Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Six Mexicans to enter Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame

When the Caribbean Series is held in Culiacan next month, six past Mexican players and executives will be inducted into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame.  The pantheon was established in 1996 by Conferederation of Professional Baseball of the Caribbean commissioner Juan Francisco Puello Herrera to honor players who've distinguished themselves in past Serie del Caribe events along with people who've contributed to the growth of baseball in the region.  Inductees are voted upon by journalists, broadcasters and historians in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico.  As with Cooperstown, candidates must receive 75 percent of the vote to gain membership.

Since 2009, membership has been awarded annually to personalities from the country hosting the Caribbean Series.  The 2017 inductees include third baseman Vinny Castilla (pictured), first baseman Erubiel Durazo, second baseman Miguel Flores, manager Ben "Cananea" Reyes, journalist Alfonso Araujo Bojorquez and late executive Juan Manuel Ley.

Castilla played in five Caribbean Series with Tijuana (1991), Hermosillo (1995, 2007, 2010) and Mazatlan (2005), winning a CS title with the Venados.  The popular Oaxacan is the all-time Major League Baseball leader among Mexicans in career homers (320) and RBIs (1,105), and played in two All-Star Games as a member of the Colorado Rockies.  After playing for Mexico in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, he managed the Mexican team in 2009.  Castillo later served in the front office and as a instructor for the Rockies.

Durazo was a member of four Serie del Caribe teams, including Mazatlan (1998, 2005) and Hermosillo (2001, 2007), winning the MVP award with the Naranjeros in 2001 and a title with the Venados in 2005 as a teammate of Castilla's.  The Hermosillo native also spent seven years in MLB, four with Arizona and three with Oakland, hitting 94 homers and winning a World Series in 2001 with the Diamondbacks.  Durazo was chosen last year to oversee development a D-Backs academy for Mexican prospects in Hermosillo.

Flores went to the CS three times with Hermosillo (1994, 1995, 2001) and once with Mazatlan (2005), winning a championship with Castilla and Durazo in 2005 with the Deer.  After spending five summers playing in the Indians organization, Flores spent 15 seasons in the Mexican League with his hometown Monterrey Sultanes, batting an even .300 with 231 doubles while stealing 215 bases.

Reyes managed Hermosillo to the event in 1975, 1976 and 1980 and guided Mexicali to the CS in 1986, winning the title with the Naranjeros in 1975 and again in 1986 with the Aguilas.  He also managed teams to six Mexican League pennants, including five with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, and coached with the Seattle Mariners under Maury Wills in 1981, filling in as manager during Wills' two-game suspension to become the first (and, to date, only) Mexican to manage an MLB team.

Araujo was a triple-threat journalist (print, TV and radio) who covered several Caribbean Series on each medium.  Now 83, the Navojoa native began writing for the Ahora newspaper at age 14 in 1947 and continues to this day with his "Lanzado para Home" column, marking seven decades as a scribe.  The author of 14 books, Araujo also spent 25 winters as official scorer for the Obregon Yaquis (plus 17 years on the Yaquis radio team) and has been part of Mexican League telecasts.

Ley founded the Culiacan Tomateros with his father and was the team's owner during ten Mexican Pacific League championship runs, with Caribbean Series titles in 2002 and 2005, until his death at age 82 in January of last year.  He was also at the helm when the Tomateros' 20,000-seat ballpark was constructed and lived long enough to witness his team's first season in the new facility last winter, when they averaged 16,000 fans per game.  Ley also owned the Saltillo Saraperos of the Mexican League 1999 to 2013.

Although the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame has been around for over twenty years, there were only two members from Mexico inducted during the first nine years of its existence:  Legendary first baseman Hector Espino was a member of the charter class of 1996 while pitcher Vicente Romo got the nod in 2001.  After six more Mexicans were added to the rolls in 2005 and 2006, there were no more representatives of the country brought in between 2007 and 2012.  The six figures to be inducted next month will bring the total of Mexicans in the HOF to twenty.

An induction ceremony will be held during this year's Serie del Caribe in Culiacan between February 1 and 7.

Mexican members of the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame
1996-Hector Espino (1B)
2001-Vicente Romo (P)
2005-Horacio Lopez Dio (EXEC), Victor Saiz (UMP), Juan Navarrete (2B)
2006-Celerino Sanchez (3B), Eduardo Acosta (P), Mercedes Esquer (P)
2013-Houston Jimenez (SS), Francisco Estrada (C/MGR), Arturo Leon Lerma (EXEC), Ever Magallanes (SS), Fernando Valenzuela (P), Renato Vega (EXEC)
2017-Vinny Castilla (3B), Erubiel Durazo (1B), Miguel Flores (2B), Cananea Reyes (MGR), Alfonso Araujo Bojorquez (MEDIA), Juan Manuel Ley (EXEC)