- Mike Torrez: A Baseball Biography by Jorge Iber
Mike Torrez pitched in Major League Baseball for eighteen years, won 185 regular season games, and was best known as the unlucky pitcher who, as a member of the Red Sox, served up the infamous "Bucky F***ing Dent" home run. Mike Torrez is also of Mexican ancestry, a fact that shaped his career, his portrayal in the media, and how fans reacted to him. For instance, famed baseball executive Branch Rickey was initially shocked by Torrez's ability since Rickey "had not seen a Mexican that tall" (56–57). However, Torrez was not Mexican; he was Mexican American, born and raised in Kansas to Mexican immigrants.
Jorge Iber's biographical work explores Torrez's life and, moving beyond baseball, analyzes the importance of Torrez to Mexican Americans, especially those from the Mid-west. Iber also addresses a series of complex questions related to Latinos in sport, such as the differences between Mexican and Mexican American athletes in media, the effect of "Fernandomania," and the significance of sport to the diverse Latino/a population nationwide. Despite the title, this book is more than a typical "baseball biography." Iber created a thorough analysis—and a highly entertaining read in its own right—of the Mexican American experience in the mid-twentieth-century Midwest through the lens of a single socially important baseball player.
Iber follows the familiar chronological biography script but breaks from the traditional structure by introducing Torrez's life, beginning with birth, in Chapter 3, after nearly fifty pages. In breaking the mold, Iber places Torrez within broader midwestern Latino/a culture. The first chapters draw the reader into the social experience of Mexican Americans in the Midwest and would serve as a fine introduction to the Mexican American experience alone. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how the growing Chicano movement identified Torrez as a role model significantly before the debut of another symbol of Mexican [End Page 112] American pride, Fernando Valenzuela. Iber returns to this relationship in Chapter 8 when, after Valenzuela's debut, Torrez became one of two "Mexican" pitchers in the majors, as sportswriters effectively forgot that Torrez was actually from Kansas. Iber also dedicates a significant portion of this work to how Torrez became a sporting hero to Latinos in America, especially barrio dwellers who elevated Torrez as an example of individual potential, and how the evolving Chicano/a movement also affected Torrez's career.
This monograph should become a cornerstone in the historiography of Latino/a sport and the relationship between Latino/a ancestry and American identity. The writing style is accessible, and Iber's narrative is never bogged down by game-by-game details that derail many otherwise excellent baseball biographies. Mike Torrez was a successful major league pitcher who could be remembered exclusively for his athletic accomplishment, but, as Iber shows, Torrez should also be remembered as an example of the Mexican American experience.