Puerto Rican shortstop Tito Navarro played in 12 games for the New York Mets late in the 1993 season. He came to the plate 18 times, reaching base once – with a game-winning RBI single in extra innings. He appeared twice in the field. That was his only major-league experience. Navarro’s injury-plagued career ended in the spring of 1995, when he was still just 24 years old.
Norberto Navarro Rodríguez was born on September 12, 1970, in Rio Piedras, which is part of the San Juan municipal area. Information on his family and early life has not yet come to light.
Navarro attended Colegio Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Trujillo Alto, which is also in the San Juan urban area. He signed with the Mets on September 2, 1987, when he was only 16. At that time, Puerto Rican players were not subject to the amateur draft.1 The scout was Junior Román, a former minor-league infielder (1976-79) who then covered Latin America for the Mets.2
For his first pro season, 1988, Navarro was assigned to Kingsport in the Appalachian Rookie League. He batted .244-0-23 in 54 games and moved up to Pittsfield in the New York-Penn League in 1989. That was short-season Class-A ball, and the schedule’s late start was significant because that spring Navarro had his first operation on his right (throwing) shoulder – ongoing problems with this shoulder eventually required two more surgeries and severely hindered his career. Navarro did not make his debut until the end of June, a couple of weeks after the season opened.3 In 46 games, his average improved to .280; he had no homers and 14 RBIs. Navarro ran well, but at a slender 5-feet-10 and 155-160 pounds, power was not part of his game.
Navarro spent a full season in Class A in 1990 with Columbia in the South Atlantic League. After recovering from a very slow start, he lifted his average to .314 in 136 games. He also showed his good batting eye, drawing 69 walks, which lifted his on-base percentage to .395. In addition, he stole 50 bases, after totaling just 16 in his first two seasons. Furthermore, as one would hope for a shortstop, he was dazzling on defense. All in all, Navarro was rated the league’s best prospect.4
The Mets recognized Navarro’s play by promoting him to Jackson in the Double-A Texas League, where he played three games. After the season ended, they invited him up to Shea Stadium and presented him with a Doubleday Award, the prize given to the organization’s top player at each level of the minors. Navarro felt happy and proud but underscored that he’d worked for the honor. He found the competition tough, and the very hot temperatures (up to 107-108 degrees at times) were another challenge.5
Navarro then played winter ball in his homeland during the 1990-91 season. He competed for time at shortstop for the Arecibo Lobos with fellow Mets prospect Kevin Baez and Yankees farmhand Héctor Vargas. He said, “I want to play ball. At best, they won’t put me in to play every day, but I’ll play hard. It’s a question of doing the work. If they give me the opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it.”6
He did just that, getting into 48 of the Lobos’ 59 games, hitting .267-0-12 in 161 at-bats, and stealing 10 bases. It was a good showing, but another promising young boricua shortstop was the league’s Rookie of the Year that winter: Wil Cordero.7
In February 1991, the Hackensack (New Jersey) Record presented snapshots of various Mets farmhands, one of whom was Navarro. The line on him was “he makes contact and puts the ball in play. Also possesses a strong arm.”8 At least then, the latter observation still held true.
Spending a full summer in Double A, Navarro continued to perform well. With Williamsport in the Eastern League, he hit his only two professional home runs and drove in 42 runs in 128 games. He hit .288 and his OBP was .380; he also stole another 42 bases. At the end of the season, The Sporting News said “keep an eye out for shortstop Tito Navarro, who showed good bat control.”9 At that point, he had earned consideration as the Mets’ shortstop of the future.10
Navarro returned to Arecibo in the winter of 1991-92. He got into just 23 games that season (.286-0-7 in 77 at-bats). One may conjecture both that his shoulder may have been bothering him and that the Lobos had other shortstops.
Navarro was in big-league spring training in 1992 but was sent to minor-league camp for reassignment in mid-March. In early April he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder to repair a rotator cuff tendon and ligament damage.11 It caused him to miss the subsequent summer season. Had his arm been sound, he probably would have played for the Mets’ top affiliate, Tidewater in the International League. There he would have competed with his old Arecibo teammate, Kevin Baez, and Tim Bogar for time at shortstop.
Navarro might even have made it to the majors at some point that year because the Mets’ incumbent shortstop, Kevin Elster, was struggling with his own recurring shoulder problems. Elster was able to play just a handful of games in April and then was disabled for the rest of ’92 as well. When the outlook for Elster became increasingly bleak, the team traded for good-field, no-hit Dick Schofield. That August, Joe Sexton of the New York Times asked pointedly, “Can the Mets absorb the costs of Schofield’s unproductive .205 bat in their lineup?” He called Navarro, despite being sidelined, the organization’s “only bona-fide prospect for the [shortstop] position.”12
Veteran utility infielder Bill Pecota was Schofield’s primary backup. When Pecota went on the 15-day DL in late April, Baez was called up. Baez also returned in September, but Navarro wasn’t ready. That October, the Mets traded with San Diego for Tony Fernandez, who’d won four Gold Gloves with Toronto. Fernandez was also viewed as an upgrade on offense over Schofield, a free agent whom New York did not seek to re-sign. Elster was no longer in the picture either.
As for Navarro, the Mets left him unprotected in that November’s expansion draft. He was not selected by either Colorado or Florida, though at least one report thought that one of the new clubs might take a shot at him.13
Navarro still couldn’t play in the Puerto Rican league that winter either, but he returned to action in spring 1993 after New York re-signed him to a one-year contract that February. In camp, he had the benefit of tutelage from infield instructor Bud Harrelson. The Mets’ former two-time All-Star shortstop noticed something with the prospect’s throwing form and showed him a cleaner, more efficient way to set up.14
Tony Fernandez was dealt away from New York after less than half a season in 1993. (In a curious twist, he went back to Toronto, replacing the injured Schofield, who’d signed with the Blue Jays.) The Mets then went with Bogar and Baez at short. Meanwhile, Navarro finally reached Triple A, spending most of the year with the Tides. In 96 games, he posted a line of .282-0-16, nearly all as a designated hitter. He was frequently held out of the lineup and played in just eight games at shortstop so that his shoulder would not be taxed.15
Nonetheless, when rosters expanded that September, Navarro was called up to join the big club. In his debut, at Houston’s Astrodome on September 6, he went 0-for-5 and his arm was called into question.16 Two days later, he struck out as a pinch-hitter, making the second-to-last out in Darryl Kile’s no-hitter. The shortstop’s only other start and only other appearance in the field came on September 11 at Shea Stadium. He received a total of 15 chances at short in those two outings and did not commit an error.
Navarro’s lone hit in 17 big-league at-bats came at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on September 18. With two outs in the top of the 10th, Darrin Jackson and Jeff McKnight singled off Mike Stanton. Navarro batted for Jeff Innis, and Braves manager Bobby Cox brought in righty Steve Bedrosian for the lefty Stanton. However, Navarro – a switch-hitter – just changed from the right side of the plate to the left.17
On the first pitch, the rookie dropped a flare into short right field, bringing Jackson home.18 “You can’t think about what a tough situation that is,” he said. “You just have to go up there and do it.”19
Mauro Gozzo pitched a one-two-three inning to get the save, and the Mets’ win trimmed Atlanta’s lead over the San Francisco Giants to three games. “That first hit was slow in coming,” Navarro said, “but I guess it came at a good time. Maybe the Giants will buy me a steak dinner.”20 Indeed, the NL West race was decided on the season’s last day.
Meanwhile, it was a dismal year for the Mets, who finished at 59-103. Yet as they closed in on 100 losses, Navarro saw no shame in being with the club and didn’t think the folks at home would either. “No,” he said. “That’s the big show. Not too many can play in that league, not from Puerto Rico. They will not make fun of me. They like the New York Mets. Really.”21
Navarro came to the plate six more times that season, all as a pinch-hitter. He was 0-for-5 with a sacrifice. In the last game of the season, at Florida on October 3, he pinch-ran for Dwight Gooden and scored an insurance run in a 9-2 Mets win.
Not long after the season ended, on October 19, Navarro underwent surgery on the front of his right shoulder. His throws to first base were weak, and another operation on the joint was deemed necessary if they were to firm up at all. Initial estimates called for him to miss another whole season.22 As one might expect, Navarro was again not able to play winter ball. He began throwing lightly in February 1994, however, and the club expected him to be able to play by May.23 As it turned out, he was in action in early April.24
To start the 1994 season, Navarro went to St. Lucie in the Florida State League (Class A) on a rehab assignment. He began the year as a DH, and the organization then moved him from shortstop to the outfield. The experiment went well enough that Navarro returned to Norfolk in June. Gerry Hunsicker, then an assistant vice president with the Mets, said that Navarro’s arm motion was “more conducive” to center field. Hunsicker noted, “If you didn’t know his background, you wouldn’t know he hadn’t played the outfield. His strength is back, his arm seems fine.” The organization still wanted Navarro to play some infield, to enhance his chances of sticking in the majors. However, his arm wouldn’t let him.25
In 51 games for the Tides, Navarro hit .275-0-18. In late July, the press noted that he had a long-shot chance of being recalled to New York because of Kevin McReynolds’ bad knee.26 Injury struck again, however; this time Navarro tore muscles in the wall of his abdomen. Once more he was out of action during the winter season. The following February, The Sporting News wrote that his inability to recover from the abdominal tear was a concern. “In the best of all possible worlds, he would be fully healthy, playing left field, and filling the team’s need for a leadoff hitter.” But the organization doubted that his skills would be sharp, even if he were healthy.27
There was a sad irony in Navarro’s situation. He was on the Mets’ 40-man roster, making him a member of the major-league players union, which was then on strike. A fellow Puerto Rican, outfielder Ricky Otero, was in the same boat. Unless they became strikebreakers, they couldn’t work for the big club in spring training, and the minor-league facilities were not available to them either.28
The crippling strike ended in early April 1995, and the Mets signed Navarro to a one-year contract. A little later that month, though, they released the “one-time ‘shortstop of the future,’” who was out of options.29 His playing days thus concluded (he never performed again in Puerto Rico either).
As of 2020, Navarro was living in Puerto Rico. Among other things, he was working in the construction business and helping take care of his grandchildren.30 Efforts to reach him during 2020 for further insights into his life and career proved unsuccessful.
It’s impossible to project how this prospect’s career would have turned out had he not gotten hurt. As it developed, the Mets went with veteran José Vizcaino at short in 1994 and 1995. For several seasons after that, the position was manned by Rey Ordóñez – a spectacular fielder whose production at the plate was limited. With a healthy Navarro, the organization might not have felt the need to take part in the October 1993 lottery for the rights to sign Ordóñez, or to trade for Vizcaino ahead of the ’94 season. At the very least, one can imagine Navarro in a utility role, or he might have brought value in a trade.
Continued thanks to SABR member Jorge Colón Delgado for Navarro’s statistics in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Thanks also to Alexis Figueroa for his contact with Navarro.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the trading card database comc.com
2 Tito Navarro, phone call with Alexis Figueroa, September 14, 2020.
3 “Mets Fall to Pirates,” Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), July 1, 1989: D-5.
4 Tito Navarro baseball card, Continental Cards Play II series, 1991. Baseball America’s 1991 Almanac (Durham, North Carolina: American Sports Publishing, 1991). 182.
5 Rubén A. Rodriguez, “‘He Trabajado Para Esto’ – Tito Navarro,” El Nuevo Día (San Juan, Puerto Rico), September 15, 1990. The Mets also honored Columbia teammate Tim Howard, making that team the only one in the system with two Doubleday Award recipients that year. See also 2006 New York Mets Media Guide.
6 Rodriguez, “‘He Trabajado Para Esto’ – Tito Navarro.”
7 José A. Crescioni Benítez, El Béisbol Profesional Boricua (San Juan, Puerto Rico: Aurora Comunicación Integral, Inc., 1997).
8 Untitled sidebar, The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), February 10, 1991.
9 Mike Eisenbath, “Organizations of First Rank,” The Sporting News, September 23, 1991: 13.
11 “Mets: It’s a New Beginning,” The Record, April 6, 1992: 34.
12 Joe Sexton, “Mets Aren’t in Position to Contend,” New York Times, August 23, 1992.
13 “OK, Take Your Picks,” Boston Globe, November 15, 1992.
14 Mike Lupica, “Buddy System Is Mets’ Again – for One Day,” New York Daily News, March 16, 1993: 55.
16 “Sour Old St. Nicholas Fed Up with Schourek.”
17 Furman Bisher, “Braves Hit by No-Name Once Again,” Atlanta Constitution, September 19, 1993: E-1.
18 Joe Sexton, “What Began as the Mets’ Embarrassment Becomes the Braves’,” New York Times, September 19, 1993.
19 Bill Madden, “Unheralded Mets Spoil Braves’ Luck,” New York Daily News, September 19, 1993.
20 “Navarro Stars in Clutch as Mets Cool Off Braves,” Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press, September 19, 1993.
21 Tom Friend, “Lowly Mets’ Temperature Reaches 100,” New York Times, September 21, 1993: B-11.
22 “Franco Hurls His Stool; No Runs Score.”
23 Marty Noble, “New York Mets,” The Sporting News, February 14, 1994: 27.
24 Chuck Otterson, “Expos Lose Opener 4-0 to St. Lucie,” Palm Beach (Florida) Post, April 8, 1994.
26 Frank Isola, “Mets Mull DL for K-Mac,” New York Daily News, July 22, 1994.
27 Marty Noble, “New York Mets,” The Sporting News, February 6, 1995: 32.
28 Jennifer Frey, “To One Mets Hopeful, Promotion Is a Hardship,” New York Times, February 16, 1995.
30 Emails from Navarro’s acquaintance Alexis Figueroa to Rory Costello, September 12 and October 14, 2020.