September 22, 2014
By Tony Castro
Luis Manuel Castro is the first Latino known to have played Major League Baseball, but the story of who he was – or wasn’t – possibly overshadows his historic role in America’s national pastime.
In 1902 with the American League champion Philadelphia Athletics, Castro played 42 games at second base, posting a .245 batting average, with one home run and 15 runs batted in.
Castro made his debut that season on April 23.
But who exactly was Lou Castro, as he came to be known in an era in which anything but blue-blood white Americans were in the majors where racism ran rampant?
When he played, most fans thought Castro was Venezuelan, which was how the sportswriters at the time identified his nationality.
Some of the stories from that period reported that Luis was the son of then Venezuelan president Cipriano Castro who had seized power as a military strongman and was eventually overthrown in 1908.
In 1903, Reach’s Official American League Guide, which was a bible of the game at that time, listed Castro as being “of Spanish descent, nephew of President Castro of Venezuela, but thoroughly American by birth and training.”
According to accounts from that period, the Venezuela dictator sent his son to New York for his education, and young Luis then tried to hide what he was doing from his father by insisting he was from another Latin American country.
But Luis was destined for baseball..
He began his U.S. baseball career as a pitcher for Manhattan College where he played for three years. He then played for Utica in 1898, Atlantic City in 1900, and in the Connecticut State League in 1901.
Baseball legend Connie Mack then signed Castro as an infielder before the 1902 season.
But Castro was simply a temporary fill-in for Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie, whom the Athletics in 1901 had signed away from the cross-time rival Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies retaliated to the player raids of their team with legal action that forced the Athletics to deal Lajoie away in early 1902, leaving a big opening at second base.
Castro tried to fill it but soon lost the job to a new second base signed, Danny Murphy.
Luis never played in the majors again, languishing for more than a dozen years in the minors.
After his playing days, Luis Castro remained in the U.S., apparently anglicizing his name to Louis while living in Flushing, N.Y. He even went so far as to claim in the 1930 Census that he had been born in New York City.
There was little doubt it was the same Luis Castro, for in that Census he said his profession was “baseball player.”
Later, intrigued by Castro’s role in baseball history and the mystery of his background, several researchers began a long investigation that they believe confirms that Luis had been an immigrant from what was once the joint nation of Colombia and Panama
On October 16, 1885, an eight-year-old named Luis Castro arrived on Ellis Island with his father on the S.S. Colon that had sailed from the port of Aspinwall in the United States of Colombia, according to the manifest of passengers.
More conclusively is the fact that the birth date for Luis Castro listed on those entry documents — November 25, 1876 – is the same birth date that the ballplayer listed on his major league paperwork.
Luis’ father is identified as “N. Castro,” a banker.
It was believed by the researchers that both father and son were born in the city of Medellin in Colombia.
“It’s definitely a mystery,” Dr. Milton Jamail, an author and former University of Texas professor, told Major League Baseball researchers in 2007.
“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.”
Maybe, because the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., has conflicting biographical information for Luis Castro.
Baseball’s version of the Vatican has a Louis Castro born on Nov. 25, 1876 in the U.S. His parents, Nestor Castro and Agnes Wasquees, were both born in South America, according to Cooperstown.
When not on the ball field, the Hall of Fame archives say, this Latino ballplayer named Castro worked in a saloon, married a woman named Margaret and lived in Flushing, N.Y., until the end of his life.
But Castro’s background becomes even more enimatic by the fact that he apparently received Social Security assistance until his death – on Sept. 24, 1941 — at the age of 64 in New York City.
In those government records, New York City is also identified as Castro’s birth place.
“There was some suspicion about Castro for many years but no one could pin this down,” Richard Beverage of the Association for Professional Ball Players of America is quoted in the 2005 book “Early Latino Ballplayers in the United States” by Nick Wilson. “Where the Colombia connection came from, we have no idea.”
Sadly, when Castro died, he did so with little to his name. No glory from his glorious days in the early era of baseball and in an unmarked grave.
Castro is buried with no tombstone at St. Mary’s cemetery in Queens, New York. According to cemetery records,he is buried at Division 10, row 9, number 18.
“Nobody (in Colombia) knew until the ‘90s that he was from Colombia — that the first Latin player was from Colombia,” says former Major League shortstop Orlando Cabrera. “They didn’t teach us about him in school or anything.”