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Minaya Objects To 'Los Mets' Label… Sadness Over Dropping Baseball From Games

Minaya Objects To 'Los Mets' Label: True New Yorkers Care About Credentials, Not Race, The Baseball Team's General Manager Tells Adam Rubin In Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Adam Rubin
The New York Daily News

March 7, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Ottawa Citizen. All rights reserved.

Omar Minaya had dramatically altered the face of the New York Mets in one winter, from Al Leiter and John Franco to Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. As he did, the whispering began throughout New York about the ethnicity of Minaya's imports.

"Los Mets," became a phrase uttered often, albeit quietly, or anonymously on fan message boards, and it was even used in the clubhouse this spring.

Minaya, the Mets' Dominican-born general manager, finds the phrase objectionable.

"People who make those comments have a racial bent to their thinking," Minaya says. "When you hear that, you ask yourself, 'Do they make those comments when the staffs are all another race?' But look, when you are doing something that has never been done before, people are going to make comments. A lot of times it's part of being a minority."

Two years after Roberto Alomar lobbied the Mets to hire a liaison to Hispanic players because of a perceived lack of sensitivity, the organization has left little doubt about its commitment to diversity. The Mets have the only Hispanic general manager in the major leagues in the Queens-raised Minaya; a trusted deputy to Minaya in Puerto Rico-born Tony Bernazard; New York's first African-American manager in Willie Randolph; a major-league coaching staff that includes three minorities -- two born in Latin America -- and, according to the team, one of only two Spanish-speaking head trainers in baseball.

Two years after Alomar left, his father -- Sandy Alomar Sr. -- is the Mets' bench coach.

"It's always nice when you have a Latin guy that you know," says Roberto Alomar, a veteran second baseman now with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "It's nice to have him so you can talk some Spanish. At one time Rey Sanchez was the only one I think, and (Armando) Benitez."

Spanish isn't foreign in the Mets clubhouse any longer.

When a conditioning coach asked Venezuelan-born pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit to arrive at 7 a.m. in English, Dominican-born third-base coach Manny Acta added, "Entiendes?" ("You understand?")

Another day, Jose Reyes and reliever Bartolome Fortunato were among a group of Hispanic players huddled around the locker of Martinez, a fellow Dominican, as he regaled them with the tale of St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jeff Suppan striking him out looking in the World Series, and Manny Ramirez's reaction in the Boston Red Sox dugout afterward. Minaya walked by and joined the Spanish conversation.

"That's our personal side," Martinez says. "That's the human part of us. And a lot of people don't understand it. And they never see it, actually. I'm glad you guys got a little taste of it."

Says Minaya: "In this day and age, this conversation is being held in 30 clubhouses. The game is becoming so diverse. I was told by (Atlanta Braves general manager) John Schuerholz, 'Your players have to have trust in you as a front office.' To me, the 'trust work' becomes important. I feel as proud to be able to speak to the Spanish player as to be able to speak with an African-American player or to be able to speak with a kid from Atlanta, Georgia, or the Midwest. To me, that's very important as a general manager, to be able to communicate with all the people in your organization."

The rapidness of the Mets' transformation, coupled with the profile of the players involved in this winter's retooling -- Leiter, Franco, Mike Stanton and Vance Wilson out; Martinez, Beltran, Felix Heredia, Miguel Cairo and Andres Galarraga in -- may give a false impression of the Mets' clubhouse diversity relative to other clubs. An analysis of baseball's 40-man rosters shows the Mets rank tied for 10th of 30 teams in percentage of players born in Latin America (27.5 per cent) -- though it's worth noting that the team Minaya formerly led, the Montreal Expos-turned-Washington Nationals, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first at 37.5 per cent.

Throw in the non-roster invitees at Mets camp this year -- 11 of 27 are Latin American-born -- and one player labels the number of Hispanic players in the clubhouse as "very, very high."

Says Minaya: "To me, heritage does not come into play when you hire people. I think you look for the most qualified people."

As for his diverse coaching staff, Minaya says it was formed in a colorblind manner. Still, the general manager allows that the ability to communicate is one of his criteria in hiring.

"A large amount of the players are Hispanic," Minaya says. "You want to be able to have the communication skills. To me, hiring a coach starts with qualifications, experience and communicating skills. Those are the three components that are most important."

Of the 1,187 players on 40-man rosters when MLB completed its spring-training media guide, 830 were born in the U.S., 141 in the Dominican Republic, 78 in Venezuela, 39 in Puerto Rico, 21 in Mexico, 20 in Canada, 13 in Japan, 10 in Cuba, eight in South Korea, seven in Panama, six in Australia and 14 elsewhere. The percentage of non-U.S.-born players has been trending upward for a decade, from 19 per cent of Opening Day roster spots in 1997 to 27 per cent last season. MLB says it doesn't keep data on coaches by national origin.

"By us coming from the same type of environment, we have a way of knowing what's going on with them," Sandy Alomar Sr. says. "It's much easier for us to understand when there's something wrong with them than for the American guy that doesn't know the barrier or the culture."

Regardless, it seems reasonable to assume that the Mets would have pursued Martinez and Beltran -- the No. 1 starter and the top position player on the free-agent market -- even if they weren't Hispanic.

"I am proud to say I'm a New Yorker," Minaya says. "It just so happens that I'm an Hispanic New Yorker, but I'm a New Yorker. If you are a true New Yorker, you look at people's credentials. You don't look at their heritage or race."

Latin Big Leaguers

Percentage of Latin American-born players on major-league baseball 40-man rosters.

T1. Dodgers 37.5 per cent

T1. Nationals 37.5

3. Orioles 34.2

4. Phillies 32.5

5. Braves 32.4

T6. Angels 30.0

T6. Reds 30.0

8. Rangers 28.9

9. Yankees 28.2

T10. Diamondbacks 27.5

T10. Mets 27.5

T10. White Sox 27.5

27. Brewers 15.4

T30. Blue Jays 15.0

T30. Rockies 15.0

T30. Padres 15.0

Sadness Over Dropping Baseball From Games

July 8, 2005
Copyright © 2005
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- For many, baseball is life in the Caribbean and Latin America, a source of national pride in international competition. For the 2012 Olympics, they will have to live without their favorite sport.

The IOC decision to drop baseball and softball from the London Games left a trail of sadness, anger and resolution, extending from Puerto Rico to Cuba, from the Dominican Republic to Panama, where baseball reigns and is considered a ticket to Olympic competition.

''It was a shock,'' Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras, who played for Cuba in the 2000 Olympic Games, said through a translator. ''Not having the Olympics will be a big hit in Cuba and for the fans in Cuba.''

''That's the biggest stage they play on, they prepare for four years to play in one tournament. And that's like the World Series for people here,'' he said before Friday night's game against Oakland.

Baseball was a demonstration sport at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and gained medal status at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Puerto Rico won the bronze medal in 1988 and finished fifth in 1992.

''There are countries that don't have the opportunity to compete in other sports and play for medals, and in that sense the Latin American countries are the most affected'' by this decision, Puerto Rico Baseball Federation tournament director Julio Cora said.

Former Texas Rangers pitcher Edwin Correa, president of Puerto Rico's Baseball Academy, said baseball ''unites'' Latin American and the Caribbean, and its exclusion from the Olympics leaves a void in places with a long tradition in the game.

''I think they're being very unfair,'' he said.

Jose Manuel Correa managed the Puerto Rican team in both Olympics, and remembers the jubilation after winning the bronze medal in Seoul, where the United States finished first.

''It was the only medal out of the Puerto Rican delegation, and even though it was exhibition, we celebrated big-time,'' Correa recalled. ''I also remember the Americans, Tino (Martinez) and (Robin) Ventura, they also celebrated.''

''Now it's very frustrating, because all players aspire to the top, and the Olympics are the top, and they won't be there,'' he added.

Some, like Cuban Baseball Federation president Carlos Rodriguez and Panamanian Olympic Committee vice president Fernando Samaniego blamed the absence of major league players for the decision by the International Olympic Committee in Singapore.

''Those who bear most of the blame are the owners of the professional leagues who refuse to free up their ballplayers to compete,'' Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

Cuba is the undisputed heavyweight of international baseball, having won three of the four gold medals since 1992. The Cubans won gold last year in Athens, beating Australia in the final. Now the Cubans' focus is on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, perhaps their last chance to win a gold medal in the sport.

''I'm going to train even harder, do everything possible to make sure Cuba gets to the 2008 Games. That gold medal is more important than ever. We cannot lose it,'' said first baseman Alexander Mayerta of Havana's Industriales.

''The greatest pride is to be an Olympic champion,'' he added.

Contreras said he felt badly for young Cuban players.

''Especially some kid whose future was to be on the Cuban team in 2008 and his prospect was to go to the Olympics in 2012,'' he said. ''And for him to find out he's not going to be in the Olympics, as an athlete, you've been getting ready for that long. That'll hurt you.''

Samaniego said the vote by the IOC is reasonable because the ''major leagues do not come with their best players, and there is great difficulty in raising the level as in the case of basketball.''

Others, including Dominican Baseball Federation president Hector Pereyra and Mexican Olympic Committee president Felipe Munoz, prefer to work toward getting baseball back in the Olympics after London.

''This the moment to start the race to return to the Olympic stage in 2016,'' Pereyra said.

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