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America’s one-time favorite pastime, baseball, has reached its midway point as the 83rd All-Star game was played in Kansas City on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Baseball, is still recovering from the ominous images and stories of steroid abuse that plagued the game several years ago; and has left sports writers and avid fans debating whether the players involved truly have the credentials to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As the steroid scandal continues to smolder on the careers of many well-known players, the game has also had a legacy of colorful personalities both on and off the field. Many of these baseball icons have had a positive impact in their communities as well as representing the game with style and class. For those who have knowledge about the history of baseball, we also know that baseball players from various races, religions and ethnicities have contributed to improving our society, including those with Italian-American backgrounds.
One of baseball’s most intriguing personalities of today (and an Italian-American) is actually not a player but a manager. No, it is not Joe Girardi, Mike Scioscia or Bobby Valentine but Joe Maddon. Joe Maddon is the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and his paternal grandfather emigrated from Abruzzo, Italy to Hazelton, PA. His original surname was Maddonni but it was changed to Maddon.
Joe Maddon has been in baseball for several decades. He was a minor league catcher who never made it to the big leagues but, his astute knowledge of the game behind the plate allowed him to become a minor league manager and eventually a coach for the defunct California Angels and later a bench coach for the Los Angeles Angels until he signed a contract with Tampa Bay in 2005.
For those who do not know much about Joe Maddon, he is eccentric in that he is known to have various hairstyles including a Mohawk, stylish rimmed prescription glasses that appear to change every six months and to have an exotic wardrobe that includes: suits, blazers, shirts and pants all strewn with pastel colors. In addition, his unique managerial philosophy has been both lauded and criticized by baseball analysts even though his team is always in contention despite many Tampa Bay players opting for free agency and signing lucrative deals with other teams.
Yet what makes Joe Maddon even more exclusive and interesting as an Italian-American is the work he has conducted in his hometown of Hazelton, Pennsylvania. He has become an integral part of the community by leading an integration project for all groups, especially immigrants residing in this town of 25,000. Hazelton has been the center of attention for stricter illegal-immigration laws since two illegal immigrants were charged in a fatal shooting. This municipality is the East coast’s version of what Arizona is to the West coast regarding this serious issue that continues to divide Americans.
As the Supreme Court ruled last month on Arizona’s strict anti-immigration law, police can verify the immigration status of anyone as long as the authorities had “reasonable suspicion”, Joe Maddon along with other Hazelton leaders created the Integration Project (HIP), in 2011 to help develop and improve the hostile environment toward immigrants living in the town. The HIP project’s goal is to unify the varied cultures of Hazleton that have certainly been affected by the attention of illegal immigrants.
Through the HIP project, Joe Maddon has become the ambassador for bridging the gap between those whose grandparents came from Europe like Joe’s grandfather and those recent arrivals from Central and South America who are trying to pursue the American dream in Hazelton. At the same time, however, tensions continue to rise across the United States as a result of poor economic conditions as high unemployment rates soar. This is coupled with American citizens who are trying to get jobs but are bypassed by employers who are willing to hire illegal immigrants working for a much lower wage.
According to Associated Press reporter Kathy Matheson, “Hazleton's ordinance sought to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that employ them.” The adverse climate has already drawn parallels of the maltreatment of European and Asian immigrants during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century in the US. In the United States, at the time, nativists demanded that their political leaders passed legislation against immigrants. Similar to today, there were many egregious laws passed by Congress condemning the influx of immigrants especially after World War I, because of high unemployment rates and eventually a debilitating economic depression.
As a consequence, the Immigration Act of 1921 passed by the Legislative branch, supported by the Executive branch and not contested by the judicial branch, basically allowed Northern Europeans to enter America more freely while targeting Southern Europeans who looked and sounded very different. The prejudice and injustice bestowed upon these immigrant groups including Italian immigrants must be discussed today before we head down this precarious road again.
For this reason, it is invaluable and essential to recognize Joe Maddon’s efforts to reach out to the divided groups within his Hazelton community and not repeat an unpleasant chapter of American history.