By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Red Sox’ first Latino superstar

In today’s Boston Globe, Keith O’Brien writes about the diminishing number of Latino players on the Red Sox — and compares the current team to the all- or mostly white teams of the past.

Point taken. But O’Brien steps in it when he refers to a “team whose stars typically looked like Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski” in describing those mostly white line-ups. The problem here is that Williams, as many knowledgeable fans know, was only the greatest Latino star in baseball history.

Williams’ mother, Micaela “May” Venzor, was the daughter of parents who were born in Mexico, Pablo Venzor and Natalia Hernández. In his 1969 autobiography, “My Turn at Bat,” Williams, who himself was born and grew up in San Diego, writes of his mother:

Her maiden name was Venzor, and she was part Mexican and part French, and that’s fate for you; if I had had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in Southern California.

May Venzor Williams was a volunteer for the Salvation Army, an avocation that kept her away from home most of the time, and about which her son complains bitterly in “My Turn at Bat.”

O’Brien’s mistake is not unusual. In 2005, the New York Times groused that Williams had been left off Major League Baseball’s list of “Latino Legends.” Williams’ Latino background is not well-known. But that makes it no less real.

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  1. tvoh

    I once commented on a post and was corrected in that William’s mom’s ancestry was Basque. That would make her hispanic, but not Latino.That was someone’s assertion, the truth of it I don’t know, nor do I care. I am happy to leave the constant need to get every nuance of race perfectly politically correct to Dan.

  2. Howard Owens

    FWIW: I grew up just blocks from the childhood home of Williams. I played almost all of my early ball on the fields of Hoover High School, where Williams first made a name for himself in San Diego. And even more worthless trivia: One of my brothers still holds one of the Track and Field records for Hoover … mainly, because they no longer run that particular event.

  3. Mike F

    Wow. Even without factual errors this story would be a joke. It’s a pathetic and disgraceful attempt to create a story where there isn’t one. Having four Latino stars is a significant difference than having two? (And referring to Cabrera as one of baseball’s biggest stars is ridiculous.) There might be a story here – that the city’s Latino community feels less connected to this team than to previous incarnations – but O’Brien attempts to frame the story as more than that. The entire section with Jed Hoyer makes it sound as if there is some debate as to whether or not the current Red Sox organization bases its signings and trades on race. In essence this story is an insinuation based on next to nothing. But maybe I’m being too cynical, maybe the story is just horribly written.

  4. krembo

    This article sets a really bad trend. A few years ago the Red Sox had three Jewish players on the roster (Gabe Kapler, Kevin Youkilis, and Adam Stern). Should anyone suggest that the Sox are shunning Jewish players just because they are down to just one?I certainly understand the point of pride in the Latin community but unless you have solid proof that there is a policy of not going after certain kinds of players…

  5. Dunwich

    Latin ballplayers are for all intents sold at action when they are 17yo. It’s a real gamble throwing big $$$ at a kid and his family who likely can’t speak english. But that’s how you procure Latin players unless you trade for them or get them at greatest cost, during Free Agency. Between undrafted free-agency –Latins–and the MLB draft, the Red Sox try to get the best value in their amatuer talent. If they can build a team around the fact that they’re bringing in a stud pitcher every year now, that’s fine with me. Even if he’s white.

  6. Don, American

    . . . and his ethnic background is important because. . . ? He was the greatest hitter of all time, even if he been born on Mars.

  7. Dot Lane

    and his ethnic background is important because?Ted answers it himself. “if I had had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days” How many Latino baseball stars were there in the 1940s and 1950s? How many were excluded by the color line? The whitewashing of Ted’s ancestry by the Globe provides a false comparison in the story.

  8. Steve

    Williams isn’t recognized as Latino by the Latino Baseball website, which only counts those players who were born in Latin America.I would disagree with Dot (and I guess with Williams himself) a bit here. Williams’s Latino heritage was not apparent in his looks or in his speech. Also, there were many Latinos in baseball throughout the 20th century from 1902 onward (as a perusal of the Latino Baseball site above will show). There were undoubtedly some who were excluded by virtue of skin color, but none come to mind. Anyone know if there were Latinos in the Negro leagues?But that site shows that the first Mexican-born player in MLB in fact played for the Boston Red Sox (Mel Almada, 1933, who played OF and 1B in his 7 yr MLB career with the Red Sox, Senators, Browns and Dodgers).

  9. Ani

    Does ethnic or racial identification have to be all or nothing? It sounds as if Williams’ being Latino was not self-evident to many people — which really does make his situation different from those of players who come across very clearly as Latino. A Latino “background” is different from a Latino daily life. Then the issue becomes what aspect of being Latino is significant in the context of playing baseball in this country.

  10. seagullnine

    I don’t think it’s fair to say he “stepped in it.” The line was “A team whose stars typically LOOKED like Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski, and were celebrated by fans who LOOKED the same”, and that underscores the larger issue here. Race in America has always revolved less around lineage (which can’t be seen) and more around skin color (which is immediately seen). Williams himself underscored this with that line about his mother’s name. His skin was white, but the racists in southern California associated Spanish surnames with darker skin and would have ostracized him had they thought he was a Venzor instead of a Williams. The mercurial term “Latino”, most broadly defined, can refer to anyone of Spanish-speaking descent. That would include a whole lot of white people, in Spain and elsewhere. Could a brown-skinned immigrant from Central America or the Caribbean have seen themselves in Ted Williams – lineage notwithstanding? Doubtful. But they can certainly see themselves in Manny, Papi, or several of the Mets. That’s the point O’Brien is making and he’s not wrong.That said, this line in the 7th graf is certainly perplexing: “Lugo? Jed Lowrie, an Oregon native, has filled in for him.” The presumption being that if he’s from Oregon, he must be white. There are several thousand residents of Portland alone who would scratch their heads over that one.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    I don’t think it’s fair to say he “stepped in it.” The line was “A team whose stars typically LOOKED like Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski, and were celebrated by fans who LOOKED the same”, and that underscores the larger issue here.And yet O’Brien cited Mike Lowell as a Latino now playing with the Red Sox, and properly so.Good grief, folks … I wrote this item because I thought it was an interesting little fact. I read “My Turn at Bat” when I was 12 or 13, and for some reason had always remembered Williams’ story about his mother. Lighten up. Not everything is political.

  12. mike_b1

    Wonder if anyone realizes Obama is half white.The GOP doesn’t, of course.

  13. Steve

    Mike, you find a good point in all of this – your race is determined not by yourself, but by how others see you. Williams was never seen as anything other than white, no matter what feeling he had for his mother and her family. Obama is black because that’s what other people see.Most people I know see Tiger Woods as black. Few see him as Asian-American.

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