In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’re highlighting the history of Mexicans in Major League Baseball. Baseball has been a popular sport in Mexico for many generations. However, Mexicans have only been a part of MLB since 1933.
That was the year that Baldomero Melo “Mel” Almada became the first Mexican native major leaguer where he played center field for the Boston Red Sox. Sure, there were Mexican-Americans who had made their debut in the league, but none had been born and bred on Mexican soil until Almada. Unfortunately for Almada, his name was never well-recognized by the league until after he was done playing.
On September 8, 1933 at Boston’s Fenway Park, Baldomero “Mel” Almada made his major league debut, playing both games of a double header against Detroit.
Image: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection pic.twitter.com/SWowCPLv5X
— BosAfroAmericanNHS (@BOAFNPS) August 19, 2021
Things were a bit different for Fernando Valenzuela, born in Etchohuaquila, Sonora, Mexico, who was not only one of the most impactful players in Mexican history but in Major League Baseball entirely. In fact, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher was considered the best thing to happen to the league since Jackie Robinson.
The only MLB pitchers to strike out 38+ batters and allow <3 runs in their first 5 starts of a regular season:
Fernando Valenzuela, 1981
Shohei Ohtani, 2023 pic.twitter.com/upf5QgJLGS
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) April 23, 2023
He caught the country’s attention with his Opening Day start in 1981. He won his first eight games, pitching seven complete games with five shutouts. He made just two runs in 63 innings through that time and fans came in flocks to witness the “Fernandomania.”
For reference, the Dodgers averaged 42,523 fans per game in 1981. The Yankees came second at 31,654 fans a game. In his first debut, Valenzuela shutout the Astros in front of 50,511 fans and by his eighth start, there were 53,906 fans watching as Valenzuela tossed a complete game against the Expos.
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His rookie year ended with 11 complete games, eight shutouts, and an MLB-leading 180 strikeouts. He also became the only pitcher ever to win the Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year in the same season, topped off with a World Series title.
Once considered the best pitcher on the planet, Valenzuela single-handedly helped grow the game worldwide and naturally became a cultural icon and positively impacted views on immigration.
Congrats to Fernando on getting his #34 retired!
Fernando Valenzuela was once the best pitcher on the planet.
This is what the start of his career looked like. 😮
cc: @MLBONFOX @MLBNetwork @MLB @Dodgers pic.twitter.com/nVJLnv5Z7Q
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) February 4, 2023
His impact on baseball and culture as a whole was so big that Dodgers’ clubhouse manager Mitch Poole had no desire to let anyone else wear the No. 34 following Valenzuela’s departure from Los Angeles.
The Dodger’s rumors are true, after years of protecting his number and fans asking for it to be retired, nobody will ever wear it again since the team is set to retire Valenzuela’s jersey on August 11, 2023. The “Fernandomania” celebrations will go on for three whole days.
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A total of 140 Mexican-born players have made an appearance in MLB. Today, there are a total of 18 Mexican players active on MLB rosters and countless Mexican fans in the crowd or watching from their homes. That active player number has risen in comparison to 2019 when there were only eight active MLB players from Mexico.
With the help of the World Baseball Classic drawing more attention to Mexico, more baseball leagues forming in the country, and a special thanks to social media spreading MLB news and connecting fans, the number of baseball players from Mexico in the MLB and fans should only continue to grow.