Top 100 Indians: #26 Bobby Avila

#26 - Bobby Avila - ootpdevelopments.com

The next player on our Top 100 countdown was one of the pioneer players from Latin America.

Roberto Francisco (Gonzalez) Avila

Second Baseman, 1949-1958

Height: 5'10" Weight: 175 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired: Free Agent, 1948 (from Puebla of Mexican League)

Left Via: Trade, December 2, 1958: Traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Russ Heman and $30,000

Roberto was born in Veracruz, Mexico in 1924, the son of a wealthy lawyer. Despite continued efforts by his father, Beto continued to play sports, excelling in futbol as a youngster (signing a contract at 14), dreaming of being a bullfighter, and then playing beisbol for Vera Cruz Preparatory High. He even played well enough to land a roster spot in the Vera Cruz State League, a winter ball league.

In 1943, at the age of 19, Avila joined the Puebla Angeles of the Mexican League. Hi first season was a bit nondescript, hitting just 229/322/276. But he broke out in 1944, leading the league in triples with 14 and slashing 334/419/472, finishing sixth in average. His surge continued in 1945, batting 350/450/480 with 10 triples and swiping 25 bags.

Although the Mexican League was considered a step down from the majors, there were still a number of ex-major leaguers playing there. In 1946, that influx continued as one of the owners, Jorge Pasquel, tried to increase the quality of play by offering good sums of money to go south of the border. Avila was still just 22, and continued to star. He hit 359/417/490, finishing third in batting and second in doubles with 27. Leo Durocher, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, offered him $10k to sign. But Avila returned to Puebla in 1947.

It turned out to be the right move as he hit 346/444/463 with 11 triples, 18 steals and becoming the first native to win the batting title in almost a decade. This time the Dodgers offered $16,500 and Cy Slapnicka of the Indians bested that by $1000. Avila seriously considered the Dodgers offer, but noted that with Jackie Robinson on the team, he likely would have been in the minors or at best on the bench. So he signed with the Indians and was headed to the Tribe's AAA affiliate in 1948, the Baltimore Orioles.

That year with the Orioles hardly went as planned. Avila got into 56 games and was hitting a measly 220/307/269 with just nine doubles and 6 steals when he was sidelined with a hernia. As Avila qualified as a bonus baby, he was forced to stay with the major league team in 1949. Joe Gordon was still the starter, but at 34 was entering the twilight of his career. Avila rode the pine hard that season, appearing in just 31 games, 16 as a pinch runner, 10 as a pinch hitter, and just 5 in the field at second.

In 1950, Avila started 52 times at second, got into 80 games total and hit 299*/390/383 (102 OPS+). But the greatest aspect of those first two seasons was the tutelage that Avila received from Gordon. Avila was a youngster who didn't speak the language well. Gordon took him under his wing as he done to Larry Doby when he first arrived in Cleveland. Avila has been quoted as saying, "Gordon did more for me than anyone in baseball."

In 1951, Bobby (as he was called in America rather than Beto) became the starting second baseman for the Tribe, and would be a mainstay of the lineup for the next eight seasons. In that first season he hit 304/374/410 (117 OPS+), had 21 doubles, 80 walks, just 31 strikeouts and laid down 16 sacrifices. But the most surprising stat was the 10 home runs he hit, far exceeding any number he has hit previously. This included three in one day in Fenway in June. He also inspired some heated criticism from opponents as he continually would use his futbol techniques by using the feet on his slide to kick the ball out of the fielder's mitts. But he did garner enough votes to finish tenth in MVP voting in his first full season.

In 1952 Avila led the league in triples with 11, scored 102 runs, hit 300/371/415 (125 OPS+) made the All-Star team and again got MVP votes, but finishing 29th this time. He regressed a tad in 1953, 286/355/379 (101 OPS+). But in 1954, he broke out completely. He scored 112 runs had 27 doubles and cranked 15 home runs for the juggernaut Indians squad that won 111 games. He made his second All-Star appearance, finished a close third in MVP voting behind Yogi Berra and teammate Doby. He led the league with 19 sacrifices, but more impressively led the league in average at .341, becoming the first Latino player to do that. His slash of 341/402/477 earned him a career best 139 OPS+.

The batting title did come with some controversy however. Ted Williams actually hit .345 that year but did not qualify for the title as he only had 386 at bats. This was because he was walked an amazing 136 times as pitchers did not want to face him and his 201 OPS+ (how he finished seventh is a complete mystery). It was after this season that the qualification for the batting title became plate appearances rather than at bats. In any case, what was even more impressive about Avila's season was that he played at least half that season with a broken thumb. The weirdest accolade he received that year though was from the town of Avila, CA. They named him their honorary mayor.

But Avila could not sustain that success in 1955. He still had a fine season, 272/368/400 (104 OPS+) with another 13 home runs and again leading the league in sacrifices with 18. The carryover from 1954 earned him his third All-Star nod, but he received no postseason recognition this time. By 1956, he was now 32 and Bobby had his poorest season since becoming a regular. He slumped down to 224/323/318 (69 OPS+) but still hit 10 homers and managed 17 steals.

Avila rebounded in both 1957 and 1958, becoming a league average player again. But his days as All-Star were over. 1958 also happened to be the year Trader Lane took over as general manager. Former mentor Gordon took over in midseason 1958 as the manager, but the Tribe finished just over .500 and 14.5 games behind the Yankees. Even with Gordon around, he couldn't keep Lane from tracing Avila. Lane made a deal with the Tigers in November to acquire Billy Martin, all but assuring Bobby was net to go. And three weeks later, he headed off to the Orioles (the former St. Louis Browns) for Russ Herman and $30,000.

He struggled mightily for Baltimore, 170/2352/170 in 51 plate appearances before being waived on May 21. The Red Sox claimed him and Avila did better, 244/333/444 in another 51 plate appearances before being waived a second time on June 21. He was claimed by the Milwaukee Braves and finished the season with them, 238/330/331. He was let go in the offseason.

He returned to Mexico for the 1960 season, playing the full year with the Mexico City Tigers. The Tigers won the title and Avila shined once more as well. He hit 333/486/486, led the league with 125 runs scored and bested the league record for walks by 29 with 124. He retired at the age of 36 on a very high note.

Avila briefly took a career change in politics as the mayor of his hometown, Veracruz. His love for the game brought him back, this time as the owner and president of the Veracruz Eagles. Eventually he also became the president of the Mexican League as well. His reverence in Mexico is shown by the two League stadiums named after him, one in Cancun and another in Veracruz. He was elected to the Mexican Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Latino Hall of Fame in 2010. He passed away in 2004 at the age 80 from complications from diabetes.

Sources

Wikipedia, Baseball Reference Bullpen, TheBaseballPage.com, Latino Baseball Legends: An Encyclopedia by Lew Freedman, The Cleveland Indians Encyclopedia by Russell Schneider

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
1949 25 CLE 31 15 14 3 3 0 0 0 3 0 0 1 3 .214 .267 .214 .481 29 3 1 0 0 /4
1950 26 CLE 80 238 201 39 60 10 2 1 21 5 0 29 17 .299 .390 .383 .773 102 77 8 1 8 4/6
1951 27 CLE 141 615 542 76 165 21 3 10 58 14 8 60 31 .304 .374 .410 .783 117 222 16 0 13 *4 MVP-10
1952 28 CLE 150 684 597 102 179 26 11 7 45 12 10 67 36 .300 .371 .415 .787 125 248 16 1 19 *4 AS,MVP-29
1953 29 CLE 141 634 559 85 160 22 3 8 55 10 8 58 27 .286 .355 .379 .735 101 212 18 2 14 *4
1954 30 CLE 143 638 555 112 189 27 2 15 67 9 7 59 31 .341 .402 .477 .880 139 265 9 1 19 4 *4/6 AS,MVP-3
1955 31 CLE 141 643 537 83 146 22 4 13 61 1 4 82 47 .272 .368 .400 .768 104 215 17 2 18 4 1 *4 AS
1956 32 CLE 138 598 513 74 115 14 2 10 54 17 4 70 68 .224 .323 .318 .640 69 163 12 5 8 1 0 *4
1957 33 CLE 129 528 463 60 124 19 3 5 48 2 4 46 47 .268 .334 .354 .688 89 164 10 1 16 2 2 *45
1958 34 CLE 113 445 375 54 95 21 3 5 30 5 7 55 45 .253 .349 .365 .714 98 137 5 1 12 2 0 45
CLE (10 yrs) 1207 5038 4356 688 1236 182 33 74 442 75 52 527 352 .284 .362 .392 .754 106 1706 112 14 127 13 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/24/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL All-Star: 1952, 1954, 1955
  • AL MVP: 3rd, 1954; 10th, 1951; 29th, 1952
  • AL WAR: 3rd, 1954-6.9
  • AL WAR Position Players: 3rd, 1954-6.9; 6th, 1951-4.7; 7th, 1952-4.7; 9th, 1953-4.6
  • AL oWAR: 4th, 1954-6.6; 5th, 1952-5.1; 10th, 1951-4.0
  • AL dWAR: 4th, 1956-1.3; 5th, 1951-1.3; 5th, 1953-2.0
  • AL Average: 1st, 1954-.341; 8th, 1951-.304; 8th, 1952-.300
  • AL On Base Percentage: 6th, 1954-.402
  • AL Slugging: 9th, 1954-.477
  • AL OPS: 5th, 1954-.880
  • AL At Bats: 2nd, 1952-597; 10th, 1954-555
  • AL Plate Appearances: 3rd, 1952-684; 8th, 1954-643
  • AL Runs Scored: 2nd, 1952-102; 3rd, 1954-112
  • AL Hits: 2nd, 1952-179; 3rd, 1954-189; 6th, 1951-165; 9th, 1953-160
  • AL TB: 7th, 1954-265; 8th, 1952-248
  • AL 2B: 7th, 1954-27; 10th, 1952-26
  • AL 3B: 1st, 1952-11
  • AL Bases on Balls: 10th, 1955-82
  • AL Stolen Bases: 3rd, 1956-17; 4th, 1951-14; 6th, 1952-12; 7th, 1953-10; 8th, 1954-9
  • AL Singles: 3rd, 1952-135; 4th, 1954-145; 5th, 1951-131; 6th, 1952-127
  • AL OPS+: 5th, 1954-139
  • AL RC: 4th, 1954-106; 6th, 1952-90
  • AL Sacrifice Hits: 1st, 1954-19; 1st, 1955-18; 2nd, 1952-19; 2nd, 1957-16; 2nd, 1958-12; 3rd, 1953-14; 4th, 1951-13; 7th, 1956-8
  • AL Double Plays Grounded Into: 6th, 1951-16; 6th, 1955-17; 7th, 1953-18; 9th, 1952-16
  • AL Caught Stealing: 3rd, 1952-10; 4th, 1953-8; 5th, 1951-8; 7th, 1958-7; 9th, 1954-7
  • AL SB%: 2nd, 1956-80.95; 6th, 1952-54.55; 6th, 1953-55.56; 7th, 1951-63.64; 7th, 1954-56.25
  • AL Win Probability Added: 5th, 1954-4.8
  • AL Assists: 3rd, 1952-431; 3rd, 1952-445; 3rd, 1954-410
  • AL Errors: 1st, 1952-28
  • AL Putouts as 2B: 2nd, 1954-356; 2nd, 1956-322; 3rd, 1952-355; 4th, 1951-349; 4th, 1953-346; 4th, 1955-348; 4th, 1957-280
  • AL Assists as 2B: 1st, 1953-445; 1st, 1954-406; 2nd, 1952-431; 2nd, 1956-351; 4th, 1951-417; 4th, 1955-342; 4th, 1957-254
  • AL Errors as 2B: 1st, 1952-28; 1st, 1954-19; 3rd, 1956-16; 4th, 1955-13
  • AL Double Plays Turned as 2B: 2nd, 1954-100; 3rd, 1953-114; 3rd, 1955-108; 3rd, 1956-83; 4th, 1957-72; 5th, 1952-81
  • AL Fielding Percentage as 2B: 1st, 1953-.986; 2nd, 1951-.982; 2nd, 1955-.982; 3rd, 1954-.976; 3rd, 1956-.977; 3rd, 1957-.983
  • AL Range Factor/Game 2B: 2nd, 1953-5.65; 2nd, 1954-5.40; 3rd, 1956-4.99; 4th, 1957-4.99; 5th, 1951-5.63; 5th, 1952-5.28

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 19th WAR Position Players (27.7)
  • t-19th oWAR (26.9)
  • 18th dWAR (5.2)
  • t-48th Average (.284)
  • t-40th On Base Percentage (.362)
  • 19th Games Played (1207)
  • 16th At Bats (4356)
  • 16th Plate Appearances (5038)
  • 15th Runs Scored (688)
  • 16th Hits (1236)
  • 23rd Total Bases (1706)
  • 34th Doubles (182)
  • t-37th Triples (33)
  • t-38th Home Runs (74)
  • 34th Runs Batted In (442)
  • 15th Bases On Balls (527)
  • 45th Strikeouts (352)
  • 29th Stolen Bases (75)
  • 13th Singles (947)
  • 20th Runs Created (628)
  • t-33rd Extra Base Hits (289)
  • 12th Sacrifice Hits (127)
  • 8th Double Plays Grounded Into (112)
  • t-13th Caught Stealing (52)
  • 21st Stolen Base % (57.38)
  • t-29th Win Probability Added (5.8)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-32nd WAR Position Players (6.9, 1954)
  • t-26th oWAR (6.6, 1954)
  • t-27th dWAR (2.0, 1953)
  • t-40th Average (.341, 1954)
  • t-28th Runs Scored (112, 1954)
  • t-46th Hits (189, 1954)
  • t-21st Singles (145, 1954)
  • t-42nd Double Plays Grounded Into (18, 1953)
  • t-46th Stolen Base % (80.95, 1956)
  • t-14th Win Probability Added (4.8, 1954)

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