Sunday, May 12

MLB’s first Mexican catcher is an neglected iron man legend

With the Mexico Series happening this weekend (April 29 and 30) between the Padres and Giants, we wished to spotlight a few of the nice Mexican gamers and tales from baseball’s previous. This story initially ran in January 2023

If you had been to tune in for the primary sport of the Mets’ doubleheader in opposition to the Expos on Sept. 14, 1971, you might not have caught round lengthy. The Mets had been within the midst of a fourth-place end, their season largely wrapped up, whereas Montreal completed one other 11 1/2 video games behind New York. Nolan Ryan, who was nonetheless a thriller to the Mets — the Daily News wrote, “his consistent failure to perform to his enormous potential has bewitched, bothered, and bewildered his employers” — gave up six runs in simply 1 2/3 innings en path to a 12-1 loss.

So, there have been in all probability only a few followers nonetheless tuned in when Francisco “Paquín” Estrada, a 23-year-old catcher from Navojoa, Mexico, changed beginning catcher Jerry Grote within the high of the sixth. He gave up a handed ball that led to nothing, then laced a single within the backside of the seventh. He bought yet one more at-bat, grounding out within the backside of the ninth to finish the sport.

Estrada’s look arrived with out a lot fanfare and ended with even much less — regardless that he had grow to be the primary Mexican-born participant to ever catch within the huge leagues. Though nobody might have suspected it on the time, it was additionally Estrada’s closing huge league at-bat, giving him a sterling .500 profession batting common.

Though Estrada could also be a footnote in historical past to MLB followers, he’s a Hall of Famer in his residence nation.

“He’s one of the best in the history of Mexican baseball,” Horacio Ibarra Álvarez, the historian on the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame (or Salón de la Fama del Béisbol Mexicano), advised over Zoom. “Mexico has a summer and a winter league and he holds records in both.”

While Estrada solely ever made it into that one huge league sport, that definitely was not what many anticipated for a participant with a lot expertise. “Paquín” joined the legendary Diablos Rojos del México when he was simply 18 years outdated in 1966 and by 1970, he was a full-fledged famous person. That season, he hit .303 whereas bashing 18 residence runs, 24 doubles, and even picked up 11 triples. (The final Major League catcher to hit that many? Tim McCarver when he raced for 13 triples in ’66.)

“There was a big expectation,” Álvarez mentioned. “He had a spectacular season with the Diablos Rojos in the Mexican League. That is the thing that opened the scouts’ eyes to call him to the big leagues. There was a lot of hope because there weren’t many Mexican players in the big leagues. The expectation was he was going to be this fierce, big-time player for Mexico. But actually, in the only game he played, he didn’t even start. Jerry Grote started that day.”

The Sporting News reported that the Diablos had despatched Estrada to Spring Training with the Yankees earlier than the 1970 season to “observe training in a Major League camp,” giving Estrada his first style of the American sport. While it appeared to have helped him forward of his breakout marketing campaign with the Diablos Rojos, there was nonetheless the problem of the language divide. According to columnist Red Smith, it was his incapacity to talk English that hindered his coaching camp with the Yankees and even led to Estrada arriving to Mets’ camp late as a result of he bought misplaced alongside the best way. 

“By the time that he went to the big leagues, there had been only 19 Mexicans in history who played in the Majors,” Álvarez mentioned. “Around those times, if you asked the Mexican players, not speaking English was a factor. The Mets had a very good catcher in Jerry Grote. Not speaking English, it might have hurt his chances.”

After the 1971 season ended, Estrada was then included in one of the vital memorable trades of all-time: He was one of many prospects included within the Mets’ commerce of Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi. While Ryan went on to grow to be a star in California, Estrada performed solely 21 video games for the Angels’ Triple-A farm membership earlier than he was traded to Baltimore. The subsequent yr, he was despatched to the Cubs — by no means seeing the massive leagues alongside the best way.

While that ended his time in affiliated baseball, Estrada’s legend was simply starting. Now 26 years outdated, Estrada returned to Mexico in 1974 and performed seven seasons with Puebla earlier than becoming a member of Campeche from ’81-84 — all of the whereas spending each winter taking part in within the Mexican Winter Leagues. Come 1985, when Estrada was 37 years outdated — an age when virtually each catcher is winding up their profession — Estrada was nowhere near giving up the instruments of ignorance. He then turned a player-manager for the subsequent decade, catching wherever from “23 to 88 games a season,” as reported in his SABR biography by Rory Costello.

When he lastly set down his catcher’s gear on the finish of the 1994 season, Estrada had caught a exceptional 2,415 video games and bashed out 84 HRs, 923 RBIs, and a pair of,089 hits within the Mexican League. He had additionally performed one other 30 seasons within the winter league, including 1,538 extra video games, 1,269 hits, 74 residence runs, and 514 RBIs.

To put that as compared, Iván Rodríguez holds the Major League report with 2,427 video games caught, whereas Japanese legend Katsuya Nomura — who hit 657 residence runs within the NPB — caught an astronomical 3,017 video games. That remains to be almost 1,000 fewer video games than Estrada piled up behind the dish.

Despite his almost 4,000 video games behind the plate, he’s maybe greatest often known as a supervisor, main his groups to 12 titles and a report 800-plus victories within the Mexican Pacific League. He was additionally Team Mexico’s supervisor for the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and was set to be their skipper in 2017 earlier than he went lacking whereas affected by poor well being earlier than passing away in 2019.

“His profile now is actually bigger as a manager because of the things that he did,” Álvarez mentioned. “He was a very good player and a very good manager. He went to play 30 years in the winter leagues and 26 in the summer league. Then as a manager, he won seven championships, two Caribbean series, and 3 championships in the summer league. He was viewed as a very good person.”

While Estrada’s profession could also be a enjoyable huge league factoid to share at your subsequent cocktail occasion, he ought to be remembered extra for his stature within the worldwide sport and his data which can by no means be damaged.

“He’s like our Johnny Bench,” Álvarez mentioned. “He was a student of the game and it was a skill that helped him after his playing career as a manager. Sure, he played only one game, but now it’s like a joke: He’s the Mexican with the best batting average ever.”

Thanks to Ricardo Montes de Oca for translation help.

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