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Latinx Heritage Month

On this day in Latinx history: Louis Castro, first Latino in major league baseball, dies

Second baseman’s biography is a series of conflicting reports and mysteries

There is nothing simple about the life of Philadelphia Athletics second baseman Louis Castro. Outside of the fact that he played 42 games and hit .245 for the American League pennant winners in 1902 and died on Sept. 24, 1941, everything else about Castro is shrouded in mystery.

Even the statement that he was the first Latino player in major league baseball has been a source of never-ending debate — although he filled out naturalization papers in July 1917 and stated he was born on Nov. 25, 1876, in Medellin, Colombia, so this shouldn’t be the folklore that it is, theoretically speaking. If not his birthplace, which he later in life said was New York City, then his name becomes the next topic of discussion.

Is he Louis Michael Castro, Luis Castro or Luis Manuel? There are articles with all three names in historical newspapers, but the Society for American Baseball Research found ship records from his arrival in the United States as an 8-year-old that list Louis Castro as the son of Medellin banker Nestor Castro and Inez Vasquez.

“It’s definitely a mystery,” author and former University of Texas professor Milton Jamail told MLB.com. “No one knows for sure, but the assumption is that he was the first Latin to play in the major leagues, supposedly from Colombia. There are so many Dominicans, Venezuelans and every other country represented now, but Colombians were the first. Maybe.”

On Dec. 23, 1902, Castro told the media in Philadelphia that he was the nephew of Venezuelan President Cipriano Castro.

“I’ll never go back home. It’s a little too exciting. If they don’t have a rebellion every few months, the whole country gets an impatient idea that something has gone wrong. Then they begin a revolution to right it.

“The republic has been torn by so many rebellions that the present difficulty is not giving those in political control there the trouble people here might suppose. A little time will prove, in my opinion, that President Castro’s motives are worthy and will react for that country’s good.”

Castro traveled on the S.S. Colon to New York City on Oct. 14, 1885, and spent the rest of his life in the U.S. except for one trip to Central and South America in 1922, SABR reported.

As a 14-year-old, his parents enrolled him into a Catholic prep school, the Manhattan College High School, in Harlem. Manhattan College was attached to the high school, and Louis went on to play ball for the collegiate team.

After pitching for Manhattan College for three years, Utica in 1898, Atlantic City the following year and in the Connecticut State League in 1901, Castro was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics’ Connie Mack as an infielder in 1902. He debuted in the Athletics’ 8-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on April 23, 1902.

That was his lone season in the majors. After that he bounced around to a host of ballclubs in the minor leagues and across the United States. In 1937, he joined the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America and began receiving monetary living assistance until his death in Flushing, Queens, New York. Castro’s death certificate says he was born in the States, but a 1910 Georgia Census contradicts that, as he listed his birthplace as Medellin.

“I know of him — he played for the Philadelphia Athletics in like 1903,” former Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera told MLB.com. “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.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.