Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican pride and the Boston Red Sox have a first with Mel Almada being the first Mexican-born player in the majors.
The Boston Red Sox will celebrate in one way or another the Mexican holiday called Cinco de Mayo that is now an adopted drinking and partying excuse in the United States. The Mexican holiday is in honor of a battle won against French forces in Mexico in 1862 and on (surprise) May fifth. My assumption is this holiday has its American roots in California with a large Mexican population and capitalism – that probably has to do with promoting alcoholic beverages – most notably beer.
Mexico is a baseball hotbed and has long been a place where American players went in the winter to play or the Mexican League in the summer to make a living. The Mexican League drew large numbers of players from the Negro Leagues and also attempted to sign many Americans in the mid-1940’s when a wealthy Mexican industrialist named Jorge Pasqual attempted to sign disgruntled Americans to the league.
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Many players took the leap and were subsequently banned from Major League Baseball. A contract was even offered to Ted Williams, who declined. Most returned to the United States and were eventually allowed to resume their careers, including Sal Maglie, who was the pitching coach with the 1967 Red Sox.
Mexico is certainly churning out players that have done remarkably well in the United States, with the most notable being Fernando Valenzuela. Two of my favorites over the years were Bobby Avila and Aurelio Rodriguez. Baseball has a substantial number of Mexican players in the minors and majors, including Joakim Soria, for whom the Red Sox expressed an interest in for their bullpen.
When I think Mexican baseball, three names pop out and the first is an American, George Brunet, who twice led the National League in losses. Brunet was a lefty, who at age 38 packed it in and went to Mexico to play until he was 54-years-old and is a member of the Mexican League Hall of Fame. The league record books have Brunet prominently displayed.
The second player is Hector Espino, or “The Mexican Babe Ruth,” who retired with 484 career home runs. Espino was a powerful right-handed batter who played briefly in the American minors before returning to Mexico, where he won three Triple-Crowns. Back when the Mexican League was covered extensively by The Sporting News I would catch Espino’s name in the stats and became intrigued.
Lastly is an Angel, as in Angel Macias, who led Monterey, Mexico to the Little League championship in 1957 and tossed a perfect game in the process. Angel happened to be ambidextrous and noticed the other team was predominately right-handed, so he pitched right-handed. This also represented the first time a team outside the United States or Canada won the LL World Series.
The Red Sox have had a few Mexican players on their roster through the years, with the most recent being Alfredo Aceves, and that didn’t exactly work out as expected. Vicente Romo had a few seasons in Boston with moderate success and the Red Sox also recently had on their Pawtucket roster catcher Ali Solis, who is from Mexico. The most notable Mexican player in Red Sox annuals is Mel Almada.
Almada also has the distinction of being the first native Mexican to play in the Major Leagues and that career started with the Red Sox in 1933, but an asterisk can be attached to that statement – he may have been the second. – depending upon if you wish to debate native born and Mexican heritage. Personally – I will go with native born to Mexico, but Frank Arellanes also should be considered despite being born in the United States.
Arellanes, born in Santa Cruz, California of Mexican parents, also played entirely for Boston in his three-year career going 24-22, but leading the American League in saves (8) in 1909. So back to Almada.
Almada spent most of his youth in California, where he was raised, educated and became a hometown hero for the large Mexican population in Los Angeles, despite the fact that Almada played for Seattle and his loyal fans had a “Day” for their returning hero.
With Boston, the left-handed (both ways) Almada slashed .272/.336/.359 with six home runs and 102 RBI in 316 games spread over five seasons. Traded to Washington in 1937 Almada played a few more MLB seasons and finished up with a career average of .284 and played one season in the Mexican League before leaving baseball at age 28.
So Almada became a Boston and MLB first with his Mexican heritage – but possibly the greatest of all Mexican players was Williams who was half Mexican on his mother’s side.