Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have announced a new league: the Puerto Rico Summer League.
MLB.com quotes executive director of the MLBPA Tony Clark as saying, “Puerto Rico has produced some of the greatest players to have played our great game, and the creation of the new summer league honors previous generations of Puerto Rican Major Leaguers and provides a new path for future generations to follow.”
Two leagues, each with four teams, in the cities of Guaynabo and Mayaguez comprise the new league, which has a goal of developing young players.
Baseball was brought to Puerto Rico in the 19th century by Cubans and Puerto Ricans who encountered the game in the United States.
The first baseball clubs in Puerto Rico, Almendares Baseball Club (named after a Cuban ball club) owned by Francisco Alamo Armas and the Borinquen Baseball Club owned by Santos Filippi, were founded in 1897. When American troups arrived in Puerto Rico, soldiers were allowed to play against the local teams — and local newspapers were excited to report that the home teams were winning.
In 1938, the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League was formed. There were six teams: the San Juan Senators, the Mayaguez Indians, the Caguas Criollos, the Ponce Lions, the Humacao Oriental Grays and the Guayama Witch Doctors.The following year, two more teams were added: the Auguadilla Sharks and the Santurce Crabbers.
Soon the ball clubs of Puerto Rico were known for signing talented players from the U.S., including players from the American Negro League. After baseball was desegregated in the U.S., many big league players went to Puerto Rico for winter baseball.
Puerto Rican baseball went from strength to strength, and Puerto Rico has a long history of baseball greats:
- Hiram “Hi” Bithorn, the first Puerto Rican to play in a major league game, in 1942
- Luis Olmo, the first Puerto Rican to hit a World Series home run, in 1949
- Vic Power, four time All-Star in the 1950s
- Ivan Rodriguez, who became the youngest catcher in a major league game in 1991
- Orlando Cepeda, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999
- Roberto Clemente, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.
- Carlos Delgado, only the 15th player to hit four home runs in a single game
- Mike Lowell, 2007 World Series MVP
- Roberto-Alomar, with more Golden Gloves than any other second baseman, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011
- Carlos Beltran, considered one of the best all-around players in baseball today
The list could be much longer. Puerto Rico has sent 238 players to the big leagues — more than most of the states. In fact, 22 states have sent a larger number, but most — such as California and Texas — have much larger populations than Puerto Rico.
Columnist Ed Lucas said, “America is a melting pot, and nowhere is it truer than in baseball.” More than one quarter of U.S. baseball players are of Hispanic heritage, and many of them hail from Puerto Rico.