The Tampa Bay Rays made baseball history in Toronto on Thursday by playing MLB’s first-ever all-Latino lineup in a matinee game against the Blue Jays.
In addition, the momentous occasion came on the 21st annual Roberto Clemente Day, which celebrates the life of the Puerto Rican hero and Pittsburgh Pirates legend, who tragically died in a plane crash half a century ago.
Rays’ lineup on Thursday included Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena from Cuba, Wander Franco from the Dominican Republic, Manuel Margot and Jose Siri, Harold Ramirez from Colombia, David Peralta and Rene Pinto from Venezuela and Isaac Paredes from Mexico.
While Tampa’s lineup was all-Latin, their battery pitcher included and Baltimore-born Shane McClanahan.
Diaz celebrated the opportunity with a homerun in the second inning, while his compatriot Arozarena doubled in the frame. Tampa led 4-0 after two innings.
Rays’ lineup on Thursday included Yandy Diaz (pictured) and Randy Arozarena from Cuba, Wander Franco from the Dominican Republic, Manuel Margot and Jose Siri, Harold Ramirez from Colombia, David Peralta and Rene Pinto from Venezuela and Isaac Paredes from Mexico
Yandy Diaz homers in the second inning, hitting Clemente’s famous number 21 . wear
While Tampa’s lineup was all Latino, their battery pitcher included Baltimore-born Shane McClanahan (pictured)
The momentous occasion came on the 21st annual Roberto Clemente Day, which celebrates the life of the Puerto Rican hero and Pittsburgh Pirates legend (pictured), who was tragically killed in a plane crash half a century ago.
Clemente famously died in December 1972 when the plane he chartered to deliver emergency supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua crashed in the Caribbean. The Hall of Famer, who died with just 3,000 hits, was a member of the 1971 Pirates, which fielded baseball’s first-ever all-black-and-Latino lineup on September 1 of that season.
That Pirates team would defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series in October 1971.
The fact that all nine players—Clemente, Rennie Stennett, Gene Clines, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Jackie Hernandez, and Dock Ellis—were black or Hispanic didn’t occur to them until later.
Oliver has always thought it strange why it wasn’t as celebrated as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. But in recent years, he’s come to see it as a kind of compliment, a nod to the color-blind approach of Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh taking his job.
“We didn’t take the field, you know, to make history,” Oliver said Wednesday night in honor of the 50th anniversary of a 10-7 victory over Philadelphia. “But it turned out to be history. And what I love about it was that it proved the unity we had in our team and that we had a manager who really cared (not) about racing.”
Yandy Diaz celebrates his home run with teammates in the dugout against the Toronto Blue Jays in the second inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Center on September 15
Pittsburgh Pirates Al Oliver (center) is grabbed by teammates Willie Stargell (left) and Roberto Clemente (right) after his three-run homer that gave the Pirates a 9-5 win over the San Francisco Giants and National League Pennant
Oliver, a seven-time All-Star during his 18-year career, thinks the sea of black and brown faces with the gold “P” on their caps was simply the byproduct of General Manager Joe Brown’s approach to composing. of a team.
‘[He said] “What we did, we signed players because they can play, not the church they went to,” said Oliver, who played first that night. And every time I hear that quote, I laugh because it’s true. It doesn’t matter which church you go to, as long as you can hit a ball.”
Something that was never a problem before the Pittsburgh “Lumber Company” era. The win against Philadelphia that evening came on a scorching 18-5 that enabled the Pirates to win the NL East. Pittsburgh defeated San Francisco in four games in the NL Championship Series before recovering from a two game deficit to defeat strongly favored Baltimore in the World Series.
“You could never underestimate what we thought we could do as a team because we could beat anyone,” Cash said. “Baltimore beat everyone, but they didn’t beat us.”
Manny Sanguillen #35 of the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series Champion salutes the crowd after catching the first pitch from former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass #28 before the game against the Baltimore Orioles on June 21, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh
Not with Hall of Famers like Clemente in right field and Stargell in left field and Oliver usually in between. Tellingly, the one thing Oliver noticed about the lineup wasn’t the racial makeup, but his place in it: seventh.
“I thought I was a pretty good batter,” Oliver, a .303 lifelong batter, said with a laugh. “But when I looked at the map, I came in seventh and I said, ‘Hey, this must be a great team.’
It was. While Oliver remembers the day being greeted with a shrug of sorts, it has taken on new meaning for the grandfather of four over five decades.
“It’s important for (my children and grandchildren) to know that their people were part of baseball history,” he said. “I think that’s the key. You know, that’s something that can be passed on, something that can’t be taken away. And I just feel good that they are aware of that.’
Even if it’s a moment that might be hard to replicate. The surviving members of the 1971 team think a team is more likely to have an all-Latin lineup than one with only black and Latin players. Participation in black baseball has declined across the board and black players currently make up less than 10% of the major league rosters.
“African American kids are drawn to basketball, they’re drawn to football,” Oliver said. “And the reason they did that is because she’s the only thing they really see on TV, in commercials, all the football players and basketball players. But in baseball, you don’t see many baseball players advertising. And you know, as an African-American you tend to do things that resemble you.’
Former Pirates teammates Willie Stargell (right) and Manny Sanguillen (left)
It’s in stark contrast to how Oliver grew up in Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s, when he idolized Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson.
“I knew Clemente was playing, and… [Willie] Mays and [Hank] Aaron,” Oliver said. “We used to get their gum cards all the time. So we had something to watch that looked like us. And as long as we don’t come back to that, we might not see a mix of those kinds of players again.’
Anyway, Oliver and his teammates played a part for one night in something that has become much bigger than themselves. For 2 hours and 44 minutes in front of 11,278 fans, the Pirates became the ideal of what civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King preached.
“He was trying to explain to our society that good things can happen when we come together,” Oliver said. “And as a result, in September 1971, on the 1st, he proved that when we come together, good things can happen.”
It also brought the iconic Clemente’s career full circle. His son, Roberto Clemente Jr., said his father felt he represented all minorities when he broke through in the majors with Pittsburgh in 1955. In what became the penultimate season of his career, evidence of his influence stood beside him in the clubhouse and on the pitch.
“I know it was a special day to have all his brothers on that team that day,” said Clemente Jr. “And I knew it was a special moment because that meant (minority players) had arrived.”
Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the 1971 World Series champions, are honored at a pregame ceremony for the game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on July 17, 2021 in Pittsburgh