Among the many subjects discussed at Friday night’s blog meet-up at Citizen’s Bank Park was the subject of race and the international integration of baseball.
One of the most appealing aspects of baseball, over all major U.S. sports, is how international the game has become. Without going into too much detail, I wanted to pass along two, must-read resources on the subject – a 2003 article written by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, and the book "Away Games" about the early career of Miguel Tejada playing in the Dominican Republic.
The Verducci article, titled "Blackout," focuses on the vanishing African-American baseball player. The piece was published using the emergence of young star Dontrelle Willis as a springboard, but players like Cliff Floyd and the Phillies' own Jimmy Rollins contribute heavily to the story, focusing on a diminishing black presence in profession baseball.
Be sure to read Rollins’ quote on how his friends in Oakland react to his choice of profession.
The second is a great book titled "Away Games" on the early life and career of Miguel Tejada, growing up dirt poor in the Dominican Republic. At age 17, he signed a contract with the A's for $2,000 and eventually worked his way through the farm system, eclipsing higher-touted prospects on his way to the majors. Today, he’s the best shortstop in baseball.
The book’s authors - Marcos Brenton and Jose Luis Villegas - show incredible foresight in spotlighting the budding star out of a list of hundreds. But the most fascinating part of "Away Games" details the practice of drafting Dominican players by the hundreds and filtering out the bad ones like a sieve. Most of the players never make it, not because of a lack of talent, but for lack of disciple playing the organized sport.
Still, teams like the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers have developed players this way for years, knowing the young men will jump at any opportunity to escape the island. The book also shows the downside of failure, taking the reader inside a Dominican ghetto right outside Yankee Stadium in the Bronx where former players still play sandlot ball.
This is a fascinating story, and like Tejada, a real sleeper.