Holiday shopping is underway, and if you are searching for a meaningful gift, consider the recently released book, “Mexican American Baseball in the San Fernando Valley.”
This Sunday, Dec. 13, the authors will be signing books at Barnes and Noble at the Americana Shopping Center in Glendale. With your purchase, a donation will be made to Morningside Elementary School.
The book — authored by Richard A. Santillan, Victoria C. Norton, Christopher Docter, Monica Ortez, and Richard Arroyo — is the first to document those who played on Mexican American men’s and women’s baseball teams and leagues in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, not only in the City of San Fernando but throughout the San Fernando Valley.
Docter, who loved baseball and was a CSUN history major, contacted long time historian Richard Santillan who had been involved in the Latino history baseball project and was the principal author producing this series of books. Docter also reached out to long time residents including members of the the San Fernando historical society, who then began the work to gather photos and identify the names of the players.
With Santillan and Docter, members of the community became co-authors of the book focusing on the city of San Fernando and the Valley, which is now the seventh book in this series.
Docter said with the vintage photos that documented baseball teams and leagues came great stories that also spoke of the accomplishments of individuals who often broke ground in professions that were previously closed to Mexican Americans.
“They would play in empty lots and clear them, and park their cars to form a ring around the field,” said Christopher Docter, who worked on the book as part of his masters thesis at California State University, Northridge. Each page is filled with photos that document teams going back to the 1900s that played the quintessential American sport.
“There are photos of the Prieto brothers who both went into law enforcement. There are photos of veterans who played on teams in the military in WWII,” Docter said.
San Fernando resident Richard Arroyo, a member of the local historical society helped in the gathering and research of the photos.
“All of the players that are in these series of books, and in the San Fernando Valley, should have been honored decades ago. Unfortunately that didn’t happen [for all those that have passed away],” Arroyo said. “But these books will be in national archives and in the national Library of Congress and local libraries.
“People who have seen the book for the first time are amazed and were unaware of this history unless they were connected by some of the families. Most people are unaware that some of the more senior players were playing baseball professionally, or were playing in Triple-A league teams, and they were recruited by scouts.”
Arroyo also points out the downside when contracts were withdrawn once it was learned the players were Mexican American.
“The books have a beautiful format,” said Santillan. “It provides the story of the local community and the state perspective, and it’s a learning experience for people to understand what was happening in their community, which spilled over to what was going on regionally and statewide in Mexican American communities in other areas like New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.”
The book gives a “holistic” look at the role baseball had and what people faced at the time and ties the past with the present. Page after page is filled with photos of baseball teams sponsored by local mom-and-pop businesses, churches and organizations.
“What many scholars are now taking a look at is the role that baseball played in the Mexican American community as it did for African Americans when we take a look at “Negro baseball” and the social, political power that baseball had that went beyond what went on in the diamond,” Santillan said.
“We are taking a look at issues of gender and our books now have 125 photos of Mexican American women’s teams dating back to 1915, the 20s and 30s.”
These makeshift baseball fields became a center not only for social life, but a gathering place when there was a need for organizing.
“Politicians would even give speeches before and after the games. There were announcements, including calls for boycotts of businesses that discriminated against Mexican Americans. They even registered people to vote,” Santillan said.
Everto Ruiz, professor of Chicano Studies at CSUN and lifelong resident of San Fernando, wrote the foreword of the book said, what would become San Fernando’s premiere baseball diamond, “sat alongside the very railroad tracks the literally separated the Mexican American barrio from the rest of the community.”
“While my hometown took decades to creep out of the practice of residential segregation and discrimination in the workplace, it was on the baseball diamond at San Fernando Recreation Park that Mexican American ballplayers could compete on a level playing field,” Ruiz said. “My father would go on Sunday afternoons to join friends, relatives and — on occasion — talent scouts from professional teams to watch his brother, uncles and neighbors play baseball.”
Victoria “Vickie” Norton, a former historical commissioner in the City of San Fernando, was a perfect fit for this project and is subsequently another co-author of this book. Her father and uncle “The Carrillo’s” had a barber shop on San Fernando Mission Boulevard In the Cityof San Fernando for fifty years.
“I was contacted because people knew that I had a lot of old photos,” said Norton, who is able to document her family history going back into the late 1800s.
“My grandfather, Edward E. Lyon, is the bat boy in a 1909 photo in the book. His family had been in San Fernando since the 1890s. Growing up, I had always seen old photos around and had always heard stories about the city and other parts of the Valley. My grandfather also had a brother who played baseball in the 1930s, and he on was one of the championship teams.”
Norton’s cousin Bill Miranda is on the cover of the book. “Miranda was my mother’s first cousin, and I had heard him always talk about baseball. One day I asked him if he had photos and he told me where I could find the photo album,” she said.
“When I brought the photos out, he would tell me how he was involved and how he traveled with the baseball team. I love history and I thought, ‘wow, this is really cool.’ As people look at the book, they will find out about ordinary people accomplishing and doing extraordinary things.”
For Norton, the significance of the book is that it is an important first.
“There isn’t much written about the Mexican American in the San Fernando Valley, and this is a great contribution to the history of the Mexican American in the Valley.
Seeing the stories her mother shared with her, now published and “what people accomplished in the barrio,” means so much to Norton.
“My mother told me that no one got left behind in these baseball games and my mother stressed that everyone got along. She said that baseball enabled people to branch out; however, there was still discrimination. Bill Miranda made it to one of these [minor] leagues in Texas and they thought he was Italian. After he made a comment that he missed his mother’s Mexican cooking, he was then quickly sent home.”
Norton shared that, over the years when her mother and family talked, she could recognize familiar names and locations in the conversation.
“You learned how much people contributed, baseball brought families and the community together,” Norton said. “Baseball helped to educate people who were picked up in teams in college.
“San Fernando Recreation Park used to actually be the training camp for one of the major league teams and there was scouting going on there. Some were able to advance themselves through baseball.”
It was a way for people, including women, to experience life outside of the area where they grew up, Norton said.
“I spoke to a woman named Dela Ortega before she passed away last year,” she said. “She was 91, and it was a big thing for women because they were able to travel and go to different places in the Valley, and even be able to talk to men which they might not have been allowed to do at home. Baseball really widened and enriched their lives.”
Norton pointed out that baseball in the City of San Fernando continues to be a highly valued sport, with generations of families who are not only loyal baseball fans, but still play in several leagues including church and park teams. “Families still play for Santa Rosa Church and Las Palmas Park,” she noted.
“I always told my mom that someday I would write about the family. It makes me feel so good to see our history in writing and all of these baseball teams just ties all of these stories together.”