1947: Early History of the LLWS
The mainstream history of Major League Baseball has historically been a white male history, although females, religious, and racial and ethnic minorities were integral to the Pastime becoming part of the cultural zeitgeist of the United States. Because of this, it is apropos to redress the lack of focus on racial and ethnic groups. As an homage to Hispanic Heritage Month, I’d like to talk about the 1957 Little League World Series as a watershed moment that would foreshadow the future of baseball in the U.S. I’d also like to consider the nexus between the United States and Latin-America via the globalization of baseball, and the reoccurring theme of the number 7.
1957-1977: Monterrey, México, Ángel’s Perfect Game, and Globalization
Little League and the LLWS are integral to understanding both how fans are grown; and players created. Without the LLWS and Little League in general, many MLB Hall of Famers would not exist, having lacked the ability to compete and hone their skills in their youth. The early history of the LLWS begins in 1947, with Williamsport, Pennsylvania beating Lockhaven, Pennsylvania 16-7. However, it would not be until 1952 that a team outside of the United States would participate, and the team was from Montreal, Canada. In 1957, however, the team from Monterey, Mexico not only participated but won, becoming the first “international” team to claim glory. This game would go down in history for various reasons. To begin, this team was the first team outside of the United States to win. They were also the first Mexican team to win, obviously. However, it’s what actually happened in the final game that impresses most. Ángel Macías was the lanzador “pitcher” for Monterrey and Ángel was on his game this day. You see, Ángel pitched a perfect game. To this day this is still the one and only perfect game ever thrown in the LLWS. In many ways, this feat would foreshadow what was to come to baseball in the United States, as the demographics would soon begin to change – like a shift in the infield to accommodate a shifting demography of batters. Since 1967, the international teams have taken 35 of the 53 LLWS championships. That is 66% of all titles. Although Taiwan is far and away the “Yankees” of the tournament, with 17 titles, Latin-American teams account for 6 of the remaining 36 championships. Latin-American champions consist of México with three championships, Venezuela with two, and Curacao with one.
To put a diamond-shaped frame around this history, we need to consider the process of globalization. Globalization is about the interconnection of people, products, and ideas across vast distances and between and among nations – it’s about blurred foul lines and nuance; complexity and the quilting of historically disparate fabrics into something new – something complex. One anecdotal example of this happened in 1985, in Mexicali, México. In this particular year Mexicali represented the West Region of the United States in the LLWS. Mexicali is on la frontera “the border” between the US and México. So close, in fact, to the El Centro/Calexico area in Southern California, that Mexicali played for California’s 22nd District in the Southern California division, but, representing the “sister border city” of Calexico, California. Why is this significant and what does it mean for Baseball history? The answer to that question can be seen in the demographics of MLB today.
From 1977-2017: Beer Bellies and Screwballs
When I was a child, I distinctly recall my father jumping off the couch and clapping his hands in approval and delight for a pitcher that appeared to be anything but athletic, to my young eyes. This was a southpaw with a beer gut that only my dad could admire, having one himself. This pitcher was, of course Fernando Valenzuela. Fernando started his career in México in 1977 and finished in 1997 – 17 seasons in the U.S. In the media, the 1980’s has been dubbed the year of the Hispanic. This decade would produce athletes, politicians, and television shows that finally presented and represented this demographic, which prior to that, was marginalized as racial and ethnic minorities are. Without a doubt, what Fernando brought to the Dodgers and MLB’s fanbase is incalculable. The new-found excitement for Dodgers baseball, the celebrity of El Toro “the Bull”, the use of Spanish language in the clubhouse, in the broadcasts and reporters, the Mexican Golden Moment, all of the charisma – now this was the new Dodger baseball and it didn’t stop on the field – again, blurred borders – it showed up on boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. With every glance to the sky during his windup, Fernando coaxed the heavens for change. In many ways, this was the full circle story of Chavez Ravine – a stadium that was built at the expense of a Mexican-American community and the politics of eminent domain. El Toro had come to roost and “Fernandomania” reigned supreme. History is full of irony. In 2017, Fernando would throw out the first pitch of game two of the World Series, which the Dodgers would lose, and to come full circle, Ángel Macías would be inducted into the LLWS Hall of Excellence in the same year – again, 2017.
The 7th Inning Stretch
To conclude, as I watch the second of a 7-inning double header during the 60-game shortened season, I reflected on the changes that have occurred, and wonder of those to come. What youngster is throwing a ball around somewhere in rural México, waiting for their turn to cross the chalkline southern border to take the mound? Taking a look at the current starting lineup for the Chicago White Sox, if they wanted, could field an entirely Latin team as all positions – 1-9, have either a started or bench player of Latin descent in their depth chart. Of course, this is likely the case with other teams as well and brings us to the heart of our celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. So, since it’s the 7th inning stretch, why don’t we all stand up and sing together, in celebration of Ángel, Fernando, and all other Latin trailblazers… you know the tune, “llévame al juego de beisbol!”