By Robert Dominguez
He was a good-field, weak-hitting third basemen whose lack of power was glaring even for the pre-Dead Ball era.
But while few, if any, people 150 years ago likely realized the significance of the moment, when Esteban Bellan took the field on this day in béisbol, May 9, 1871, the Cuban-born infielder made history as the first Latino to play in a U.S. major league.
While it wasn’t yet the MLB we know of today, the 21-year-old Bellan, 21, who was also known as Steve, played for the Troy Haymakers, an upstate New York club that was part of the National Association — soon to be the National League.
Born in Havana in 1849, Bellan had Bronx roots. He and a brother studied at St. John’s College, which would later be renamed Fordham University. Bellan was a catcher for the varsity team and after graduation played in a semi-pro league before joining the Haymakers.
He played two seasons with Troy in 1871-1872, then moved on to the New York Mutuals, based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for one year as a utility infielder. He hit .251 in three career seasons, with zero home runs, 9 doubles and a respectable 43 RBI in 63 games.
Though he’s only a footnote in U.S. baseball history, Bellan became a big deal in his native land. He returned to Cuba in 1874 and was among the original players in the island’s first organized league.
Bellan went on to become a successful player-manager for the Havana team, winning three national championships in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He died in 1932 at age 82 as an icon in his homeland and a relatively unknown baseball pioneer in the U.S.
Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls” and writer of the upcoming “El Salón: The Trials and Triumphs of Baseball’s Latino Hall of Famers.”
Photo of Esteban Bellan: Public domain
Photo of Troy Haymakers: Biblioteca del Congreso en Washington, Public Domain