By Glen Sparks
Mel Almada hated the inside pitch. He knew, just knew, that every fastball fired at his hands, hurled near his shoulders, and, yes, sometimes whipped close to his head, was a pitch thrown with hateful intent.
“They’re throwing at me because I’m Mexican!” Almada insisted, according to a SABR biographical article written by Bill Nowlin.
Baldomero Almada Jr., also known as “Melo,” or just “Mel,” was born in Sonora, Mexico, on Feb. 7, 1913. He was the first Mexican-born player to make it to the majors. Over seven seasons, from 1933-39, with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators, St. Louis Browns and Brooklyn Dodgers, Almada hit .284 with an on-base percentage of .342. He knocked 15 home runs in 646 games (2,736 at-bats) and drove in 197 runs. The centerfielder stole 56 bases, including 20 in 1935 for Boston.
Melo left his homeland while still a baby. In 1914, Baldomero Sr., a successful businessman, took his family away from the political problems and violence of post-Revolutionary Mexico. The Almadas settled in Los Angeles. Mel and his older brother, Jose Luis (later Americanized to “Louie”), began playing baseball as little boys.
Luis established himself as a star with the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League. After graduating from Los Angeles High School in 1932, Melo went up the coast to join his brother. He batted .311 in his rookie season in the PCL. By 1933, The Sporting News, the famous Bible of baseball, had labeled Mel Almada as maybe “the best young outfield prospect” in the league. That summer, the Red Sox signed him to a contract.
Mel’s big-league career amounted to a mixed bag. He could certainly run and play defense. He hit for a decent average, but he never showed much power. In 1935, for instance, he batted .295 but with a slugging percentage of just .379 (OPS+ 84).
Almada hit .295 in 1937 with the Red Sox and Senators, but again, with a weak slugging percentage (.394). The following year, he started off at just .244 for Washington, but batted .342 in 436 at-bats following a trade to St. Louis. In 1939, Mel hit only .228 in 246 at-bats with the Browns and the Dodgers. His major league career was over.
Alamada left the big leagues but kept playing ball, both in Los Angeles and in Mexico. He died Aug. 13, 1988, at the age of 75.
Older brother Luis Almada never made it to the majors. The New York Giants placed him on their major league roster in 1927, but Luis got hurt while on a barnstorming trip with the team and never made it back. He died in 2005 at the age of 98. Luis had a theory as to why his talented younger brother quit playing in the majors at the age of 26. It was that inside pitching, Luis said. Mel hated it, and opposing pitching knew it. But, the pitchers weren’t throwing at Mel because he was Mexican.
“No, Melo,” Luis once said to his sibling, according to the SABR article. “They’re throwing at you because you’re a batter.”