By Russell Gurule
Enchantment Sports Staff Writer
Salomon “Sal” Artiaga, a former Minor League Baseball president and Los Lunas native, died in Palm, Fla., on February 16, 2019. He was 72.
To know Sal Artiaga would be to know his tremendous contributions to many lives and how they have been changed for the better.
Growing up in Los Lunas in the 1950s and ’60s, Artiaga was always involved in many school activities — from participating in football, basketball and track to being on the student council and a senior class representative. Artiaga was even voted “Most Friendliness” by his classmates.
After graduating from Los Lunas High School in 1964, he took that friendliness to bigger things.
Orlando Gurule, one of Artiaga’s LLHS ’64 classmates, remembered Artiaga for his eternal enthusiasm.
“I remember that he lived and grew up on Main Street in Los Lunas,” Gurule said. “Sal was a very lively person and had a smile for everyone. He was always an encourager and very generous with compliments — energetic and disciplined.
“I think he may have been the first trainer for Los Lunas High School. I know he was our
trainer for basketball. He loved high school sports. I’m sure he went to all the games. He really embodied the school spirit. I always thought that he was someone who cared about his hometown.”
Artiaga started his career early in baseball in the minor leagues as an assistant business development manager in 1965 with the El Paso Sun Kings. El Paso was a Double-A affiliate in the Texas League at that time.
He later moved to the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League where he became general manager.
Then, Major League Baseball called. Artiaga was on his way to the Cincinnati Reds in 1967, where he spent the next 15 years with the Big Red Machine working in the scouting and player development department.
Another opportunity arose in 1983 with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, better known as Minor League Baseball.
Sal became an administrator under then-president John H. Johnson.
Many changes to Minor League Baseball happened during this time; Artiaga was a big part of them.
Free agency became a possibility in the minors with the “six-year free agent” rule that Sal helped draft during the ’80s.
This rule protected veteran players from being stuck in one farm system, thereby increasing their chances of making the Major Leagues.
With the death of Johnson in 1988, Artiaga rose to the esteemed position of President of Minor League Baseball.
“It gave me the opportunity to use things I had learned on a much wider scale, involving the whole industry,” Artiaga once said about being MiLB President. “I believed that Minor League Baseball was growing as an important institution, and I wanted to be a part of that growth.”
Artiaga made good on his commitment to the entity’s growth.
One of his biggest accomplishments was his work on the Professional Baseball Agreement, which set higher facility standards for Minor League Baseball Stadiums across the country. That led to the construction of more than 100 ballparks since 1990.
It could be argued that Artiaga’s work laid the foundation for Albuquerque’s Isotopes Park to be built.
Some of Artiaga’s other accomplishments included work in developing the Dominican Republic Summer League as a rookie-level league for Latin American Ball players. Minor League franchises increased in value and were beginning to be viewed more than ever as investments.
His three-year term as president ended in 1991. He returned to the big leagues, where he joined the American League’s Chicago White Sox as Coordinator of Cultural Development from 1993 to 1999.
Artiaga then moved over to the National League with the Philadelphia Phillies as Director of Latin American Operations from 1999 to 2009. He then moved to the Kansas City Royals as Coordinator of Cultural Development, where he retired in 2012.
Artiaga career in baseball spanned 48 years, but his various titles — while impressive — weren’t the key to his success; all his accomplishments to make baseball better while holding those titles was his legacy.
He never taught baseball or coached any players on the field itself. Instead, Artiaga created programs to help integrate Latin American players into the American way of life.
Artiaga did that by teaching Latin American players how to speak English, how to communicate with coaches, how to rent an apartment and many other life skills while living in the U.S. — all the basic necessities and skills we citizens at times take for granted.
Artiaga’s programs are now a part of the doctrine of almost every Major League Baseball team. He helped many Latin American baseball players achieve their dreams through his dedication. His life’s work made their summers a little better.
Artiaga’s dedication to Latin American players gave them the chance at the American dream. He was a friend to New Mexico and Los Lunas. His job is done, and now he comes home to rest.
He is survived by his loving wife of 14 years, Marlene Diaz Castro. His family includes many children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and sisters.
Rosary services and a funeral mass took place at San Clemente Catholic Church in Los Lunas.
Donations may be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in his memory.
Russell Gurule was born and raised in Albuquerque and is a long-time resident. He graduated from Highland High and also attended Hope Christian. Russell is a long-time observer of New Mexico Lobo and high school athletics. Logistics is his day job. Basketball and politics are his passions. To contact Russell with comments of tips, please email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.