Roberto Enrique Vargas played only one year in Negro League baseball, 1948. Born May 29, 1929 in Santruce, Puerto Rico, the 5’ 11”, 170 pound left handed pitcher spent most of that year with the Chicago American Giants. But records also show he pitched a few games for the Memphis Red Sox. Not possessing a blazing fast ball, Vargas challenged batters with an assortment of curveballs, sliders, and change of pace pitches.
Racial barriers that had kept African American and Latino players out of Major League baseball had crumbled by 1948 and Vargas became one of the first ten Puerto Ricans to dawn a Major League uniform. After he played in the Class B minor leagues, the Cleveland Indians signed him in 1952. The Milwaukee Braves selected him in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft which requires the player to be on the team’s roster the next season.
On April 17, 1955 Vargas made his Major League debut pitching one and one third innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He struck out one batter. But that would be the extent of his success. In the next 24 games, the “junk ball’ thrower gave up 25 runs in 24.2 innings for an 8.76 Earned Run Average (ERA). Vargas was released after the season. Under Rule 5 Draft stipulations, the Indians had the option of taking him back but refused to do it.
For the remainder of his career, Vargas pitched in the minor leagues and in winter league baseball (Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico).
What other native of Puerto Rico made his Major League career debut on April 17, 1955 and later became a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame?