The Republic of Baseball

Dominican Giants of the American Game

On September 23, 1956, Ozzie Virgil ran on to the field at the Polo Grounds and became the first Dominican to play in the major leagues. The press largely ignored the moment, but fifty years later, when this documentary debuted on PBS, nobody connected to the game could overlook the Dominican impact on major league baseball.

Over 700 Dominicans have played in the majors. This Caribbean nation of almost eleven million, which shares the island of Hispaniola with soccer-playing Haiti, now accounts for more than a tenth of all major leaguers and a third of all minor leaguers. Big Papi, A-Rod, Manny, and Pedro, who are known throughout baseball America, have made their nation the best source of talent in the game since integration.

The Republic of Baseball is the story of the pioneers who made it possible. Felipe Alou, Juan Marichal, Manuel Mota, and Felipe’s brothers Mateo and Jesus grew up during the reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, playing ball with homemade gloves and bats. But after Jackie Robinson leapt baseball’s color line in 1947, they became the first Dominicans to navigate the perilous currents of culture, curveballs, and race relations in the American South and then the major leagues. They did so with dignity and courage.

This documentary came about when Dan Manatt reached out after the 2000 presidential election. Dan had been part of the legal team attempting get all the ballots counted in Florida, which would have flipped the state to Al Gore and along with it, the presidency. In its aftermath, Dan spent time with his parents in the Dominican Republic, where his father Charles Manatt was the U.S. ambassador. Smitten with the country, he read Tropic of Baseball and asked if I would collaborate with him on a documentary. Collaboration is essential on a project like this and not only makes the end product much better, it can become the basis of friendship. That friendship with Dan as well as with our talented editor Bret Granato, who later worked on the Academy Award winning O.J.: Made in America made this documentary especially fulfilling. So was having the chance to reconnect with Felipe Alou, Juan Marichal, and Manuel Mota.

Republic was shown nationally in the United States 2006 as part of Voces on PBS, a showcase of Latino Films. It was the closing selection at the 2006 Santo Domingo Global Film Festival with an audience that included President Leonel Fernández and a score of current and former players, and screened at film festivals and events in New York City, San Diego, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and the Dominican Republic.

Praise for Republic of Baseball

“A history lesson long overdue” - Entertainment Weekly “Stunning...”

— Robert Siegal, NPR

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Films by Rob Ruck