In the annals of MLB history, there have been few Mexican players that have made an impact, but most are pitchers like Cy Young-winner Fernando Valenzuela or Brewers star Teddy Higuera that became important during the 80s. When it comes to men that are dangerous with the bat, however, the most accomplished player from the nation was Colorado Rockies legend Vinny Castilla.
MLB History: The Blake Street Bombers
Vinny Castilla made his MLB debut in 1991 with the Atlanta Braves, after being picked up from his prodigious stint with the Saltillo Saraperos of the Mexican League, but it was his time with the Colorado Rockies that cemented his place in MLB History.
He arrived in Denver in 1993 with the then newly-formed organization, where he joined the batters that would become his co-stars years later: Venezuelan slugger Andres Galarraga — who had come from the Cardinals — and Dante Bichette. Both Galarraga and Bichette had a solid season that year, collecting 22 and 21 dingers respectively, but Castilla continued with the consistency issues he presented in Atlanta, as he had a .255/.283/.404 slash line for a meager 71 OPS+.
It was until 1995 when the legend of the Blake Street Bombers really took off. Castilla made adjustments to his batting stance the previous year and switched from shortstop to third, which coincided with the arrival of future Hall-of-Famer Larry Walker.
Together, the four horsemen of the Rockies offensive had one of the most spectacular seasons in recent memory and established the Colorado team as a force to be reckoned with. Castilla hit an enviable .309/.347/.564 line, with 32 HR, 90 RBIs, and a .922 OPS. These numbers earned him his first Silver Slugger and his first All-Star appearance, the first by a Mexican player in the 90s.
The Rockies would eventually advance to the playoffs as a Wild Card, only to lose 3-1 in the NLDS to the eventual World Champion Braves. The foundation had been laid, the trend was there, and the Rockies were a contender for the following years thanks to their own Murderer’s Row.
The Golden Era
The 1995 campaign was the turning point of the Oaxacan’s career, but he was just getting started, as the upcoming years saw his enormous potential explode. During the next season, he surpassed expectations by reaching the 40-home run mark, with 113 RBIs and 345 total bases. Oddly enough, he didn’t get an All-Star call, probably because of the Rockies’ weaker overall performance in the regular season, but he was already one of the most reliable batters when any of the other bombers had a slump.
In 1997 he continued with the great numbers, presenting a .304/.356/.547 slash line, repeating the 40-homer feat and getting his second Silver Slugger. This also coincided with Larry Walker’s MVP campaign, itself one of the best individual seasons in MLB History, but the Rockies bullpen trouble and high ERA prevented them from reaching the postseason, as they stayed third in the NL West. They had to watch fellow 1993 expansion squad Florida Marlins take the trophy in a nailbiter of a World Series.
Castilla’s best season was in 1998, where he recorded an impressive 46 dingers with 144 RBIs, a career-high .319/.362/.589, and 5.6 WAR. He was 11th in MVP voting, returned to the All-Star game, and earned his third Silver Slugger; all of this despite a difficult season in the standing where the team won only 77 games.
Influence and Legacy
After a solid 1999, Vinny experienced a decline in productivity, but he still showed flashes of great power and defensive wizardry. He left the Colorado Rockies soon after but returned in 2004 when he experienced a sort of resurgence and led the NL with 131 RBIs. He retired from MLB with the mile-high team in 2006, after a brief stint with the Nationals and Padres, but by that time, his legacy was already solidified in the state’s sports history, and most importantly, in his home country.
Castilla and his success had a massive impact on the Mexican community and paved the way for future sluggers to try their luck in the complicated system of the Minor Leagues. Only a few years later, players like Karim Garcia, Erubiel Durazo, and Adrian Gonzalez followed his path and made waves in the league, and hit absolute bombs in every stadium. This proved once and for all that there was good power south of the border.
El Matador’s importance in MLB History occupied a somewhat short period, but his relevance in Latin American sports history will last forever.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images