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Hector Espino

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Hector Espino Gonzalez (The Babe Ruth of Mexico)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5'11", Weight 185 lb.

BR minors page

[edit] Biographical Information

Hector Espino is considered the greatest player in the history of the Mexican League. With 484 home runs, he is the all-time minor league home run king; 481 of those homers came in Mexico and 453 in the Mexican League.

Espino broke in in the Mexican League in 1962 with Monterrey. He hit 23 homers, 12 triples, drove in 105 (tying for the league lead) and scored 106 while batting .358/.459/.613. He was named Rookie of the Year. A year later he slipped a bit to .346/.416/.611.

In 1964 Espino won his first Mexican League batting title, with a .371/.479/.741; he hit 46 home runs, scored 115 and drove in 117. His run total was the third highest in Mexican League history (behind only Bobby Avila and Cool Papa Bell), he set a new home run record (the old mark had been 39 by Ronnie Camacho, he set a record with 30 intentional walks and his 332 total bases were second-best in league history. That drew the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals, who signed Espino late in the year and sent him to their AAA club, the Jacksonville Suns. Espino did just fine there, hitting .300 with 3 homers in 32 games, but would never play outside the Mexican League again. Sources list several different reasons and Total Baseball reports that Espino himself gave different ones. Total Baseball says that Espino might have liked being a big fish in a small pond; some said homesickness; Mexican League writer Bruce Baskin says that racism discouraged Espino from playing in the US.

In 1965, the Cardinals invited Espino to spring training, but he did not report. Jamie Marshall writes that it was because Espino wanted a "fair share of the sale price." He hit .335 with 17 HR in just 67 games in the Mexican League that year. In '66, back in full time duty, he hit .369/.495/.667 - leading the league in all 3 stats (beating out Minnie Minoso by 21 points for the average title); he was second in the league with 31 homers and 3rd with 91 walks. He did this despite missing two road series due to conflicts with his manager.

In 1967 and 1968 Espino repeated as batting champ with marks of .379 and .365. He hit 34 homers, slugged .706 and scored 106 in '67; in '68 he won his second home run title with 27. His fourth batting title tied Al Pinkston for the Mexican League record.

In '69, his run of 3 straight batting titles ended with a .304 season. He repeated as the home run champ, with 37, and scored 101 runs. He also drew 125 walks, breaking Avila's record; his mark would stand just one season though. In the late '60s, the California Angels had tried to sign Espino several times without success.

1970 was one of Espino's least productive seasons - .319/.431/.493 with 18 HR. He moved to Tampico in '71 and hit about the same (.311 with 20 HR). 1972 saw him bounce back - .356/.481/.670 - he had his 4th and final home run title (37), 101 runs, 101 RBI and a league-high 94 walks. A year later his average kept rising at the expense of power and walks as he hit .377/.459/.590; he won his fifth and final Mexican League batting championship and drove in 107 runs. He hit 22 homers; while it was 15 fewer than his previous season, the 34-year old slugger would never again hit as many. No native Mexican would lead the league in batting for 23 years, until Matías Carrillo did so.

Over the next 7 seasons he remained in double digit homers, reaching 20 once, though he remained a .300 hitter through 1980 except for one .297 season. In 1980, he set a Mexican League record by collecting hits in 11 straight at-bats. His stats declined drastically in his 40s - .292 to .270 to .246 to .220 with his home run titles never rising above 4. He retired at the age of 45.

Espino was also a winter league superstar. He hit .329 in winter league ball, with 299 home runs and 1029 RBI; in 1976 he led the Mexican entry to its first Caribbean Series win and he played in 6 Caribbean Series. He would make the Caribbean Hall of Fame and won 13 batting titles in 24 years in winter ball. He is the only player in the history of the Mexican Pacific League with a career average over .300 (the next player, Matias Carrillo is 36 points behind Espino).

In 1988 Espino was selected for the Salon de la Fama. He was part of the inaugural class of inductees in the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Hector's son Daniel Espino made his Mexican League debut in 1994 and after several years on the bench has assumed a starting role; he is no threat to break his father's records.

He died of a heart attack in 1997.

Nelson Barrera broke Espino's Mexican League home run record (455 to 453) but did not break his all-time minor league home run title. Espino's other records fell over the years - Jack Pierce broke his season HR record in 1986, Jesus Sommers and Frank Estrada broke his record for seasons played, Sommers took over the games played record, Daniel Fernandez broke his career run record (1,479), Sommers and Barrera broke his hit record (2,752), Sommers was one of several to break his double record (373), Barrera broke his RBI record, Espino had never caught Camacho in walks (1,330 to 1,441) and Barrera broke his total bases record (4,574). Only his intentional walk records - 53 in a season (1969) and 408 career (over 200 more than #2 Barrera) - have not been approached. In addition, no one has yet broken his minor league home run record.

It should also be noted that the offensive levels in Mexico rose significantly after Espino retired - Barrera, Fernandez and Sommers (while all overlapping Espino's career somewhat) all played in a much more friendly era for hitters.

Primary Sources: The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, Great Baseball Feats, Facts & Firsts by David Nemec, Viva Beisbol! newsletter by Bruce Baskin, Total Baseball.

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