Here’s a story you will not find in my book: People laughed when the character Chico Esquela imitated a Latino baseball player on Saturday Night Live back in the seventies. Some thought my friend Felix Millan was the inspiration for the character played by Garrett Morris. Others thought it was someone else. We’ll probably never know for sure.
I asked Felix about it when we were writing his autobiography TOUGH GUY GENTLE HEART. He knew nothing about the character or even the popular television program. Even though he played for the Mets at that time, he just was not into American television.
He admitted that he hated it when people imitated a Spanish accent in a way that made Latinos look silly or stupid. Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente was another one who bristled when reporters spelled out his responses phonetically to imitate his accent.
While Felix knew nothing about the Saturday Night Live character, he told me the word “very” gave him the most trouble. No matter how deliberately he pronounced the “v,” reporters wrote it as a “b.” He would carefully enunciate each word when he said, “Baseball has been very good to me.” Invariably, his quote would be printed, “Beisbol ben berry good to me.”
With nearly one-third of Major League Baseball players today coming from Spanish-speaking countries, that practice is not as prevalent as it was several years ago, but my Latino friends and family members say it is still done.