FROM BEYOND BASEBALL'S COLOR BARRIER


FOREWORD BY MLB ALL-STAR AND CUBAN BASEBALL LEGEND

LUIS TIANT

When I was a boy growing up in Havana, I remember baseball players coming around to visit my father, Luis Tiant Sr. Dad had spent more than 20 years as a pro pitcher, including many seasons in the Negro Leagues, and enjoyed seeing his old teammates, but he didn’t want me following in his footsteps. He wanted me to finish school and become a doctor or lawyer.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but my father was trying to protect me from what he had gone through. It was tough for African Americans, Cubans, and other black ballplayers in the 1930s and ‘40s. Dad played year-round and was still never able to save much money. He and his Negro League teammates drove in broken-down buses from one town to another, and when they couldn’t find restaurants or hotels that served blacks – which was a lot -- they ate and slept on the bus. Some of them knew they were good enough to play in the majors, but this was before Jackie Robinson broke the color line. By the time he did, in 1947, Dad was too old to get his shot.

But you know what? Even with all the racism they faced, Dad and the other great black ballplayers knew they were part of something special. Like Bob Feller and Ted Williams, they were the best in the world at what they did. They had loyal fans who packed ballparks to watch them, and they held their own against white big-league clubs. They were poor, but they were proud. And in the end, my father saw I had the same love for the game that he did -- and gave me his blessing to follow my dreams. When I made it to the major leagues, I did it for both of us.

That is what Rocco Constantino has captured so well in Beyond Baseball’s Color Barrier: the tough times and great times Black ballplayers had during the many long years they were kept out of the majors, and their quick rise to the top when they got their chance. The early success of guys like Jackie and Larry Doby and Roy Campanella in the late 1940s and ‘50s made it possible for the second wave – Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, and the rest – to come up behind them. By the time I played my first game, in 1964, the All-Stars teams were filled with players who 20 years before would have been riding the buses with my father.

In 1975, when Dad saw me pitch in the World Series, African Americans made up 18.5 % of all MLB players. Black players were constantly among the league leaders in batting, homers, and other stats, and superstars like Jim Rice and Reggie Jackson signed record contracts. They still faced racism, like when Aaron received all that hate mail when he was chasing Babe Ruth’s record. But they had made it to the top, and served as inspiration for the next generation of stars like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Thomas.

Now I worry things are going the other way. There are plenty of Dominicans and Cubans and other Latino players in the majors, which is great, but less than 8% of MLB players are African Americans. Dave Roberts was one of only two African American managers in 2020, and he won the World Series. What does that tell you? There should be more of them, in the dugout and on the field.

Baseball has gone from the game everybody played in the park after school to a specialized youth sport with expensive travel teams for the best players – most of them white. MLB is making an effort to reach out to young black kids through initiatives like the RBI Program, and I hope it works. As Rocco shows so well in this book, African Americans have a rich legacy in the major leagues. For the sake of those who paved the way, and guys like my Dad that never got the chance, that history needs and deserves to continue.