La Vida Latino Legends: Mexico

As the World Baseball Classic gets underway, inevitable arguments began in the La Vida newsroom as to who the all-time legends are in each country.

To settle these arguments – and probably start some new ones – we’ve asked some of our favorite writers to give us their picks for five countries (Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela), plus a special Pan-American team with players from Nicaragua, Panama and elsewhere.

Tell us who we missed or who you would add on Twitter using the hashtag #LaVidaLegends or leave us a comment below.

By Anthony Salazar

Despite an unbridled national passion for futbol and boxing, béisbol has thrived in Mexico since the founding of the Mexican League in 1925. The legends of the game include a Monterrey team that stunned everyone to conquer the 1957 Little League World Series; and Héctor “El Niño” Espino, the “Mexican Babe Ruth,” whose 484 career home runs set the minor-league record at the time. A new generation is on the rise; 12 Mexicans made MLB Opening Day rosters last season, the largest number since 2010. While Mexico is fielding a highly competitive team in the World Baseball Classic, this fantasy team, which includes Mexican-Americans as well as one unexpected pick, will impress you for its combination of speed, power, finesse and natural abilities.

C Alejandro “Álex” Treviño
Born August 26, 1957 in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
A skinny prodigy, Treviño signed at 16 with the New York Mets and made his big-league debut a scant four years later in 1978. His glove made up for a somewhat anemic bat  ̶  over 13 seasons, he sported a .979 fielding average (as a catcher). Twice, he led the National League in throwing out runners. On June 13, 1986, while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he teamed with Fernando Valenzuela to form the first Mexican battery in MLB.

1B Adrián González
Born May 8, 1982 in San Diego, Calif.
Like his father, González has played for the national team, representing Mexico in the WBC. He’s one of best to wear El Tri, a left-handed hitter who drives it to all corners. González has knocked in 90 or more RBIs in 10 of his 13 seasons while averaging .290 with 308 home runs. He’s the complete package, a five-time All-Star with four Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger Awards.

2B Roberto “Beto” Ávila
Born April 2, 1924 in Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico
A pioneer revered in Mexico, Ávila was the first Latino batting champ, beating out Ted Williams for the 1954 American League crown with a .341 average. A three-time All-Star who hit .281, he played for 11 seasons, mostly with the Cleveland Indians, including the 1954 World Series. Without Beto, there might not have been a next generation of Mexican stars.

SS Nomar Garciaparra
Born July 23, 1973 in Whittier, Calif.
When healthy, Garciaparra was one of the best shortstops around, equal to Álex Rodríguez and Derek Jeter. He was rookie of the year; a six-time All-Star; and, in 1999-2000, the first right-handed batter to win consecutive hitting crowns in the American League since Joe DiMaggio 60 years earlier. Despite a rash of injuries, Garciaparra finished his 14-year career with a .313 average.

3B Eric Chávez
Born December 7, 1977 in Los Angeles, Calif.
He could slap leather with the best of them, winning six straight Gold Gloves in la esquina caliente from 2001-06. In fact, his fielding percentage of .970 is the fifth-best in

history among third basemen. In 17 seasons, Chávez hit .268 and blasted 260 home runs.

RF Jorge Orta
Born November 26, 1950 in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico
Overlooked at times, Orta had a solid 16-year career, alternating between second base and the outfield while playing eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox and eight more with four other teams. In right field, his fielding average was .984 in 2,034 innings of work. A two-time All-Star, Orta won a World Series with Kansas City in 1985.

CF Baldomero Melo “Mel” Almada
Born February 7, 1913 in Huatabampo, Sonora, Mexico
The first Mexican to play in the major leagues, Almada was purchased by the Boston Red Sox in 1933 from the Seattle Rainiers, where he starred with his brother, Lou. After his MLB debut that same year on September 8, Almada went on to play five seasons in Boston and seven overall. A good contact hitter and base stealer, he averaged .284 and was annually among the leaders in outfield putouts and assists.

LF Ted Williams
Born August 30, 1918 in San Diego, Calif.
While baseball historians have debated Williams’ ethnicity, his mother was Mexican. Williams, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1966, opted not to make his heritage widely known, but we will claim him. Despite missing time to two wars, el toletero espléndido was truly splendid, still called by some the best hitter ever. On his way to six batting titles, two MVP awards and 521 home runs, he hit .344 to tie for the seventh-highest average ever. Not surprisingly, his .482 OBP remains the best in history, and his 1.116 OPS, second-best.

DH Erubiel Durazo
Born in January 23, 1974 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
A big guy with some pop, Erubiel made significant contributions with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2002. His highlight reel features a clutch homer in the 2001 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, and then four hits against the New York Yankees in the Diamondbacks’ run to the World Series title that year. In seven seasons, he batted .281 with an .868 OPS while also representing Mexico in the 2006 and 2009 WBC.

SP Fernando Valenzuela
Born November 1, 1960 in Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico
Fernandomanía.” Need we say more? Valenzuela’s 1981 rookie season galvanized Latinos, not just in Los Angeles but all over the country. He finished 13-7 that season, led the National League with 25 starts, 11 complete games, eight shutouts, 192.1 innings pitched and 180 strikeouts, making him the only person to earn rookie of the year and the Cy Young in the same season. A six-time All-Star and the only Mexican to throw a complete game no-hitter, the left-hander won 173 games over 17 seasons. 

SP Matt Garza
Born November 26, 1983 in Selma, Calif.
Matt who? A right-handed Mexican-American with a varied arsenal of pitches ranging from a two-seam fastball and four-seamer to a breaking curve and tight slider. He has compiled a record of 87-97 with a 4.03 ERA and 1,301 strikeouts in 11 seasons. His big claim to fame: notching Tampa Bay’s first no-hitter in 2010.

RP Sergio Romo
Born March 4, 1983 in Brawley, Calif.
Even his beard deserves fantasy team status. Bonus: He’s one of the most notorious photo bombers in sports. A three-time world champ with the San Francisco Giants, the right-handed Romo will now pitch for the enemy, the Los Angeles Dodgers. What do they get? A hard thrower with pinpoint control who, in nine seasons, has 10.2 K/9 and a 0.955 WHIP.

MANAGER Patrick “Pat” Corrales
Born March 20, 1941 in Los Angeles, Calif.
A defensive catcher who was Johnny Bench’s backup in Cincinnati, Corrales found greater success as a manager. Over nine years, he piloted the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians, posting an overall record of 572-634. In 1983, Corrales became the first manager fired while in first place when the Phillies released him at the All-Star break. Hired two weeks later by the Indians, he then became the first to manage two different teams in the same season who were in first and last place, respectively.

Featured image: Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico via Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Inset images: National Baseball Hall of Fame