Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
Here’s an application for U.S. citizenship by Louis Castro, the longtime minor league infielder who in 1902 became the first native of a Latin American country to play major league baseball since Esteban Bellán. It shows “Louis Michael Castro” (rather than “Luis Manuel Castro” as we get from other sources), “Professional Ball Player,” age 41, born November 25, 1876 in Medellín, “U.S. of Colombia So. America.” Here he states that he arrived in New York from Colombia on April 15, 1880, rather than October 14, 1885.
Although the document isn’t dated, from the age given for Castro it would have been in 1917 or 1918. The document is dated July 10, 1917. Just four years later, in 1922, he applied for a U.S. passport as a native-born citizen, claiming to have been born in New York, and leaving questions about naturalization blank. A guess would be that his application for citizenship had been turned down, though I have no idea why that would have happened.
You have probably heard of Louis Castro, the Philadelphia Athletics’ second baseman and graduate of Manhattan College who briefly replaced Nap Lajoie in 1902 when Lajoie was moved to Cleveland as part of the war with the National League. Recently a debate has raged about whether Castro was born in Colombia (which would make him the first native of a Latin American country to appear in the major leagues since Esteban Bellán in 1873) or in New York City.
Castro, it turns out, led an interesting life quite apart from the question of his place of birth. Personable and eloquent, he eventually became known as something of a baseball comedian. He was nicknamed at first “Judge” (which mutated into “Jud” at some point); as a minor leaguer he was known as “Count Castro.” At a postseason banquet in 1902, the Athletics players were each presented with a special watch fob in commemoration of the team’s American League pennant. Despite having been a mediocre rookie who had only played parts of the year, Castro was chosen to give “a short speech of acceptance” on behalf of the players. He also “sang a Spanish song,” and “on behalf of his fellow-players, crowned [Rube] Waddell with flowers from the table as ‘king of pitchers’, an honor which Waddell accepted blushingly but gracefully” (Sporting Life, October 11, 1902).
After 1902 Castro continued to play in the minors for a number of years. In 1907 he took a job as an undertaker in Atlanta, and apparently continued to do off-season mortuary work over the next few years while still playing ball in the summer. He became a boxing promoter in the 1910s and in 1921 headed a Rhode Island group that wanted to buy Jersey City’s International League club and move it to Providence. In the 1930 census, at the age of 52, he’s listed as a “Ball Player”; this most likely points to work as a semi-pro manager or promoter, though I haven’t been able to substantiate that.
During his career he was always understood to have been born in Colombia (or sometimes Venezuela); most famously, he was frequently said to be the nephew or cousin (or even son) of Cipriano Castro, the president of Venezuela at the time, who had extensive familial and business connections to Colombia. Baseball reference books accepted his Colombian birth until 2001, when Dick Beverage found Castro’s file at the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, dating from the late 1930s, in which Louis Castro gives his birthplace as New York City. Combined with his 1941 death certificate and a 1930 census entry, this led SABR’s Biographical Committee to decide he had been born in New York. For some, the change removed Castro’s status as a pioneering Latin player, although Castro was undoubtedly perceived and treated as Latino during his career, regardless of the actual facts of his birth.
Anyway, the consensus, led by the work of Nick Martinez, Leo Landino, Gilberto Garcia (“Louis ‘Count’ Castro: The Story of a Forgotten Latino Major Leaguer,” Nine 16:2 , pp. 35-51), Adrian Burgos (Playing America’s Game, pp. 85-86), and an archivist from Manhattan College whose name I unfortunately don’t have at the moment, seems to have swung back in the direction of a Colombian birth for Castro. This in my opinion certainly fits the evidence best. A quick summary:
--A passenger list for the ship Colón, arriving in New York from Aspinwall, Colombia (now Colón, Panama), on October 14, 1885, which includes Louis Castro, 8, citizen of the “United States of Colombia,” traveling with his father N. Castro, 50, a banker (Leo Landino posted the passenger list, originally found by Nick Martinez);
--Manhattan College records from the 1890s showing Castro’s father’s address as Medellín, Colombia, though Garcia notes that some of these records also indicate that Castro was born in Venezuela;
--A biographical sketch in Sporting Life (October 4, 1902, p. 5) that says Castro “was born in the United States of Colombia, in 1877”;
--Numerous press reports, from ca. 1903 to as late as 1914, that Castro was the nephew, cousin, or son of Venezuelan president Cipriano Castro, which sometimes also state that Castro was himself Venezuelan;
(Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1904, p. B4)
--The 1910 U.S. census, showing Louis M. Castro, a 33-year-old undertaker living in Atlanta, born (like his parents) in “Medellin U.S. Col.,” which is crossed out with “So. America Spanish” written above it.
--A passenger list for the ship Vandyck, arriving in New York from Rio de Janeiro on April 11, 1922, showing a Louis Castro, 45, married, born November 25, 1876, in New York City.
--The 1930 U.S. census, which shows Louis Castro, 51, “Ball Player, Base Ball Team,” born in New York and living in Queens.
--Castro’s file, Association of Professional Ball Players of America, late 1930s, showing him born in New York.
--His 1941 death certificate, also showing Castro born in New York.
Note that from 1886 through 1914 or so Castro was said in every press notice or official record to be from Colombia (or in some instances Venezuela). According to his entry in the 1910 census he was an alien, not a citizen of the United States.
However, from 1922 until his death the records we have all show him born in New York. It could be that Castro at some point discovered the truth about his origins. The above chronology would suggest that this epiphany, if it occurred, must have taken place sometime in the late 1910s or early 1920s.
But I have found a document, one I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, that might better explain why Castro might have switched his birthplace from Medellín to New York later in his life. It’s his passport application, dated January 30, 1922. It shows Louis Castro, born in New York on November 25, 1876 (providing affidavits by two people to this effect), and claiming never to have been outside the United States. Castro also says that his father, Nestor Castro, deceased, was born in New York.
(click to enlarge)
Castro gives his employment as “salesman,” gives us the name of the ship (the Van Dyck) upon whose passenger list he later appears (see above), and lists the countries he plans to visit: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Jamaica. He lists the “object” of his visit as “travel,” so it’s unclear whether or not this is a business trip of some sort. For what it’s worth, there doesn’t seem to be a passport application on file for his wife, Margaret, which might tend to indicate the trip was for business.
If Castro indeed came to the United States as an eight-year-old youngster, and if his father returned to Colombia (as it seems the Manhattan College records suggest), it’s possible Louis was never naturalized. If he didn’t leave the United States from 1886 to 1922, the issue of his birth and citizenship might never have come up. But when he did leave, it became necessary to obtain travel documents. He applied for a U.S. passport on January 30, 1922, and gave the date of his departure as February 4, so it was either a relatively unexpected trip, or he had left everything until the last minute. Either way, he needed the passport quickly.
Even without that complication, it might have been quite difficult to obtain documents from Colombia after having been absent for 35 years. Castro’s father was dead, and perhaps he had fallen out of touch with his family there. In any event, it was doubtless much easier to find a couple of friends to swear to his birth in the United States than to do whatever he would have had to do to get a Colombian passport. What I want to suggest is that Louis Castro may have simply decided to claim he was born in the United States as a bureaucratic expediency. He then adopted that fiction for all official purposes for the rest of his life.
Another crucial source needs to be examined. There is a World War I draft card for “Lou Castro,” born November 25, 1877, and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the form he used did not ask for birth place, and worse, the card’s image is missing from Ancestry.com’s digitization (and presumably the original microfilm), so we can’t check any other information that might be on it, such as his occupation, employer, nearest relative, and, most crucially, his citizenship status (alien, naturalized U.S. citizen, or native-born citizen). If anyone wants to examine the actual, physical card in whichever National Archives branch has it, it is supposed to be in Roll 1907607, Draft Board 7, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.