Mexican American baseball “tiros” and their legacy…
Historically, baseball has been very much a part of Mexican American life. In Arizona, the mining towns, which played a huge role in the state’s political and economic history, had a very lively baseball culture. According to Dr. Christine Marín, Arizona State University Professor Emerita and founder of the Chicano Research Collection Archives at ASU, “…sports defined the copper towns of Globe and Miami, Arizona, in the early 1930s to 1940s, especially Baseball.” That baseball culture also existed in other Arizona mining communities, such as Clifton, Morenci, Winkelman, Hayden, Superior, Sonora, Bisbee, and Douglas. All these communities had their baseball teams, or “tiros” (an extension of “tiro,” a group of harnessed animals, as in a team of horses working together). [In some places, games were known as “tiros” also.]
The tiros, organized into “ligas,” or leagues, were sponsored by local merchants and other organizations, such as the Miami Latin American Club, a Mexican American civil-rights organization. The copper mining companies sponsored tiros made up of their workers, with team names such as the “Miami Miners,” “Smelter Smoke Eaters,” “Concentrators,” and the “CIO’s: Congress of Industrial Organizations” (in those days, the miners were members of the CIO’s International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers).
Because small towns are like big barrios, virtually everyone had a friend, neighbor, or relative playing on one or another tiro, and baseball games were big community and family affairs. Families would go to the parks, or fields, and picnic and watch the games, and the children would have fun competing with each other to chase down the fouls balls. And because many of these towns were close to each other, even visiting teams had large fan contingents to cheer them on.
The mining-town tiros were a talented bunch. Dr. Marín, who is from Globe, reports that, “Several players in the Globe-Miami ‘ligas’ were exceptional athletes.” She names many, including her father, Lupe Trujillo Marín, and her uncles Mike and Frank “Kikes” Rentería. Marín asserts that in terms of talent, mining-town tiros were on par with the teams from Mexican cities such as Cananea and Juarez, against whom some of the mining-town tiros played. The mining-town tiros also were on par with the talent of the Arizona semi-pro teams in Phoenix and Tucson and the semi-pro team, the “Copper Kings,” in the border mining community of Bisbee-Douglas. In Bisbee the Copper Kings played their home games at Warren Ballpark, which was constructed in 1909 and is reportedly the oldest ballpark in the United States. An interesting side note: In 1958, all nine (9) players of the Copper Kings starting line-up hit a home run in the same game, a feat so far unmatched by any other professional team.
Community baseball: more than a recreational pastime…
Apart from the sport, the fun, and the family aspects, baseball and the tiros played a very important social role. In the1930s-1940s, the mining towns in Arizona were segregated. The Mexican Americans were relegated to certain areas of town, while the whites, including the mine’s management and supervisors, lived in another, “nicer” part. The mines paid a “Mexican” wage, in which Mexican Americans were paid less than whites for the same jobs. And in many communities, children of Mexican descent were allowed to swim in public pools only one day a week, after the white kids had used the pool for six days.
In the heyday of the tiros, the 1930s-1940s, the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW), which became the United Steelworkers (USW) was aggressively recruiting Mexican Americans—who made up the tiros in the mining towns—into its ranks, and the union fought to eliminate the “Mexican” wage, segregated housing policies and the policies that limited Mexican Americans’ access to public facilities.
Baseball and the tiros played a part in those dynamics. Marín writes that, “Baseball brought out the Anglos to cheer for their favorite teams, and sports helped to begin to knock down those difficult and dark days of racism and prejudice against the Mexicanos of Miami in the community’s early history.” But, Marín notes, “World War II decimated these baseball teams and the “ligas,” bringing to an end a great feeling of community in the copper towns of Globe and Miami.”
Los Chorizeros of East Los…
Mexican American baseball culture was not unique to Arizona. In “Los Chorizeros: The New York Yankees of East Los Angeles and the Reclaiming of Mexican American Baseball History” (The Society for American Baseball Research, The National Pastime, 2011), Professors Francisco E. Balderrama (California State University Los Angeles) and Richard A. Santillán (Professor Emeritus, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) note that, “Baseball has been a major presence in the lives of Mexican Americans since the early twentieth century.”
One of the ways Mexican American communities responded to racial intolerance and bigotry was by establishing their own baseball teams, leagues, and tournaments. Often denied access to municipal ball fields and parks, teams converted vacant or neglected city spaces into baseball fields. In their article, Balderrama-Santillan focus on one of these teams, East L.A.’s the Carmelita Provision Company’s “Los Chorizeros,” which were “Often referred to as the New York Yankees of East Los Angeles.”
In the early 1940s Mario López, who owned a service station, sponsored a formidable baseball team. When World War II broke out, many of the players went into the military, and community baseball took a hiatus. After the war, López, who was a co-owner of the Carmelita Provision Company, sponsored a local baseball team named after the company. One of Carmelita’s most popular items was chorizo (a spicy pork sausage), and after the Carmelita Provision Company team won its first community championship in 1948, one of the players jokingly nicknamed the team “Los Chorizeros” (the Sausage Makers). The name stuck and the team adopted a logo of a pig with a baseball cap holding a glove and bat.
Los Chorizeros won many city, county, community, and tournament championships and were an institution in East Los Angeles, providing entertainment and generating great pride for nearly 35 years, which Balderrama-Santillan report was “…an unprecedented number of years for any community team in the greater Los Angeles area and possibly in the United States.”
Peloteros and unionization and politics…
As was the case in Arizona’s mining towns, baseball was more than recreation for the Mexican American community of East Los Angeles. A byproduct of the Mexican American baseball culture—in the mining towns, East L.A. and elsewhere—was that the baseball field became a vehicle for political organizing in the cause of civil, labor, and human rights. Mexican American labor and political leaders attended the community baseball games, as did leaders of activist organizations, for the games provided a safe and convenient venue for discussing labor struggles, political matters, and strategies to confront racial discrimination.
Writing for LA’s public television station KCET (“Working to play, Playing to work: Mexican American Baseball and Labor in Southern California, Intersections, March 6, 2014), Library of Congress historian Ryan Reft notes that baseball’s ideals of fair play and team work actually “…encouraged worker solidarity, and ultimately promoted unionization among agricultural workers in San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.” Many Los Angeles “peloteros” (ballplayers) became labor leaders and organizers for local unions. Reft reports that the Corona Athletics’ field even served as a key site for organizing strikes. For example, on February 27, 1941, 800 striking citrus
workers gathered at the ballpark to plan picket lines and coordinate the strike.
Ironically, in “Peloteros in Paradise: Mexican American Baseball and Oppositional Politics In Southern California, 1930-1950” (The Western Historical Quarterly, January 1, 2003), historian José Alamillo reports that American companies, intending to curb inroads among immigrant workers by militant labor unions, subsidized sports teams to “foster company loyalty.” Instead, throughout Southern California, Mexican Americans “…used baseball clubs for cultural pride … and political opposition against company authority.” In the 1930s and 1940s community-based baseball was a vehicle for Mexican Americans “…to proclaim their equality through athletic competition, without fear of reprisal, and to publicly demonstrate community solidarity and strength.”
Indeed, baseball is a rich and colorful strand in the fabric of our community’s history and on many levels has been very beneficial to the Mexican American-Chicano community. As Saturday Night Live’s Chico Escuela (Garrett Morris) might put it—Baseball been berry berry good to us. c/s
My Thanks to Dr. Christine Marín for inspiring this blog and for her willingness to share her profound knowledge of Arizona history. I remain indebted to her.
Copyright 2015 by Salomon Baldenegro. Sal can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org Photo of Carmelita team and chorizo logo and Globe used under “fair use” proviso of the copyright law. All other photos are courtesy of Dr. Chrisitne Marin with great thanks.