Lou Hernández. Chronology of Latin Americans in Baseball, 1871-2015. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2016. 232 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4766-6227-5.
Reviewed by Jorge Iber (Texas Tech University)
Published on H-LatAm (December, 2016)
Commissioned by Andrae Marak (Governors State University)
A Chronology of Latino Success on the Diamond that Only Reaches the Warning Track
The works of Lou Hernández, while not of a scholarly nature, are of considerable substance and use to anyone interested in a statistical compilation of the role of Latinos (or the term he utilizes, Hispanics) in the world of professional baseball. Among Hernández’s other works, one finds studies focused on recollections of winter ball during the 1950s, the development of professional baseball leagues in the Caribbean, Central, and South America, and the careers of great hurlers of Spanish-surnamed backgrounds in the Majors, Negro, and winter leagues. This new effort by McFarland Publishers, Chronology of Latin Americans in Baseball, 1871-2015, provides even more extensive reportage on this important subject matter. The use that one will have for this new tome can be addressed by answering the following question: is the reader interested in examining a collection of factual evidence, or is he/she more concerned with a contextual historical analysis of the importance of such players in professional baseball in the United States and elsewhere? If one’s purpose for reading the work is the former, then this is a worthwhile read; if it is the latter, however, then it is necessary to seek edification elsewhere; for example in the works of Samuel O. Regalado, Jose A. Alamillo, and Adrian Burgos, just to name a few notable authors. Since the goal of any review is to critique the work produced, and not the work that the reviewer wishes that the author had generated, then it is possible for this critic to label Hernández’s effort in this case mostly successful.
Hernández does not beat around the bush when presenting readers with what this work is all about. On the very first page, the author clearly articulates that the “grand accomplishments of the people listed … are purposely kept within the context of the game itself.” Only rarely does Hernández stray from his self-appointed task. Within these pages one finds myriad “first” (such as the first time that a Major League team fielded an all-Latino outfield—the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 24, 1955—with Ramon Mejias in left, Roberto Clemente in center, and Felipe Montemayor in right); “oddest” (Wilson Alvarez going from having an ERA of infinity after his first MLB outing with the Blue Jays, to throwing a no-hitter for the White Sox in his second appearance on a big-league mound); and “greatest” (such as when Dennis Martinez, pitching for the Montreal Expos, became the first Latino to author a perfect game at the MLB level) endeavors (pp. 55, 125). The list of accomplishments noted by Hernández goes on and on For aficionados in the general public (which is truly the intended audience for this publication), the work provides a veritable feast of minutia of what Latinos have done on professional diamonds in various parts of the world.
Despite these positives, Hernández’s work does have limitations based on the type of work that this is, a chronology, and his criteria for inclusion in the study. For example, the players reviewed are all foreign-born, with the author drawing “a distinction between Latin American players and those such as Manhattan-born Alex Rodriguez and Californian Jesse Orosco, whose … merits have earned them mention in the big league record books but only indirect reference in this one” (p. 1). This was the author’s decision to make, but the inclusion of such individuals would have provided a more complete perspective of the contributions of Spanish-surnamed/Spanish-speaking athletes to various associations of professional baseball. Having just completed a work on a US-born Latino, Mike Torrez, this author became familiar not only with this player’s achievements (and misfortunes) on the playing field, but also documented how this athlete’s career, from the local level to the Majors, impacted his community and the broader Chicano populace as well. Still, as noted, a reviewer cannot disparage a work because it is not the book he/she would have written. Hernández clearly and directly articulates the guiding principle for the work early on, and he ably accomplishes the limited task he assigned himself.
Three final notes are necessary in regard to this work: one positive, the other two negative. First, Hernández provides two practical and convenient appendices to the work. The first lists the first Latin Americans to toil for individual teams (in both the pre- and post-expansion eras). It even includes a mention of Armando Marsans’s time with the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League. The second appendix, much more extensive, proffers an extensive listing of historically significant milestones in hitting, pitching, and “miscellaneous” accomplishments (such as managing) broken down by the countries of the individuals’ birth. On the negative side of the ledger, the chronology stops at the conclusion of the 2015 campaign, and Hernández does not provide his readers with any sense of summary of the work. We have been given an enormous amount of (important) materials to digest, but what the heck does it all mean? The author makes no attempt to address this question. Finally, and in line with the lack of a summary/conclusion, the bibliography to the book leaves much to be desired. While Hernández presents his readers with relevant citations to guide them to other chronologies and compilations on this topic as well as important websites (such as Retrosheet), he completely overlooks other significant works (such as those by the authors noted earlier) that might lead the casual reader to weightier tomes that might address questions raised by the chronology. For example, given how much time Hernández spends on Armando Marsans, why not bring up the accessible, yet well-researched and -contextualized, effort by Peter T. Toot on this individual? Similar arguments can be made for other players and works.
Lou Hernández is to be commended for the extensive work and research that went into compiling this exhaustive representation of what Latinos (born outside of the United States) have achieved on baseball diamonds in various parts of the world since the late nineteenth century. On the other hand, the far-reaching exploration would have been better served if the author had provided his readers with a sense of the context of the feats; or at least provided a sense of where to pursue meatier questions along these lines. In baseball terms, it can be argued that Hernández drove a pitch to the deepest part of center field, but failed to get the ball out of the park. While he may have driven home a runner on third with a sacrifice fly, that effort, like this book, could have produced more significant results.
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Jorge Iber. Review of Hernández, Lou, Chronology of Latin Americans in Baseball, 1871-2015.
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