Batting for Power: 1960s Latino Baseball Players and their Challenge To the Cold War American Ethos

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Haverford College. Department of History
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Baseball in its history and tradition has become ingrained within the identity of the United States. Dubbed the 'National Pastime,' the game of baseball is emblematic of the traditional American values of democracy and capitalism through the value on indiyidual accomplishment in a team-oriented competition. Currently, Major League Baseball-features an enormous Latino population excelling in the sport synonymous with the American Dream. These foreign players partake in this a summer tradition that inherently values the past and creates myths out of the all-American players such as Bob Feller, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. In this thesis I examine the early stages of Latino integration into a game that was enveloped within traditional American rhetoric prior to their entrance. I found that the inclusion of Latino players into Major League Baseball and the American cultural dialogue coincided with one of the most politically uncertain eras in United States history—the 1960s. The defining feature of this era was the Cold War, a conflict that pervaded the American politics and culture within American borders and internationally as well. In response to the growing Soviet threat, white Americans subscribed to an American ethos of exceptionalism as an integral facet of the Cold War. Furthermore, the Civil Rights movement overshadowed the first half of the decade, while the responses to the Vietnam War featured prominently in the second half. In both the Civil Rights movement and the political unrest of the latter half of the decade the validity of the new American ethos of exceptionalism was constantly up to debate; thus, baseball, as the 'American' sport, was a key arena in which this discourse took place. Throughout the conflict-ridden decade, baseball and politics would create a tacit yet powerful dialogue, each influencing the other in recondite manners in an environment rife with cultural and political uncertainly. When Latinos brought their home-grown passion for the game to the North American public sphere, the white American media attempted to exclude the Latinos by attempting to disassociate their character with that of the Cold War American ethos. At the start of the 60s the media's portrayal of Latinos garnered public support, but as the decade progressed and sociopolitical frustrations grew within the American public, the Latino players eventually forged a place for themselves within the American cultural narrative. A clear transformation took place within both the players and their reception on the American stage by the end of the decade. This transformation of the players and their public representation was framed by an era of immense cultural changes throughout the United States. These players were certainly products of the era in which they played; yet, they also contributed to the changing attitudes as well. Though these players lacked American citizenship, it became increasingly clear that they embodied the values of the Cold War American ethos. Thus, their persistent skill paved the way for Latinos to express their heritage within the American public sphere.