Esteban Bellán became first Latino to play pro baseball in 1871
By Jacob Fishbein
The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players came in 1871 – and is recognized by many as the first “major league.”
That year, Esteban Bellán became the first Latin player to appear in a big league game.
Esteban Enrique Bellán was born in Cuba in 1849 to an Irish mother and wealthy Cuban father. While he spent his first 13 years on the Caribbean Island, in 1863 he arrived in New York City with his brother Domingo when both were sent there by their parents. Upon his arrival in the United States, he was enrolled at Fordham University and spent five years at the school achieving a college sophomore education before leaving Fordham for the emerging sport of baseball. Bellán began playing baseball while in New York City and in 1866 he joined the Rose Hill College Club Team based at Fordham and played catcher and outfield on the team for two seasons.
Baseball, while invigorating Bellán’s life, also caused his grades to dip precipitously and it is noted by a member of Fordham University that while his grades retained a lofty level during his initial years at the school, baseball soon took over his attention and his academic goals fell to the wayside. Instead of finishing his degree at the university, he went on to play semi-professional baseball. Bellán joined the Unions of Morrissania in 1868 and played with them for that single year, winning a championship in the process, before playing with the Troy Haymakers from 1868 through 1872.
The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players formed during his tenure in Troy and during its inaugural season in 1871, Bellán – who was referred to as “Steve” – became the first Latin American player to play professional baseball. His light complexion allowed him to bypass the strict anti-color rule implemented by the National Association at its inception – and along with a few other Latin American players he became a baseball pioneer.
In Troy, Bellán shifted from catcher and outfield to working exclusively at third base. Even though Bellán lacked both the natural strength of a third basemen’s throwing arm and a strong offensive ability – he finished his career with a .251 batting average and 43 RBIs in 60 games – he completed three seasons in the newly created baseball association. After playing for the Troy Haymakers for the 1871 and 1872 seasons and the New York Mutuals in 1873, Bellán moved back to his native Cuba in 1874 where he played a major role in introducing the game of baseball to the Cuban population.
The National League would emerge in 1876, a year after Bellán returned to his island home, and while many consider this the first official professional manifestation of baseball, Bellán will always have the distinction of being the first Latin American ballplayer to play professionally in the United States of America. While his contribution to modern baseball is evident by the number of Hispanic ballplayers in the modern game, his greatest contribution to the sport undoubtedly was his work in Cuba and his success in ingraining baseball into the very fabric of Cuban culture.
Jacob Fishbein was a 2012 education-public programs intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here