Ralph Avila, an influential former Dodgers executive and scout who led the organization’s efforts to develop players in Latin America, particularly in the Dominican Republic, during his tenure from 1970 to 1999, died Monday at 92.
Avila’s son, baseball executive Al Avila, told ESPN Deportes that his father died at his home in Miami from natural causes.
Originally hired by the Dodgers as a part-time scout in 1970 after leaving his native Cuba, where he was a semi-pro baseball player, Avila became a key figure in the franchise’s operations in the Dominican Republic and other parts of Latin America.
His work helped established a pipeline of talent that not only bolstered the Dodgers but contributed to a transformation of the major leagues as a whole, ushering in generations of big league players from Latin American countries in a trend that continues today.
One of Avila’s biggest contributions was helping to create the Dodgers’ Campo Las Palmas academy in the Dominican Republic. The academy, which opened in 1987, was the first in the Dominican to be operated by a major league team — a productive template for player development that other clubs soon followed, turning the country into the biggest hot spot for big league talent outside of the United States.
Avila also helped sign dozens of majors leaguers during his time with the Dodgers, which ended with his retirement after the 1999 season.
Some of the most notable players Avila mentored included Dodgers pitching great Ramón Martinez (as well as his brother, three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez), former Dodgers outfielder Raúl Mondesí, former Dodgers infielder Mariano Duncan and many more.
“He’s got to be classified as an institution,” former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said at the time of Avila’s retirement.
Even after his retirement, Avila continued to serve in an advisory role with the Dodgers while also maintaining a presence in the Latin American baseball community.
He aided a school for underrepresented children in the Dominican Republic called Futuro Vivo. He assisted with the Dominican Summer League and national team. He was even knighted by the Dominican president for his role in advancing baseball in the country.
“I was born in Cuba, and I’m a U.S. citizen,” Avila said in 2006. “But in the bottom of my heart, I am Dominican.”
The Avila family name is still prominent in the major leagues. Al Avila was the Detroit Tigers’ general manager until August. Avila’s grandson, Alex, spent 13 years in the majors as a catcher before joining MLB Network as an analyst last year.
Times staff writer Jorge Castillo contributed to this story.