During the Colt .45s’ inaugural season—1962—Houstonians could point to few bright spots in the team’s 64-96 record. Román Mejías was one of them.
Mejías played in 146 games, swatted 162 hits, and finished the season with a .286 batting average. Initially a product of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the Cuban outfielder broke into the major leagues in 1955. A year prior, he noticed a 55-game hitting streak for the Pirates’ minor league team in Waco, Texas.
In his article “Mejías of Waco Batting .345 of Pirate Farm Club” in the August 11, 1954 edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald, Oscar Larnce spotlighted the phenom’s talent. “I don’t see how Mejías can miss. He can do everything and is improving every day. He was in Class D last year, then jumped into a tough Class B league and still gets better,” said Buster Chatham, the Pirates’ business manager, as quoted by Larnce.
Mejías spent six seasons with Pittsburgh, never playing in more than 96 games. In 1960 and 1961, he played a total of seven games.
On Opening Day in 1962, Mejías clocked two home runs and notched six RBI to help the Colt .45s start Houston’s major league status with a victory over the Cubs. Mejías’s ability did not, however, result in selecting for the first All-Star game of 1962. In an article for the Pittsburgh Press about Mejías’s All-Star situation, Les Biederman noted that Mejías led the Houston ball club at the plate—.317 batting average, 20 home runs, 54 RBI.
Little by little, Mejías learned English. “New man. I disgusted last year when Pirates send me to Columbus,” he explained in the Biederman article. “I feel I can play in majors and never have real chance. Figure no more chances but Houston take me and now new man.
“No swing bad balls anymore. Not always strikes but no way to reach for ball can’t hit. No more wait for ball over middle of plate. Can’t get hit with bat on shoulder.”
Houston’s baseball fans embraced the slugger. In his article “Mejías’ Season of Milk, Honey?” in the May 30, 1962 edition of the Houston Chronicle, Zarko Franks wrote, “Few will argue with Mejías’ popularity with the fans back home. The roar of their voices when he comes to bat is sufficient testimony.”
Because of political strife in Cuba during the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime, Mejías suffered a separation from his wife, son, daughter, and two sisters for 14 months.
After the ’62 season, the Colt .45s traded Mejías to the Red Sox for Pete Runnels. Fenway Park’s brain trust commenced brainstorming to bring the Mejías clan into the United States. Boston Globe sports writer Hy Hurwitz reported, “The Red Sox very quietly went about assisting Mejías in his plight. There was no publicity on the Mejías predicament by request of certain officials who felt that any publicity might endanger the family’s chance for release from the Castro-dominated island.
“Exactly how much the Red Sox and owner Tom Yawkey did for this 31-year-old man will never be told. Yawkey won’t let it be told.”
However it was accomplished, the Red Sox organization did its legacy proud in securing safe transport for Mejías’s family in March 1963.
Mejías ended his career in a Red Sox uniform after the 1964 season.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 17, 2016.