A thorough look at baseball's Latin stars over the last 110 years or so, "Viva Baseball" is at its most fascinating as it digs through the 1940s and '50s to chronicle stories that were overshadowed by the Major Leagues' breaking of the race barrier.
A thorough look at baseball’s Latin stars over the last 110 years or so, “Viva Baseball” is at its most fascinating as it digs through the 1940s and ’50s to chronicle stories that were overshadowed by the Major Leagues’ breaking of the race barrier. Many of the players of the era are still around to recall stories of the legends before them, the effect of Jim Crow laws, the Mexican Leagues and the fleeting nature of “respect”; having modern-day stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Pedro Martinez say their game is a tribute to the past enhances the doc’s veracity.
At its heart, “Viva Baseball” is a story about overcoming obstacles, the most common of which have been institutional and financial. The players share tenacity and a belief that they can follow in the footsteps of idols. Poverty, whether in Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Mexico, plays a role in all of these stars’ lives regardless of the decade in which they played. Baseball is not about Little League or any sort of organization — it’s about learning to hit a wrapped up golf ball or a bean with a broom handle and then running from base to base made out of cowpies to score runs.
Filmmaker and professional publicist Dan Klores starts in Cuba in the 1860s and zips up to 1908, when the Cincinnati Reds were shut out for 25 innings by a Cuban pitcher during the team’s visit to the island nation. In 1914, Adolfo Luque became the first white Cuban to make it to the big leagues; his crassness and temper combined to make owners wary of bringing in Cubans no matter how talented they were between the lines.
“Viva” starts with the first Latin star, Orestes Minoso, who’s dubbed “Minnie” by the white media, and travels through the stories of Vic Power, Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, the Alous, Denny Martinez and Fernando Valenzuela. Clemente gets the most attention, and rightfully so; not only was he the greatest Latin player ever, he was outspoken at a time when the country was in turmoil and ballplayers bit their tongues when it came to anything except the game.
Time constraints — doc clocks in around 90 minutes — result in the story being told in a vacuum. The experiences and stories the players and a few PhDs relate are told from an isolated perspective. Achievements by Cepeda, Minoso, Marichal and Clemente aren’t stacked up against their peers — where they would shine considerably. By avoiding references to any statistics in general, some “Viva” chapters will leave all but the most enthusiastic fans wondering how some of these achievements stack up against non-Latins. Marichal, for example, should be known as the winningest pitcher of the 1960s and not just the guy who hit John Roseboro with a bat.