Experts agree, if there is any way to unlock the immigration stalemate in Washington, Esther Olavarria (presently charged with finding a feasible compromise by the White House) and Rebecca Tallent (presently working as the top policy aide to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio) just might find it.
“They understand how this works,” Angela Kelley, a longtime immigration activist and friend of both women, told The New York Times. “They never deviated from standing by their boss. But they always treated each other with a lot of respect, and they never got to this point of personal breakdown where they couldn’t come back from it.”
Perhaps they might find inspiration in the American League. It was on this very day, 114 years ago, that the ragtag Western League was reborn as the American League (of Professional Baseball Clubs). The new league was the creation of Cincinnati news reporter Ban Johnson, who ruled as its president for more than a quarter century.
On opening day in 1901, the eight American League franchises consisted of the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Americans, Chicago White Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Athletics and the Washington Senators.
The Detroit Tigers were the only team left over from the minor Western League, and to this day remain the only team in either league to have held fast to their original team name and city.
Despite being denigrated as the “Junior Circuit” during its early years, the American League has burgeoned from a renegade baseball organization into an opponent worthy of doing battle with the National League. In fact, of the 109 World Series played since 1903, the American League has come out on top in the substantial majority of games — 63 to be exact.
Today, not only have we the American League to thank for breaking up a nasty monopoly (exclusively benefiting team owners in the National League), for making a larger-than-life icon out of Babe Ruth and for introducing the odious designated hitter rule, but also for a most positive transformation of America’s pastime by immigrants to this country.
In the first comprehensive study of baseball and immigration, Stuart Anderson and L. Brian Andrew of the National Foundation for American Policy concluded, “Americans have benefited from our nation’s openness toward skilled immigrant baseball players, just as the country has gained from the entry of other skilled foreign-born professionals.”
More than 23 percent of Major League Baseball players on active rosters in 2006 were, according to the study, foreign-born, the highest then in baseball history.
In the American League, seven of the top nine batting averages belonged to foreign-born players, while the leading home run hitter (David Ortiz) and the two leaders in runs batted in (Ortiz and Justin Morneau) were foreign-born.
Furthermore, foreign-born players accounted for 31 percent of the players selected for the 2006 All Star Game, higher than their proportion (23 percent) on major league active lists. Seven of the 16 starting position players at the 2006 All Star Game — some 44 percent — were also foreign-born.
Despite claims by anti-immigration proponents, increased competition from foreign-born players did not result in lower salaries for native ballplayers. Since 1990, average major league player salaries more than quadrupled from $578,930 to $2.87 million, while the proportion of foreign-born players in the league more than doubled (from 10 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 2006).
Furthermore, according to the study, a sustained or increased quality of play, to which foreign-born players have significantly contributed, may have helped boost revenues, as major league ballpark attendance rocketed from 54.8 million to 74.9 million between 1990 and 2005.
In both 2005 and 2007, Olavarria and Tallent spent months in grueling backroom deal-making sessions that came to naught. They repeatedly attempted to find consensus among lawmakers on such proposed overhauls as granting legal status to those already here, safeguarding the border and opening the door to more legal workers.
Their struggle to chart common ground was preserved for posterity in a series of documentary films called “How Democracy Works Now.” In fact, last year at the New York Film Festival, Olavarria and Tallent saw themselves fail up on the silver screen. Twice.
Even though their carefully crafted proposals succumbed to partisan bickering and entrenched special interests, the powers that be are again tasking them with exactly the same job.
Instead of forcing Olavarria and Tallent to pound out legislation that will ultimately expire, I have a better idea. Take the entire Congress to a Red Sox game. Give them the chance to see Papi Ortiz smack a homer. And then ask, “How can you vote against that?"