Thursday, January 21, 2010
#183) NINO ESPINOSA
Nino Espinosa was signed by the New York Mets as a free agent on September 30, 1970. While in the minor leagues he was part of the Victoria Mets of the Texas League. The club completed a three-game sweep of their playoff series with El Paso to win the league championship on September 7, 1974. That day the Mets purchased his contract and he boarded a plane, along with Victoria teammate, Brock Pemberton to New York. The 21 year-old would make his major league debut at Shea Stadium on September 13th facing the Chicago Cubs. Nino was the starting pitcher and went eight innings allowing three runs in a 3-4 loss. Espinosa would only make it into one more game to finish the season and was returned to the minors at the start of the 1975 season.
The right-hander pitched for the Triple-A Tidewater Tides in 1975. A team that won 22 of their last 33 games to finish the regular season in a tie with the Rochester Red Wings. Nino threw a four-hitter in the one-game playoff that gave his club the International League Championship. At the conclusion of that post-season run he received another September promotion to New York. This time Espinosa would remain in the major leagues and became a solid member of the Mets starting rotation. Nino lead the team in both wins and complete games during both the 1977 and 1978 campaigns. He was often a victim of the long-ball and surrendered a famous one on July 26, 1978. Cincinnati Reds catcher, and future Hall of Famer, Johnny Bench hit his 300th career home-run off Espinosa at Shea Stadium during a 12-3 Mets' blow-out victory.
Espinosa became a true fan favorite who enjoyed interacting with the Shea Stadium faithful during pre-game warm-ups. He was also known for his quick smile and distinctive large hair. At times it seemed his afro would barely fit within his ball cap. Nino was traded by the Mets to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Richie Hebner and Jose Moreno on March 27, 1979. After pitching with the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays he would return to his hometown, Villa Altagracia of the Dominican Republic in 1981. Espinosa was the victim of a heart attack and passed away there on December 24, 1987 at the young age of 34.
I created Nino Espinosa's card in the set from an autographed index card purchased from Bob Dowen on November 16, 2009.