As promised last week, I want to look more closely at issues in Venezuela, especially as they intersect with baseball. One of the basic ideas of Sport Sociology and Baseball Sociology is that sport is a microcosm of life – thus, sport can both reflect what’s going on in society as well as become a part of it. Baseball is no exception.
Part 1 of this series will provide a brief history of baseball in Venezuela; Part 2 will look at some of the recent political and economic issues in Venezuela; and Part 3 will bring us back to the current impact of those events on baseball. While I am not an expert on Venezuela or Venezuelan baseball, I can provide a brief overview of the issues to help us be better informed. I welcome comments from those who are experts in these issues.
According to Baseball Reference, baseball was introduced to Venezuela in the 1890s by Venezuelan students who had studied at U.S. colleges. Over the next few decades baseball grew in popularity and eventually professional teams developed. In 1927, the Federación Venezolana de Béisbol was founded, followed by the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in 1945. The first major leaguer from Venezuela was Alejandro Carrasquel, who debuted with the Washington Senators on April 23, 1939. Since then, more than 200 Venezuelans have played Major League Baseball. Luis Aparicio was the first Venezuelan to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Venezuela national baseball team participated in a variety of international events in the first half of the 20th century, making its first international appearance at the Central American Games in 1938 (where the took 4th place). Baseball became even more popular in Venezuela when it won the Amateur World Series (later called the Baseball World Cup) in 1941, after placing 4th in 1940. Between 1940 and 1970, Venezuela won a total of 9 medals at the World Cup: 3 gold, 2 silver, and 4 bronze. Venezuela also won gold at the 1954 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 1959 Pan American Games.
Venezuela won the Caribbean Series championship in 1970, after the competition was re-established (it has been dissolved in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution), and captured the championship six more times between 1979 and 2009. In 2009, Venezuela took third place at the World Baseball Classic.
In short, there is a rich baseball history in Venezuela, and Venezuelans love their national pastime. MLB loved Venezuelan baseball, too, at least until recently. Later this week, we’ll look at the economic and political situation in Venezuela…