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Hispanic Heritage Month: Roberto Clemente tops list of baseball’s legendary Latino faces



The Latino presence in professional baseball has grown to become an integral part of the game ever since Lou Castro donned a Philadelphia Athletics cap at the outset of the 20th century. Still, its history is usually broken down into two parts: before Roberto Clemente and after.

For players who came before or have come since, the criteria for being considered the Latino standard-bearer for any particular era is not as simple as it was for Clemente, a proud and vigorous guardian of his roots. Some weren’t so quick to embrace their heritage. Others still weren’t allowed into the highest levels of baseball simply because their skin tone was of a darker hue.

In putting together a list of historic Latino faces of baseball to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, a panel of ESPN editors first pared down a list of dozens of candidates, considered legacies and arrived at 15 icons. They include the incomparable Clemente, four exceptional stars who transcend eras and 10 others broken down by decade. Tough calls were made regarding legends who didn’t make the cut. Minnie Minoso, for example, braved a lot of the blows before the Latino boom and paved the way for others to thrive but couldn’t break through against stars who shined brighter. Some who made the cut without a Hall of Fame résumé were nevertheless included because of what they meant to their home countries.

Not included are the game’s current young faces expected to light up the new decade — a group of four to be revealed next week that will be whittled to one winner. To determine those candidates, ESPN Deportes and FiveThirtyEight consulted with ESPN talent, considered factors such as stats and social media presence, and asked fans to weigh in.

Without further ado, we present 15 legendary faces synonymous with béisbol:

The heart and soul

Also considered: None

Roberto Clemente

Played: 1955-72

Country of origin: Puerto Rico

Notable: MVP of the 1971 World Series, in which he hit .414 with two home runs

On the map: The Latino boom in baseball would have happened without Pittsburgh Pirates legend Clemente — a five-tool player — but today’s game would have looked much different, because Clemente wore Latin America’s heart on his sleeve, playing with an unbridled pride on his way to expedited entry into the Hall of Fame. Off the field, he displayed a passion to help the less fortunate — MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award is a testament to his competitive and humanitarian spirits. Almost 50 years after his death, Clemente continues to have an impact on Latin and Puerto Rican players such as St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. “It is an extraordinary honor and a source of great pride for all of us to have the opportunity to wear No. 21 to honor Roberto Clemente on this great day,” Molina told ESPN on the 19th edition of Roberto Clemente Day earlier this month. “For all us Latinos who have played Major League Baseball, and have had to deal with so many obstacles, difficulties and challenges, Clemente is the source of inspiration we need to move forward and pursue our dreams and be an example to others on and off the field.”

A league of their own

Also considered: Minnie Minoso

Four Latino ballplayers who made an impact culturally and on the diamond:

Fernando Valenzuela

Played: 1980-97

Country of origin: Mexico

Notable: 1981 Cy Young and Rookie of the Year winner in NL

On the map: The left-handed teenager with the quirky windup arrived in Hollywood and took the baseball world by storm as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, beginning with his Opening Day shutout against the Astros and ending with a World Series championship. The cultural phenomenon known as “Fernandomania” that followed gripped the country and especially Latinos in Los Angeles — a group that was displaced from their homes with the arrival of the Dodgers in 1958. Valenzuela’s 173 career wins are tops among pitchers from Mexico, where his significance cannot be overstated.

Pedro Martinez

Played: 1992-2009

Country of origin: Dominican Republic

Notable: Three-time Cy Young winner, 1999 NL pitching triple crown

On the map: Hall of Famer Martinez dominated on the mound as few have, and he did so at the height of the steroid era. The right-hander was the ace of any all-time Latino staff, his starts must-see affairs. He slung his arrows at the strike zone as well as at batters who dared intrude on his territory. Along the way, he helped end the Boston Red Sox‘s 86-year championship drought and served as a beacon for pitchers from Latin America.

Mariano Rivera

Played: 1995-2013

Country of origin: Panama

Notable: Career leader in saves with 652

On the map: The only ballplayer — Latino or otherwise — to be voted unanimously into the Hall of Fame. When the Sandman came into a save situation for the New York Yankees armed with his trademark cutter, it was lights out — about as close to automatic as there was in baseball. One of the key components of baseball’s last Yankees dynasty also overcame many of the language barriers that immigrants face in their quest to thrive in the United States. And thrive he did, with 13 All-Star appearances, a World Series MVP award and a reputation as the greatest closer of all time.

Alex Rodriguez

Played: 1996-2014

Country of origin: United States

Notable: Three-time MVP, 2009 World Series champion, 696 home runs

On the map: Rodriguez, who was born in New York to Dominican parents, turned the sports world on its ear by signing a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in the winter of 2000. The team was a cellar dweller during A-Rod’s three seasons in Arlington and never made much noise at the turnstiles, but he more than held up his end of the bargain with an average of 52 home runs per season and the 2003 MVP award, before he was shipped to the Yankees. Rodriguez, the highest-paid baseball player of all time to date, is also the highest-ranking Latino on the all-time home run list at 696. However, his 2009 admission of PED use while with the Rangers and subsequent 211-game suspension has burdened his legacy.

Through the decades

1920s: Martin Dihigo

Played: 1923-47

Country of origin: Cuba

Notable: Both a pitcher and an everyday player, Dihigo led leagues outside the majors in the categories of batting average, homers, doubles, wins, ERA, strikeouts and winning percentage

Also considered: Adolfo “Dolf” Luque

On the map: Dihigo’s Hall of Fame plaque lists his nickname as “El Maestro,” but his influence goes beyond his mastery of several positions, with a versatility and power that improved with each passing year. His command of English and knowledge of the game inevitably led to a path as a manager. Though never in the majors, he left his mark in the Negro Leagues, Mexico and Cuba, and is immortalized in halls of fame in the latter two as well.

1930s: Lefty Gomez

Played: 1930-43

Country of origin: United States

Notable: Five World Series rings, one for each of the fingers on his dominant left hand

Also considered: None

On the map: Gomez, who was born in California with Spanish and Portuguese roots, is the winning pitcher of record for the first All-Star Game in 1933. With the color line firmly in place during this period of baseball history, it is difficult to highlight notable Latinos. However, Gomez — a four-time 20-game winner and three-time strikeout king who shined on the biggest stages while with the Yankees — stands out as the dominant left-hander of the era regardless of heritage.

1940s: Hiram Bithorn

Played: 1942-43, 1946-47

Country of origin: Puerto Rico

Notable: 18-12 record with a 2.60 ERA and seven shutouts in 1943

Also considered: None

On the map: Puerto Ricans consider Bithorn’s major league debut as a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in April 1942 a deep source of pride, responsible for opening doors to generations of the island’s ballplayers. It is Bithorn’s name, rather than Roberto Clemente’s, that graces the name of Puerto Rico’s largest ballpark. Bithorn would peak in his sophomore season with 18 wins and a 2.60 ERA, then sat out the next two seasons because of military service. He returned to play in parts of the 1946 and ’47 major league seasons. Late in 1951, a police officer in Mexico shot Bithorn under mysterious circumstances. Bithorn subsequently died from injuries suffered in the shooting, with his legacy already cemented.

1950s: Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel

Played: 1950-59

Country of origin: Venezuela

Notable: Three straight All-Star Game appearances beginning in 1956

Also considered: Vic Power, Bobby Avila

On the map: Carrasquel’s third-place finish in the 1950 Rookie of the Year voting sparked a new focus on defensive talent from down south and a new appreciation of the Latin ballplayer. Considered the first in what would become a Venezuelan pipeline of shortstops, the Chicago White Sox‘s Carrasquel approached the position with a joy and showmanship that only added to his appeal.

1960s: Juan Marichal

Played: 1960-75

Country of origin: Dominican Republic

Notable: Winningest pitcher of the 1960s with 191 victories

Also considered: Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Oliva

On the map: The San Francisco Giants‘ intimidating Dominican right-hander, then 25, outlasted 42-year-old Warren Spahn in a 16-inning duel in 1963 widely considered the greatest game ever pitched — or “Juan Beats Spahn,” as the San Francisco Chronicle remembered in its headline. Marichal’s endurance that day announced the coming Latino presence on the mound with authority. The first native of the Dominican Republic to earn a spot in Cooperstown, Marichal was the face of the ’60s on the field as much as any Latino, even as he came of age alongside Roberto Clemente.

1970s: Rod Carew

Played: 1967-85

Country of origin: Panama

Notable: 1977 MVP named to 18 consecutive All-Star Games

Also considered: Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, Luis Tiant

On the map: With a discipline learned in the U.S. Marine Corp reserves, Carew hit .388 in 1977, at that point the highest average in a season since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, and the best all-time for a hitter of Latino heritage. Carew won the American League batting crown that now bears his name six times in the decade and seven times overall. He joined Roberto Clemente as a member of the 3,000-hit club in 1985.

1980s: Jose Canseco

Played: 1985-2001

Country of origin: Cuba

Notable: 1986 AL Rookie of the Year award followed by AL MVP two years later

Also considered: Pedro Guerrero, George Bell

On the map: With Valenzuela off the board and in his own category, the Havana-born Canseco put his stamp on the latter part of the decade with an unprecedented blend of power and speed that in 1988 led to baseball’s first 40-40 season with the Oakland A’s. Most consider the Bash Brother’s legacy tainted because of claims in his autobiography, “Juiced,” that he introduced PEDs to baseball, but there is no denying that his star was among the brightest among Latinos — or any players — in the ’80s.

1990s: Sammy Sosa

Played: 1989-2007

Country of origin: Dominican Republic

Notable: 66 home runs in MVP 1998 season, followed by 63 the next year

Also considered: Juan Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Bernie Williams

On the map: Though it occurred at the turn of the century, Sosa secured his status when he waved an American flag during a home run trot in the aftermath of 9/11. Despite the cloud of suspicion PEDs cast over baseball, there is no denying that the 1998 home run race brought fans back to the game four years after a strike pulled the plug on the sport. In the center of it all was Sosa, the Dominican power hitter whose 66 home runs in 1998 with the Cubs bested his previous career high by 30.

2000s: David Ortiz

Played: 1997-2016

Country of origin: Dominican Republic

Notable: MVP of 2004 ALCS and 2013 World Series

Also considered: Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez

On the map: The hit that “put me on the map” gave birth to “Señor Octubre” on the way to breaking baseball’s most famous curse. Big Papi’s two-run, walk-off home run off the Yankees’ Paul Quantrill in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS was the spark that allowed the Red Sox to overcome a 0-3 series deficit and eventually crown them World Series champions for the first time in 86 years. What’s more, his postseason prowess has helped him strengthen the bond with his native Dominican Republic, where he remains bigger than life.

2010s: Miguel Cabrera

Played: 2003-present

Country of origin: Venezuela

Notable: 2003 World Series champion, AL MVP in 2012 and 2013, four-time batting champion

Also considered: Jose Altuve, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz

On the map: Cabrera became the first triple crown winner in 45 years in 2012, hitting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs with the Detroit Tigers. Since making his professional debut at 16 in his native Venezuela, Cabrera had emerged to become his generation’s most complete offensive player. He has also been involved in giving back to communities in Detroit and Miami, while ensuring that the Latin brotherhood in clubhouses remains intact.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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