¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues Part 3: Game Changer.

¡Pleibol! shares the experiences of Latinas and Latinos whose love for the game and incredible talent have changed baseball and transformed American culture forever.

By Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Tortilla Flats softball team (1973/1978) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

¡Pleibol! #3

This five-part series takes audiences on a journey into the heart of American baseball to understand how generations of Latinas/os have helped make the game what it is today.

Carmen Lujan on base (1936) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Throughout the last century, whether in urban barrios (Spanish-speaking enclaves), rural areas, or the big leagues, baseball and identity went hand in hand as the game became a place for men and women to express cultural traditions.

Linda Alvarado - Hispanic Magazine Cover (1994-04) by Hispanic MagazineSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Today, players, owners, fans, and teams continue to simultaneously change the game and express their identities. 

Garvey Stars baseball team Enlarged (1939) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Women played significant roles throughout this history—they formed their own leagues and cheered on family members, supporting and transforming the game.

Clemente at Bat (around 1967)Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

The Great One: Roberto Clemente

Baseball fans celebrate Roberto Clemente as “The Great One.” Family members called him “Momen.” His accomplishments in the sport, hard work, fierce pride, and resilience in the face of racism and discrimination won him the admiration of countless fans in the United States and across Latin America.

Clemente’s death in a plane crash, while carrying supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on December 31, 1972, shocked fans across the globe. His sudden death added mythology to the legacy Clemente had already built through his performance as a player and his leadership and philanthropy off the field. 

Roberto Clemente giving a tutorial (1962) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The arc of Clemente’s story is familiar to many Latinos: humble roots, immigrant aspirations, strong bonds to birthplace, and fighting for the dignity of all people. He went from a family of modest means in Carolina, Puerto Rico, to one of baseball’s biggest stars.

Roberto Clemente giving a tutorial to children in Carolina, Puerto Rico, 1962
- Courtesy of The Clemente Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

Roberto Clemente spent time during the off-season working with kids’ baseball teams in his hometown in Puerto Rico.

Roberto Clemente's contract in Puerto Rico (1952) by Liga Profesional de Baseball de Puerto RicoSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Clemente’s first professional contract was with the Cangrejeros for $40 a week.

Roberto Clemente’s Cangrejeros de Santurce contract, 1952–1953
- Courtesy of Kevin Marshall 

Clemente at Bat (around 1967)Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Roberto Clemente was an ultimate game-changer in Major League Baseball. In 1947 African American Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers dismantled the color line, opening the door for Latinos, regardless of skin color. A few years later, Clemente’s stellar play and outspokenness against racism and discrimination commanded national and international attention.

Roberto Clemente's Pittsburg Pirates Batting Helmet (1960) by American Baseball Cap Inc.Original Source: National Museum of American History

Roberto Clemente’s batting helmet, around 1960
Batting helmet worn by legendary Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente.
-National Museum of American History

Clemente at Bat (around 1967)Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

In an 18-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates begun in 1955, Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, four-time National League batting champion, and the 1966 National League Most Valuable Player.

Clemente San Juan Senadores Uniform (1972) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Roberto Clemente was committed to his communities in Puerto Rico and chose to play in the winter leagues on the island. He played for the Cangrejeros de Santurce and the Senadores de San Juan.

Roberto Clemente’s San Juan Senadores jersey, 1972
- Courtesy of The Clemente Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

This was the last jersey Clemente wore before his death on December 31, 1972.

Garvey Stars baseball team Enlarged (1939) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

Philip K. Wrigley, Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum mogul, began the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) at the onset of World War II. With most able men away at war, Wrigley wanted to keep baseball in the public eye. For a brief moment in American history, professional baseball was reimagined as a woman’s domain. 

Marge Villa baseball cardFrit (1995) by Larry Fritsch Cards LLCSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Eleven Latinas played in the AAGPBL (1943–1954), including Mexican American Margaret “Marge” Villa (later Cryan), from Montebello, California. These fair-skinned Latinas were able to pass as white in an era of de facto segregation and would become some of the few women ever to play baseball in the United States.

Garvey Stars baseball team Enlarged (1939) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Marge Villa Cryan

Marge Villa Cryan
In 1939, at age 13, Villa played for the East Los Angeles girls’ community team, the Garvey Stars. Over the next few years, she played for the semiprofessional Orange Lionettes team in Southern California and was signed to play in the AAGPBL in 1946.

Marge Villa (bottom row, center) with Garvey Stars team, 1939
- Courtesy of Marge “Poncho” Villa

Fluent in Spanish, Marge Villa served as her team’s interpreter on tours in Latin America. She also had parental support in pursuing a baseball career, which was uncommon in many American households at the time.

Marge Villa Cryan’s Garvey Stars girls’ uniform (1939) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Marge Villa Cryan’s Garvey Stars girls’ uniform, 1939
- Gift of Marge Villa Cryan and Renée Soderquist

Marge Villa played for Garvey when she was just 13 years old.

Marge Villa baseball cardFrit (1995) by Larry Fritsch Cards LLCSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Marge Villa baseball card for the AAGPBL’s Kenosha (Wisconsin) Comets, issued 1995
- National Museum of American History

This official AAGPBL baseball card details Villa’s statistics for her five-year career in the league.

Carmen Lujan with Cherokees Team (1950s) by SalazarSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Women's Barrio Teams

Mexican American women’s teams gained popularity during the 1930s, when Latinas/os were often segregated in schools, work, neighborhoods, and in sports and recreation. Because of this segregation, Latinas/os across the country carved out their own spaces to play baseball and softball, giving rise to barrio teams that played on makeshift community diamonds every weekend. 

Carmen Lujan’s Colton Mercury Señoritas uniform (1936) by UnknownOriginal Source: National Museum of American History

These teams formed networks for sports and cultural solidarity. In the Mexican American community, churches and small businesses sponsored barrio teams, making it possible for baseball and softball to flourish, and allowing women to participate. 

Carmen Lujan on base (1936) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

These teams provided a socially acceptable public venue for young Mexican American women to assert autonomy, athleticism, and cultural and ethnic pride while also challenging socially constructed notions of gender and femininity.

Carmen Lujan on base, 1936
- Courtesy of the Salazar Family

At the age of 12 or 13, Lujan began playing for the Colton Mercury Señoritas. For five years, she played second base for the Señoritas as they traveled to play other women’s barrio teams.

Carmen Lujan’s Colton Mercury Señoritas uniform (1936) by UnknownOriginal Source: National Museum of American History

Carmen Lujan’s Colton Mercury Señoritas uniform, 1936
- Gift of Mel Salazar and Virginia Alanis

The Colton Mercury Señoritas were sponsored by Norman’s Bakery, a local small business.

Carmen Lujan with Cherokees Team (1950s) by SalazarSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Carmen Lujan (top row, second from right) with Cherokees team, 1950s
- Courtesy of the Salazar family

During World War II, Lujan stepped away from softball while working as a Rosie the Riveter. Once the war was over, Lujan found joy in the game once again as she returned to playing with former teammates on the newly formed San Bernardino Cherokees women’s team.

Carmen Lujan’s Colton Mercury Señoritas uniform (1936) by UnknownOriginal Source: National Museum of American History

Look Closely

Who sponsors your sports team?

Sometimes Latinas/os earned money by playing baseball. More often, however, Latinas/os found ways to incorporate baseball into their work lives. Business sponsors provided funds for uniforms, field maintenance, equipment, travel, and encouraged participation.

Company teams became part of a long tradition of baseball clubs formed by blue collar and agricultural industries across the country. Baseball clubs provided camaraderie and freedom on the field, even if one’s everyday work experiences were oppressive.

Can you spot the name of  this team’s local sponsor?

Sport Illustrated Magazine (1984-08-30) by Meredith CorporationSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Women’s Softball

In 2004 Lisa Fernandez helped Team USA win the gold medal in softball during the Olympics in Athens, Greece. Although baseball is traditionally considered a male sport, women are trailblazing in multiple areas, changing the face of the game and highlighting softball as a major competitive sport.

Sports Illustrated, August 30, 2004, featuring the gold-medal-winning U.S. softball team

SIgned Olympic Softball (1984) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Ball signed by members of the 2004 Olympic softball team, including Lisa Fernandez, 2004

Linda Alvarado on the field (mid-1990s) by unknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Linda Alvarado

Linda Alvarado made Major League Baseball history in the 1990s. She was the first woman to ever win a bid on a team when she bought the Colorado Rockies, and in doing so became the MLB’s first Hispanic team owner. She is also part of a frequently unrecognized tradition of Latinas in baseball.

Latinas have tirelessly given their time, talents, and resources in support of the game and their communities. Women formed their own teams and leagues, sewed patches onto uniforms, cared for children while cooking and selling concessions, and often designed and created team uniforms.

Linda Alvarado with first baseman Andrés Galarraga, Coors Field, Denver, Colorado, mid-1990s
- Gift of Linda Alvarado

Colorado Rockies jacket (1993) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Linda Alvarado’s owner’s jacket, 1993
Gift of Linda Alvarado

The back features a purple and black baseball field with an early team logo in the center.

Linda Alvarado - Hispanic Magazine Cover (1994-04) by Hispanic MagazineSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Linda Alvarado’s role as a team owner demonstrates how Latinas are making their mark in baseball in extraordinary ways. Rain or shine and whenever she has the chance, Alvarado spends time talking with the players during warmups and batting practice at Coors Field.

Cover of Hispanic magazine, April 1993
- Gift of Linda Alvarado

Colorado Rockies MLB National League Championship ring (2007) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

This ring commemorates the Colorado Rockies’ National League Championship in 2007.

Championship ring, 2007
- Courtesy of Linda Alvarado

Forced Removal of the Arechiga Family (1959) by Los Angeles Herald Examiner PhotographerSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

When the Big Leagues Destroyed the Barrio

The land on which the Dodgers would build their new Los Angeles stadium was once the home of the Latino neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine. In the 1950s, Los Angeles officials forced the working-class homeowners out of their residences and off of their land using eminent domain.

Dodger Stadium under consruction (1959/1962) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

For this baseball-loving community, the game came to represent physical displacement: families were forced to move and make way for Dodger Stadium. This dark chapter in Los Angeles history is an important, complicated layer of the past that the uprooted residents will never forget.

Martinez Brothers (Around 1940s) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Before their neighborhoods were displaced, Latino youth of Chavez Ravine spent their days playing games, including baseball. 

Richard Martinez and brothers in Chavez Ravine, around 1940s
- Gift of Nadine Angele in honor of Robert Martinez


Richard (middle), Tony (right), and Robert (left) Martinez in their front yard in the Palo Verde neighborhood of Chavez Ravine.

Baseball letterman sweater (1940s) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

After leaving the neighborhood, Richard Martinez kept playing baseball and lettered for Lincoln High School. Now grown, the children of Chavez Ravine call themselves Los Desterrados, The Uprooted.

Baseball letterman jacket from Richard Martinez, former Chavez Ravine resident, around 1950s
- Gift of Nadine Angele in honor of Richard Martinez

Forced Removal of the Arechiga Family (1959) by Los Angeles Herald Examiner PhotographerSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies forcibly removed any remaining Mexican American families and their belongings from Chavez Ravine for the Dodgers to build a new stadium. From 1959 to 1962, construction leveled the neighborhood’s hills and homes.

In a two-hour melee, sheriff’s deputies carried Aurora Vargas from her home. Children wailed and Avrana Arechiga, the matriarch of the family, threw stones in resistance.

The Forced Removal of the Arechiga Family, Los Angeles, 1959
- Courtesy of Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

Dodger Stadium under consruction (1959/1962) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Dodger Stadium during the final stages of its construction, around 1961
- Courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

Jaime Jarrín at the broadcast booth (1959) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Legendary Ecuadorian sports broadcaster Jaime Jarrín has brought Dodger games into Spanish-language homes since 1959. In the 1980s, many Latinas/os, including those displaced from Chavez Ravine, listened to Jarrín call Mexican superstar Fernando Valenzuela’s games.

Together, Jarrín and Valenzuela became baseball legends, symbolically reclaiming Dodger Stadium as a Latino space.

Jaime Jarrín at the broadcast booth, Los Angeles, California, 1959
Jaime Jarrín, shown here at the L.A. Coliseum during the Dodgers' inaugural season in Los Angeles, became the Spanish-language voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959.
- Courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers

Jaime Jarrín’s Foreign Language Sports Broadcaster of the Year award (2009) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Jaime Jarrín’s Foreign Language Sports Broadcaster of the Year award, 2009
- Gift of Jaime Jarrín

Jaime Jarrín is the longest-serving Spanish language broadcaster and a Ford C. Frick Award winner honored in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Fernando Valenzuela baseball card (1980/1991) by Upper Deck CompanySmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Fernando Valenzuela’s surging popularity was quickly dubbed “Fernandomania.”No one could have predicted Fernandomania. Everywhere Fernando Valenzuela went in Los Angeles, pandemonium engulfed the beloved pitcher. According to Jaime Jarrín, only around 10 percent of fans at Dodger Stadium were Latino before Valenzuela—today it is nearly half. 

Fernando Valenzuela baseball card, 1991
- Gift of Randall Martinez

Hailing from rural Sonora, Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela became the first to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season in 1981.

Ball signed by Fernando Valenzuela (1991) by RawlingsSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Fernando Valenzuela’s meteoric rise in American baseball history drew thousands of Latinas/os to Major League stadiums.

Ball signed by Fernando Valenzuela, 1991
- Gift of Randall Martinez

Credits: Story

This series of five stories is based on an exhibition that opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in July 2021. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum.

This exhibition received generous support from the Cordoba Corporation and Linda Alvarado, with federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

The traveling exhibition was organized by the National Museum of American History in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

Series Production Team
Margaret Salazar-Porzio
Exhibit Curator
Cultural and Community Life
National Museum of American History

Robin R. Morey
Curatorial Assistant
Cultural and Community Life
National Museum of American History

Marc Bretzfelder
Emerging Media Producer
Office of the Chief Information Officer

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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