From 1960-to-1984, Héctor Espino was a hitting machine in Mexico, and briefly (1964) with the Jacksonville Suns. Those 25 “summer seasons” are highlighted in Part I. Further comparisons are made between Espino’s power-hitting, and Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Joshua (Josh) Gibson, Babe Ruth, and Sadaharu Oh. Part I focuses on Espino’s Mexican League career but includes his Mexican Pacific League (winter ball) stats since Aaron, Bonds, and Gibson also played winter ball. Part II will emphasize Espino’s 24 winter seasons with Hermosillo Orange Growers and his seven Caribbean Series events. (Espino briefly played winter ball with the Yaquis de Obregón.)
On February 4, 2020, the author was at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, covering the 2020 Caribbean Series for beisbol101.com. He conversed with Mexico’s Sonora Region sportswriters Jesús Alberto Rubio (Al Bate) and Ignacio Romero Navarrete (Mexico Radio). They mentioned Espino’s youth, when he worked with his dad, unloading dump trucks, the main reason he “had such strong forearms.” Juan Antonio Jasso Rodríguez, a fan from Mexico, recalled a late-night arrival by Espino in Mexicali, for a series. He was hungry, but only served four “albondigas” (small meatballs). Espino responded with: “They even serve [me] four balls in a restaurant!”
Eric Nusbaum, in his excellent 2013 SBNATION blog “The Unknown Slugger,” mentioned a joke told by Mexican baseball fans on Espino’s arrival at the pearly gates of heaven with much less fanfare. St. Peter did not recognize Espino and asked God what he (St. Peter) should do? “Don’t be a coward,” God said. “Pitch to him.”
Espino was born in the municipality of Chihuahua, Mexico, on June 6, 1939. (The city was founded October 12, 1709, and is the state capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.) His nicknames were “El Niño,” “The Mexican Babe Ruth,” “El Supermán de Chihuahua,” among others. He was 5’10” with a playing weight of 192 pounds.
Since the summer Mexican League and Espino’s first league—Mexican Center League—are or were minor-league status, Espino hit the MOST CAREER home runs in minor-league history. Table I depicts the Top 10 HR hitters in minor-league history, comprising U.S., Canada, and Mexican League aka Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. https://www.milb.com/news/gcs-377 Espino had the fifth-best at-bats per home run (AB/HR) ratio—18.1. Joe Hauser (16.1), Andrés Mora (17.3), Jack Pierce (17.5), and Jack Graham (17.6) ranked one-through-four in this category. Hauser cracked 63 HR for 1930 Baltimore, International League; and 69 more, for Minneapolis, American Association, in 1933. Pierce—a native of Laurel, Mississippi—hit 294 of his 395 minor-league HR in the Mexican League, with the other 101 in the U.S. minors.
Table I: Top 10 Career Home Run Hitters, Minor-Leagues, plus AB/HR
#Barrera and Ortiz only played in the Mexican League. Sources: baseballreference.com; https://bolavip.com/otros/Los-25-bateadores-con-mas-jonrones-en-la-historia-de-la-Liga-Mexicana-de-Beisbol-LMB-20200814-0118.html; Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Third Edition, Edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff and Published by Baseball America, 2007.
Most (481) of Espino’s HR were hit in Mexico, with 453 in the Mexican League, per Table II, and 28 in the Mexican Center League, per Table III. All of Nelson Barreras’s 455 HR were hit in the Mexican League. Hence, he eclipsed Espino by two HR in this loop. Andrés Mora is the only player in Table II to have played in the majors, for Baltimore (1976-78) and Cleveland (1980). Mora hit 27 big-league HR, plus 24 more in the U.S. minors. His 17.2 AB/HR ratio in the Mexican League outpaced Roberto Saucedo (17.3) and Espino (18.1).
Table II: Top 10 Career Home Run Hitters, Mexican League, plus AB/HR
#Espino’s first two seasons (1960 and 1961) were in the Mexican Center League, per Table III.
Table III: Héctor Espino Stats, 1960-61 San Luis Potosí Tuneros, Mexican Center League #
#Class D: 1960; Class C: 1961. Source: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/p-d2ccf176
Espino’s 32 Games for 1964 Jacksonville Suns
Mention should be made of Espino’s partial 1964 season with Jacksonville Suns, a St. Louis
Cardinals Triple A-team. Rubén Gómez, an RHP, was Espino’s Jacksonville teammate. “Héctor was a pure hitter—very professional,” said Gómez. “He preferred to play in Mexico, where he was a national hero. Without a doubt, he could have hit big-league pitching.” Arturo López, with the 1964 Richmond Vees, recalled Espino as a “power hitter who had one good game against us.” López noted, “players didn’t socialize on the field back then—we were doing our jobs.”
Joe Morgan (not the Hall of Fame second baseman), a Jacksonville teammate, said: “Naturally, they [Jacksonville fans] were disappointed he [Espino] didn’t hit more HR. Besides, the OF fence in Jacksonville was 25 feet high and it was the most difficult park in the league for power hitters.” Coincidentally, the author saw Rubén Gómez and this (white) Joe Morgan, in person, play for 1964-65 Santurce Crabbers, Puerto Rico Winter League champs, managed by Preston Gómez, skipper, 1964 Richmond Vees. (This Joe Morgan later managed the Boston Red Sox).
Eric Nusbaum called Espino “the greatest hitter never to play in the majors” in his essay at https://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/5/21/4348250/hector-espino-mexico-baseball-home-run-king-profile Nusbaum proved that Espino was not a “victim of racism while playing for Jacksonville.” Espino’s wife (Carmen) told Nusbaum: “Bobby Maduro [Jacksonville team owner] was very helpful, very nice. He put us up in an apartment,” she recalled. Carmen added: “The people of Jacksonville [Florida] were very good to us. We didn’t have any problems there.”
Thus, racism was NOT an issue for Espino in Jacksonville. He kept to himself a lot. The St. Louis Cardinals “liked what they saw,” per Nusbaum, and “agreed to buy Espino’s contract in 1965 for $30,000—a lot of money then.” Espino was not pleased with Anuar Canavati, president, Sultanes de Monterrey. Espino “wanted a fair share of the sale price.” Canavati was unwilling to meet Espino’s request. Thus, Espino did not report to spring training with the 1965 Cardinals.
Table IV: Héctor Espino Hitting Stats, 1964 Jacksonville Suns#, Triple-A International League
#Triple-A farm team of St. Louis Cardinals, 1964 NL and World Series Champions.
Espino’s 23 Seasons in the Mexican League, 1962-to-1984
The 1962 Monterrey Sultanes were managed by Cuban Clemente “Sungo” Carrera, who the author saw, in uniform, 50 years ago (April 1971), during a Guaynabo, Puerto Rico high school game, between American Military Academy, managed by Carrera, and visiting Robinson School, the author’s team. (Carrera played for Cuban Stars and New York Cubans, 1937-1941, and has MLB status.) Espino helped Monterrey (77-53) win the 1962 pennant by eight games over Veracruz. His 106 runs led the league; his 105 RBI tied teammate Alonzo Perry for first. Teammate Mike Cuellar led the loop with 124 strikeouts. “Espino was two years younger than me, but you could tell he was special,” recalled Cuellar. “Once you got to know him, he was a great guy.” By 1964, Espino moved to 1B, from the OF. He won his first Mexican League batting crown (.371) and HR title (46), despite missing the final weeks, to play for Jacksonville. From 1966-68, he won three straight batting titles. Elrod Hendricks caught for Jalisco, 1964-67. He opined that “Espino was the league’s best hitter.” Hendricks was proud of his 41 league-leading HR in 1967, seven more than Espino’s 34. “Héctor could have played for any big-league club and done well,” asserted Hendricks.
Espino was a 5x batting champ, 4x HR king, and 2x RBI leader in the Mexican League. With Tampico, 1975, he had 11 straight hits. Three of 10 career walks (408 of 1,330) were intentional. In 1969, he walked 125 times, 53 intentional. Additional Espino highlights include facts from https://milb.bamcontent.com/documents/9/3/4/270469934/HISTORIA_DE_LA_LIGA_MEXICANA.pdf
- April 18, 1962—first HR in Mexican League off Román Ramos, Poza Rica (4th inning)
- March 24, 1964—Three HR versus Mexico City, one to each field, Parque Seguro Social
- April 27, 1969—Connects 1,000th league hit off Gregorio Polo; receives four intentional walks against Mexico City Tigers
- May 19, 1969—Hits two HR against Águila; for 7th and 8th HR in his last six games
- June 1, 1984—Connects 453rd and final HR, off David Franco, Águila, in Monterrey.
Other Espino achievements are at: https://lmb.fandom.com/es/wiki/H%C3%A9ctor_Espino
Table V: Héctor Espino Stats, 1962-1984, Multiple Teams, Double-A/Triple-A Mexican League!
!Double-A, 1955-1966; and, Triple-A, 1967-present. Source: Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano; Editor Pedro Treto Cisneros (Undécima Edición, 2011).
Comparisons: Espino versus other Icons (Aaron, Bonds, Gibson, Oh and Ruth)
#1952 Negro American League. This is not MLB status in 2021, but Aaron’s stats will count.
!1953-54 Caguas Criollos, Puerto Rico Winter League.
Table VII: Barry Bonds Stats, Minors (1985/1986), VZA (1985-86), MLB (1986-2007)
#Venezuelan Winter League: 1985-86 Magallanes Navigators.
Sources: https://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=bondbar001; https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bondsba01.shtml
Table VIII: Héctor Espino Stats, Minors (1960-1984) and Mexican Pacific League (1960-1984)
#1964 Jacksonville Suns, International League; ^ Liga Mexicana de Béisbol (Mexican League), the Summer League; &Liga Mexicana del Pacífico (Mexican Pacific League)—Winter League.
Sources: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/p-d2ccf176; Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano; Editor Pedro Treto Cisneros (Undécima Edición, 2011); https://beisboldelosbarrios.com/index.php/hector-espino-gonzalez/
Table IX: Joshua Gibson Stats, MLB Status (1930-40, 1942-46), Dominican Republic (1937), Cuba (1938-39), Mexico (1940/1941), PRWL (1939-40, 1941-42, 1945-46), Venezuela (1940)
#Negro Leagues, 1920-to-1948, achieved MLB status on December 16, 2020, per Rob Manfred.
##1937 Dominican Republic Summer League for Ciudad Trujillo Dragons; !1938-39 Cuban Winter League for Santa Clara Scorpions; >1940 Centauros club, Venezuela; !!1939-40, 1941-42, 1945-46 Santurce Crabbers; ###1940/1941 Veracruz Azules, Independent Mexican League.
Sources: http://beisbolinmortal.blogspot.com/2020/07/joshua-gibson-el-babe-ruth-de-las-ligas.html; Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano; Editor Pedro Treto Cisneros (Undécima Edición, 2011); Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, by Jorge S. Figueredo, McFarland (2003); Black Baseball Out of Season, by William F. McNeil, McFarland (2007); https://beisbol101.com/joshua-gibson/ https://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=gibso01jos
Table X: Babe Ruth Stats, Minors (1914), MLB (1914-1935)
Sadaharu Oh’s summary stats for the Yomiuri Giants, 1959-to-1980, are in Table XI, with the other five icons. Oh, who batted left-handed, “could hit lefties or righties equally well,” per Arturo López, who played against him in Japan, 1968-1973. López, normally an RF, played 1B in a game for the 1973 Yakult Swallows, when teammate Joe Pepitone was benched. “Oh hit a one-hop shot, that bounced off my chest,” recalled López. “He was very polite.” López opined Oh, and other Japanese players he played with/against, could have played well at the MLB level. Oh’s stats are at https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=oh—-000sad
Table XI: Player-by-Player Hitting Comparisons (Aaron, Bonds, Espino, Gibson, Oh and Ruth)
Aaron and Espino had identical career SLG but Aaron’s AB/HR ratio (17.1 to 18.1) was better. Oh outdistanced his “competitors” with a 10.7 AB/HR ratio, followed by Ruth (11.9), Bonds (13.2), Gibson (14.3), Aaron and Espino. Gibson (.688 SLG) edged Ruth (.686 SLG) for first-place, and had the highest AVG. Oh hit 68 more HR than Aaron, but Aaron outhomered Bonds, 800-to-789. Bonds hit six more HR than Espino’s 783. Post-season, including Caribbean Series, World Series, playoff games, semi-final, final series and All-Star Games are not included. Joshua Gibson’s Cooperstown plaque reads, in part, that he was a “Power-hitting catcher who hit almost 800 home runs in league and independent baseball during his 17-year career.”
Grateful acknowledgment to Miguel Dupouy Gómez for his blog on Joshua Gibson’s 1940 season with Centauros, in Venezuela; to Eduardo B. Almada, for a digital version of Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano; to Arturo López, for insights on playing against Espino in 1964, and against Oh, in 1973. Mike Cuellar, Rubén Gómez, Elrod Hendricks, Juan Antonio Jasso Rodríguez, Ignacio Romero Navarrete, Jesús Alberto Rubio contributed insights on Mr. Espino. Joe Morgan’s thoughts on Espino, as a 1964 Jacksonville Suns teammate; and, Eric Nusbaum’s marvelous 2013 essay on Espino, were quite helpful. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, furnished Hank Aaron’s Caguas stats, and Joshua Gibson’s Santurce stats.