Aurelio López

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Aurelio Alejandro López Rios (September 21, 1948 – September 22, 1992) was a Mexican professional baseball player. After pitching for several years in the Mexican League, he spent eleven seasons (1974, 197887) with four teams in Major League Baseball — a majority of it spent with the Detroit Tigers. He acquired the nickname "Señor Smoke" in Detroit, while he was known as "El Buitre de Tecamachalco" (The Vulture of Tecamachalco) in Mexico. López was discovered in his hometown by Mexican League scouts and converted from a starting pitcher to a relief pitcher.

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López led the Mexico City Reds to the 1974 Mexican League World Series, then made a brief MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals before returning to the Mexican League. López was named the 1977 Mexican League Most Valuable Player (MVP). He returned to the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978 and pitched for the Detroit Tigers between 1979 and 1985. López finished seventh in the Cy Young Award voting in 1979. He earned a 101 record and 14 saves for Detroit's 1984 World Series championship team.

López returned to the postseason with Houston in 1986, but he was the losing pitcher in Game Five of that year's National League Championship Series. By the end of his MLB career, López earned a 6236 win–loss record, 93 saves and a 3.56 earned run average (ERA). After his retirement from baseball, López served as municipal president of his hometown of Tecamachalco, Puebla, Mexico from 1989 until his death. He was killed in an automobile accident in 1992. López was inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame the following year.

Early life

López was born on September 21, 1948, in Tecamachalco, Puebla, Mexico, to Aurelio López Hernández of Veracruz and Félix Rios Torres of Tecamachalco. He grew up with five siblings. In his youth, López enjoyed both soccer and baseball but chose to pursue the latter, which was in its peak in Mexico; he found it more difficult to locate practice facilities for soccer. He studied public administration at the Autonomous University of Puebla. [1]

López caught the attention of scout Ramon "La Chita" García of the Mexico City Reds in the Mexican League. [2] He debuted with the team's minor-league affiliate in Las Choapas in 1967. He was promoted to the parent club the next season at the age of 19. After starting the 1969 season with Mexico City, López joined the Minatitlán Red Devils. In 1970, López rejoined Mexico City. During his time in the Mexican League, he was converted from starter to reliever by coach Wilfredo Calviño. [3]

The Kansas City Royals purchased López's contract in August 1974, shortly after he led the Mexico City Reds to the Mexican League World Series title in four straight games. The Royals also purchased the contracts of Mexican League players Orlando Cepeda and 16-year-old Germán Barranca in the same month. The Royals planned to use López in the September pennant race and throughout the next season. [4] Lopez pitched in eight games in 1974, and he was bought back by the Mexico City Reds in early 1975. [5]

During the 1977 Mexican League season, López earned a 193 win-loss record, a 2.01 ERA and 165 strikeouts over 157 innings in 73 games. Despite being a closer, he was fifth in the league in wins, and he set a new single-season save record (30). He was named the league's MVP. [3] For several years in the mid- to late-1970s, López pitched winter baseball in the Mexican Pacific League. He broke league records by leading the league in games pitched three times, by earning eight consecutive relief wins in 197778, and by leading the league in relief appearances in four consecutive seasons. [6] Among Mexican baseball fans, López became known as "El Buitre de Tecamachalco" (The Vulture of Tecamachalco). [3]

MLB career

López's contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals from Mexico City on October 26, 1977. He joined the Springfield Redbirds of the Class AAA American Association for 1978, but returned to the major leagues during the 1978 season, earning a 42 record with the St. Louis Cardinals. [7] After one season in St. Louis, López was traded to the Detroit Tigers with Jerry Morales for Jack Murphy and Bob Sykes. [8] López posted some of his best individual statistics in the 1979 season, when he had a 105 win–loss record, 106 strikeouts, and a 2.41 ERA (an Adjusted ERA+ of 181). He was third in the AL in saves (21) and seventh in the Cy Young Award voting. López earned another 21 saves in 1980. In the 1981 season, he shared closer responsibilities and collected only three saves before the 1981 Major League Baseball strike ended the season. [9]

López suffered from shoulder problems during spring training in 1982, and he was demoted to Detroit's Class AAA minor-league affiliate in Evansville by July. [9] He was called back up to Detroit on September 1, but later that month he shocked his teammates by announcing that he was giving up his MLB career and returning to Mexico. López said that his reasons were personal, and he cited his family, the education of his children and the Mexican economy as motivating factors for the decision. [10] He came out of retirement and returned to Detroit in time for the 1983 season. [11] In February 1983, López became the first player in MLB history to receive a pay cut through salary arbitration. López had earned $285,000 in 1982, asked for $315,000 for 1983 and was awarded $250,000. [12] He finished 1983 with a 98 record, 2.81 ERA and 18 saves. [13]

López is perhaps best known for his role as the setup reliever for the Tigers during their 1984 championship season, when he finished with a 101 record, 14 saves, and a 2.94 ERA. López had a 10 record in both the 1984 American League Championship Series (ALCS) and 1984 World Series, and he did not give up an earned run in over six innings pitched that postseason. He faced seven batters in Game Five of the 1984 World Series, retiring them all in Detroit's 8-4 Championship-clinching victory. [14] After the pitcher got out of two extra-inning jams to earn the win in Game 2 of the ALCS in Kansas City, Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said, "Nothing surprises me about Lopez. I've had him for five years and believe me, there's nothing like him. He's got heart and there is none better. He's one of the all-time hearts." [15] While in Detroit, López had earned the nickname "Señor Smoke", as he hailed from Mexico and threw a powerful fastball. [16]

By early 1985, López stated his intentions to enter free agency after the season. He placed his Detroit home up for sale, but appeared to soften when Detroit opened to the possibility of new contract negotiations. He said that he wanted to pitch another year or two and then enter the fast food business in Detroit. [17] In late May, the Associated Press reported that López and Detroit reached a "gentleman's agreement" which would allow the pitcher to finish his career in Detroit, though no contract was signed. [18] López finished the 1985 season with a 37 record and five saves. [19] The Tigers made López a free agent in November of that year. He temporarily retired again in early 1986 before signing with the Houston Astros. [20]

López reached the postseason that year with Houston. In the 1986 National League Championship Series, he pitched 1+13 scoreless innings in Game Two, but he was the losing pitcher in Game Six when the New York Mets won the series. López pitched the fourteenth through sixteenth innings and surrendered the go ahead run twice. [21] During spring training before the 1987 season, López was arrested in Florida on charges of driving while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. [22] He earned his final major league save on May 12, 1987. [23] He finished his MLB career with a 6236 win-loss record, 93 saves and a 3.56 earned run average. [24] López's career save total was the highest among Mexican pitchers in MLB until Joakim Soria surpassed the mark in 2010. [25]

Later life and death

After retiring from baseball, López moved back to Tecamachalco. He was elected municipal president of the city in 1990, a position that he held until his death. [26] The post is equivalent to that of mayor. [27] Early in his political service, he oversaw the installation of new water and drainage systems. Facing great opposition from the previous ruling family and even enduring shots fired at his home, he described his post as "like coming into a game with the bases loaded." [28] As late as 1991, López mentioned the possibility of returning to baseball in a coaching role. [28]

López was killed in an auto accident the day after his 44th birthday in Matehuala, San Luis Potosí. He was driving a car that overturned, and he was thrown from the vehicle. [26] His wife Celia and another passenger were injured in the crash. [27] López was buried in Tecamachalco Cemetery.

He, Aurelio Rodríguez and Aurelio Monteagudo are the only three players in MLB history named Aurelio, and all three were killed in car accidents between the ages of 44 and 52. [29]

Legacy

López was inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993. [3] He has been described as the pitcher with the highest velocity in Mexican baseball history. [30] López had a reputation as a friendly player who got along well with other members of the team. Former Astros teammate Terry Puhl described López as "always upbeat," [26] while fellow Astro Craig Reynolds noted that López was "everybody's friend." [26]

Detroit rock band Electric Six named their album Señor Smoke (2005) in López's honor. [31] In September 2012, a youth sports complex in Tecamachalco was named in honor of López. [32]

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References

  1. "Biografía: Aurelio López Rios" (in Spanish). Tecamachalco.net. Archived from the original on December 14, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  2. Estrada, Juan Pablo (October 21, 2006). "Hazaña de un Inmortal del Pitcheo" (in Spanish). El Universal . Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Biografías: Aurelio López" (in Spanish). Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on May 2, 2005. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  4. "Royals Pick Up Reliever". St. Joseph Gazette. August 30, 1974. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  5. "Aurelio Lopez". Baseball-Reference.com . Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  6. "Records de Pitcheo Individual" (in Spanish). Mexican Pacific League. Archived from the original on July 30, 2013. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  7. McMane, Fred (December 5, 1978). "Ford No Longer in Twins' Future". Beaver County Times. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  8. Bernstein, Ralph (December 5, 1978). "Phillies Silent Over Rose Plucking". The Free Lance–Star . Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  9. 1 2 "Tigers Cut Aurelio Lopez". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . July 5, 1982. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  10. "Lopez Quits Tigers, Goes Home to Mexico". Ludlington Daily News. September 21, 1982. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  11. "American League Preview". Leader-Post . March 29, 1983. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  12. "Sports People: Arbitration Loss". The New York Times . February 13, 1983. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  13. "Aurelio Lopez Stats". ESPN.com . Retrieved July 27, 2013.
  14. "Farewell to a Legend... Daly Gets a Grip... Frustrated Magic Quits Bush's AIDS Panel". Sports Illustrated . October 5, 1992. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  15. "Lopez Takes Over New Role". The Courier. October 4, 1984. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  16. "Aurelio Lopez". Baseball Library. Archived from the original on December 24, 2010. Retrieved May 19, 2009.
  17. Atkins, Harry (May 30, 1985). "Lopez Leaning Toward Staying". Ludlington Daily News. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  18. "Lopez Agrees with Lajoie". Windsor Star . May 31, 1985. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  19. "Catcher Awarded $300,000". Montreal Gazette . February 11, 1986. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  20. "Aurelio Lopez Keeps Astros Riding High". The Nevada Daily Mail . August 25, 1986. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  21. "Revisit the '86 NLCS". ESPN.com . Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  22. "Spring Training Roundup". Junction City Daily Union. March 10, 1987. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  23. Castro, Rubén. "Un Mariano en Potencia" (in Spanish). ESPNDeportes.com . Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  24. "Aurelio Lopez; Baseball Player, 44". The New York Times . September 24, 1992. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  25. Kaegel, Dick. "Soria Slams Door on Twins". MLB.com . Retrieved July 27, 2013.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Hohlfeld, Neil (September 24, 1992). "Former Astro Lopez Dies in auto accident". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved May 19, 2009.
  27. 1 2 "'Senor Smoke' Lopez Dies In Crash". Chicago Tribune . September 24, 1992. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  28. 1 2 Demak, Richard, ed. (July 1, 1991). "Scorecard". Sports Illustrated . Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  29. Snyder, John (2010). Angels Journal: Year by Year and Day by Day With the Los Angeles Angels Since 1961. Clerisy Press. p. 63. ISBN   978-1578603893.
  30. Rodriguez Andrade, Javier. "Hoy se Festeja el Natalicio del "Buitre de Tecamachalco". Aurelio López Ríos" (in Spanish). Tecamachalco, Mexico: Radio TK. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  31. "The Shock Treatment Bored with Band Aid? How About a Poodle Playing Guitar to Queen? Yes, Electric Six Are Back, Says Steve Jelbert". Belfast Telegraph . December 10, 2004. Archived from the original on November 17, 2018. Retrieved August 5, 2013.  via HighBeam (subscription required)
  32. "Inaugura Rubén Balcázar la Unidad Deportiva "Aurelio López" de Tecamachalco" (in Spanish). Tecamachalco.net. September 24, 2012. Archived from the original on September 13, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
Aurelio López
Aurelio Lopez.jpg
Statue of Aurelio López in Tecamachalco, Puebla
Pitcher
Born:(1948-09-21)September 21, 1948
Tecamachalco, Puebla, Mexico
Died: September 22, 1992(1992-09-22) (aged 44)
Matehuala, San Luis Potosí, Mexico
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
debut
September 1, 1974, for the Kansas City Royals
Last appearance
June 17, 1987, for the Houston Astros