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  • "¡Viva Baseball!" National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
  • Jorge E. Moraga

In a 1990 Journal of Sport History review of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, librarian Tom Heitz wrote,

Tucked away in the back of the hall is a section on blacks in baseball with lots of pictures of teams sitting outside their busses, a couple of pennants and some newspaper clippings. . . . There is no special section or any special mention made anywhere about Latin Americans.

This glaring oversight, noted a quarter of a century ago, was finally amended in May 2009 with the introduction of the ¡Viva Baseball! Exhibit. The museum's first bilingual exhibit builds from the premise that the "Latin love affair with baseball" is as "much Latin as it is American." It is organized around five interrelated themes: (1) Caribbean origins and histories; (2) institutional discrimination in the United States; (3) Latin/o pioneers and early breakthroughs; (4) Caribbean similarities; and (5) the lasting imprint of Latin/o Americans into the twenty-first century. With nearly 150 artifacts, three visitor interactives, twenty-four oral interviews, and one multimedia short film recited by legendary sportscaster Jaime Jarrín, ¡Viva Baseball! narrates the "passion," "flair," and "joy" of the Latin/o American pelotero.

The exhibit begins by introducing visitors to the "United Nations of Baseball." In addition to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Venezuela, it recognizes the game's value in less frequently examined locales, such as Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Curaçao. "Confronting Barriers" underscores the ways Afro-L atin ballplayers like Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente Walker, Cuban Saturnino Orestes Armas "Minnie" Miñoso Arrieta, and Dominican Felipe Alou negotiated highly charged "racial, political, and cultural" U.S landscapes. In "Making the Majors," the trailblazing experiences of players like Esteban Bellán, the Alou brothers (Jesús, Matty, and Felipe), and Mike García are contextualized amid baseball's era of integration. "Caribbean Commonalities" follows, illustrating lively rivalries, the winter leagues, and the everyday Latino kid who breathes, lives, and dreams beísbol. The exhibit concludes with an upbeat "Celebration" with artifacts that show Latin/o players are not only "part of baseball's mainstream"; they are "among the best in the game."

¡Viva Baseball! shatters two dominant ideas. First, it confronts the origins of the game in Latin America. For instance, an 1898 photo from Collier's Weekly and a baseball believed by U.S. sailors to be the "first game of ball in Cuba" reveals that baseball was not limited to the United States. The game arrived in Cuba during the 1860s, when "returning students brought it home from the United States." Once there, it "spread like wildfire partly as a symbolic rejection of Spanish colonial rule" and led to the Caribbean's first professional league in 1878. These early Caribbean leagues also allowed for a cross-racial and international exchange between ballplayers that was absent during this time in the United States. [End Page 231]

Second, it suspends hegemonic myths of Anglo-American exceptionalism by powerfully revealing the punitive effects of Jim/Juan Crow policies. It showcases how Spanish-speaking peloteros confronted the harsh realities of a black/white racial order. Whether navigating "whites only" signs or grappling with the limited food options for Latin/os, the confluence of colorism and the Latin/o label proved burdensome. Sports media played a major role in this mistreatment. Throughout the 1960s, it was common for baseball cards to misname Clemente as "Bob" or for the sport pages to quote Orestes "Minnie" Miñoso's far-from-fluent English verbatim. These artifacts showcase the historical roots to contemporary scandals involving how American media associates feature "broken English" to players like Carlos Gómez. Ultimately, whether viewing the 1964 "Latin-American Ballplayers Need a Bill of Rights" or a 2001 Fernando Valenzuela bobblehead, the exhibit documents the evolution of the Latin/o presence in the major leagues alongside currents of race and capitalism.

Amusing interactives accompany these striking relics. In "Would You Make It to the Major Leagues?" a series of multiple-choice questions are posed, so non-Spanish-speaking visitors may reflect on the difficulties of migrating to a monolingual...


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pp. 231-233
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