RIP to Jorge Rubio, the first major leaguer from the Mexican state of Baja California. He died on June 15 at the age of 75, per El Heraldo de Mexico (link is in Spanish). Rubio, an ambidextrous pitcher who threw from the right in the majors, played for the California Angels in 1966 and 1967.
Jorge Jesus Rubio was born in the city of Mexicali, Mexico, on April 23, 1945. He was, according to Baseball Reference, the 13th Mexican-born ballplayer in MLB history and the first from Baja California. There wouldn’t be another major-leaguer from Mexicali until Tony Perezchica made it to the big leagues in 1988. Rubio attended high school at Escuela Autoctona Justo Sierra in Mexicali and threw a couple of no-hitters while playing baseball there. He signed with the Angels in 1964, when he was 19 years old.
It just so happened that one of his first appearances in professional baseball came in his hometown. Rubio, who had been assigned temporarily to the Hawaii Islanders, was the starting pitcher in an exhibition game between Hawaii and the Los Angeles Angels B-team on March 22, 1964, which took place in Mexicali. The crowd of 2,000 cheered their local son on, but he was roughed up, surrendering 4 runs on 5 hits in 2 innings. Frank Kostro got the biggest blow off him with a 2-run homer in the first inning.
Rubio started 1964 in the low minors of the Angels organization, splitting time with the Rookie League Idaho Falls Angels and Class-A Quad Cities Angels. His work in Idaho really stood out, as he won 8 games against 3 losses with a fine 3.07 ERA. He appeared in 22 games with the team, including 7 starts, and he completed all but one of those starts. In 107 innings between both teams, Rubio had 140 strikeouts. In one of his starts for Idaho Falls on August 12, he allowed 4 runs in the first 2 innings against the Treasure Valley Cubs but then allowed just 1 hit the rest of the way, as the Angels won 7-4. Rubio ended the game with 14 strikeouts.
Rubio pitched brilliantly for the Class-A San Jose Bees to start 1965 (8-2 record, 1.86 ERA). He threw his fourth shutout of the year against Fresno on June 1. “Rubio displayed a quick fastball, excellent curve, a changeup and superb control,” reported The Fresno Bee. “He looks like he has all the tools,” added his manager, Rocky Bridges. The Angels promoted the young pitcher all the way up to AAA Seattle that summer, and though he wasn’t as dominant, he still gave Pacific Coast League hitters fits. He fanned 54 batters in 64 innings with Seattle.
After the ’65 season, Rubio was one of the rookies added to the Angels big-league roster, and he went into spring training in 1966 with a chance to make the team. He was rather overlooked until March 20, when he threw 4 innings of 1-hit ball against the Giants in an exhibition game. He struck out Willie Mays once and Jim Ray Hart twice, and only two batters got the ball out of the infield. He singled home a run, too.
“That was the best stuff I’d seen since Dean Chance first came to our camp,” admitted Angels manager Bill Rigney.
Rubio made the Opening Day roster as a part of the Angels bullpen, with a little help from Cubs manager Leo Durocher, of all people. He noticed that Rubio was tipping his pitches in an exhibition game, and he told Rigney about it. The Angels worked with the pitcher to fix the flaw. Imagine that — Leo Durocher, a nice guy.
Rubio made his MLB debut on April 21 against the White Sox. He hit the first batter he faced in the majors, Tommy Agee, but he settled down after Agee scored on a groundout and allowed just the one run in 2 innings of work. After another decent performance, he was knocked out of a game by the Red Sox in 1/3 of an inning and was sent to AAA Seattle with a 7.71 ERA. He pitched well in the minors and was brought back to the Angels in September and put in the starting rotation. Rubio won his first start against Boston, but he struggled with his control at times. He showed just what he was capable of doing in the Angels’ last game of the year, though.
Rubio went up against the Cleveland Indians on October 2 and mowed them down with a 5-hit shutout. He struck out 15 batters, including all of the Indians starters except Rocky Colavito. Bobby Knoop of the Angels hit an 8th-inning, 2-run triple off Cleveland starter Luis Tiant to give Rubio all the offense he needed in a 2-0 win. Rubio’s last seven outs all came via strikeout, with a Colavito walk in the middle to break up the streak.
Rigney had hopes that Rubio would become the fourth starter for the Angels in 1967, and he did start the season in the rotation. However, the pitcher missed a couple of weeks of spring training with a leg injury and was passed up on the depth chart by rookie Rickey Clark. In Rubio’s first two starts of the season, he worked 11-2/3 innings and allowed a total of 2 earned runs, but he had a loss and a no-decision to show for it. The Red Sox knocked him out of his last start, on May 1, in the fourth inning. He allowed 4 runs on 4 walks and 5 hits, including home runs by George Scott and Dennis Bennett. After that game, Rigney said that Rubio got down on himself mentally, and he was sent to the minor leagues to get straightened out. Though he turned in some good pitching performances in Seattle and El Paso, the Angels did not bring him up to the majors again.
Rubio pitched in a total of 10 games for the Angels over two seasons, with 7 starts. He had a 2-3 record and 3.19 ERA. He had 31 strikeouts and 25 walks in 42-1/3 innings.
In December of 1967, the Angels traded Rubio and reliever Bill Kelso for starter Sammy Ellis. Rigney was sorry to see Rubio go. “I wish I would afford to wait for him to develop, but I took Ellis because I need a starter right now. Rubio has a major league fastball and a spectacular breaking ball.”
Rubio turned some heads in the Cincinnati training camp in 1968. After a season of winter ball in Mexico left him with a tired right arm, Rubio grabbed his left-handed glove and began throwing batting practice as a southpaw.
“I’ve got the same speed left-handed as I do right, and I can throw a slider left-handed,” Rubio told the UPI, “but I need more practice and better control. My right arm is tired right now. It needs a rest.”
Rubio said he started toying with throwing left-handed in high school. He threw with his left hand when he played as an outfielder, and he won a couple of sandlot games in Mexico as a southpaw. Reds manager Dave Bristol was less than impressed, simply stating, “He’s gotta do something more right-handed before he makes the team.”
Rubio was bothered by that sore right arm through the spring and was left at the training camp once the season started to rehab it. He finally appeared with the AAA Indianapolis Indians in May, but he made just three appearances before he was sent to Guadalajara of the AAA Mexican League. Rubio continued to pitch in Mexico through 1975. He played for the Charros de Jalisco, Broncos de Reynosa and Tigres Capitalinos.
For more information (in Spanish): El Heraldo de Mexico