Roberto played his first professional baseball game in 1939 for the Charlotte Hornets of the Piedmont League, which was an affiliate of the Senators. He was 24 years old at this time and it took him another two seasons before he made his MLB debut for the Senators in 1941. In his 22 games, he managed to hit .329, making a strong impression for the following year and beyond. Unfortunately, his disappointing 1942 season and being sent to the minor leagues kept Ortiz for getting the chance he probably deserved. His success in Cuba and later on in Mexico was proof that the guy could be a productive MLB player if he got a shot. In fact, Ortiz was a steady .300 hitter in the minors.
He finally got his shot in the 1944 season, where he played in 85 games as an OF for the Senators. This was after a trip to a couple other organizations, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies- neither of whom gave Ortiz a shot to play in the major leagues. He was average at best, hitting .253, 5, 35 but did lead the National League with 8 hit by pitches. Another significance of Ortiz' 1944 season was the fact that he got to play, albeit briefly, with his brother, Baby Ortiz. Baby was a right handed pitcher who made two starts for the Senators that season. That was Baby's only action in the big leagues.
Roberto Ortiz was an imposing man; he stood 6' 4, 200 lbs. In 1944, on the other side of the field was a catcher for the St Louis Browns- the year they won the AL Pennant. His name was Tom Turner and he started an altercation with another Cuban born Washington Senators player, C Mike Guerra. Guerra stood at 5' 9, 165 and Turner was 6' 2, 195. Ortiz stepped in and told Turner to fight him instead. According to the book, "Baseball Goes to War," the two were able to fight without interruption, leaving Ortiz with a broken thumb and Turner having to handle a strong kick to the groin.
After the 1944 season, Ortiz went to Mexico where he would proceed to lead the Mexican League in home runs all four years he was there. During the off season, he returned to his home country of Cuba (before US sanctions were put on Cuba) to play ball. Those who remember Roberto Ortiz will remember him for his actions in a single game, one that happened on January 7, 1945. 70 years ago today, in a Cuban League game, Ortiz, playing for Almendares, got into a dispute with umpire Bernardo Rodriguez. Ortiz would attack the umpire, leaving him unconscious at home plate. The umpire was knocked out leaving what was left in the crowd and the other players and coaches stunned. Of course, he would be suspended for his actions.
Long after Ortiz' death in 1971, there became a Mexican Welterweight boxer by the same name. This Roberto Ortiz was born in 1985 and was undefeated until he took on a fight last year with Lucas Matthysse. Ortiz would be knocked out in the second round, though the circumstances were somewhat controversial. Ortiz was knocked to the ground but had seemed to get up in time. However, he was counted out by the ref and the fight was stopped because of the "knockout." Though it was likely the ref counted Ortiz out when he should not have been, it seemed Matthysse had the distinct advantage and even though Ortiz was undefeated, it seemed as if the fight would not have lasted much longer.
Obviously because of the fact that the younger Roberto Ortiz was a welterweight fighter, the tale of the tape would not look so good in comparison to the older, bigger, baseball player. I find some irony, somewhat faint though, between the boxer who lost one time, but is known for being knocked out and the baseball player who is known for knocking out an umpire. Both are remembered for the actions of one day. The latter has a chance to change those memories.