The story of a black Latino's rise and fall while reshaping America's favorite pastime.
Burgos (Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line, 2007) recounts the life of Alex Pompez, “the Harlem numbers king who became professional baseball's greatest importer of Latin American talent.” Though Pompez became well-known for his high-stakes gambling, he used his winnings to fund his passion, baseball. Ostensibly, the book is about baseball, though it soon becomes clear that it's actually a study in race relations. Burgos is at his best when he addresses the race issue, considering the surroundings and offering insight into mid-20th-century Harlem. The middle of the story drowns in Pompez’s legal woes (racketeering charges brought against him by an overzealous prosecutor with political ambitions), though after the trial, the narrative finally returns to its roots—the influx of foreign-born players whom Pompez ushered into the game. The story eventually expands to include Jackie Robinson's momentous integration to Major League Baseball, and the author notes how this progressive act prompted professional teams to sign Latino players as well. Burgos also explores integration’s negative effects, especially how Robinson's entrance into the Majors served as “the beginning of a massive talent drain from the Negro leagues into organized baseball.” The author writes that Pompez’s life story is “more than the redemption song of a criminal mastermind.” Instead, it “illustrates the promise of America and its lived contradictions during the twentieth century, especially when it comes to how the color line influenced just about every aspect of American life”—including the national pastime.
A scholarly approach to the refashioning of the Negro leagues and its effects on organized baseball.