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A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

July 14, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER

What: Latino Baseball magazine

Price: $15.50 for a one-year, four-issue subscription.

Latin Americans have become a force in professional baseball, with nearly one in five major leaguers calling that region home. Yet aside from the nightly highlights on ESPN, many Latin players receive little media attention in this country--and when they do, their stories are sometimes filtered through a lens clouded by cultural stereotypes and language differences.

That's a problem Ralph P. Paniagua Jr. apparently hoped to solve with Latino Baseball magazine, but it's one his publication falls woefully short of addressing.

The slick, 64-page bilingual quarterly, which began publication about six years ago, contains more full-color photos than an average issue of Sports Illustrated. But the writing is about as entertaining and insightful as your average junior high school newspaper. Rather than turning its Spanish-speaking staff loose, most of Latino Baseball's writers don't appear to have gotten any closer to the players than the team media guides. For instance a recent article on Cuban defector Rey Ordonez was full of unsubstantiated platitudes and quotes pirated from Baseball Weekly, but there was no mention of the wife and family Ordonez left behind in Havana or his difficulties starting a new life here.

Yet that looked like investigative reporting compared to the rest of the most recent issue: more than a half-dozen other short stories contained no quotes at all. It's hard to provide a well-rounded picture of a player if the player is never allowed to speak for himself--especially when you're limited to less than a dozen paragraphs.

At first glance, the magazine's salvation appeared to be the five pages of lists that purported to show the leading Latin American players in various statistical categories, as well as a roster of all Hispanics to have played in the majors. But even those proved a disappointment when a closer look showed that, of the six major leaguers listed as being from Spain, two were actually born in Tampa and one is from New York.

At a time when some of the sport's biggest superstars are as enigmatic to the general fan as the infield-fly rule, Latino Baseball has a niche all to itself. But rather than swinging for the fences, it appears content to go down meekly without even getting the bat off its shoulder.

For more information, call (212) 983-4444.

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