Obituary: Mike Brito, Legendary Dodgers Scout Who Signed Fernando Valenzuela
Legendary scout Mike Brito died on Thursday night, the Dodgers announced. He was 87 years old.
Brito spent 45 seasons as a scout for the Dodgers and was a pioneer in scouting players from Mexico. He signed Fernando Valenzuela, Julio Urias, Ismael Valdez, Joakim Soria, Antonio Osuna and Dennys Reyes among many other players from Mexico, helping lead the Dodgers to decades of success and shaping the franchise’s cultural identity to become the favorite team of generations of Mexican and Mexican-American fans.
Brito also signed Cuban émigré Yasiel Puig in 2012 based off a scouting a trip to Mexico. All told, Brito signed 32 major leaguers in a scouting career that lasted from 1978 until his death.
Brito was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 and was named MLB’s International Scout of the Year in 2014. Last year, Baseball America awarded Brito its Tony Gwynn Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong contributions to the game.
“You have to be aggressive,” Brito said in an interview with BA last November. “That’s one thing God gave me. I want to be aggressive. When I like a player, I go after him. I’m not afraid.”
Brito was born in Cuba in August 1934 and was a talented amateur catcher in his playing days. While in Cuba, he played for a Cienfuegos club that was managed by Al Campanis, who would go on to become the Dodgers general manager and eventually hire Brito as a scout.
Brito was signed by legendary Washington Senators scout Joe Cambria in 1955 and played three seasons in the Senators’ minor league system. He went on to play another four seasons in Mexico before retiring as a player.
Brito became a truck driver in Los Angeles after he retired and ran an amateur adult baseball league called the Mike Brito League in his spare time. While playing in the league, he spotted pitcher Bobby Castillo, who he signed for the Mexican League’s Reynosa club and eventually recommended to the Dodgers after getting back in touch with Campanis.
Campanis hired Brito as a full-time Dodgers scout in 1978 and assigned him Mexico as his scouting territory. One year later, Brito signed Valenzuela in a move that would change both Brito’s life and Dodgers history.
Originally, Brito went on a trip to Silao, Mexico to see a shortstop named Ali Uscanga. While watching Uscanga, Valenzuela caught his eye.
“I went to see a shortstop, Ali Uscanga, and that day Valenzuela was pitching against the shortstop I went to see,” Brito recalled. “Unfortunately I didn’t like the shortstop, but when I was ready to leave the ballpark, Valenzuela was pitching and he loaded the bases with nobody out. And then he struck out the three next hitters.
“When I saw that I said ‘Dang, who is this guy?’ So I went back behind home plate, I went to see him again, and instead of the shortstop I concentrated on Fernando. And Fernando opened my eyes when he again struck out the three next hitters with the curveball. He didn’t throw the screwball at that time. He had a good curveball, a good changeup and good command, too.”
Brito signed Valenzuela for the Dodgers, and two years later Fernando-mania swept the nation as Valenzuela led the Dodgers to a World Series title in 1981.
“He believed in me and my stuff,” Valenzuela told BA last year. “That was a big help. Because a lot of players, they have a good future, good stuff, especially for pitchers, but sometimes, for some reason, the scouts doesn’t give guys more opportunities if they have a bad outing on their pitching days. They stop looking at them.
“So I think that’s Mike Brito. He keeps following and not only giving you one look, but more than that. I think that’s what the players need sometimes. Because every player is going to have a bad outing, a bad game, so I think he’s always continuing to look for those players. I think that’s the difference in Mike Brito from other scouts.”
Brito transformed into an overnight celebrity in Mexico and opened up the scouting pipeline into the country. On Brito’s recommendation, the Dodgers began signing players from Mexico en masse, getting talent from the country well ahead of other teams.
Prior to the signing of Valenzuela, fewer than 40 players born in Mexico had ever played in the major leagues.
“For many, many prospects from Mexico, he was a God,” Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, whose friendship with Brito dates back to the early 1970s, told BA in an interview last fall. “They loved him because he protected them. To the point that Fernando Valenzuela, when he came to the Dodgers, he lived in Mike Brito’s house for 3-4 months before he got his own place. He really took care of his own players. I have seen him enjoying so much when one of his kids is doing really well, and also he’s sad when one of his players gets sent down to the minor leagues and things like that.”
The signing of Valenzuela did more than just help the Dodgers on the field. It changed the entire complexion of the Dodgers fanbase to include generations of Mexican and Mexican-American fans, and Brito kept it going by continuing to sign standout Mexican players through the decades that followed.
“Before Mike, we had very, very, very few Mexican players,” Jarrin said. “The first one was Phil Ortega, and he wasn’t from Mexico. He was from Arizona. But Mr. (Walter) O’Malley told him ‘Hey, tell everybody that you’re Mexican.’ And Ortega told him ‘But Mr. O’Malley, I don’t speak any Spanish.’ And Mr. O’Malley just says ‘You are Mexican, okay? Tell everybody that your Mexican.’ He had Mexican ancestry, but he wasn’t Mexican.
“But Al Campanis together with Mike Brito are the ones that really, really cultivated the Mexican market. It was Mike who really, really worked very hard. The fact that he found Fernando became a lot. Because after he found Fernando, that’s when he started bringing in all those players that we mentioned. Before Mike Brito, we didn’t have many Mexican players.”
“When I started with the Dodgers in 1959, the Latinos in general, mostly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, it was about 8 or 10% at the most. Now, Dodger Stadium has between 42-46% Latinos coming in, the majority Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. “
On the heels of signing Valenzuela, Brito’s stature grew throughout the 1980s. He started standing behind the plate at Dodger Stadium and using a radar gun to measure pitcher’s velocities during major league games, a novel concept at the time. With his signature white panama hit, ever-present cigar and white Stalker radar gun, he became a staple of Dodgers TV broadcasts and one of the most recognizable scouts of all-time.
But while his fame grew—he even began acting and appeared in nine films across both the U.S. and Mexico—his devotion to scouting never wavered. He continued to scout Mexico and became known for not just scouting players in the major cities, but traveling to small, remote towns and organizing tryouts in the hopes of finding talented players who merely lacked exposure.
“He made his mark and his legacy and everything in Mexico,” former Dodgers scouting director Logan White said in an interview with BA last fall. “Did a phenomenal job in Mexico. It’s just, he’s so legendary even from the Dodger days when he was behind the plate with the radar gun and everything. At one time he was probably one of the most recognizable scouts because of that.
“In terms (of) his scouting acumen and ability, I don’t know if there is anybody ever more celebrated in Mexico and being able to go there and know the terrain and the personnel and the team owners and stuff like Mike. I mean, he was phenomenal with that.”
Signing Valenzuela was Brito’s signature moment, but it was hardly the only highlight of his career.
Nearly 40 years after Valenzuela’s debut, the Dodgers won the 2020 World Series with lefthander Victor Gonzalez earning the win in the clinching game and Urias earning the save.
Both were signed out of Mexico. Both were signed by Brito.
“I was so happy,” Brito said. “When I saw the World Series and I saw those two guys pitch and Julio get the last six outs, I was just so grateful.”
The World Series victory, exactly 40 years after Valenzuela’s debut (he debuted with 10 games for the Dodgers in 1980 before his storybook 1981 season) marked an appropriate bookend to Brito’s work as a scout. He signed players responsible for bringing championships to Los Angeles a full 40 years apart, a testament to his longevity and legacy.
“You can be good, but if you’re not lucky, you’re not going nowhere,” Brito said. “I consider myself a very lucky guy.”
Brito is survived by his wife, Rosario, daughters Diana and Minerva, and four granddaughters. Funeral services are pending.