Héctor Espino González, Baseball Superstar and Icon from Mexico (Part III)

Héctor Espino

Héctor Espino González, Baseball Superstar and Icon from Mexico: Part III

Part II  highlighted insights from Daniel “Dany” Espino; Héctor Espino’s winter seasons,  1960-61 to 1984-85; his career hits versus Pete Rose. Part III transitions to Espino’s seven Caribbean Series events, induction into Baseball Hall of Fames, career hits compared with Ichiro Suzuki, the addition of Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays to a prior Table from Part I, among other items. Espino was born in the municipality of Chihuahua, Mexico, on June 6, 1939. 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.

https://www.milb.com/mexican/news/el-recuerdo-de-hector-espino

Caribbean Series Heroics—Seven Classics and Two MVP Awards

The author saw Espino play in his first Caribbean Series, February 6-11, 1971, in San Juan. Hermosillo—managed by Maury Wills—faced Licey from the Dominican Republic, Sunday, February 7.  Licey won, 8-6, followed by a LaGuaira Sharks 6-5 victory over the Santurce Crabbers. Reggie Jackson homered for Santurce, a long blast to RF. Licey (6-0) prevailed over the other clubs, who finished 2-4. Espino’s eight singles gave him a .348 AVG. Chris Zachary, Licey’s All-Star RHP, blanked Hermosillo, 5-0, on February 10, 1971. He remembered the pride of Dominican teammates in representing their Island, and how much these games “mattered,” noting: “The owner of my Licey team gave me a gold-and-silver combination Rolex watch for winning this [key] game.”

Mexico hosted this series in Hermosillo, February 1-6, 1974. Espino reinforced Yaquis de Obregón and emerged as MVP: .429 AVG and .667 SLG. He smashed a Game One HR off Caguas’s Craig Swan, a Criollos 2-1 win. Mazatlán and Obregón played in this series, with Licey and Caguas, due to a players strike in Venezuela. RHP Ed Bauta roomed with Espino, and recalled they “drank a lot of beer together,” even “before the games.”  https://beisbol101.com/eduardo-bauta-baseball-memories/  Bauta (1-0, 0.48 ERA) was RHP, Series All-Star Team, with 1B Espino, 2B Jorge Orta and 3B Celerino Sánchez. Caguas (4-2) prevailed over Licey (3-3), Obregón (3-3) and Mazatlán (2-4). Tommy Lasorda managed Licey; Bobby Wine managed Caguas. Licey had Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner and other Dodgers. Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter  and Jay Johnstone were Caguas imports. Native Criollos included Willie Montañez, Félix Millán, Jerry Morales, Otto Vélez and reinforcement Mon Hernández.

Some 1974 Caribbean Series All-Stars, L to R: Rudy Meoli (SS), Jorge Orta (2B), Héctor Espino (1B), Ramón “Mon” Hernández (LHP), Ed Bauta (RHP), unidentified, Gary Carter (catcher). Source: Naranjeros de Hermosillo.

Espino’s February 1-6, 1975 series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium featured two HR—tied with Willie Montañez (Bayamón Cowboys) and Adrian Garrett (Aragua Tigers). Bayamón (5-1) romped over Hermosillo (3-3), Águilas Cibaeñas (3-3) and Aragua (1-5). Hermosillo’s Joe Pactwa became the first DH to homer in a Caribbean Series game, February 2, 1975—versus Tom Walker of Bayamón. “We were coming off a good [Game One] win over Venezuela,” said Walker. “Every team had big-leaguers…” Ken Griffey Sr., with Bayamón, became the first player in Caribbean Series history with five hits in a game. “We were on a roll,” said Griffey. “Puerto Rico had a Bayamón-Caguas All-Star Team.” Phil Garner, Aragua’s only series All-Star [3B], noted this 1974-75 season, and one with the 1973-74 Ponce Lions, in Puerto Rico, “we’re very helpful in jump-starting his MLB career.” Montañez outpolled Espino, and selected by sportswriters as All-Star 1B. Jerry Hairston Sr., Hermosillo’s only All-Star selection, later told the author, at an event in Lowndes County, Mississippi, honoring Sam Hairston—his father: “Playing in Mexico with Héctor Espino was special. My wife (Esperanza) is from Mexico. The entire Espino family welcomed us. It was great.”

Hermosillo Wins 1976 Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic

Tony Piña Campora saw Espino’s long HR against defending champion Bayamón, at Cibao Stadium, Santiago, Dominican Republic, on February 5, 1976. Hermosillo won, 4-3 when Jerry Hairston Sr. had a walk-off single in the 11th.  A day earlier, Kent Tekulve won the opener, in relief, for the host Águilas Cibaeñas, a 4-3 win over Hermosillo, in 10 innings. But Hermosillo won five straight, to win it with a 5-1 record, followed by Aragua (3-3), Águilas Cibaeñas (2-4), and Bayamón (2-4). Hermosillo placed six players on the All-Star team, led by MVP Espino. Hermosillo outscored opponents, 36-18, with a 2.53 team ERA. Games were played in Santo Domingo and Santiago—two venues—for the first time in series history.

Table I: 1976 Caribbean Series All-Stars

PlayerTeamPosition
Sergio “Bazooka” RoblesHermosilloCatcher
Héctor Espino#Hermosillo1B
Bump WillsHermosillo2B
Celerino SánchezHermosillo3B
David ConcepciónAraguaSS
Miguel DilonéÁguilas CibaeñasLF
Arnoldo de HoyosHermosilloCF
Terry WhitfieldAraguaRF
Manny MotaÁguilas CibaeñasDH
Mark WileyAraguaRHP
George BrunetHermosilloLHP
Benjamín “Cananea” ReyesHermosilloMGR

Three More Caribbean Series

Caracas hosted the 1977 event, February 4-9. Espino’s HR came on February 8, an 18-4 win by Licey. He reinforced the Venados (Deer) de Mazatlán (2-4 record), behind Licey (6-0) and Magallanes Navigators (3-3). Caguas finished 1-5 despite placing catcher John Wockenfuss and 2B Félix Millán as All-Stars. Rico Carty was MVP with a record five HR, breaking the mark of four, hit by Santurce’s Willard Brown in 1953. Venezuela’s Cito Gaston was the All-Star 1B.

In 1980, another powerful Licey club won its fourth Caribbean Series, and first one in Santo Domingo. Hermosillo featured 40-year old Espino, who hit his final series HR off Luis Peñalver of Venezuela, February 5. The Naranjeros struggled with a 2-4 record. Licey (4-2), Bayamón (3-3), and the Caracas Lions (3-3) finished in the top three slots. Cananea Reyes again managed Hermosillo; Del Crandall was Licey’s skipper; Felipe Alou managed Caracas; and Art Howe piloted Bayamón. Licey’s Leon Durham got the nod as All-Star 1B. Roberto Castillo was Hermosillo’s ace hurler and Dave Stewart was considered the Naranjeros best pitching prospect.

Héctor Espino Stadium in Hermosillo, seating capacity 16,000, hosted the 24th edition in 1982: 12 in Phase I, 1949-1960; 12 in Phase II, 1970-1980, and 1982. (The series continued, uninterrupted, through 2021.) Fernando Valenzuela blanked the Ponce Lions on opening night, February 4, 14-0, as Guillermo “Willie” Hernández took the loss. Hermosillo’s Manuel Ibarra shut out Ponce, 1-0, three nights later, for Mexico’s second win. Caracas (5-1) prevailed with Series MVP Baudilio “Bo” Díaz (.412 AVG, two HR, five RBI, .500 OBP, and .765 SLG); Tony Armas (.375 AVG, six RBI); and Luis Salazar (six runs and four SB). Andrés Galarraga and Steve Sax contributed and Luis Leal, Bud Black, Dennis Burtt, and Tom Dixon did effective mound work. Espino went two-for-18 with two runs scored, in his Caribbean Series swan song. Ponce (3-3), Escogido (2-4) and Hermosillo (2-4) trailed Caracas.

Table II: Héctor Espino Caribbean Series Stats (Seven Events)

SeriesGABRH2B3BHRRBIAVGSLGAB/HR
1971523380000.348.348NA
1974#621392016.429.66721.0
1975^623550024.217.47811.5
1976##628493017.321.53628.0
1977623270012.304.43523.0
1980519260013.316.47419.0
1982518220000.111.111NA
Total39155214650622.297.44525.8

#MVP and batting champ. ^HR champ. ##MVP. Source: Tony Piña Campora.

1995 Caribbean Series

Jorge Colón Delgado met with Espino at the Ambassador Plaza Hotel and Casino, 1369 Ashford Avenue, Santurce, Puerto Rico, after the February 3-8, 1995 Caribbean Series, won by Puerto Rico’s “Dream Team.” Espino, a coach for Hermosillo’s entry, signed his jersey for Jorge in a cash transaction. A decade later, Jorge donated the signed jersey to Cooperstown, for a special exhibit:  ¡Viva Baseball! Some other exhibit items include a jersey worn by Roberto Clemente and a cap from Juan Marichal.

Héctor Espino´s jersey in Cooperstown.

Espino Versus Ichiro Suzuki: Career Hit Parade

Espino’s 4,768 career hits eclipse Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,367 by 401, excluding All-Star and post-season games in Mexico and Japan.

Table III: Ichiro Suzuki Stats, Japan (1992-2000) and MLB (2001-2019)

LeagueGABRH2B3BHRRBIAVGSLG
NPB9513,6196581,27821123118529,353.522
MLB2,6539,9341,4203,08936296117780.311.402
Total3,60413,5532,0784,3675731192351,309.322.434
https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=suzuki001ich

Table IV: Héctor Espino Stats, Center League (1960 and 1961), LMB (1962-1984), International League (1964), LMP (1960-1985) and Caribbean Series

LeagueGABRH2B3BHRRBIAVGSLG
Center80300751162442890.362.729
IL#32100153060315.300.450
LMB^2,3888,2051,5052,752373454531,573.335.557
LMP&1,5525,5449471,824260132991,097.329.542
Carib!39155214650622.297.445
Total4,09114,3042,5634,768663627892,797.333.554

#1964 Jacksonville Suns, International League;  ^ Liga Mexicana de Béisbol (Mexican League);  &Liga Mexicana del Pacífico (Mexican Pacific League)—Winter League. !Seven Caribbean Series.

Sources: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/p-d2ccf176; Enciclopedia del Béisbol Mexicano; Editor Pedro Treto Cisneros (Undécima Edición, 2011); http://www.beisboldelacosta.com.mx/; https://beisboldelosbarrios.com/index.php/hector-espino-gonzalez/  Tony Piña Campora

Espino versus other Icons (Aaron, Bonds, Gibson, Mantle, Mays, Oh, Ruth)

Mickey Mantle, Espino’s idol, was added to Table V, Part III. Mantle’s .560 SLG is slightly higher than Espino’s .554 SLG, which factored in his Caribbean Series stats. Espino’s six Caribbean Series HR enabled him to tie Barry Bonds, with 789 career HR, excluding All-Star contests and post-season league games. Bonds’ total includes seven HR for 1985-86 Magallanes Navigators in Venezuela. Willie Mays, Bonds’ godfather, was added. Mays’s totals include 1948 season with Birmingham Black Barons; minors; 1954-55 regular season with Santurce; and February 1955 Caribbean Series hosted by Caracas. Espino had the most career RBI (2,797), 300 more than Hank Aaron, and most hits (4,768) of this group. Oh’s 868 HR were “Número Uno” and Joshua Gibson’s .688 SLG edged Babe Ruth’s .686.

Table V: Career Hitting Stats (Aaron, Bonds, Espino, Gibson, Mantle, Mays, Oh and Ruth)#

PlayerGABRH2B3BHRRBIAVGSLGAB/HR
Aaron3,54813,6712,3264,2256951168002.497.309.55217.1
Bonds3,14510,4092,3383,096632847892,093.297.60213.2
Espino!4,09114,3042,5634,768668637892,797.333.55418.1
Gibson9203,9421,0221,442251972751,170.366.68814.3
Mantle2,6679,1101,7622,775398845801,758.305.56015.7
Mays!3,13511,6042,1803,5585801616862,041.307.56216.9
Oh2,8319,2501,9672,786422258682,170.301.63410.7
Ruth2,5498,5202,1962,9015081467152,214.340.68611.9

#Regular season MLB, minor-league, and winter league stats. Mays’s 1948 Birmingham Black Barons stats are MLB. !Seven Caribbean Series events for Espino and one for Mays included. Sources: same as Table XI, Part I, plus https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=mantle001mic; https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/willie-mays/ https://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=mays-01wil

Hall of Fame Recognition

Héctor Espino

Espino was inducted in:

  • Salón de la Fama del Béisbol Mexicano (1988)
  • Caribbean Series Hall of Fame (1996)
  • Latino Baseball Hall of Fame (2010).

Espino’s Hermosillo Naranjeros bobblehead, with Erubiel Durazo’s one, was placed in a special section of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, 2019. https://www.naranjeros.com.mx/Noticias/DetalleNoticia/los-bobbleheads-naranjeros-llegan-al-salon-de-la-fama-del-beisbol-mexicano

Tony Piña Campora furnished Caribbean Series stats. Eduardo B. Almada facilitated links to Mexican League and LMP websites. Ed Bauta, Espino’s roommate, 1974 Caribbean Series, shared memories, as did Jerry Hairston Sr., Phil Garner, Ken Griffey Sr. and Tom Walker. Thanks to Chris Zachary, who faced Espino, 1971 Caribbean Series. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, donated Espino’s signed 1995 Caribbean Series jersey to ¡Viva Baseball! Exhibit.

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