The influence of Latin Americans in major league baseball has never been more apparent. In 2018, Latinos accounted for nearly 30% of the 877 major league roster spots, plus there have been Hispanics who served as scouts, managers and even a team owner.
The passion of Latino players will be celebrated later this year in the Smithsonian’s exhibit, “¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues/En los barrios y las grandes ligas.”
The exhibit opens Oct. 9 and will be housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It’s a bilingual exhibit and will capture the excitement of baseball and how Latinos — and Latinas — have helped enrich American culture and society through their contributions to baseball.
More than 60 artifacts, including baseball cards, scrapbooks and programs will be available for fans to view.
The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) will bring traveling a version of “¡Pleibol!” to 15 cities through 2025.
That Latinos have been influential in baseball goes without saying. The first Latino to play major league baseball in the “modern” era was Luis “Lou” Castro, who debuted for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902. Roberto Clemente would be the first Latino to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, entering Cooperstown in 1973.
Others have followed Clemente to the Hall, including Rod Carew, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Luis Aparicio, Tony Perez and Mariano Rivera.
Martin Dihigo, Cristobal Torrient and Jose Mendez never played in the majors but was a star in the Negro Leagues.
Anthony Rendon, who starred in the 2019 World Series for the Washington Nationals, will be represented in the exhibit with a baseball card and jersey from his T-ball days with the YMCA Giants in Houston. Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, David Ortiz and Jose Altuve are other Latinos who have excelled during the 21st century.
These players have made their imprint on major league baseball, and “¡Pleibol!” will honor their achievements and showcase timeless memorabilia.
In addition to Rendon’s artifacts, the exhibit will include one of Clemente’s batting helmets, Pedro Martinez’s game-used jersey from his days with the New York Mets, and Colorado Rockies’ co-owner Linda Alvarez’s team jacket. Among the more interesting items is the childhood uniform worn by Marge Villa, one of the few Latinas to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1946 to 1950). Villa is part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s permanent “Women in Baseball” display.
“‘¡Pleibol!’ presents major league stories, but it is first and foremost rooted in communities and the reality of who was allowed to play ball and where,” said Margaret Salazar-Porzio, curator for the museum’s Division of Cultural and Community Life. “The story we tell shows how Latino communities played, celebrated and changed the game.”
Salazar-Porzio is right, as some of the exhibits will belong to players who are not household names. Handmade baseball equipment and community league jerseys will be part of the museum’s displays,
From 2015 to 2018, Smithsonian’s curators traveled around the country and worked with local partners to document — and more importantly, preserve — baseball stories from the Latino communities.
The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (the museum will be closed Christmas Day). Admission is free.