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Mike Brito pushed MLB towards Latin America

By bringing Fernando Valenzuela to the Dodgers, Mike Brito helped shaped the makeup of one of MLB's most beloved franchises

A lot of baseball fans believe that the traditional baseball scout is an endangered species, one that has been replaced by endless spreadsheets and data visualizations. And while there is an element of truth to that idea, baseball teams can still find value in people finding players that everyone else has missed. Mike Brito fundamentally understood that, and he used that wisdom to become one of the most influential people to ever work for an MLB team. 

Brito died last Thursday at the age of 87. Most baseball fans probably don’t know who he is–heck, most Dodgers fans probably don’t know who he is–but just one of his discoveries changed the shape of the organization and the shape of MLB forever.

Mike Brito brought Fernandomania to Los Angeles

After a short baseball career in Mexico and the American minor leagues in the 1950s and 60s, the Cuban-born Brito became a scout in Mexico and later caught the attention of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1978. Owner Walter O’Malley wanted the Dodgers to sign the first Mexican-born MLB star, and the team tagged Brito to find him. And what a find he would make. 

While scouting a shortstop in Guanajuato, a 17-year-old left-handed pitcher named Fernando Valenzuela caught his attention, and Brito refused to let him go. The Dodgers signed him at a six-figure premium that paid off almost immediately, as Fernandomania swept Los Angeles two years later and Valenzuela became arguably the most beloved Dodger of all time. 

It’s hard to overstate how important Valenzuela’s discovery was for the Dodgers. Before Fernando the Dodgers had the attention of the city’s massive Mexican-American community, but after Fernando arrived the Dodgers became something close to a religion for many of the city’s Mexican fans. Valenzuela wasn’t just Mexican, but from a poor village with eleven siblings who had a native background and a decidedly un-athletic build. He was an underclass everyman, the type of player that scouts often overlook in favor of more traditionally beautiful and polished athletes. Brito didn’t overlook him, however. 

Helped establish a Latin America-to-MLB pipeline

And if Fernando were Brito’s only contribution to the Dodgers, he would still be a key figure in the history of the organization. But his work continued well into the 21st century, and he struck lightning twice on the same trip to Mexico in 2012 by discovering a Cuban superstar in Yasiel Puig and Mexico’s next phenom in Julio Urías. Both players had been overlooked for different reasons (Puig because of his tumultuous relationship with the Cuban Baseball Federation and Urías because of a defect in his left eye) and Brito had the Dodgers sign them both anyway. 

In a way, Brito’s ability to scout and sign players like Puig and Urías directly results from his work scouting Valenzuela. There were precious few Latin-born superstars in MLB before Fernando and there was no proof that a pipeline between Latin America and MLB could be established. But not only did Brito lay the foundation for that pipeline with the Valenzuela signing, he set the first brick from the most remote areas and gave chances to some of the most underappreciated players in the baseball world. 

Dodgers fans who recognize Brito might point out his dapper style, usually in a full suit with a Panama hat and chomping on a cigar behind home plate. And based on the outpouring of love from media outlets everywhere, it’s fair to say that he was one of the most beloved and famous baseball scouts of all time. But to just say that isn’t enough. The Dodgers fan base looks the way it does right now because of Brito’s work, and it’s that work that has given many Latin American players a chance to become stars. 

Mike Brito was a baseball titan, and he deserves to be celebrated.