The flags of Panama and Puerto Rico were held aloft and waved vigorously whenever the names of Mariano Rivera or Edgar Martinez were mentioned two weeks ago at the Clark Sports Center.
Chants of “Mariano” and “Edgar” would ring out from the crowd. For the Latino fans among the estimated 55,000 in attendance in Cooperstown, N.Y., it was truly special. Two Latino major leaguers entered the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the same day. This had never happened before.
Martinez often got the best of Rivera when the two faced each other on the baseball diamond. This day the two Latinos joined the same side, officially becoming part of baseball’s greatest assemblage—the Hall of Fame.
The enshrinement of Martinez and Rivera reveals the continuing evolution of the Hall of Fame. This evolution is not about the validation of the designated hitter through Martinez, the man for whom the American League’s Outstanding Designated Hitter Award was renamed. It is also not about validation of the closer through Rivera’s unanimous election. Their election shows that the Hall of Fame is becoming more Latino.
The Hall’s Latino membership increased to sixteen with the addition of Martinez and Rivera—more depending on whether one includes Reggie Jackson (Puerto Rican ancestry) or Ted Williams (Mexican American ancestry). Six Latinos have entered in the 2010s. This is the third straight year Latinos have entered the Hall of Fame. Martinez and Rivera follow the election of Iván Rodríguez (2017) and Vladimir Guerrero (2018). More Latinos are poised to enter the Hall. In the upcoming years David Ortiz, Carlos Beltrán, Alex Rodríguez, and Adrian Beltré will join Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramírez on the ballot of eligible players.
Hall of Fame Induction Weekend will likely continue to have a Latino flavor. For certain, the living members of the Hall of Fame will be more Latino than ever before. This will influence the perception of what a Hall of Famer looks and sounds like for the current generation of fans.
The changing face of baseball that has occurred since the 1990s is powerfully illustrated with the 2019 class. Martinez and Rivera enter as part of a diverse 2019 class of two African Americans and two white Americans along with the two Latinos.
The six players entered as a result of two different election processes: four elected through the BBWAA vote, the other two chosen from the Modern Baseball committee ballot.
Harold Baines and Lee Smith were elected through the Modern Baseball committee. This marked the first time since 2009 that two African Americans entered the Hall as part of the same class. Those gathered in Cooperstown might have witnessed a historical moment in watching Baines and Smith be enshrined on the same day. The decline in the participation of African Americans in the major leagues will surely impact the possibility of this repeating in the future.
The participation of Latinos eclipsed that of African Americans in 1993. Their percentages have trended in opposite directions since the 1990s. Latino players have increased to well over a quarter of major league rosters. African Americans have hovered between seven and eight percent of team rosters over the past several years.
These numbers show Major League Baseball increasingly relied on Latino talent since the 1990s. The expansion of scouting efforts in Latin America altered the demographics of baseball players. The best of that generation of talent have started to retire. First came Roberto Alomar and then Pedro Martinez. The past three years reflect more of the great yield from that generation.
Looking Back on their Futures
July 21, 2019, will go down as a significant date in Latino baseball history. For the first time ever two living Latinos entered the Hall of Fame in the same Induction class based on the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The only previous time that multiple Latinos entered the same year was 2006. Three Latinos—José Méndez. Cristobal Torriente, and Alex Pompez—were elected that year through a Negro League Election Committee, all posthumously.
Those gathered for the 2006 Induction ceremony didn’t get to hear from these men directly. There were no Cuban flags waving en masse for Méndez, Torriente, or Pompez. The 2006 ceremony was more solemn as the three Latino pioneers honored were long gone.
Thirteen years later it was quite a different scene in Cooperstown. The Latinos in the crowd rejoiced as Martinez and Rivera moved them in looking back on the baseball futures. Their emotional speeches thanked their families, their wives, and those who aided their careers from their childhood days. They expressed gratitude to their minor league coaches and teammates, and also their major league teammates and managers. Both took time to address their compatriots in Puerto Rico and Panama in Spanish as they lovingly spoke of their hometowns.
First or last year, unanimous or not, those things didn’t matter so much to those waving the flags of Panama and Puerto Rico. Rivera and Martinez might have had distinct experience with Hall of Fame voters: Rivera as the first ever unanimous selection of the writers, and Martinez elected in his last year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot. Together, the Latino duo made the kind of history on Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown that all Latinos could be proud.
Featured Image: Alex Trautwig / Major League Baseball