Baseball’s Been Berra, Berra Good to Me…Except in Arizona
UPDATE: Baseball union calls for Arizona immigration law to be ‘repealed or modified’
Executive director of players association cites potential ‘negative impact on hundreds of major league players,’ including those on the Arizona Diamondbacks, those who come to the state to play the Diamondbacks, and those whose teams spend spring training there.
Back in the late 1970’s Garrett Morris, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, came up with one of the more memorable, and funny recurring characters in the show’s history…Chico Escuela, a Dominican baseball player who played with the New York Mets (and later became a TV news sportscaster). The central premise of the joke was he spoke little English and thus, when asked a question he would always answer with his catch phrase: “Baseball… been berra berra good… to me.” What made it work as a gag was people’s familiarity with what he represented since Latin born Major Leaguers had been around for years, and a lot of them didn’t speak English very well (at least in the early parts of their careers) and when they were interviewed on TV or the radio, they would sound a hell of lot like Chico Escuela.
And such was the case with me growing up as a fan of the Cleveland Indians. Now, one of the constants with the Indians until 1993, was spring training in Tucson at good old Hi Corbett Field, named in honor of Hiram Stevens Corbett, a former Arizona state senator instrumental in bringing spring training to Tucson by convincing Bill Veeck to bring the Cleveland Indians to Tucson in 1947. And while Veeck owned a ranch in Tucson at the time, part of the justification for moving the team’s training camp from Florida to Arizona was, ironically, to avoid Florida’s Jim Crow laws.
Another constant was that the Indians always had a lot of very colorful Latino players on their roster like Luis Tiant, Jose Cardenal, Vada Pinson, Joe Azcue, and Vic Davalillo to name a few. They came from all over Latin America and Mexico to train in the arid climate of Arizona, and when listening to them being interviewed by Herb Score on the radio they often sounded a lot like Chico.
Recently, in 2009, the Indians returned to Goodyear Arizona for spring training, and as the international reach of Major League Baseball has grown, the Indian’s roster, like so many other teams, is now filled with players from not only Latin America, but from Korea, Japan and many other countries from around the world. In fact, according to MLB.com, 27.7 percent of its players were born outside the U.S.. And as I think about these players from distant lands or neighboring countries to the south, I wonder what they must be thinking. Come the spring of 2011, they will be forced to step into an America that they probably never imagined. And that is an America where they could be regarded as criminals solely because they come from a country outside the U.S.
Think about that for a minute….
You’re a citizen of Korea, or the Dominican Republic or Mexico, and you’ve been playing ball in the U.S. for several years, and the thought never crosses your mind about whether or not your welcome in the U.S., let alone wanted. But suddenly, you’ll have to make sure your papers are in order and that you have documentation because unless you do, you can be prosecuted as a criminal. Do you think that Teabaggers or the GOP ever think about that? Do they think about what it would be like to be a young Latin or Korean ballplayer who, like Chico Escuela, can’t speak English or can only speak it a little bit? Here you are, naive and inexperienced in international travel, unable to communicate effectively, and you know you are going to be subjected to intense scrutiny as you walk the streets, or drive your car, or step into a restaurant or store somewhere in Phoenix or Tuscon. What will that feel like? Do you think they ever imagined they would be placed in a situation like that in the United States of America?
I know, that seems strange to think sympathetically about Major League Baseball players and their plight. But perhaps we, and the forces behind the tragic legislation in Arizona should. Yes, everyone thinks only about the people that scurry across the border and take away the plum jobs at McDonalds, or at the slaughterhouses, or cutting grass and trimming hedges. God forbid that those jobs aren’t there for red blooded Americans eager to forge their careers asking people if they want to supersize that. But perhaps they should think about the unintended consequences of what this new law, that looks so much like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, really are. Because I can guarantee you this…next year, during spring training, there will be an incident, and a ball player from another country will get entangled with the law in AZ, and then it will be all over the media and someone will be very, very embarrassed.
Until then, this is what rational Americans should do. They should first join organizations like Change.org and the Daily Kos in calling for a boycott of the 2011 MLB All-Star Game taking place in Arizona. They should also let their favorite baseball team know that if they train in AZ, then you will not be there to fill the stands of their spring training facility to watch meaningless games. You will not be there to pay for hotel rooms, or rent cars, or go to the local restaurants. Tell them you support your favorite players from all over the world including the U.S. and that they should all feel equally welcome where they have to work, train and prepare. Tell them that they should move their training facilities to a state that is open and inclusive of all people, and not one that treats the non-white, non-Christian, non-Anglo athlete like a criminal unless they are able to prove otherwise. In America, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but not in Arizona.
Texas may threaten to secede from the Union, but as far as I’m concerned, Arizona has officially left our Republic.