The Eastern Stars
Why does San Pedro de Macoris – a small town in the Dominican Republic – produce so many Major League Baseball players?
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He connects the increasing clout of Dominican baseball to the evolution of US baseball from the days of the Negro League to now, when the sport is color-neutral. Only 15 percent of the population of the Dominican Republic is white, and “Dominicans are not strangers to racism,” he writes. “The Dominican – in fact pan-Caribbean-obsession with the calibrating of racial differences is profoundly racist.” Among Kurlansky’s more interesting detours is a discussion of cocolos, darker-skinned immigrants to the Dominican Republic from more Francophile and Anglophile Caribbean islands. Resented by natives for horning in on their livelihood, they also “blackened” the country, leading dictator Rafael Trujillo to welcome Jews fleeing World War II Europe to counter that shading.Skip to next paragraph
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Color wasn’t the only barrier to Dominicans entering the major leagues. Other stereotypes figured, too, like that of the “hot blooded Latin.” Although the prototype was Adolfo Luque, a Cuban pitcher known for accidentally hitting Casey Stengel in the jaw, Juan Marichal put the Dominican stamp on the term in a 1965 brawl in which the San Francisco Giants’ pitcher hit Brooklyn Dodgers’ catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat. Marichal’s provenance – he was a favorite of Ramfis Trujillo, son of the dictator – didn’t enhance his reputation. Still, Marichal remains the only Dominican elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame – largely thanks to Roseboro, who had become his good friend.
“Eastern Stars” (the name of the ill-fated San Pedro team) breaks down the components of a Dominican’s baseball career, showing it’s a ticket to wealth, if not happiness. “The public likes to make heroes out of athletes, and in San Pedro, heroes who will make their poor town prosper at last,” Kurlansky writes. “But heroics is a lot to expect from someone snatched away without education at age sixteen and handed fame and wealth at a dizzying speed while living in a world of unworldly men devoted to playing a boy’s game.” Insightful words. But tracking a teenaged player on the ascent might have been more illuminating than recapitulating the careers of ones past their prime.