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A Brief Guide to Mexican Baseball

Historians have placed the origin of Mexican baseball back to the 1840s, but the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, also known as the LMB, hadn't emerged until 1925. Read our brief guide to Mexican Baseball to learn more.

Liga Mexicana de Beisbol

Estadio de beisbol en Monterrey
Estadio de beisbol en Monterrey (Home venue of the Sultanes Monterrey) – Pzurita at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

In the league’s 95-year history, 90 teams have come and gone through the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol. There are currently 16 teams in the league, separated between two divisions, the North Division and the South Division. Each team plays 114 games per season, with five clubs in each division reaching the postseason. Like MLB, the Serie del Rey, or World Series if you will, is a best-of-seven series.

Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria playing for the Kansas City Royals – Keith Allison on Flickr / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB in 1947, African-Americans played with Mexicans and Cubans in the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol. Approximately 150 African American players traveled to Mexico to play in the LMB in search of more generous salaries and healthier social conditions. Over the years, roughly 100 players from the LMB have debuted in MLB, including Joakim Soria, Roberto Osuna, and Fernando Valenzuela (more on him later.)

International Success

Team Mexico has made an impact on the international platform. They have participated in all four of the World Baseball Classic tournaments, with the best finish of 6th place in 2006. In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the Mexican national team defeated Team USA in a heavily promoted game by US supporters in a crowd of over 38,000 hosted at Angel Stadium. With the Caribbean Series seen as the most prestigious tournament in Latin America, Mexico has won 9 Caribbean Series, including four in the last ten years. There have been 18 Pan-American Games dating back to 1951, and Team Mexico has achieved four bronze medals in that span.

Angel Macias
Angel Macias with his Little League trophy – ISAI JAIR ZUÑIGA SILVA / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Little League teams from Mexico have played quite well in the Little League World Series as well. In 1957, a team from Monterrey, Mexico, defeated a team from La Mesa, California, to win the Little League World Series behind a perfect game from a 12-year-old named Angel Macias. They would go on to repeat as Little League World Series Champions the following year. Another team from Monterrey, Mexico, would appear in the 1964 championship game before losing to a team from Staten Island, New York. Fast forward to 1997, a team from Guadalupe, Mexico, would likewise go on to win the Little League World Series.

The Agreement

While there has been some tension between Major League Baseball and the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol over the years about contract related issues, all 30 MLB teams came to an agreement in 2019 with the LMB about how to accomplish player transfers effectively. It was concluded that any player under contract with a team in the LMB is able to sign with any MLB team after the player adheres to the guidelines of being a Foreign Professional. The criteria for being a Foreign Professional include being at least 25 of age and having a minimum of six years of professional baseball experience.

Roberto Osuna
Roberto Osuna played for the Diablos Rojos del México before signing with the Blue Jays for $1.5 million – Keith Allison / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The exception to the Foreign Professional status requires the MLB team to pay the penalty to the LMB team for the players’ release, which comes to 15% of the total guaranteed value of the contract. If the LMB player ends up signing a Minor League deal, the LMB club will profit by taking 35% of the player’s signing bonus.

FERNANDOMANIA

Fernando Valenzuela
Fernando Valenzuela playing for the Dodgers – Jim Accordino / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

In 1977, a player named Fernando Valenzuela signed with the Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League. The following season, he was transferred to the Mexican Central League to play for Guanajuato Tuzos. The ensuing season, when Valenzuela was pitching for the Leones de Yucatan, the Mexican Central League merged with Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, where he was eventually noticed. A scout from the Los Angeles Dodgers went to one of Valenzuela’s games, but it was actually to see one of his teammates. As the scout looked on, he ignored the player he was there to see, and his attention was strictly on Valenzuela.

A scout from the Los Angeles Dodgers went to one of Valenzuela’s games, but it was actually to see one of his teammates. As the scout looked on, he ignored the player he was there to see, and his attention was strictly on Valenzuela.

The birth of Fernandomania occurred on Opening Day, April 9, 1981. Valenzuela would toss a five-hit shutout that put his name on the map. The first eight starts to his career included eight straight wins, seven complete games, five shutouts, and surrendered just four earned runs over his first 72 career innings.

Valenzuela became the first player to win both Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner in the same season. Suddenly, Valenzuela knew he was serving his home country of Mexico, as he became a cultural icon, and understood the impact he had on Mexico was more significant than his statistics.

Playing 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Valenzuela was a six-time All-Star and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting in 1982, and 2nd in 1986. From 1981 to 1987, Valenzuela won more games than any National League pitcher, while posting the second-lowest ERA, only behind the great Nolan Ryan. Valenzuela would also strike out more batters over those seven seasons than Nolan Ryan, who holds the record for the most strikeouts in MLB history.

Fernando Valenzuela in 1991
Fernando Valenzuela in 1991 playing for the Angels – Jerry Reuss / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

Since his playing career, Valenzuela has served on each coaching staff of Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic (2006, 2009, 2013, 2017). In 2017, Valenzuela bought Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol.

While Valenzuela’s number 34 has not been officially retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers, his jersey has not been given to any member of the Dodgers as a sign of admiration.

On August 23, 2003, Valenzuela was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was just one of three starting pitchers represented on MLB’s Latino Legends team. The impact Valenzuela carried also placed him in the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. While Valenzuela’s number 34 has not been officially retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers, his jersey has not been given to any member of the Dodgers as a sign of admiration. The Mexican Baseball League celebrated Valenzuela’s legacy and retired his jersey from the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol on July 6, 2019. Fernando Valenzuela had an impact on the entirety of the Latin community, where he helped inspire Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans to have a sense of integrity and confidence.

Growth in Mexican Baseball League

While baseball in Mexico is less popular among fans than soccer, the change appears imminent. The Liga Mexicana de Beisbol is anticipating to open eight baseball academies, and 20 indoor training facilities, to boost the number of Mexican baseball players in MLB. Along with the agreement with MLB about Foreign Professional status, this allows players of the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol to obtain interest from MLB clubs.

Kukulcan Alamo Park
Kukulcan Alamo Park (Home of the Leones de Yucatán) – J. Magno / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Additionally, the President of Liga Mexicana de Beisbol, Horacio de la Vega, shared his vision to increase the revenue of the league by 300% by 2022. He intends to organize the broadcasting rights of each team, improve the laws that govern the league, expand the market for the trading of players, improve the rate of play, and further the concept of advertisements in each ballpark.

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