Víctor Mesa Martínez
(El Loco, La Explosión Naranja)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 203 lb.
Víctor Mesa was one of the greatest baserunners in the history of Cuban baseball, leading his league in steals 14 times in a 15-year period (two Cuban seasons took place each year during this era). He also led in runs four times, once in hits and twice in doubles. Mesa was a five-tool player known for his colorful personality. He also starred on the international stage, spending 1981 through 1995 as a regular center fielder for the Cuban national team. Mesa later became the manager of his old Villa Clara club and also has managed the Cuban national team. There is some doubt about his date of birth, as one official Cuban source lists 1957 while most international sources say he was born in 1960.
Mesa made his first splash in 1978-1979, leading the Cuban Serie Nacional with 20 steals. In 1979-1980, he led in steals (19) and doubles (17). During 1980-1981, Mesa scored 60 runs, the most in the Serie Nacional. That year, he made his international debut in the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, going 3 for 7 at the plate. In the 1982 Central American Games, Mesa hit .250, the second-lowest mark he posted in 20 major international tournaments.
Víctor led the Serie Nacional with 39 runs and 21 stolen bases in 1982-1983. In the Selective Series of 1983, he led in steals (21) and runs (47). In the 1983 Pan-American Games, Mesa batted .294. He was far better in the 1983 Intercontinental Cup, hitting .476. In the round-robin phase, he led in average (.567), runs (13) and hits (17) and tied Eric Fox for the home run lead (5). He joined Fox and Lourdes Gourriel Sr. on the tournament All-Star team in the outfield. Mesa's personality became the subject of criticism that year when he was ejected from a game for a showboating home run trot. Throughout his career, Mesa would be followed by claims that his hot dogging style was hurting his team; on the other hand, he was wildly popular in Villa Clara as the hometown fans seemed to appreciate his style.
In the 1983-1984 Serie Nacional, Mesa led with 34 steals and he followed with 14 more to lead the 1984 Selective Series. He also paced the Selective Series with 38 runs that year. In the 1984 Amateur World Series, Mesa won the MVP award, leading with a .475 average, 17 runs, 28 doubles and 8 steals. Among those "El Loco" outperformed was a USA left fielder named Barry Bonds. Mesa had a .523 OBP and .797 slugging percentage and was error-free in 13 games in center field; he had one outfield assist.
Víctor led the 1985 Selective Series in steals (12). He batted .409 in the 1986 Amateur World Series and .364 in the 1986 Central American and Caribbean Games. In the 1987 Selective Series, Mesa stole 30 bases for his 8th title. He batted .281 in the 1987 Pan-American Games and is listed on Cuba's roster for the 1987 Intercontinental Cup, but Peter Bjarkman's history of Cuban baseball gives no stats for Mesa in that Cup.
In the 1988 Selective Series, Mesa stole 35 bases to lead the circuit. He hit .304/.340/.457 in the 1988 Baseball World Cup. Víctor drew a key walk, though, in the finale - with one out, one on and a tie game, Mesa was passed intentionally by Andy Benes to face Lazaro Vargas, who made the Americans pay with a game-and-Cup-winning hit.
Mesa paced the 1988-1989 Serie Nacional with 26 stolen bases. In the 1989 Intercontinental Cup, Mesa hit .409 for the Cubans. Víctor led the 1989-1990 Serie Nacional with 17 doubles. In the Selective Series in 1990, he stole 22 bases to lead the way. In the 1990 Central American and Caribbean Games, Mesa batted .368. During the 1990 Baseball World Cup, the center fielder hit .390/.419/.756 with 10 R and 15 RBI. Mesa was at the center of controversy once more during the 1990 Goodwill Games when he bunted with a 10-0 lead against the US in the semifinals. The next time up, he was plunked by Darrin Paxton.
The veteran was winding down but still was a star - in the 1991 Selective Series, he led in hits (86) and steals (30). He then dazzled in the 1991 Pan American Games, batting .407 and tying Omar Linares, Antonio Pacheco and German Mesa for the most runs (13). He made the All-Star team in the outfield.
Mesa led the 1992 Selective Series with 52 steals, a career high, even though he was now over 30 (possibly as old as 35). Mesa was amazing in the 1992 Olympics. He hit .516/.571/.903 with 9 runs, 14 RBI and no errors in 8 games. He led the Olympics in average, tied for third in homers and hits and led in RBI. In the semifinals against Team USA, he drove in four of Cuba's six runs. He led the team's victory lap around the infield, with the Cuban flag wrapped around himself.
In the 1993 Selective Series, Mesa won his 14th and last stolen base title with 15. In the 1993 Central American Games. he batted .300. He hit .364/.375/.591 in the 1993 Intercontinental Cup; as a sign of the changing times, Mesa was no longer in center field as Jose Estrada was there and Mesa was in left field.
Víctor had his worst international competition in the 1994 Baseball World Cup, hitting only .238/.250/.310. He was somewhat better in the 1995 Intercontinental Cup, hitting .278/.289/.482 though the former speedster was thrown out in two of three attempts to steal. During the 1995 Pan-American Games, Mesa batted .394 and led the competition with 16 RBI.
Mesa became the manager for Villa Clara after retiring and continued to showcase his personality. He has been known for hasty moves and for openly showing his displeasure when his team struggles. Mesa, as both a player and a manager, is contrasted with the typical Cuban player who disdains flamboyant style on the field. Mesa has obviously had success in both rules, though. As a manager, he has piloted the Cuban national team in events such as the 2007 Pan-American Games. He was the first manager in Cuban Serie Nacional history to post 50+ wins eight straight seasons - all eight he managed before being removed from the helm after 2007-2008 to manage in Mexico. Some saw his Mexican posting as preparation for further national team work as it exposed him to ball in other countries.
Statistically, Mesa hit .318/~.382/.502 in the Cuban Serie Nacional and Selective Series. Through 2003-2004, he ranked 11th all-time in plate appearances (7,692), 6th in AB (6,834), 3rd in runs (1,283, behind Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan), 6th in hits (2,171), tied for 4th in doubles (351, even with Victor Bejerano), 6th in total bases (3,433), tied for 6th in sacrifice flies (76), 13th in home runs (273), 7th in RBI (1,174), 5th in doubles plays hit into (194) and second in steals (588). Mesa led all-time in steals until 2002-2003, when Enríque Díaz topped his mark.
In international competition, Mesa hit .381/~.410/.610 in five Baseball World Cups, .516/.571/.903 in one Olympics, .356/~.444/.614 in four Pan-American Games, .299/~.328/.402 in four Central American Games and .366/~.385/.792 in the Intercontinental Cup.
He managed the Veracruz Eagle to a 27-35 record in 2010 before being fired. In 2011, he was hired to manage the Petroleros de Minatitlán, replacing Jesus Sommers. He started 11-15 then was let go in favor of Frank Estrada. He returned to Cuba as a manager in 2011-2012, replacing Wilfredo Menéndez as skipper of Matanzas. He managed the team to a title in 2012-2013. He then guided the Cuban national team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and to a Gold Medal in the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games, their first title in years. He moved to the head job with the Industriales in 2016-2017, replacing former national team outfield mate Javier Méndez. He was only there for a season, before being relieved of his duties. This was after his sons defected.
In May of 2018, it was reported that two of his sons, 21-year-old Victor Victor Mesa and 16-year-old Victor Mesa Jr., had defected with the hope of signing with major league teams. The older Victor had already played for Cuba as an outfielder in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The two signed with the Miami Marlins in October 2018.