Earlier this week, you probably read Eric Nusbaum's piece about Mexican legend Héctor Espino, the all-time home-run king of the minor leagues. I contributed a sidebar, with notes about all four men credited with at least 400 home runs in the minors: Espino (484), Buzz Arlett (432), Nick Cullop (420) and Merv Connors (400 on the nose).
But as Tacoma Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto so helpfully pointed out, I should have found the space to mention Mike Hessman ... and I would have, if I'd remembered Mike Hessman. Because Mike Hessman has a shot at joining the 400 Club this season. Now 35, Hessman is still plugging away in the minors; this season he's already hit nine home runs with the Louisville Bats, bringing his career total to 379. Considering that Hessman hit 35 homers last year, 21 more this year hardly seems impossible. Even if he doesn't make it, though, we can hope he hooks up with somebody again next season, at least long enough to pass Connors. The career minor-league slugger has become largely extinct, so it's nice to see Hessman keeping that tradition alive for a while longer.
While I'm still thinking about this stuff, just a couple of other thinks ...
Nusbaum describes Héctor Espino as "one of the greatest hitters in baseball history." I'm not yet convinced that he was. Espino played just 32 games north of the border, with Triple-A Jacksonville when he was 25, and was good but hardly great. He spent the great majority of his career in the Mexican League, which is officially Class AAA but really is closer to Double-A. Or at least that's been true for quite some time (it's possible that the circuit was relatively stronger in the 1960s, Espino's heyday). My guess is that Espino could have been a decent major leaguer for a few years, but probably not a star.
Espino's "record" is 484 home runs in the minors. But as Nusbaum correctly notes, Espino got paid for hitting far more home runs than that:
Héctor Espino's home run total is less a mystery than an unanswerable question. The Liga Mexicana del Pacifico declares that Héctor hit 299 winter ball home runs in 24 short seasons. However, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame and various other sources set that total at 310. Eleven home runs are unaccounted for. Over the summer, in the Liga Mexicana de Béisbol, Héctor hit another 453 home runs, for a total of either 752 or 763.
Those winter-ball home runs don't "count" ... but why don't they count? Because we say so.
Well, it's more complicated than that. We don't count winter-league home runs, we don't count instructional-league home runs, we don't count spring-training home runs, we don't count World Baseball Classic home runs or World Series home runs ... we don't count lots and lots of home runs, and there are good reasons for not counting them.
But you know, it sure would be nice if there was at least a source for all those home runs. How many home runs did Babe Ruth hit for money? I don't have the slightest idea. Which pains me.