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A day without all-stars?

April 30, 2006|Dave Zirin | DAVE ZIRIN is the author of "What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States" and a columnist for Slam magazine.

MAY DAY 2006 is being called the "Great American Boycott" or "A Day Without Latinos."

Across the country, Latinos and their allies say they will neither work nor shop Monday to protest what they consider anti-immigrant legislation before Congress.

Although many industries and work sites may be affected, one multibillion-dollar enterprise would be crippled by such a boycott: Major League Baseball.

Of the top 10 hitters in the National League, six are from Latin America, including Albert Pujols, last year's most valuable player. In the American League, five of the top 10 are Latinos, including batting leader and 2003 MVP Miguel Tejada.

Latinos dominate the pantheon of the game's superstars like never before. Seven of the last 10 MVPs in the American League are Latinos.

The new reality was laid bare at this spring's World Baseball Classic: The U.S. team couldn't compete with its Latin American rivals, failing to even make it out of pool play.

The demographic shift in baseball players has helped save the sport by raising the level of playon the field. Currently, 36% of major league players were born in Latin America. According to ESPN Deportes, this number will reach 50% within the next 20 years. Almost one-third of all minor leaguers are from the Dominican Republic alone.

The growing Latino presence in Major League Baseball is a story of exploitation and opportunity. Club owners set up baseball academies in countries where future prospects can be signed in their early teens for pennies, then fired with little cost if they aren't good enough to play in the big leagues. As one player said to me, "The options in the Dominican Republic are jail, the army, the factory or baseball."

Many talented players make it to the U.S. and play minor league ball, then stay illegally if they're dropped from a team to chase the dream of a professional baseball career.

The outer boroughs of New York City are filled with semipro teams of men in their 30s still thirsting for that contract and hoping it comes before they are deported.

No major league player has come out publicly and said he would participate in "A Day Without Latinos." Doing so would be more than a mere act of solidarity. Despite the prominent role Latinos play on the field, only one (Arte Moreno) owns a team (the Los Angeles Angels), only one is a general manager and only a handful are managers.

Players routinely complain about being mocked by sportswriters because of their poor English. Moises Alou, who plays for the San Francisco Giants, said last year that, "in the minor leagues, people think all Dominicans, Mexicans and Venezuelans are dumb. You think if a guy doesn't speak English, it's because he's stupid. You go to the Dominican and try to have conversation in Spanish, and see how easy it is."

Fifteen games are scheduled Monday. Latinos could show how important they have become to the game by nursing that blister on their foot and staying home. No Pedro, no Manny, no Albert -- no baseball.

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