Linked from the start
Throughout the history of the game, baseball and Mexico have almost always gone hand and hand. Some of the game’s top stars hail from our neighbors to the south and the Cardinals and Reds are set to square off in a series in Monterrey. The fruitful union between Mexico and Major League Baseball would be impossible if it wasn’t for Baldomero "Mel" Almada. Almada opened the door for future generations of Mexican stars to take the United States by storm.
Almada debuted with the Boston Red Sox in September of 1933, almost 14 years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Born in Huatabampo, Mexico in the year 1913, Almada’s great grandfather was famous silver mining patriarch Don José María Almada. That being the case, Almada’s father Baldomero Almada Sr. played a significant role in Mexican politics. At the dawn of the Mexican revolution, Almada Sr. was appointed the governor of Baja California by then-president Álvaro Obregón. The incumbent resisted this move and for safety, Almada Sr. requested to be appointed to the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles. Almada, then almost 2 years of age, accompanied his father along the way and after being born in Huatabampo, spent his childhood through adolescence in Los Angeles.
A Hot Start
An incredibly gifted athlete, Almada lettered in football, baseball and track. Following the footsteps of his older brother, he signed with the Seattle Indians in 1932. It was here that he took up right field and honed his defensive skills. In his second year with the Indians, Mel had an astounding 204 hits, garnering the attention of the Boston Red Sox. Mel got the call during a September doubleheader and on September 8th, 1933, Mel Almada became the first Mexican-born player to play Major League baseball. He finished the doubleheader with a walk and two hits.
An excellent defender, Almada began to grow in celebrity, heralded by Collier’s magazine as “Mexico’s extraordinary ambassador to baseball.” While he performed solid in Boston, it was after a trade to Washington in 1937 that Almada really began to come into his own. Future hall of Famer Bucky Harris served as his manager and advised Mel to change up his stance and use a heavier bat. The results were astounding with at one-point Almada went on a 29-game hitting streak, hitting in 54 of 56 games.
The Winds of Change
A slow start in 1938 resulted in Washington Trading Almada to the St. Louis Browns in 1938, where he once again found his groove, finishing the season batting .311. However, another slow start in 1939 saw the Browns sell Almada to the Brooklyn Dodgers, where his role was diminished to that of a pinch hitter. Before MLB’s age of expansion, when the 1940 season rolled around, there simply was not a spot for Almada on one of the 16 Major League Baseball rosters. He played a season for the Sacramento Solons in 1940 before retiring from American professional baseball.
Almada eventually went on to manage in the Mexican League and received the honor of being inducted into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Leaving a Legacy
While his numbers varied, the greatness of Almada came off the field. Sticking for years to come would be Almada's cheery smile and sensible locker room presence. Almada was the ultimate teammate. Never playing in the Majors after age 26, Almada took 1944-45 off to serve in World War II and paved the way for the likes of Fernando Valenzuela, Adrian Gonzalez, Yovani Gallardo and other Mexican stars. 124 Mexican players have made it to the major leagues since Almada debuted. His legacy is alive and well, with a total of 11 players accounting for spots on MLB opening day rosters in 2019.
Jacob Hales is a contributing writer for Vintage Sports who specializes in baseball.
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