An Early Hispanic Texas League Star

Leo “Najo” Alaniz
Early 20th Century
Mexican-American Baseball Pioneer

The best quick study of Leo Alaniz’s family history and life-in-baseball story is available on Wikipedia. A deeper treatment is most probably available in “Baseball’s First Mexican-American Star: The Amazing Story of Leo Najo“, written in 2008 by Noe Torres. 

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Excerpt from Wikipedia ….

Early Life

Leo Najo was born Leonardo Alanis on February 17, 1899 in the small town of La Lajilla, located in the municipality of Doctor Coss in Nuevo LeónMexico. When Najo was 10, his mother moved the family to the nearby town of Mission, Texas, where she purchased a small tavern and operated it successfully for many years afterward. Najo lived in Mission for the rest of his life. The family’s financial stability allowed the youth to spend much of his time playing the relatively new game of baseball, which was very popular along the Texas-Mexico border at the start of the 20th century.[3]

In the early 1920s, Najo and several other young men in Mission formed a town semi-pro team, the Mission 30-30s, named after the Winchester Model 1894 rifle, which was popularly known as the 30-30 rifle. The 30-30s became a baseball institution in Mission, existing until the mid-1960s. A number of famous South Texans besides Najo played on the 30-30s team, including future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and future U.S. Congressman Kika de la Garza.[3]

Because playing semi-pro ball in Mission was only bringing in about $6 per week, Najo also played for other South Texas teams, including the Milmo Bank team of Laredo, Texas. Najo also played with some of the very earliest organized teams in Mexico, including the Cuauhtemoc Brewery team of Monterrey in 1922. The Cuauhtemocs are viewed by baseball historians as an important early Mexican franchise and a forerunner of the highly successful Sultanes de Monterrey in the modern Mexican League.[4]

It was during Najo’s early, semi-pro playing days that he began using “Najo” as his playing name. Relatives believe the name derived from the Spanish word for rabbit, “conejo”, given to Najo by fans because of his fast base running.[3]

Because of his natural speed and catching ability, Najo mostly played center field, although he often played the other outfield positions and, rarely, the infield. In addition to being an above-average hitter (.321 lifetime batting average), Najo excelled at drawing walks and stealing bases, and he was often the team’s leadoff hitter. In his twenties, he stood 5-foot-9 and weighed 144 pounds.[3]

The Transition to Professional Baseball

During the early 1920s, Najo’s Milmo Bank team occasionally traveled to San Antonio, Texas for games against semi-pro teams there. During one of these visits, Najo was “discovered” by a scout with the San Antonio Bears of the Class A Texas League. He was signed in December 1923 and played his first pro game on April 16, 1924 at San Antonio’s League Park, leading off and playing right field for the Bears against the Galveston Sand Crabs. By his participation in that game, he became one of the first Mexicans to play U.S. professional baseball. Baseball historians also believe Najo was the first Mexican to play in the Texas League, which was established in 1888.[3]

Later in 1924, forced to reduce their roster, the San Antonio Bears “lent” Najo to the Class D Tyler, Texas Trojans, where he led the team to the championship of the East Texas League, finishing third in the league in batting and earning a .992 fielding average. Najo received recognition for his fast base running and acrobatic catches in the outfield.[3]

Najo played almost the entire 1925 season on loan from San Antonio to the Class C Okmulgee, Oklahoma Drillers of the Western Association. He played in 142 games, mostly at center field, hit 34 home runs, made 213 hits, and compiled a .381 batting average. After the season, league president J. Warren Seabough told the Chicago Daily Tribune, “Leo Najo … is one of the greatest players of all time in the Western Association.”[3]

The White Sox Tryout Experience

Following Najo’s success with the Okmulgee Drillers, the Chicago White Sox drafted him in the winter of 1925, and thus he became, most historians agree, the first Mexican player ever taken by a major league team. A November 8, 1925 Washington Post article refers to Najo as “one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”[3]

He appeared in a number of spring training games for the White Sox in 1926, seven years before Mel Almada officially became the first Mexican player to earn a regular roster spot in the U.S. major leagues. According to newspaper accounts of the day, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, watched Najo play in exhibition games in 1926. Decades later, in 1973, another baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, attended Najo’s induction into the Salón de la Fama del Beisbol Profesional de México in Monterrey.[3]

Najo’s spring training statistics indicate that he played well enough to make the major league team. However, on the final day of spring training, Najo was released to the San Antonio Bears. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported, “The Sox squad was cut down by one today when Najo … was shipped to the San Antonio club to which he has been released outright. There are others tonight awaiting the signal to move.”[3]

Although the exact reason for his dismissal remains a mystery, Najo’s family suspects that the decision was due, at least in part, to racial prejudice among the major league players and team officials. The White Sox attempted to portray Najo, who was of dark complexion and spoke limited English, as a native American (“Chief Najo”) due to prevailing racism against Mexicans. Najo family members say that, although he remained upbeat and dedicated to his love of baseball, racial prejudice did adversely affect his career.[3]

Minor League Record of Leo “Najo” Alaniz

400px-Najo-stats

A Link to the Full Wikipedia Article

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Najo

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Link to 2008 Biography by Noe Torres

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What an amazing life ~ by a talented man ~ and one flying under the general awareness radar all these years from the kind of recognition that he deserves for the playing opportunity cause of so-called “browns” in organized baseball.

Most of us will never live long enough to see the welcome day that is now coming. It is a day that will take the rainbow all the way out of the mix for those who need to use biological discrimination as leverage for personal or smaller group power by one racial group over all others.

Cocoa America. ~ The Day is Coming. ~ It is already well on the way.

And, thank you, ~ Jackie Robinson, Leo “Najo” Alaniz (or Alanis), and all others who have contributed to the coming of Cocoa MLB.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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