Richard Santillán poses for a portrait at a neighborhood baseball diamond in La Puente, CA. Santillán has dedicated much of his research as an academic to the role of Mexican-Americans in baseball.

Richard Santillán

The Mexican-American Baseball Chronicler

When Richard was a kid in the 1950s, he didn’t play baseball. But his Mexican immigrant father would take him “to as many games as he could” after the Dodgers came to LA. That would end up becoming the seed of Richard’s longterm passion and academic research interest: the Latino Baseball History Project, a collection of oral histories and family photos from throughout the East San Gabriel Valley and the Los Angeles area, as well as the Southwestern U.S., Texas, and beyond. The project documents the long and rich history of Mexican Americans in baseball, through the personal stories of the individuals and families who lived it. One key finding of his project is that the sport was not only a leisure activity, but it also played an important role in the evolution of Chicano empowerment in the 1960s and 70s. “Mexicans played other teams and would often speak to one another about the labor conditions and the need to strike. So baseball became an organizing tool,” he says. As the teams played against one another, they started making connections, and eventually those became mutual aid societies, and later, political organizations. Today, things are different; baseball is mainly recreational, and no longer a tool for advancing social justice. But in the diverse East San Gabriel Valley today, you’re likely to find Mexicans and Central Americans playing the sport alongside Chinese, Vietnamese and Polish Americans.