Emilio "Millito" Navarro
Navarro, (center) pictured with great-grandsons
September 26, 1905|
Patillas, Puerto Rico
|Died||April 30, 2011
Ponce, Puerto Rico
|Occupation||Baseball player (1928–1948)
Leones de Ponce (Puerto Rico)
Cuban Stars (1928–1929)
Emilio Navarro (September 26, 1905 – April 30, 2011), better known as "Millito Navarro", was the first Puerto Rican to play baseball in the Negro Leagues. At the time of his death, at age 105, Navarro was the oldest former professional baseball player and the last surviving player from the American Negro League.
Navarro was born in Patillas, Puerto Rico, to Botello and Pepa Navarro, and raised in the city of Ponce. His father was a well-known shoemaker in Patillas who died when Emilio was 6 years old. His widowed mother soon moved to Ponce where she had family. From a young age, Navarro helped his family economically by selling newspapers, peanuts and ice. In Ponce he attended Castillo Public School and worked after school shining shoes and delivering the foods which his mother prepared to sustain the family. His first contact with baseball occurred when he went to watch the school team play. On one occasion he did not have enough money to pay for an entrance ticket to watch a game between the Castillo and Reina teams. He therefore jumped a fence, which happened to be in the outfield. It so happened that one of the Castillo team members became sick and when the coach saw Navarro jump the fence he asked him to play. He agreed and played baseball since.
After graduating from high school, Navarro was offered a grant to attend the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, which he turned down. Instead, Navarro felt that he should help his family financially and believed that he was more than ready to play in the Major Leagues in the U.S..
In the 1920s, the United States was a racially segregated country and Navarro's skin color presented a problem for his participation in American baseball leagues — in baseball, blacks were not permitted to play in the same leagues as their white counterparts. As a consequence of this policy, a group of white and black businessmen joined forces and organized their own "Negro Leagues". The teams played against each other and even had their own "World Series". Two of those teams were the "Cuban Stars", owned by Alex Pompez, and the "Cuban Giants". Both of those teams consisted mainly of African-American or Afro-Latino players.
Navarro played for two years with the Cuban Stars and had a batting average of .337. The experience was bittersweet for Navarro, especially when they played in the South — he felt discriminated against due both to his skin color and his lack of English. After playing with the Negro Leagues, Navarro traveled and played for teams in the Dominican Republic and in Venezuela.
By the time baseball had become integrated in the United States, Navarro had returned to Puerto Rico. The experience and knowledge he had gained contributed to his success when he became one of the founders of the Leones de Ponce baseball team in his hometown of Ponce. He played, coached, and contributed in various other ways in the team, dedicating 20 years of his life to the "Leones".
Retirement from baseball
Awards and accolades
In 1938, Puerto Rican sportswriter Emilio Huike voted Navarro as the "Ideal Professional Baseball Player".
Navarro became a centenarian on September 26, 2005 and the following years saw many tributes to him in both Puerto Rico and the United States. His life and experiences in baseball were part of an American documentary called "Beisbol", on the contributions and influence of Hispanics in America's national pastime. He was elected to the Puerto Rico Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. The Senate of Puerto Rico presented him with Resolution #1026 in recognition of his contributions to baseball on June 7, 2005. On December 29, 2006, Navarro was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum. Former Astros great José (Cheo) Cruz presented the plaque of induction to Navarro.
On June 6, 2008, Major League Baseball held a ceremonial Negro League draft prior to the amateur draft. Navarro was selected by the New York Yankees. He was also honored at a game during the final homestand in Yankee Stadium history on September 18, 2008. In 2010, Navarro was honored by "Experience Works" who recognized him as an outstanding active Senior Citizen in the United States.
Later years and death
On April 27, 2011, Navarro was hospitalized at Hospital San Lucas in Ponce after suffering a minor heart attack. On April 28, he was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit after suffering a stroke. He died two days later on April 30, 2011, after failing to overcome the effects of his stroke. He was survived by four children, 11 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
In 2011, his home municipality of Ponce named a sports complex after him, Ciudad Deportiva Millito Navarro. He is also recognized at Ponce's Parque de los Ponceños Ilustres in the area of sports.
- Negro League Museum
- El Siglo 21 newspaper
- Senado de Puerto Rico
- Negro League Players Association
- Hispanic Baseball Museum to induct 101 year old player
- Alex Figueroa Cancel (2008-06-04). "Rectifican el error" (in Spanish). Primera Hora. Retrieved 2008-06-04.[dead link]
- Tim Brown (2008-06-04). "Winfield’s brainchild thrills Negro Leaguers". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- Ponce llora a uno de sus grandes. WAPA-TV. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
- Millito Navarro en unidad de cuidado intensivo. Karla Pacheco Álvarez. Primera Hora. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
- Emilio Navarro, Puerto Rico baseball great, dies at 105 in Caribbean homeland
- Emilio 'Millito' Navarro dies at 105. ESPN MLB. ESPN. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
- Ponce tendrá estadio de fútbol. (English: "Ponce will have a soccer stadium.") Michelle Estrada Torres. Primera Hora. 4 June 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- En marcha ciudad deportiva Millito Navarro. (English: "Ciudad Deportiva Millito Navarro moving forward.") Noticel. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
- Sports. TravelPonce.com Retrieved 18 April 2013.