Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Friday, August 31, 2007
Saving the Puerto Rican League
Puerto Rican athletes play an important part in MLB tradition. Since the 1950s, more than 200 Puerto Ricans have earned spots on MLB rosters. The list extends from old-timers such as Roberto Clemente to today's stars, which include Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and the brothers Bengie, Jose and Yadier Molina.
As MLB has expanded its scouting into Puerto Rico, however, trouble ensued for the Puerto Rico Winter League, which after 69 seasons announced this month that it is shutting down operations.
Next week, MLB executives will meet with Puerto Rican League owners to discuss a bailout of their storied league. In my view, this bailout would not only be a kind gesture, but it also fulfills an ethical obligation, recognizing all that Puerto Rico has given back to baseball.
While most baseball fans know that the Puerto Rican League was the starting grounds for legends such as Clemente and Orlando Cepeda, few are aware that it is also the home of baseball's earliest racial integration. During an era in which MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was wielding his power to keep Blacks out of MLB, the Puerto Rican League welcomed with open arms African-American great Josh Gibson, who promptly in 1941-42 set the league's single-season batting average record with a .480 mark.
Back in December 2004, I had the chance to visit San Juan, PR and attend a game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium between the Santurce Crabbers and the Ponce Leones. During the game, I struck up a conversation with the owner of the Leones, in which it was revealed to me that the Puerto Rican League was in trouble. Despite the vibrancy of that day's crowd, the economics for Puerto Rican League baseball were no longer what they once had been. MLB's Arizona Fall League was now competing against the Puerto Rican Winter League for players, and unlike in the United States, Puerto Rican governments were not subsidizing new multi-million dollar stadiums.
MLB owners have enjoyed high double-digit return-on-investment for many years now, and they finally have the opportunity to show the world that they are not all Montgomery Burns. For all that Puerto Rico has given to MLB, hopefully MLB owners will save the Puerto Rican League without stripping away its dignity, independence or autonomy. If MLB decides to lend a hand, our national pastime will enjoy benefits that simply cannot be measured.