They Might Be Gigantes—Latino Ballers Mum on Immigration

SAN FRANCSICO – Baseball’s Bruce Bochy, manager of the world-champion San Francisco Giants, uncovered a gaping hole in the modern American civic discourse when he defended his Dominican-born relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez against a racially and politically charged tweet from nationally syndicated sports broadcaster, Tony Bruno.

No one expects Latino baseball players to emulate Jackie Robinson -- who publicly expressed his views on the volatile civil rights issues of his time. Robinson was giant not just because of what he did on the field but what he stood for.  But the relative silence among ball players of Latin American decent on the current human-rights battle in the United States is untenable when immigrant rights have emerged as a critical flashpoint of the struggle for social justice in the United States and worldwide.

Bruno, in a tweet he says he almost immediately deleted, wrote that the Giants were "gutless" and Bochy a "coward for having his illegal-alien pitcher hit a guy." Bochy fired back calling Bruno’s tweet “racist.”

Bruno was referring to an incident during a Giants game with the Philadelphia Phillies. Ramirez hit a Phillies batter with a pitch during the 9-2 Phillies romp over the Giants. Ramirez’s pitch caused a benches-clearing brawl between the rival teams. The Giants took down the Phillies in the National League championship last year, punching their ticket to the World Series.

Many in progressive political circles lauded the Giants manager for standing up for his player and calling out Bruno for his ridiculous tweet.

What is interesting is that Ramirez himself had little to say about the brouhaha. According to “[Ramirez] has declined to discuss the brawl but said Sunday he is in the U.S. legally and wouldn't be able to work in the major leagues otherwise.”

Ramirez is quoted as saying, "Everyone says what they feel in their heart, but I feel that isn’t right.”

Bochy deserves some credit for calling Bruno out. Ramirez’s reaction, though, should give those who support the undocumented and identify with their struggle cause for pause, if not alarm.

Many believe that the immigrant-rights movement is the new front for civil-rights. They draw parallels between the plight of African Americans under Jim Crow apartheid and the undocumented immigrants living in America treated as legal and de facto inferiors.

Athletes in no small part embodied the mass movement of black people and our allies, who fought and defeated Jim Crow. Sports legends, such as Jackie Robinson, and the first wave of black pioneer players broke baseball’s color barrier in the 1940s, long before the political wins of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Baseball has led America to a greater understanding and tolerance of race and class and justice in this society and that it doesn’t do that now is perplexing to a student of the game and of racial politics in America.

Adrian Gonzalez, the slugging first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, is the leading hitter in majors this year. The son of Mexican parents, he grew up between Tijuana, Mexico, and Bonita, Calif. Gonzalez hails from a true baseball family with a brother in the majors and a father, who was a member of the Mexican national baseball team.

In 2010, Gonzalez caused a stir when he threatened to boycott the 2011 All-Star game to be played in Arizona. Arizona passed SB 1070, which – at the time – was the harshest legislation against undocumented people in this country.

Later in the year, Gonzalez was traded to the Red Sox and given a huge contract, seven-years for $154 million. He was also voted onto the American League (AL) All-Star Team. He led off scoring in the game by belting a home run in a losing effort for the AL.

That American League team started players with last names like Canó, Rodriguez, Bautista and Ortiz. The Giants' Bochy managed the winning National League team.

The same week Bruno wrote his unfortunate and revealing tweet an immigrant-rights march of hundreds crawled through San Francisco’s historically Latino Mission District. These kinds of demonstrations happen all of the time in this Sanctuary City by the Bay. Many of those folks had on Giants gear, requisite garb in a championship year.

Unless there is a real connection between the people on the street and the players on the field – maybe until a Latino Jackie Robinson steps up to home plate -- peoples’ fight for dignity will take that much longer. For African Americans, leading figures in sports and entertainment gave them heart, a sense of solidarity. Time will tell if Latinos can overcome their national, class and racial
hurdles to change the discussion in this country from one about legality to one of civil rights – and human values.

The Giants are hated on for many reasons: They represent a town that has weed stores, ID cards undocumented people can use, gays, Chinese, Filipinos and hippies. San Francisco is the town that produced Nancy Pelosi and Willie Brown, Ed Lee (the second Chinese American mayor of a major city), and it houses the spirits of writers from Alan Ginsberg to Herb Caen.

The Giants, too, are a true reflection of this city: Tim Lincecum – the unorthodox pitcher and mixed-race local dank smoker from Mendocino (the heart of California’s marijuana country), and the crazy-fabulous, over-the-top hurler, Brian Wilson, who loves to done his prodigious beard over a spandex faux tuxedos.

The team so interesting Showtime is running a reality series following them in their post-championship season.

This year, though, the G-men are struggling in a weak National League West, as the Arizona Diamondbacks stand in their way of getting to the 2011 post season -- and their chance to repeat as champs. This duel isn't exactly Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling in it's symbolic magnitude, but it's all we've got in 2011.

On Los Gigantes roster are names like Cabrera, Casilla, Lopez, Ramirez, Sandoval, Tejada, Torres – and three Sanchezes.

So in the absence of an individual major-league voice for reform (the MLB player’s association has come out against SB 1070), those who support and empathize with the undocumented community might root for the Giants to knock off the Diamondbacks and with them Arizona and the laws that state represents. True sports giants transcend the game and impact politics in this country, another pennant for my hometown San Francisco Giants over the D-Backs would be justice.