This year, nearly 30 percent of all players in Major League Baseball were born outside of the United States. Out of 868 players, 29.8 percent are foreign-born, the majority of them from countries in Latin America.
So, who was the first foreign-born Latino to play in the Major Leagues? The evidence points to Louis Castro, a Colombian-born pelotero who arrived to the United States in 1885, when he was just 8 years old. The son of a banker from Medellin, Colombia, Castro grew up in New York, where he played college ball at Manhattan College.
A second baseman and outfielder, Castro signed with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League in 1902 (the Athletics eventually moved to Kansas City in 1955, then Oakland in 1968). That’s him in the bottom row, far left:
CREDIT: Library of Congress
According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Castro was far from being the most talented player on the team (he batted .245), but was well regarded by teammates for his sense of humor and quick wit. Baseball writer Leonte Landino told Smithsonian Magazine that although Castro had darker skin than many of his teammates, he identified as white, which meant he didn’t face discrimination like black players of that era:
“Castro was a white player. Even though he was a Latino, he was white, and they didn’t have any problem with that.”
His stint with the Athletics only lasted 42 games, and by the following season, Castro was out of the league.
Years after Castro’s death, there were questions about where he was actually born. News articles from his playing days make it clear he was seen as a foreign-born player, but some people believed he was Venezuelan, not Colombian. As researchers continued to dig, they found a ship’s log and a financial assistance form the final years of Castro’s life which listed his place of birth as New York. Had Castro been lying the whole time? Probably not. Researchers believe Castro may have claimed American citizenship to avoid being deported or to help his chances at getting financial assistance.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, a biographer named Nick Martinez found a document that appeared to have the answer to the question of Castro’s birthplace. Martinez found a passenger list from the S.S. Colon, a ship that arrived in the United States in 1885. One of the passengers was an 8-year-old named Master Louis Castro and another person with the same last name listed as N. Castro. Martinez believes that name belongs to Louis’ father, Nestor Castro.
That would make Castro the first foreign-born Latino to play in the Major Leagues.
Although Castro made history decades ago, Colombian pelotero Orlando Cabrera told MLB.com in 2007 that most Colombians weren’t aware of him until recently: “Back home, I talk to players about him all the time. Nobody [back home] knew until the ’90s that he was from Colombia, that the first Latin player was from Colombia. They didn’t teach us about him in school or anything.”