A Day Without Pujols

The prodigal holiday hath returned. May 1st, also known as May Day, has come back to the United States with a vengeance. This is the day of protest forged in the heat of the 19th century US labor movement to celebrate the fight for the eight hour day. It is also the holiday celebrated all around the world, except right here in the country of its birth.

Yet this year, in a delicious twist of fate, mass May Day protests will return to the United States led largely by people born beyond its borders. May Day 2006 is being called the Great American Boycott, “A Day Without Immigrants,” or “A Day Without Latinos.” It is a day where immigrant workers, and their allies, will remove their labor, purchasing power, and presence from the economic workings of the United States. Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, one of the organizers of last month’s million strong protest in Los Angeles said. “We are looking forward to a major action in all large US cities where immigrants make up a significant proportion of the workforce. We are asking people not to go to school, or work, or shopping and instead to go out and protest”

While countless industries and work sites would be hampered by such actions, there is one multi-billion dollar enterprise which would be absolutely crippled: “The Great American Pastime” itself, Major League Baseball. MLB is adored by politicians of all stripes. Throwing out the first pitch is the sure-fire way to get good press and cheap applause from a friendly crowd, (unless you’re Dick Cheney and you throw like a fetus. Then it’s lusty boos for him and “wiretap day” for all 30,000 people in attendance.)

Right wing pundits like George Will who normally see immigrants as little more than something to demonize, love writing about baseball as “the fabric of our Nation.” Without Latinos, this fabric would fray like it was smoked with a Mariano Rivera fastball. Without Latinos baseball would be about as interesting as being trapped in an elevator with George Will.

Of the top ten hitters in the National League, six are from Latin America including reigning Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols. In the American League, five of the top ten are Latino, including batting leader and 2003 MVP Miguel Tejada. Latinos dominate the pantheon of the games superstars like never before. Eight of the last 10 AL MVPs have been won by immigrants, seven by Latinos. In the thirty years before that, the number was three (Jose Canseco, Willie Hernandez, and the immortal George Bell). At this past springs World Baseball Classic, the new reality was laid bare, showcasing a US team that couldn’t compete with its Latin American or Asian rivals.

This is a result of a profound demographic shift that has saved baseball from the sporting scrap heap. Currently 36% of Major League players were born in Latin America. According to ESPN Deportes this number will reach 50% in the next twenty years. Almost one third of all minor leaguers are from the Dominican Republic alone. Of course much of this is a function of Major League owners searching for talent on the cheap, setting up baseball academies south of the border where players can be signed in their early teens for pennies, and then discarded if they don’t make the cut. As one player said to me, “The options in the DR are jail, the army, the factory, or baseball.” Many prospects make it to the United States for minor league ball and then stay, illegally, to chase the dream of never working to death in a factory. The outer boroughs of New York City are filled with semi-pro teams of men on the other side of thirty still thirsting for that contract, hoping it comes before the INS comes knocking on their door.

No Major League player has come out publicly (yet) and said they are joining the national boycott. Doing so would be more than a mere act of solidarity. Despite the prominent role they play in the game, there is only one owner of Latino descent, one general manager, and only a handful of managers. Players routinely speak about being mocked by reporters for their lack of English skills, and denigrated in the press. Like All Star Moises Alou said last year, “In the minor leagues, people think all Dominicans, Mexicans and Venezuelans are dumb.”You think if a guy doesn’t speak English it’s because he’s stupid. You go to the Dominican and try to have conversation in Spanish, and see how easy it is.” 15 games are set for May 1st. They would show how important they have become to the game by nursing that blister on their foot and staying home. No Pedro, no Manny, no Pujols, no baseball.

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of “‘What’s My name Fool?'”: Sports and Resistance in the united States. He is speaking at the conference Socialism 2006, June 22-25, in New York City, with Etan Thomas and Toni Smith. See www.socialismconference.org. Contact him at dave@edgeofsports.com




DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.