Saturday, March 13, 2010

I don't eat negroes - Vic Power

"Pellot enters a whites-only restaurant in the south. Upon being told by the waitress that the restaurant didn't serve "Negroes", Pellot told the waitress not to worry, that he didn't eat "Negroes", he just wanted some rice and beans.

Pellot (birth name: Victor Felipe Pellot Pove), born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, was the second child in a family of six. Pellot showed an interest in baseball at a young age, however his father didn't want him to play baseball and would punish him if he caught him doing so. When he was 13 years old, his father died and it was only then that he was able to play the game he loved. His mother moved to the City of Caguas, there he attended and graduated from José Gautier Benítez High School. In 1946 he started to practice with a local baseball team called the Senadores de San Juan (San Juan Senators) and learned many of his baseball skills. He was later invited to play for the Criollos de Caguas, where he was spotted by a New York Yankees scout. In 1949, he left for the City of Chicago and went to play for a minor league team in Drummondville, Quebec.

He was signed by the Yankees in 1951, and sent to their Triple-A team in Syracuse, New York. In 1953, even though he was the minor league batting champion, he was not invited to spring training. Had the Yankees not picked Elston Howard over him, he would have most likely been the first black and Puerto Rican to have been a member of the Yankees.[3] Many blacks and Puerto Ricans protested in front of Yankee Stadium in response to what is believed to have been a racially motivated decision.[4]

Pellot's choice of name caused resentment and alienation, particularly in his home land of Puerto Rico. In a letter to historian Bill Haber in 1993, Pellot gave his real, full name as Victor Felipe Pellot Pove; Pove being his mother's maiden name and Pellot his father's surname (as is traditional in Hispanic culture; see Roberto Clemente Walker). However, when Maximina Pove was in the first grade, her teacher mistakenly corrected her last name, changing the "v" to a "w" and adding an "r" at the end.[2]

During Pellot's first two professional seasons, in the French-Canadian town of Drummondville, Quebec, Pellot went by his birth name, Victor Pellot. However, Pellot noticed that the mostly French-speaking crowd began to laugh whenever his name was announced. Initially, Pellot surmised that the crowd was laughing because he was black. This turned out to be incorrect, and Pellot soon learned that the real source of the laughter was not his race, but his last name: the similar-sounding word plotte is slang for "vagina" in the Quebec French.[3] In response, he played under the name of "Vic Power." He kept the name after getting promoted to the majors in United States, but retained "Pellot" when playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.[2] The circumstances behind the user of the "Pellot" and "Power" surnames were not known to most winter league fans at the time, and Pellot was occasionally accused of "selling out" to the culture and lifestyle of the US.
In 1954, he was recruited by the Philadelphia Athletics and thus became the first Puerto Rican to play for that team. Suffering from the racial discrimination which was rampant in the nation during that time, he could neither stay with the rest of the team at the same hotels nor be allowed to eat at the same restaurants as his white teammates. The Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955, where he finished in second place in the batting race that season. He is one of only five batters, through August 2009, to have hit both a leadoff and walkoff home run in the same game (having done so in 1957), the others being Billy Hamilton (1893), Darin Erstad (2000), Reed Johnson (2003), and Ian Kinsler (2009).[5]
In 1958, he was then sent to the Cleveland Indians. During his 12-season career, he played with the Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics (1954-58); Cleveland Indians (1958-61), Minnesota Twins (1962-64), Los Angeles Angels (1964), Philadelphia Phillies (1964) and California Angels (1965).

Before retiring, he won seven Gold Glove Awards (in consecutive seasons 1958-1964) and was a four time American League All-Star (Kansas City Athletics 1955 & 1956, Cleveland Indians 1959 & 1960). He was also voted the Minnesota Twins Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1962. He has the record of having made one or more assists in 16 consecutive games[6]. He shares the record of making two unassisted double plays in one game, and he is one of 11 players to steal home plate twice in one game, and he also shares the record of being assists leader for six years in a row and of double plays in a single game. Among his career totals are the following: 1,716 hits and 126 home runs, and he was only struck out 247 times out of 6,046 at bats.[7]

Pellot spent his retirement in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. The City built a ballpark, which he could see from the window of his apartment, and named it "Parque Victor Pellot" (Victor Pellot Park), after him. During the summers, he helped the youngsters of the community in their sports skills development. According to Pellot, young people would most likely stay away from trouble and have a better opportunity to enter college on sports scholarships if they practiced sports. Pellot also coached, and among his pupils, either as a coach or as an educator of the sport were future Major League Baseball players Roberto Alomar, José Oquendo, Jerry Morales, Willie Montañez and José Cruz.[citation needed] Pellot died on November 29, 2005 in San Juan, Puerto Rico from cancer at the age of 78.

Victor Pellot has been considered by many islanders to have been one of Puerto Rico's greatest baseball players and a legend. In 2005, he spoke about his baseball career in the American documentary Beisbol,[8] directed by Alan Swyer and narrated by Esai Morales, which covers the early influences and contributions of Hispanics to baseball. In 2000, the Cleveland Indians honored him by declaring him to be among its 100 all-time greatest players.
Pellot's unorthodox and often flashy approach to fielding first base proved over the years to be very influential. Although at the time he was often criticized by the press and his peers for fielding the ball using only one hand instead of two, this would later become his trademark move.[2] More importantly, it anticipated a change in how the position is played: nowadays, virtually all first basemen field the ball one-handed (this because it increases their reach and provides for greater flexibility).

Pellot is also remembered by baseball historians and fans for his sharp wit and dark, deadpan humor, a lot of which was directed at the racism and segregation he experienced during spring training in the southern United States. One of the more celebrated examples of his dark wit by which Pellot subverted the ugly rejection experienced through institutionalized racism, documented in David Maraniss's biography of Roberto Clemente, has Pellot entering a whites-only (segregated) restaurant in the south. Upon being told by the waitress that the restaurant didn't serve "Negroes", Pellot promptly told the waitress not to worry, that he didn't eat "Negroes", he just wanted some rice and beans. [9]

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