Baseball’s leading trivia guru Peter Morris has come to the rescue and suggested firm evidence that the early 20th-century “cup-of-coffee” ballplayer known as Chick (Charles) Pedroes most likely WAS indeed born on the island of Cuba. Morris points to research done recently by Rich Malatzky of SABR which reveals that Pedroes (whose actual last name may have been PEDRO) was born on October 27, 1869, in Havana. The Chicago 1880 and 1890 census data lists Chick Pedroes as having moved to Chicago in 1871 (when less than two years old) and the 1900 census has his occupation as “ballplayer”. Thus all previous lists of Cuban ballplayers (including my own own in A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 and in Diamonds around the Globe: The Encyclopedia of International Baseball) have been in ever-so-slight error by not including Pedroes (debut in 1902) on the list between Esteban Bellan (debut 1871) and both Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans (debuts in 1911). The addition of Pedroes to the Cuban ballplayer list is an important (if not earthshaking) one and seemingly underscores my point in the earlier blog entry that this was probably more interesting informartion than Leonte Landino’s intended revelations about Jud Castro. Most Latino baseball scholars have long since included Castro on the list of Latin-born early 20th century big leaguers; more important, most of these scholars have long ago reached wide agreement that Esteban Bellan of Cuba (debut in the NA in 1871) was by any measure the first Latin American big leaguer. Bellan was a young adult and not an infant when he came to the US to attend Fordham (though he likely learned his baseball skills on the Fordham campus and not in the streets of Havana); and the National Association was the top American professional baseball circuit when he first joined it. The case for Steve Bellan as the first Latino big leaguer seems altogether untarnished.
But then what are we to do with the cases of earlier Latin-born (but US raised and trained) ballplayers Jud Castro (likely born in Colombia but arriving in the US when only eight) and Chick Pedroes (born in Havana of a Cuban father and American mother, but brougtht to Chicago when little more than a year old)? My contention is that both are best assigned to that beloved record-book category of the always-convenient asterisk. They are Latino pioneers only by special case: they are North American ballplayers who happen, by a quirk of fate, to have been born outside of American soil. None of their baseball talents, styles of play, or athletic heritage had anything whatsoever to do with their seemingly non-existent “Latino” heritage.
When we boast today of the impact of Dominican shortstops, Cuban hurlers or Venezuelan sluggers on the misnamed “American” national pastime we are talking about ballplayers (like Tony Fernandez, Orlando Hernandez, or Bobby Abreu) who were first inspired by the game on their own Caribbean native soil and later recruited by organized baseball to be part of the “internationalization” of major league baseball. It is quite a stretch to think of either Jose Canseco or Rafael Palmeiro (yes, born in Cuba, but wrenched from the island when less then two years old and thus products of a Miami baseball education, not a Cuban one) as truly “Cuban” ballplayers. Miami-Cuban or Cuban-American ballplayers, perhaps, but not Latin Americans in the same sense as the hundreds who now come annually to the US minors and majors hardly speaking a word of English and facing the hurdle of American fast food as well as big-league fastballs.
If we want to talk accurately about Latin Americans invading the majors then the history in the 20th century assuredly begins with Marsans and Almeida, recruited into the US first by barnstorming Negro league clubs and then signed up in 1911 by Clark Griffith to play for his NL Cincinnati Reds. To include every athlete born on Latin soil (but not raised there), or worse yet, all those whose parents or grandparents might boast a Cuban or Dominican heritage (as does Cesar Lopez in his Cuban player lists on www.cubanball.com) is merely to inflate the numbers only to satisfy an urge for boasting about one’s ethnic heritage. Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Luis Tiant all brought a Cuban baseball experience and a Cuban style of ballplaying to the majors, and therefore significantly impacked the sport’s international flavor. Ryan Freel or Brosnson Arroyo have not, and that likely should be our primary measuring stick.