains the catalyst for this sea change; he also breaks down the consequences that cut across society. Integration cost black and Caribbean societies control over their own sporting lives, changing the meaning of the sport, but not always for the better. While it channeled black and Latino athletes into major league baseball, integration did little for the communities they left behind.
By looking at this history from the vantage point of black America and the Caribbean, a more complex story comes into focus, one largely missing from traditional narratives of baseball's history. Raceball unveils a fresh and stunning truth: baseball has never been stronger as a business, never weaker as a game.
Author photo by Tom Altany.