Former Dodgers scout Ralph Avila dies at 92

January 31st, 2023

Ralph Avila, the Cuban expatriate who engineered the Dodgers’ rich pipeline of Caribbean baseball talent and signed Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, died Monday at his home in Florida. He was 92.

Avila, the father of former Tigers executive vice president and general manager Al Avila and grandfather of All-Star catcher Alex Avila, spent 55 years with the Dodgers, beginning in 1966. He became a scout in Latin America for general manager Al Campanis in 1970. In 1986, Avila helped with the planning of the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic and was named vice president of the facility in 1991, serving in that position until his retirement in 1999. He continued in an advisory role until 2021.

Including Martinez, Avila was involved in the signing of more than 50 future Major Leaguers, including Pedro’s older brother, Ramon, and likely Hall of Famer Adrián Beltré, in addition to Raul Mondesi, Rick Rhoden, Mariano Duncan, Juan Guzman and Alejandro Pena.

Pedro Martinez gave Avila a huge shoutout during his Cooperstown induction speech in 2015.

“Right away I have to thank Avila, Rafael Avila, the man with the biggest history as far as ballplayers coming out of the Dominican Republic,” said Martinez. “Just if you didn't know, that's Rafael Avila over here, my first mentor and my papaito that signed more than 50 players that have made it to the big leagues. Rafael Avila, an icon of Latin America, and a symbol of baseball in the Dominican Republic.”

Avila, under Campanis’ direction, is credited, along with fellow Latin American scout Epy Guerrero, with originating the development of training facilities and baseball leagues in the Caribbean. Specifically, Avila was the force driving the trailblazing construction of Campo Las Palmas in the Dominican Republic, the first of its kind when Avila, Campanis and owner Peter O’Malley opened it in 1987.

When current Dodgers ownership group Guggenheim Baseball spent $8 million to renovate the complex in 2017, president and CEO Stan Kasten called Avila “the Godfather of all this,” because “he literally found the land, cleared the sugar cane, planted the trees and dragged the infield in the camp’s early days.”

"I'm very happy," Avila said at the dedication of the updated facility. "We have had players from 27 different countries train here, learning the Dodger way. It's amazing to see how it has grown and the impact Campo Las Palmas has made on the game."

Now 70 acres with 100,000 square feet of indoor space, each building on the site is named after pioneers of the Dodgers and baseball in Latin America, from Walter O'Malley Headquarters and Avila Command Post to Jackie Robinson Hall and Roy Campanella Clubhouse, from Tom Lasorda Dining Hall to the classrooms named after Dodgers Hall of Fame Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín.

Avila was the first recipient of the International Scout of the Year Award in 2006 and has been honored with inductions into the Republica Dominicana (1996), Latin America and International Sports (2003) and Cuba Sports of Miami (2003) Halls of Fame. He was also knighted in the Dominican Republic and received that country's Founding Fathers Award for Excellence.

Born in Camaguey, Cuba, in 1930, Avila played semipro ball there and eventually fled his homeland for Miami.

He was a coach and part-time scout in Florida for the Dodgers when, in 1970, Campanis tabbed Avila to spearhead the franchise’s push into the Dominican Republic, which Campanis viewed as fertile ground for talent with Cuba off limits after the revolution.