Uncertainty swirls around Luis Castro
Legendary Latin American ballplayer as mysterious as ever
Luis Castro is El Cucuy.
He is La Llorona.
Part man, part myth and maybe part Colombian, Venezuelan or North American, the legend of Castro, known by many as the first player from Latin America to play in the big leagues in the modern era, is as mysterious as some of the most famous myths in Spanish-speaking countries across the world.
Castro made his debut and history on April 23, 1902, for the Philadelphia Athletics. But did he go by Luis or Louis when he did it? That's just one of many questions regarding Castro's legacy, life and death.
"It's definitely a mystery," said Dr. Milton Jamail, an author and former University of Texas professor who is currently working in player development for Latin Americans in the Devil Rays system.
"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."
As the most popular story goes, Castro was born in Colombia in 1867 and began playing baseball when he was 17. Somehow he ended up in the United States, eventually pitching for Manhattan College for three years, for Utica in 1898, Atlantic City in 1900, and in the Connecticut State League in 1901. Connie Mack signed Castro as an infielder in 1902 and he hit .245 in 42 games for the Philadelphia Athletics.
Castro played less than one season in the Major Leagues, but it was more than enough for him to become the mythical and enigmatic figure he is today.
"I know of him -- he played for the Philadelphia Athletics in like 1903," said Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who along with Atlanta's Edgar Renteria is one of two current Major League players from Colombia. "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."
They likely don't teach about mysterious sightings in school either, but Castro's story, like La Llorona's (pronounced Lah Yo-ro-na), is becoming part of Spanish pop culture. La Llorona's name means "a woman who cries," and according to the legend, La Llorona is the ghost of a mother who roams lake waters and riverbanks at night crying for her lost children. Nobody knows for sure who La Llorona is, was, or where she comes from, but many regions claim the woman and the mysterious story that surrounds her.
Sound like anyone you know, Louie?
At least she's not El Cucuy (pronounced koo-koo-eee), who in every practical sense is the boogey man for Spanish-speaking kids all over the world. El Cucuy's origin is unknown, but his name, much like Castro's, raises a few eyebrows.
Most say El Cucuy's favorite position is under the bed or in the closet late at night, but those details, like most in folklore, vary from household to household and country to country.
By contrast, at least we know Castro's primary spot was at second base during his brief stay with the Phillies. Then again, Castro was tabbed as "a utility" in the 1903 edition of Reach's Official American League Guide. Reach's characterization of Castro is also up for interpretation. He is listed as "of Spanish descent, nephew of President Castro of Venezuela, but thoroughly American by birth and training. He was born in the United States of Colombia in 1877."
American by birth, yet Castro was born in Colombia? Oh, right. South American. Right?
Some say, Castro was really all American, as in all North American.
In Nick Wilson's book, "Early Latino Ballplayers in the United States," he writes that in 2001, Richard Beverage of the Association for Professional Ballplayers of America and The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) challenged the assumption that Castro was the first player born in Latin America to play in the Major Leagues in the modern-era. Most agree that Cuba's Esteban Bellan was the first Cuban and Latin American to play professional baseball in the United States, suiting up for the National Association's Troy Haymakers in 1871.
In Wilson's book, he states Beverage's belief that Castro "could have been the son of a Latin diplomat."
"In our office, we have player cards and a database on virtually every professional ballplayer from 1925," said Beverage in Wilson's book. "A friend of mine was doing some research and he found Castro's card. The card had a death year, which was never shown in the encyclopedia. So we crosschecked in another old file and we came up with an exact death date, Sept. 24, 1941."
"Eventually, a death certificate from New York was obtained. He lived in Flushing and died in New York. There was some suspicion about Castro for many years but no one could pin this down. ... Where the Colombia connection came from, we have no idea."
According to e-mails exchanged between the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and a member of the SABR biographical committee in 2001, these were the facts uncovered for a baseball player named Louis Castro during that period: He was born on Nov. 25, 1876 in the United States, he worked in a saloon, married a woman named Margaret and lived in Flushing for most of his life. His father, Nestor Castro, and mother, Agnes Wasquees, were both born in South America and he died at the age of 64 on Sept. 24, 1941 at Manhattan State Hospital on Wards Island.
According to the research, the death record was crosschecked with Manhattan College, where Castro's father's name appears, and the 1910 Georgia Census on which Castro's wife's name appears. The same Castro also appears to have joined the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America in 1937 and received a check from the organization until his death. Castro died poverty-stricken.
So that's it. Castro's not only American, he's a New Yorker, right? Maybe.
Castro's death record says he was born in the United States, but the 1910 Georgia Census gives his birthplace as Medellin, Colombia.
"It's certainly possible he is from there because people were playing baseball in Colombia at that time," Jamail said. "It's really hard to think about a guy you don't know much about. There are so many questions. How did he get to the United States? People were not scouting there. Maybe he came from a wealthy family and he was studying in the United States? Born there, moved here. Nobody is quite sure."
Perhaps the only certainty surrounding the man is that a nickname for the mysterious Castro is long overdue -- although there is a tale that he was once called "The President of Venezuela" by teammates for his assumed ties to the dictator who ruled the country during the early 1900s.
Mr. Mysterio will do, for now -- or for maybe the next 105 years.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.