SAN JUAN – Emilio “Millito” Navarro, Puerto Rico’s longest-lived former baseball player, died from complications after a stroke, officials said. He was 105.
Navarro, who died on Saturday, will always be known for his commitment to the sport in Puerto Rico, Gov. Luis Fortuño said in a statement.
“The applause received on the playing field were evidence of what his dedication to the sport represented,” Fortuño said.
Navarro “brought much glory to Puerto Rico” through his sport, Puerto Rican Baseball Federation president Israel Roldan said.
The much beloved player “broke barriers and created new frameworks to honorably represent” Puerto Rico “in an age where prejudice and difficulties set the tone,” Roldan said.
Navarro, who began playing baseball at age 17, would become the first Puerto Rican ballplayer to play in the Negro Eastern League in 1928 with the Cuban Stars.
He could have also been the first Puerto Rican ballplayer to make his debut in the Big Leagues, but his skin color prevented from doing that since the institution, founded in 1869 did not admit black players until 1947, and that honor went to pitcher Hiram Bithorn with the Chicago Cubs.
Navarro also played with the Escogido Lions in the Dominican Republic and lived three years in Venezuela, where he played for Concordia, the Royals Criollos, Magallanes, Universidad Central de Caracas and Santa Marta of La Guaira.
After retiring from the playing field, he coached at schools for six years and worked at a racetrack after founding his own company.
Navarro made his first foray into the working world at the age of 5, when he started selling newspapers, but over the years he was also shined shoes, among many other occupations.
The veteran ballplayer as an adult founded a machine distribution company in which he worked for years as the accountant and earned the distinction of being the oldest worker in the United States in 2010, a recognition bestowed by the firm Experience Works, which specializes in training and finding jobs for older workers in 30 states and Puerto Rico.