⚾ Throughout the 20th century, many Hispanic athletes became “firsts” in their respective sports, blazing a trail for those to come. More than 50 Latino players competed in MLB before Jackie Robinson broke through as the game’s first African American player in 1947.
- In 1902, Lou Castro became the first Hispanic player in the league. He played in 42 games and posted a .245 batting average for the Philadelphia Athletics, but little is known about the rest of his life.
Castro paved the way for Puerto Rican right fielder Roberto Clemente, the first Latino player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clemente enjoyed 18 stellar seasons in the league after joining in 1955 but sadly died in a plane crash at the age of 38 on his way to Nicaragua to bring relief supplies to earthquake victims.
- Today, MLB honors Clemente’s legacy on and off the field with the annual Roberto Clemente Day, during which one player receives the Roberto Clemente Award for their extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy, and positive contributions. He truly left an indelible mark on the game.
🏈 In 1927, Ignacio “Lou” Molinet became the NFL’s first Hispanic football player. Many assumed Molinet’s background was French due to his last name, but he was actually born in Cuba in 1904. Molinet, who was known as both “Iggy” and “Molly,” played his entire career at fullback with the Frankford Yellow Jackets.
🎾 Chilean tennis player Anita Lizana de Ellis was the first Hispanic woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, achieving the feat at the U.S. Championships in 1937 and blazing a trail for players like Rosemary Casals.
- Casals, whose parents immigrated to California from El Salvador, is perhaps best known as an equal pay advocate. She was one of the nine women who fought to close the gender pay gap in tennis alongside Billie Jean King in the 1970s.
🏀 Alfred “Butch” Lee Jr. became the first Latino in the NBA when he made it to the association in 1978 and the first to win an NBA title when he hoisted the trophy with the LA Lakers in 1980. Lee played for the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers before joining the Lakers.
🌎 All around the world
SOURCE: ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES
⚽ ICYMI: Argentine-born soccer player Lionel Messi is still him. Messi spent most of his playing days in Spain before a brief stint in France with Paris Saint-Germain. Today, the soccer legend is kicking it stateside with Inter Miami FC and sharing his unrivaled talent with North America in MLS.
🎾 Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal needs no introduction. The 37-year-old has racked up 22 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, including a record 14 French Open victories. Vamos.
🏀 Though he’s no longer hooping, Spanish basketball player Pau Gasol is a renowned name in the sport. The six-time NBA All-Star won back-to-back championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010 and was recently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
- His brother, Marc Gasol, played 11 seasons in the NBA, balling for the Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Toronto Raptors. The younger Gasol then returned to Europe and now plays for Bàsquet Girona — a team he founded and owns — in the top Spanish league.
⚾ Hispanic and Latino players make up nearly 30% of the athletes in MLB. One of the biggest names in the sport, Hall of Famer David Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic and will forever be a hero to Boston Red Sox fans for helping lead the squad to three World Series titles. Nobody does it big quite like Big Papi.
✨ Rising stars
SOURCE: ATP TOUR
🎾 There’s plenty of Hispanic talent on the rise, too. For example, tennis sensation Carlos Alcaraz is a young Spaniard whose fiery forehands and relentless work ethic have drawn comparisons to the aforementioned Nadal.
- And Alcaraz has already proven himself at the highest level — he won the 2022 US Open, his first Grand Slam victory, and promptly catapulted to world No. 1, making him the youngest to achieve the mark. Caliente.
🏀 Over on the basketball court, UConn basketball star Lou Lopez Sénéchal became the first Mexican-born player to be drafted to the WNBA earlier this year when she was selected No. 5 overall by the Dallas Wings. Sénéchal’s sadly been sidelined with a knee injury all season, but we’re already rooting for her return in 2024.
🥎 Latina participation in softball is on the rise. A couple of names to know? Former UCLA star hurler Rachel Garcia and two-time Women’s College World Series champion Sydney Romero, both of whom now compete with Athletes Unlimited alongside Sydney’s sister, Sierra. Keeping it in the family.
⚾ Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of Baseball Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr., has garnered plenty of praise. The 24-year-old has already amassed three All-Star nods and continues to bring elite vibes and power to the diamond.
📈 Taking charge
SOURCE: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY
From the boardrooms to the sidelines, Hispanic leaders are making moves at the helm, too. In the NFL, Tom Flores became the first Hispanic coach to win a Super Bowl, taking the then-Oakland Raiders all the way in 1977.
- And before getting into coaching, Flores made history as the first Hispanic starting quarterback in NFL history — also with the Raiders. Hut, hut, hell yeah.
In the early 1990s, Linda Alvarado purchased the Colorado Rockies and became the first Hispanic MLB owner — not to mention the first woman — to buy a team. Nowadays, fans can often catch her chatting with players during warmups and batting practice. Iconic.
So as Hispanic Heritage Month continues, here’s to the folks changing the game each and every day. It’s a year-round cause for celebration.