There Is Still A Lot Of Mystery About The First-Ever Latino To Play In The MLB
When it comes to crossing racial barriers in baseball, Jackie Robinson is the first name that comes to mind for many. However, before there was Robinson, there was Luis “Lou” Manuel Castro, the first Latino player in baseball’s modern era and the first to play in Major League Baseball. While his name might not be in the same regard or even known to many like Robinson, Castro earned the important distinction.
But unlike Robinson, Castro’s playing career was short, only lasting 42 games for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1902 season where he batted for a .245 average. This might be why Castro isn’t as highly regarded or well known as the baseball Hall of Famer who broke baseball’s color line in 1947.
There might be another reason the name Lou Castro isn’t a household name. There are conflicting reports on where he was actually born.
There is some mystery when it comes to the legacy of Castro that many point to where he was really born. There are some reports that say Castro listed New York City as his birthplace later in his place but it’s widely agreed that he was born in 1876 in Medellin, Colombia. Castro would only stay in Colombia for eight years as his family and he would move to the U.S. due to the country’s political instability during that period. Castro’s family traveled by boat to the U.S. where they arrived in New York.
According to Nick Martinez, a baseball historian who studied Castro’s life, a list of passengers he researched shows that an 8-year-old Castro was indeed on the S.S. Colon, which arrived in New York City on October 16, 1885, supporting the case that he did arrive from Colombia.
During his teen years, Castro would pick up baseball and by the age of 17 years old, he joined the Manhattan College baseball team. He was known to have quite the sense of humor among teammates and garnered the nickname “Judge.” He’d continue his playing career across multiple minor league clubs before getting his big break at the major leagues. Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack got a good look at Castro and offered him a try-out that resulted in him joining the Philadelphia Athletics.
While his run as a major league player was short with the Athletics, Castro still made enough of an impact to say he contributed to the club clinching the 1902 American League pennant. According to Remezcla, the rookie was invited to be a part of the team’s year-end banquet where gave an acceptance speech on behalf of some fellow teammate. The celebration even resulted in him singing some songs in Spanish.
There is also the highly debated theory that Castro was somehow related to Venezuelan President Cipriano Castro.
The theories don’t just stop with this birthplace, Castro has been linked to being related to Venezuelan President Cipriano Castro. He has both claimed and denied being related to the infamous dictator. It was known that Castro frequently claimed to have been either the nephew or cousin (or even son) of Castro, who had prior family and business connections back in Castro’s home country of Colombia.
The legacy of Lou Castro might be a bit complicated but he led the way for other Latino ballplayers to break into the big leagues.
While his playing days were short, Castro’s baseball life continued as he became the first Latino to “manage a club in Organized Baseball” after he retired as a player. Castro would eventually die in New York at the age of 64 on Sept. 24, 1941.
While Castro’s career didn’t immediately lead to a burst of Latin players making their way to the big leagues, it would be another decade before Latino players started to make an impact on the field, he still paved a way for many Latinos to follow.
Iconic Latin stars like Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants respectively, would rise to fame in the late ’50s. In 2018, the number of Latino MLB players hit 31.9 percent, the highest in 20 years. The number is a testament to the ever-growing popularity of the game in Latin countries and the door that Castro opened back in 1902.
While his story might not be as well know as other baseball players, Lou Castro does have his place in history.
Specifically, Latino history.