Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hector Torres was "Mexican Joey Jay"

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Milwaukee Braves bonus baby Joey Jay was well-known as the first former Little League player to become a major leaguer.

Mexican pitching phenom Hector Torres had the same ambition; he wanted to be the first Little Leaguer from his country to play major league ball. It took him 10 years and a change of position, but he made it.

Torres was the son of Epitacio "La Mala" Torres, one of Mexico's all-time diamond greats, who played for 20 seasons in the minor leagues, mostly for Monterrey in the Mexican League.

In 1958, at the age of 12, Hector Torres was the staff ace of the Monterrey team that won the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa. Torres won eight straight games to take the title. The seventh win in his streak was a one-hit shutout over Hawaii's entry. Then, on two days' rest, he held Kankakee, Ill., to two hits, winning the championship game 10-1. 

The win gave Monterrey back-to-back Little League World Series titles, the first non-U.S. teams to win the series.

The following season, Torres pitched his Pony League team to the Mexican National Championship. In the Pony League World Series he won one and lost one. His team finished third in the Washington, Pa., tourney.
In 1961 Torres moved from the mound to shortstop on Monterrey's Colt League team. The team won the Mexican pennant and again finished third in the Colt League World Series at Abilene, Tex.

On March 25, 1962, Carl Hubbell, director of the San Francisco Giants' minor league operations. announced that Torres had signed a contract, becoming the first Mexican Little League alumnus to sign in Organized Baseball.

At age 16, Torres was six feet tall and weighed 185 pounds. Giants scout Dave Garcia described Torres as "precocious,both as an athlete and a student."

The Giants started Torres in pro ball at shortstop with Decatur of the Midwest League, a Class D circuit. Torres batted just .181 for the Commodores, striking out 84 times in 96 games. It was a classic situation of a slick-fielding middle infielder who couldn't hit.

The pattern repeated for Torres through three more years in his climb up the Giants' minor league ladder. He gradually cut down his Ks and raised his batting average. As the 1966 season dawned, the Giants traded him to the California Angels.

Torres played two seasons with the Angels' top farm club at Seattle in the AAA Pacific Coast League. Following the 1967 season, he was traded to the Houston Astros. 

Assuming the starting shortstop job at Houston, Torres, Torres hit .223 for the last-place Astros. He split the 1969-70 seasons between the big club and Oklahoma City at the AA level.

Following the 1970 season, Torres was traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he backed up Don Kessinger and did some pinch-hitting and pinch-running in 1971.
Looks a lot like Lou Diamond
Phillips, doesn't he?

The Cubs dealt Torres to the Montreal Expos as the 1972 season opened. He played both second-string second base and shortstop for the Expos, batting just .155. On Aug. 17, with the Expos losing to the visiting Astros, the former youth league pitching star made his sole appearance on the mound in pro ball. Torres closed out the ninth inning of the 5-17 loss, pitching .2 innings and giving up five hits and two earned runs.

In the 1973 pre-season, Houston reacquired Torres as infield insurance, buying him from the Cubs. He appeared in 38 games, hitting just .091. Following the season he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.

Torres spent the entire 1974 season with Hawaii in the PCL. He hit .259 and caught the attention of the San Diego Padres, for whom the Islanders were a AAA farm club. The Padres bought Torres from the ChiSox in April, 1975, and he returned to the major leagues for two years with San Diego.

In 1977, Hector Torres began his long professional association with the Toronto Blue Jays. He played for the big club in 1977 and for their AAA team at Syracuse in 1978. With expansion Toronto, Torres became the first man to play for both Canadian major league teams. On June 27, he hit the first grand slam home run in Blue Jays history, helping beat Ron Guidry and the Yankees 7-6.

After retiring as a player, Torres coached and managed in the Toronto organization through 2002, then associated with the S.F. Giants, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays in similar capacities. Most recently he has been a coach with the Rays' Gulf Coast League club.


Former Sports Collectors Digest editor Tom Mortensen sent this image of a young Hector Torres with Braves pitcher Lou Burdette.

I agree with his assessment that the picture must have been taken at the 1958 World Series (bunting in background), after Torres had pitched his Monterrey, Mexico, team to the Little League World's Championship.

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