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Mel Almada still deserves his flowers after all these years.
The slick-fielding, contact-hitting utility man made Major League Baseball history September 8, 1933 at Fenway Park when he debuted for the Boston Red Sox. He started in center field and went 1-for-4 in each game of a double-header, both of which the Red Sox dropped to the Detroit Tigers. The games’ results were rather unremarkable at the time, but the significance of Almada’s presence on the field would ripple through the ages because on that date he became the first Mexico-born player to feature in an MLB game.
“About the only consolation the crowd got out of the game was the good work by Almada, a new outfielder, who showed up wonderfully well in his first appearance as a big leaguer,” The Boston Globe wrote the next day, per The National Baseball Hall of Fame. “He made a hit in each game and two marvelous catches in the outfield and altogether, made a wonderful showing.”
The numbers Almada produced over his MLB career, which spanned parts of seven seasons between 1933 and 1939 were rather modest, and his résumé doesn’t include end-of-season awards or MLB All-Star Game nods. Nevertheless, he was is and likely forever will be an icon and inspiration for baseball players born in Mexico and those of Mexican descent.
Although Almada’s baseball story was that of a pioneer and his ancestry includes a considerable family legacy, one important aspect of his personal story is common. He was born in Mexico — Huatabampo in the state of Sinaloa — but came to the United States with his family when he was an infant.
“My father always wanted us children to have an American education,” Almada told The Sporting News, per the Hall of Fame. “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.”
Amada grew up in Los Angeles, where he became a standout high school athlete in baseball, football and track for Los Angeles High School. After graduating in 1932, he signed with the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Indians, for whom his older brother Louis already was playing. It didn’t take long for Mel Almada’s potential to garner attention, and then-Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins signed him in 1933.
“You have a good prospect in that young fellow Almada,” Collins told the Indians. “And if you want to get him in the big show I will buy him, too. He looks fast and shapes up like a hitter.”
Almada reached the big show in 1933. He was an everyday Red Sox player between 1935 and 1937, when Boston traded him to the Washington Senators. He blossomed in the capital city, raising his batting average from the .236 he posted in Boston to the .309 he registered in 100 games for Washington that year, according to The Society For American Baseball Research.
The Senators traded Almada to the St. Louis Browns in early 1938, and even greater success followed. He batted .342 in 104 games for the Browns and even recorded a 29-game hitting streak, which was the third-longest by a Hispanic MLB player in the 20th century, according to SABR.
However, Almada started the 1939 campaign slowly, and St. Louis sold him to the Brooklyn Dodgers after 42 games. His performance continued to dip, and his MLB career ended in early 1940 when he was just 26.
But that wasn’t the end of Almada’s baseball story. He played for the Triple-A Sacramento Saloons, then served as player-manager for Unión Laguna in the Mexican League, where he would manage for the next 10 years, except for the time he took off to serve in the United States Army in World War II between 1944 and 1945.
El Salón de la Fama del Beisbol Profesional de México, the Mexican League’s Hall of Fame, inducted Almada into its ranks in 1971. It was a fitting tribute for a player Collier’s magazine proclaimed 38 years prior as “Mexico’s extraordinary ambassador to baseball.”