While doing interviews for a documentary about Latin baseball, there was a question I always encountered, not merely in this country, but also in places ranging from Venezuela to Panama, from the Dominican to Cuba:
Why are there so few Latinos in the Hall of Fame?
Obviously that’s a situation that’s bound to change once Pedro Martinez, Edgar Martinez, and so many others move toward eligibility.
But it’s a question that merits examination.
For instance, with so many members of Cincinnati’s Big Red Red Machine now enshrined in Cooperstown (plus Pete Rose selling autographs nearby), where is the guy called by manager Sparky Anderson "the key to our success?" By that I mean Davy Concepcion. Though his numbers on their own are not stellar, he was a shortstop in an era where that was not primarily an offensive position. Most importantly, he was the one, as Sparky once told me, "Who got us every key hit." And how many shortstops are there with championship rings like Concepcion’s?
The sad truth is that a lot of the Latin players on the margins of the Hall Of Fame have what I would call "asterisks" next to their names — something or other that keeps them from being first-ballot inductees.
Consider Tony Oliva. Aside from being arguably the best natural hitter of all time, he’s someone who went, thanks to hard work, from being a defensive liability to a Gold-Glover. Plus he and Ted Williams are the only two players in the history of the American League to make the All-Star team each of their first four seasons. But his career was foreshortened by knee injuries that make Cooperstown a question mark since he does not have the World Series rings that have propelled others.
In some cases, we can only imagine what might have happened if history had been different in one way or another. With Camilo Pascual, who’s considered by oldtimers to have had the best righty curve ball ever, what if it had been a contender — the Dodgers, say, or the Giants — who signed him rather than the Washington Senators. We can only imagine what kind of record a guy who once won twenty-one games for a last place club might have had.
Or think about the stats a guy like Vic Power might have put up had he been signed by a club other than the Yankees, who chose to break their team’s color line with self-effacing Elston Howard rather than with a flashy first baseman who ultimately won seven Gold Gloves. Had Power been promoted to the Bigs in a timely fashion rather than being forced to lose what could have been his most productive years in the minors, chances are he, too, would have been enshrined.
Then there’s Roberto Alomar, who was on the fast-track to Cooperstown until he was sidetracked by injuries and the incident with John Hirschbeck.
I could talk, too, about other Caribbean stars whose only problems was timing and race — in other words, playing before Jackie Robinson broke the color line — men like Poncho Coimbre, Perucho Cepeda, and the legendary Martin Dihigo.
Similarly, I could mention Luis Olmo, who was so mistreated by Branch Rickey and Leo Durocher that he bolted to the ill-fated Mexican League.
But we’ll save that for another time.