BASEBALL LEGENDS--MINOR LEAGUE SUPERSTARS (CONTINUED)
Generally considered the greatest player in the history of the Mexican League, Espino hit 484 home runs in the minor leagues. He had an opportunity to play in the bigs and in fact signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 after he broke the Mexican League record with 46 homers while playing for Monterrey. Espino played 32 games with the Cardinals farm team in Jacksonville in the Southern Association, batting .300 with 3 homers. However, he was said to be homesick and preferred to play in Mexico, and he never returned to the U.S. to play. The Cards invited him to spring training in 1965, but he refused to report, supposedly because he wanted a share of the sale price which was paid to his Mexican League team. He was also repeatedly courted by the California Angels, but he refused to sign. There is disagreement about his reasons for not attempting to play in the majors, as Espino himself gave conflicting stories. It was said that he liked being the big fish in the small pond, or, more ominously, he disliked the racism he experienced in the U.S.
A brief synopsis of his career in Mexico shows him as Rookie of the Year in 1962 when he batted .358 with 23 homers. He won the league batting championship in 1964 (.371 with 46 homers), 1966 (.369 with 31 HR's), 1967 (.379 with 34 HR's) and 1968 (.365 with 27 HR's). He won his fifth batting title in 1973 with a .377 average, but "only" 22 homers and 107 RBI's. He held the all time Mexican League record in batting average, runs, hits, home runs, RBI's, and doubles. Over his career, he received 408 intentional walks, another record. Many of his records were later broken, as offensive levels in the league (and in the Majors also) increased significantly after Espino retired.
If all that wasn't enough, he played winter league baseball in the Caribbean, where he won 13 batting titles in 24 seasons there, along with 299 home runs.
Espino was elected to the Salon de la Fama, the Mexican Hall of Fame in 1988, and was also elected to the Caribbean Hall of Fame.
Espino played until age 45, although he was not productive in his last few seasons. He died in 1997 at age 58. His son, Daniel Espino also played for several years in the Mexican League in the 1990's, but never matched his father's success.
Born in 1917, Pinkston started off in the old Negro Leagues, playing sporadically between 1936 and the late 1940's. His career didn't take off until he was well past age 30, which is relatively old for an athlete. In 1952, he won the Triple Crown in the Provincial League with the St. Hyacinthe A's, batting .360 with 30 homers and 121 RBI's. He moved up the ladder and hit .360 with 27 homers at Savannah in 1955. Then in 1957, playing for Amarillo Gold Sox, he batted .372 with 133 RBI's. He drove in 126 runs the following year at Amarillo. Unfortunately for Pinkston, major league teams saw limited upside potential for 40 year old black players in that era, and he never got a chance to play in the big leagues.
The big leagues missed out, big time, as Pinkston became an even bigger star in his 40's. He signed with the Mexico City Red Devils in 1959 and led the league in batting with a .359 average. In 1960, he batted an incredible .397 with a record 225 hits, breaking his own record of the previous season. He also had 144 RBI's, another record. Moving to the Veracruz Eagles, he led the league in batting in 1961 (.374) and in 1962 (.381). In 1963, he finished second in batting average (.368), and in 1964, he lost the batting title to Hector Espino (see above), 22 years younger, although he batted .364. In 1965, Pinkston wrapped up his career, batting .345, at age 48.
Pinkston's overall minor league batting average was .352 over 15 seasons, with 6 batting titles. He also lead his league in RBI's on 4 occasions. He was elected to the Mexican Salon de la Fama in 1974, the fourth American to be selected (after Roy Campanella, Josh Gibson and Monte Irvin--all former Negro League stars).
Unlike the two stars above, the left handed Brunet pitched in parts of 15 seasons in the major leagues with Kansas City, the California Angels, and a host of other teams. He was known for his wildness in his early years, and for his hard luck in later years when he led the American League in losses in 1967 and 1968 despite pitching well for a bad team. In 1957, pitching for Little Rock in the Southern Association, he had the misfortune of playing for a team which failed to score a run for 52 innings (almost 6 games) when he was on the mound. He lost 8 straight games during that stretch, although he led the league in strikeouts. His final game in the majors was in 1971, at age 36, and he was just starting his Mexican League career.
In Mexico, he became a legend, pitching through 1985, when he was 50. On the whole, his professional baseball career spanned the years from 1953 through 1985, and hopefully he received a gold watch for his efforts.
Brunet holds the Mexican League record for shutouts with 55. He also holds the minor league strikeout record with 3,175 which includes his early years plus the years in the Mexican League.
Like Espino and Pinkston, Brunet was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1999, several years after his death.