Top 100 Teams
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
For the past 45 years, the Mexican League has been part of the National Association, currently serving as one of the minor leagues, three Class AAA leagues. During the Mexican League’s stay in Organized Baseball, only one team has played .700 ball over the course of a full season. This team, led by two of the all-time greats in Mexican baseball history, played in the last year of the 1970s in the city of Saltillo.
Saltillo, located in the northeast part of Mexico, first fielded a team in 1946 in the brand new Class B Mexican National League. This circuit, which was the first of its kind in Organized Baseball, faced fierce competition from an independent Mexican League operating in many of the same venues, using the services of many major league players. Unable to co-exist, the Mexican National League folded on May 27 with the Saltillo Peroneros in third place with a 23-22 record.
In 1955, the Mexican League re-entered Organized Baseball as a Class AA circuit, bringing baseball south of the border back into the National Association. Although coming relatively late into Organized Baseball, Mexican teams and leagues sprouted across the landscape. In 1956, the Class C Central Mexican League joined the Mexican League. Four years later, the Mexican Center League joined the National Association. During the 1960s, the Mexican Northern (1968-69), Mexican Southeast (1964-70) and Mexican Rookie Leagues (1968) started play. Although its tenure was short, the Mexican Pacific League, which started in 1976, has lasted over 20 years and serves as a winter home for many minor league players. In a new wrinkle, a rookie-level team from Mexico joined the Rookie Class Arizona League beginning in 1998.
In 1956, a team from Saltillo joined the aforementioned Class C Central Mexican League. Here, a team called the Saraperos won the pennant by a narrow ˝ game over Chihuahua. (Note: Saraperos roughly translated means serape makers; serapes are the woolen shawls worn by Spanish-American men). After a second place finish the next year, the Saraperos dropped out of the league.
Seven years later, Saltillo joined the Class A Mexican Center League, naming their entry the Sultanes (Sultans). The team finished fourth in the six-team loop, and promptly dropped out of the circuit. In 1968, the team (called again the Saraperos) rejoined the league and won the pennant with a fine 81-44, .648 record. After a sixth place finish in 1969, the Saraperos jumped to the highest level league in Mexico--the Class AAA Mexican League in 1970.
In the higher class league, Saltillo quickly turned into a powerhouse, winning five division titles in a row 1971-72-73-74-75. In the first three years of the string, the Saraperos lost in the playoff finals. After a dip to third in 1976, the team returned to the cat-bird seat in 1977, winning the first of another three division crowns in a row. The best of the trio played in the final year of the skein.
The 1979 Saraperos cleaned up the Northwest Division of the Mexican League, finishing with a 95-40,. 704 record, 14 lengths ahead of Ciudad Juarez. The team survived the first round of the playoffs, besting Monterrey, four games to three, before bowing to Ciudad Juarez, four games to one in the semi-finals. The team was managed by 37-year-old Gregorio Luque, who had caught in the Mexican League for 17 years.
The Saraperos were propelled by three fine batting performances, two by legendary veterans of Mexican baseball and one by an American interloper. Second baseman Juan Navarette (.355) finished fifth in the batting race while stealing a league-high 40 bases and scoring a circuit-topping 110 runs. Outfielder Andres Mora (.344) hit a team best 23 home runs and 102 RBIs. Finally, designated hitter Hal King (.320) popped 19 homers while receiving a league-best 124 walks.
The 26-year-old Navarette was in his 10th year of professional baseball in 1979. During his lengthy career, he collected 2,625 hits in 21 seasons, posting a .307 average. Navarette never played in the majors. His American career topped out at AAA Memphis and Denver in the early 1970s. In 1990, he was named as Saltillo’s manager, serving in this capacity for 1-˝ seasons. Named to the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, Navarette has been managing in the Oakland A’s organization since 1990. At present he is the manager of the Visalia Oaks in the California League.
Mora was more fortunate in this regard as he played from 1976-78 for the Orioles, although batting a lackluster .223 with 27 home runs. In the Mexican League it was a different story. Here, over the space of 27 years, he won four home run titles, finishing with an outstanding 444 career minor league home runs - second on the all-time list. He retired after the 1997 season at the age of 42 with 2,488 minor league hits.
King played parts of seven seasons in the majors as a backup catcher. In 322 games for the Astros, Braves, Rangers and Reds, he batted .214 with 24 home runs.
From the mound, Saltillo was led by Miguel Solis (25-5), who finished with the most wins, the best winning percentage (.833) and the second lowest ERA (1.84). Despite this fine record, Solis, nor any other other Saltillo hurler, pitched in the majors. However, he enjoyed a 19-year career in the Mexican League with 202 wins, 149 losses and a 3.43 ERA.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Saraperos enjoyed moderate success, taking home a divisional crown in 1981 and making it to the playoff finals in 1988, losing with a gritty fourth place team. To this day, Saltillo remains an integral part of the Mexican League.
Spurred by the perfomances of Juan Navarette and Andres Mora, the 1979 Seraperos earned their place on the top 100 list by setting two league records. Simply put, the team won more games and had a higher winning percentage than any other full-season team in Mexican League history--reason enough to include them among the all-time greats.
|1979 Mexican League Standings|
|MEXICO CITY (T)||62||73||.459||23.0||MEXICO CITY (D)||74||64||.536||5.0|
|1979 Saltillo Saraperos batting statistics|
|1979 Saltillo Saraperos pitching statistics|