Ethnicity and Baseball


In 2004, Chevrolet aired a Spanish-language ad for the Silverado truck on Fox TV during baseball’s World Series. No English subtitles. And, no English voice-over at the end like Coors Light’s "Guey = Dude" ad, the sole other noted general market ad of this type. In fact, the voice-over at the end of the 2004 Chevy ad is also in Spanish.

While the pro-stem cell research pitch by Michael J. Fox and the despicable response to it from Rush Limbaugh has produced the most comments about ads at this year’s World Series; another Spanish-language Silverado ad was aired during Game Three, broadcast on Fox from St. Louis. This ad touted Hispanic contributions to the building of Hoover Dam and the development of color TV. It features Hispanic construction workers, presumably the type of potential Chevy truck buyers the general-market ad is aiming for. A shorter, bi-lingual version of the ad aired between later innings.

With over 30 million Hispanic adults in the US, an estimated 50% of whom are bilingual (meaning the other half speak Spanish exclusively), the ad’s potential audience is huge. And, Mexican-Americans historically have had a love of Chevys.

Somewhat of a cultural milestone, these ads can also be seen through the lens of modern day professional baseball. This year’s Series has the Detroit Tigers playing the St. Louis Cardinals. The same two franchises played a memorable 1968 Series. A quick look at the rosters of both teams shows a major shift in the ethnicity of professional baseball players from 1968 to 2006.

The Vanishing African-American Big Leaguer

In 1974, Frank Robinson became baseball’s first African-American manager; 27 percent of the major league players were black. Yet, by the end of 2006, just 9 percent of players are black and just one manager, the NY Mets excellent Willie Randolph is black. The best TV commentator, Joe Morgan, is the exception black amongst a sea of white folks. No owners are black and just one general manager is African-American.

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals roster has but one African-American; yet boasts four Dominicans, two Puerto Ricans, one Mexican, one Cuban and one from Japan. In 1968, the top St. Louis stars were black; magnificent pitcher Bob Gibson got backing from Curt Flood and Lou Brock. That 1968 team had two Hispanics; Orlando Cepeda and Julian Javier.

The current Tigers fare a little better as to African-Americans with four on the roster and one coach. The Tigers also have a solid south-of-the-border contingent: eight Dominican players and one coach, four Venezuelans, one Puerto Rican and three Hispanic-Americans and one coach. In 1968, the Tigers had five African-Americans and no Hispanics.

So, is it any wonder that ads are targeting the Hispanic, as well as, white fans of the game? One of my Native American buddies noted that while scanning the crowd at this year’s games, he has seen "a few black fans at Detroit games (notable for any professional sport) and none at all in St. Louis." Quite a disgrace given the African-American populations of both these great cities. Detroit, our second most African-American city, is 82 percent black and St. Louis is 40 percent black.

Obviously, many of the Hispanic players grew up in similar circumstances to inner-city American black youth — lack of playing fields and lack of necessary expensive equipment. As baseball becomes more and more an international game (how about a real World Series?) the question is: why are black athletes not being steered into the game?

One could say that blacks make up 10 percent of the population, so their numbers in Major League Baseball are right in line. But, that line of thinking falters when one considers that half of all National Football League players and some 85 percent of National Basketball Association players are black. Obviously, many more black athletes choose or are steered to these other sports, as baseball becomes an international sport.

I guess I could celebrate the dawn of Latin American players like I celebrated the scene-altering NCAA Basketball Championship of Texas Western over Kentucky back in 1966. I can see the rising sun of Japanese players as a major positive trend, as well. And, Spanish-language ads certainly speak to how far Hispanics have come in recent decades. All power to them and kudos to Chevy.

The Sun Also Sets

But, here a half-century after the heroic Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke through the big leagues’ color barrier, I mourn. I grieve for the loss of times like that 1968 Series when black and white fans alike gathered and watched Bob Gisbon out-duel Denny McClain with the Series eventually turning on slugger Willie Horton (yeah, the real Willie Horton) uncorking the throw of his life and nailing the speedy Lou Brock at home.

MICHAEL DONNELLY is ecstatic that winning baseball has returned to Detroit and is heartened that the big money New York teams got shut out this year. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com


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