|Emilio Navarro was said to be the oldest pro baseball player. (Associated Press/File 2010)|
Emilio Navarro, 105, Negro Leagues star
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Emilio “Millito’’ Navarro, believed to be the oldest living professional baseball player, died Saturday in his Caribbean homeland of Puerto Rico. He was 105.
The former Negro Leagues star died while surrounded by relatives, said a statement from his family. He was hospitalized Wednesday in the southern coastal city of Ponce after suffering a heart attack.
Mr. Navarro was elected to the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
The cheerful 5-foot-5-inch infielder, known for his base-running skills, became the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues. “It is a tremendous loss, but they were 105 years of greatness,’’ said Eric Navarro Rivera, one of Mr. Navarro’s grandsons. “He gave his all to everybody.’’
Mr. Navarro played in the Dominican Republic with the Escogido Lions in the late 1920s and in Venezuela with Magallanes and other teams in the 1930s. In Puerto Rico, he was the second baseman for the Ponce Lions for nearly 20 years.
He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the New York-based Cuban Stars of the Eastern Colored League in 1928, hitting .337 the following year.
In 2008, Mr. Navarro threw out a first pitch before a game at Yankee Stadium. He warmed up his arm, waved his hat, and made a 30-foot toss on the fly to catcher Jorge Posada.
Asked how the sport had changed, Mr. Navarro’s eyes widened and he mentioned high salaries. “I made $25 a week,’’ he said through a translator.
In an interview last August, he said he did not have any secrets to a long life but that he enjoyed dancing and the occasional glass of whiskey.
In June 2009, Mr. Navarro said that a recent tribute the major leagues paid to black players was its way of apologizing for racial discrimination in the first half of the 20th century. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
“Back then, there was a lot of racism, but it is good they apologize now,’’ he said. “We black players suffered a lot during that time because we even had to go to different restaurants.’’
Before he became a baseball player, Mr. Navarro had excelled in track. After retiring from professional baseball, he worked as a coach and athletic teacher at schools in Ponce and Caguas.
Mr. Navarro was born in Patillas and spent most of his life in the nearby city of Ponce, where he lived by himself in a house he built for his family in the late 1950s. “He was an exquisite and excellent father,’’ said Eric Navarro Torres, one of his sons. “He instilled us with honesty and above all, respect for everybody.’’
Mr. Navarro leaves four children, 11 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. His wife died more than two decades ago.