Lessons In Latin America: The Dominican Republic

An article by posted on January 19, 2014 0 Comments

 

The Dominican Republic is part of the new wave of American Baseball and the largest import of talent out of the Caribbean and Latin America. In 2007, there were 99 players from the Dominican Republic on 25-man rosters on opening day and in 2013, there were around 89. Either way, the Dominican Republic boasts the largest amount of players from a foreign country by far. Because of the Dominican Influx into the minor leagues, many Americans confused other types of Latino players with Dominicans. Every player known to them from Latin America was considered a “Dominican” instead of Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Venezuelan, or Colombian according to a minor leaguer’s autobiography “Odd Man Out”.

Just like Venezuela, Cuba is the root of how baseball came to be in the Dominican Republic. While the English came to the Dominican Republic and taught many players how to play Cricket in the mid 1800’s, Cubans escaped their home country during the 1870’s in the midst of the ten years of war that raged on from 1868 to 1878, and they brought baseball along with them. Historians dispute which city in the Dominican the game first started, but everyone is convinced that it came from the Cubans. Cubans came to both sides of the Island, with their business enterprises.

In Santo Domingo, iron-maker brothers Pedro Ignacio and Ubaldo Aloma created two baseball clubs called the Rojos and the Azules (reds and blues) in 1890. These teams didn’t carry many Dominicans to start out, but instead a lot of Americans and Cubans. Later on, not too many played in Santo Domingo, especially because it was considered a game for the rich.

On the other side of the Island was San Pedro De Macroís, which was a large sugar town. Cuban sugar makers came in and bought fields and factories and introduced Dominicans to baseball. With the influence being from Cuba, Dominicans working in various jobs played baseball on the side during their breaks and such to keep their minds diverted from the long and difficult work days. Many Dominicans worked in sugar cane fields, cutting long stalks down,and only receiving money for the rows of cane they cut down, not individual stalks. It was a long and difficult process for the workers each sugar season (season also known as the zafra).

Sugar worker’s diversions quickly changed from cricket, which came from English-speaking islands, to baseball. Mill towns and companies started to become teams, and sugar leagues sprouted up. In a time ravaged by malaria and mosquitoes, leprosy, and very difficult manual labor conditions, baseball was a prime time for many players in San Pedro. But while mills started playing exemplary baseball (according to local folklore), the red and blue squads in Santo Domingo turned into Ozama and Nuevo clubs in the early 1900’s. These teams were the start of a new Dominican League, boasting uniforms and schedules.

Soon after, Nuevo became so good (mostly because of one pitcher with an unbelievable curveball nicknamed Indio Bravo) that a group of Dominican players came together to beat Nuevo, called Licey. Licey became one of the biggest and best teams, but still couldn’t beat Indio Bravo or his curveball to say the least. But, after a dispute with his team, Indio Bravo switched from Nuevo to Licey, and then Nuevo’s team fell apart.

By the 1920’s new teams started to spring up, including Escogido, another Santo Domingo team, and Santiago made a team called the Sandinos (in 1928, and then later Aguilas Cibaenas), to protest American Rule, naming it after the Nicaraguan freedom fighter, Cesar Agosto Sandino. During that time, American armies had taken over most of the Caribbean, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Panama, so Latin resentment was high against the American occupants. Also added to their professional league was the Estrellas, from San Pedro De Macroís. These four teams gained so much money and fame that they started buying multiple new players for their teams from the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Negro leagues to compete for the crown.

Dictator Rafael Trujillo came to power in 1930, and became the infamous dictator of legend from 1930 to 1961 when an underground team that was funded by the CIA killed him. Like every other Dominican enterprise during that time, Trujillo wanted to control the profits of baseball. His brother owned Licey, and while Trujillo did not really care about the sport itself, he wanted to see his brother happy and since he renamed Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo, he condensed Licey and Escogido into the team “Ciudad Trujillo” and stocked it with the best players. In 1933, Trujillo bought Negro and Venezuelan League star Josh Gibson, as well as Cuban Star, Luis Tiant, (father of the legendary righthander, Luis Tiant Jr.), and Satchel Paige, the top right hander of the Negro Leagues.

To try to compete against Trujillo’s large bankroll, a judge named Federico Nina Santana gave money to San Pedro de Macroís. He didn’t care to lose money buying up players away from Ciudad Trujillo, and gave San Pedro a winning season in 1936. But when 1937 rolled around, every team in the league went broke. They bought up all the talent everywhere they could. To many, this was considered the best baseball in the world during that time period, better than anything the Major Leagues had to offer.

ozzie virgil

Ciudad Trujillo won in 1937, but the league became broke and dissolved until 1951 when they turned into a winter league, and like Mexico, tried to raid players from the American majors and bring professional baseball back to the Dominican Republic. Until then, it was only amateur teams playing, and the constant problems from the dictator, and no hope of players breaking into the Major Leagues because most of them had dark skin, until Minnie Minoso, and then Ozzie Virgil.

Ozvaldo “Ozzie” Virgil was a Dominican who moved to the Bronx and was discovered playing sandlot baseball in the Bronx. Alejandro Pompez, who owned two Negro League Franchises, became a scout for the Giants and found Virgil in the Bronx and brought him to the Major Leagues for the Giants.

While not many cared that he was Latino, they were more concerned about his skin color, and when he was traded to Detroit, that was the main focus. Detroit had never brought in a black player to that point, so instead of paving the way for Dominicans, it seemed as if Virgil was paving more of the way for Blacks, along with his Cuban predecessor, Minnie Minoso.

However small it seemed to be though, Juan Marichal, a now-Hall Of Fame pitcher, would not have considered even joining the major leagues had it not been for Ozzie Virgil. Even with Marichal’s endorsement, a large amount of present Dominican players do not know who Ozzie Virgil was, and what he had done for Domincan Baseball.

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About the Author ()

Teddy Klein is a Westchester Native, and New School Grad. He's a lifelong Mets fan with a background in minor league internships for scouting in both the Dominican Summer Leagues (08') and the Brooklyn Cyclones (10') with Cape Cod Baseball League sandwiched in between. Follow him on twitter @TK_MMO and feel free to leave questions below.