Several days ago I received, much to my surprise, a package in the mail from a good friend and fellow baseball aficionado, a number of Topps baseball cards. They were all Latino players – my favorites – ranging from 1957 to 1967. Of the 39 cards, I made note of one specific thing that always bothered me about Latino players of the era. Or rather, something about them.
A number of the ballplayers sported the nickname “Chico.” I always hated that. Not that anyone ever called me “Chico.” Maybe pain-in-the-ass, but never Chico. When I was a kid, NBC’s “Chico and the Man” was pretty popular. Freddie Prinze’s character, “Chico,” was a grown man. He was a New York Puerto Rican portraying a Chicano in East LA, and that bothered me, too.
At any rate, the set I was so generously gifted, here’s what I found (real name and country of birth is included):
1957 Chico Carrasquel Alfonso (Venezuela)
1959 Chico Fernández Humberto (Cuba)
1967 Chico Salmon Ruthford (Panama)
1967 Chico Ruiz Giraldo (Cuba)
In doing a quick search, I found that of all the ballplayers, there were 10 with the name, “Chico.” Aside from the four listed above, there was Chico Walker, who played a number of years with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, in the 1980s and 1990s as an outfielder and third baseman. Curiously, he was born in Mississippi as Cleotha Walker. Somewhere along the way, he picked up “Chico” as a nickname. I’m sure there’s a story there.
Chico Escarrega, born Ernesto, in Mexico, played a solo year with the Chicago White Sox as pitcher, going 1-3 and one save with an ERA of 3.67 over 38 games. Cuban Chico Hernández, who was born as Salvador, played a couple of seasons with the Cubs during World War II, as a catcher playing 90 games over the 1942 and 1943 seasons. His career in organized baseball was pretty unremarkable.
Chico García, a Mexican born Vinicio, played for only 39 games as a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1954 season. He had been drafted by the Orioles from Shreveport, in the 1953 rule 5 draft, according to baseball-reference.com. By the end of that season, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but appears to have left organized baseball.
Another Chico Fernández played during the 1968 season for the Orioles. Cuban Lorenzo Fernandez was an infielder, playing both shortstop and second base for a measly 11 games. He appears to have spotty record, being signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1958, then sent to the Milwaukee Braves in 1962, then back to the Tigers in 1963, and then the White Sox several months later. Prior to the start of the 1968 season, Fernandez was sent from the Southsiders to the Orioles. The Atlanta Braves fielded another Chico Ruiz, this one born, Manuel Ruiz, was born in Puerto Rico, and played a couple of seasons (1978 and 1980) playing second base, shortstop and third base for a total of 43 games with a .292 batting average.
For whatever reason, these players allowed themselves to be denigrated by the term, “Chico.” From my perspective, this rings as a means to keep Latino ballplayers in their place, by calling them “boy,” it minimizes their contributions and takes away from their given name, mocking their ethnicity along the way.
Speaking of which, you can’t utter “Chico” without thinking about the character, “Chico Escuela” played by Garrett Morris in NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the mid-1970s. While this is a parody of the perception of Latino players of the era, the character, as Adrian Burgos, Jr. points out in Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line (2007), “made comedic fodder of Latinos in the midst of as new wave of Latino players breaking into the major leagues.” Escuela’s catchphrase: “baysbol has been bery, bery good to me” has endured over the decades. Even repeated by Dominican Chicago Cubs slugger, Sammy Sosa during his hey-day.
I’m glad that there are no Latino players going by the name of “Chico.” Though, the era of baseball nicknames has seemed to have gone by the wayside, anyway. And, for the past few days I’ve sorted through my new stack of baseball cards, looking at the photos, flipping through the tidbits of information on back, thinking about the friend who was kind enough to send these things my way. ¡Mil gracias!