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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.


I don't understand this post. How do George Steinbrenner and Drayton McClane owe an "ethical obligation" to prop up a failing business? And is there any end to this "ethical obligation," or are current (and future) MLB owners morally obligated to pour money endlessly down the (apparently) black hole that is Puerto Rican baseball?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/31/2007 4:07 PM  

Marc, Excelent Post!!!

I fully agree, there is an ethical obligation here. US Pro leagues love to snatch foreign talent (especially MLB and NHL), they (MLB) should do all they can to support these leagues, if not for the clear reason of supporting a league that produces great talent, then for the very reason of the production of future talent. There is more than enough money going around to spend some overseas to ensure foreing talent in our pro leagues.

Also, kudos for informing us on the PR league's involvement and history in breaking the race barrier in sports, I was unaware of this and I allways appreciate a bit of genuine sports history!

Blogger Jimmy H -- 8/31/2007 11:43 PM  

The Puerto Rican economy is in shambles. Even in the best of times it's a weak facade bankrolled by US taxpayers. People in Puerto Rico are not going to games, no matter how much money MLB may eventually shove into the league. And, yes, the young talent is in Arizona, Venezuela, the DR, and Mexico during the off-season

I lived there from 2001-2006 and found basketball and volleyball more popular (overall) than baseball. Yes, baseball's still popular and a great deal of talent comes off the island, but the Puerto Rican league of the 1950s and 1960s is long gone.


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