Anchor Bay // 2005 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // October 3rd, 2006
How Latinos shaped America's pastime.
Documentary filmmaker Dan Klores, whose made the amazing documentary Ring of Fire, has returned to produce a documentary about the impact of baseball in Latin America, along with the Latin player's impact in previous and current incarnations.
Narrated by Marc Anthony (Big Night), the first thing that was a surprise when watching Viva Baseball to this baseball fan is when the appearance of Latin players started to occur, which was in the days before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Cuban and other Latino players enjoyed the barnstorming tours of major league baseball players in the '20s and '30s and took to the sport immediately, feeling that it was a more noble alternative to soccer, where one has to use their feet. It was also a pleasant alternative to the Spanish import, something that the Latinos could use to rebel against the Spanish influences they had while growing up.
However, segregation at the time was still a problem, so Latinos with light complexions were signed and allowed to play with the pros. Fortunately after Robinson's entry into the majors, players like Minnie Minoso and Orlando Cepeda found their way onto Major League rosters. But they were still persecuted for their color, and they also had a different stereotype slapped on them, the proverbial Latin athlete with a fiery temper. But when you are listening to your Mother doing a lot more with Army boots aside from wearing them, it's only natural that one would feel the tendency to debate a little bit. And when a Latin player managed to break out and achieve some level of success, the mainstream press always seemed to subtly hold the player down. Orestes Minoso became "Minnie," Roberto Clemente became "Bobby," all for the sake of giving a Latin player the Caucasian treatment to identify with the people paying the tickets. Such abuse and teasing culminated in a somewhat startling event between the San Francisco Giants' Juan Marichal and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Johnny Roseboro. After an emotionally intense series that found them jawing at each other constantly, Roseboro clipped Marichal along the side of the head with a thrown ball, and Marichal responded by thumping him over the head with a bat. The benches emptied and Marichal was suspended for nine games as a result.
Soon after the incident, while people seemed to have the preconceived notion of the latino athlete's "hot temper," the players continued to migrate to America to play baseball, and their talent and success gradually outweighed any impression fans could have. Players like Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda and Rod Carew found acceptance as equals in Major League Baseball's galaxy of stars, and Clemente singlehandedly helped expedite the acceptance with his sterling performance in the 1971 World Series. Sadly, Clemente died in a plane crash in 1972 while delivering humanitarian supplies to Nicaragua, stunning the sports community, but the Latino community most of all. Despite the setback, players like Fernando Valenzuela continued to help propel Latino players further into the baseball hierarchy, only to be replaced by larger stars like Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez and Miguel Tejada. Viva Baseball also helps show the final step of acceptance for some of the players, like the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies of Marichal, Perez and Cepeda, who had to wait a little bit longer than some of the other players, largely because of a jail sentence for drugs in the '70s.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the material in Viva Baseball. Minoso, Marichal, Perez and Cookie Rojas help provide some insight into the way they were treated in their era, while Valenzuela, Carew and pitcher Dennis Martinez recall how things were for them. Martinez' story is a little more poignant as he recounts the stress of playing while trying to find out where his family was in Nicaragua during the Sandinista uprising. Martinez succumbed to alcohol addiction but recovered soon after, and pitched a perfect game for the Montreal Expos, one of only a handful in the sport's century-plus years of existence.
For a former hard-core baseball fan, Viva Baseball gave me some things I had already known about some of the subjects in the feature, but it was also approached in a good manner to discuss the origins of the sport in the region, and provided me with some previously unknown trivia as to more origins and some history. Any new information is worth reviewing, and for those baseball fans out there who enjoy watching A-Rod, Big Papi or the rest, you should give Viva Baseball a viewing to get a larger appreciation for the types of sacrifices made and crosses to bear that some of these players made. The fact that some of them are in the same breath with the game's greatest players of all time makes their success all the more impressive. Casual sports fans will enjoy this as well.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Additional Interview Footage
* Major League Baseball
* Latino Players in MLB