Leyenda Mexicana: How Mel Almada shaped baseball history
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“My father always wanted us children to have an American education,” Mel said to the Sporting News. “So when the opportunity came along for him to become Mexican consul at Los Angeles, he turned over most of his property to relatives and moved us all to this country. I was then only a year and one-half-old, so, you see, I am very much an American.”
It didn’t take long for Almada to realize that he was a gifted athlete. Earning letters in football, baseball and track throughout high school, he set a southern California record for the long jump at 23-4¾. After his older brother Lou began playing with the Seattle Indians, Mel signed with the team in 1932, unsure of what position he would play. Manager George Burns put him in right field, where he posted a fielding percentage over .900.
By the time Collins made it out to Indians’ camp in 1933, Almada was putting up numbers that the Red Sox simply couldn’t ignore. A solid contact hitter, he averaged .311 in his rookie year with the Indians, following that up with 204 hits and a .323 average, not to mention sharp defense and blistering speed on the base paths.
“I said once to a bunch of reporters in Navojoa that someday we were going to see a boy from one of those ejidos make it in the major leagues. They laughed at me,” Almada said to the Arizona Daily Star. “But here he is. And he’s the best thing that could happen to the sports world. Sports is a morale booster. Kids idolize him – and kids need idols.”
Since Almada’s debut, 124 Mexican players have made it to the big leagues. The country continues to develop as a breeding ground for baseball talent, carrying on the legacy of the Ortas, Valenzuelas, Avilas – and, of course – the Almadas.
“Look at this. We have a hero in the United States and he can’t even speak English,” Almada said about Valenzuela, who would win the National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award in 1981. “There are lots of Mexicans who could have played in the big leagues but didn’t want to because they didn’t like the culture. It’s this type of success that will bring more of them in.”
Alex Coffey is the communications specialist at the Baseball Hall of Fame