Thursday, October 1, 2009
FRANCISCO ESTRADA (September 14, 1971)
It is more than a bit ironic that the second man in New York Mets team history to only appear in a single game would be Francisco “Paquín” Estrada. His lone game in Major League Baseball is such a small part of his much larger story. Paquín’s professional baseball career started in his native Mexico during the summer of 1966. It was the first of 26 seasons catching in the Mexican League. He added an additional 30 seasons in the Mexican Pacific winter league. So unlike many baseball professionals Paquín played essentially year round. This dedication easily established Estrada as the man to appear in more games as a catcher than anyone else in pro baseball history. Amassing an astonishing 4,000 games behind the plate.
Francisco Estrada Soto was born on February 12, 1948 in Navojoa in the state of Sonora. His father was Francisco Estrada Martinez. That is likely the source of his name “Paquín” which is Spanish for “Frankie”. While Estrada was with the Red Devils of the Mexican League the team asked him to join the New York Yankees during spring training camp in 1968. It was his first exposure to baseball in the United States. He would not return until November 30, 1970. On that day the New York Mets acquired him from Mexico City in a trade for Cuban catcher, Orlando McFarlane and cash considerations. Paquín was invited to spring training camp with the Mets that following April. An old problem resurfaced then that had plagued him during his previous time with the Yanks in Fort Lauderdale. It was his inability to speak English. A story printed in the St. Petersburg Times told that Estrada reported to the Mets camp a week late because he had gotten lost, and that Dominican infielder, Ted Martinez had even rescued him in a Miami airport. Quite a humble beginning for the man who had help secure the 1968 Mexican League Championship.
The start of the 1971 season found Paquín assigned to Double-A Memphis. He earned a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Tidewater where he continued to progress. At the close of the Tides season the Mets added him to the major league roster, and brought him to New York.
September 14, 1971. Estrada remembers waking up at 6 A.M that morning. The Mets were hosting a double header that day against the Montreal Expos. His flight arrived at LaGuardia Airport and once again Paquín found himself not certain what to do. His fortunes changed quickly when he hailed a cab operated by a Spanish speaking man from Cuba. The driver was able to tell him Shea Stadium was nearby.
Nolan Ryan was the starting pitcher for the Mets in the first game that day. “The Express” was not what he would become later and showed it in this performance. Nolan could not make it out of the second inning and had yielded six earned runs. Ron Taylor relieved him and matched the six earned runs during his three innings plus of work. So with the score a laughable 12-0 in favor of the Expos the Mets manager, Gil Hodges thought nothing of calling on his new catcher to spell star Jerry Grote. This way he saves backup catcher, Duffy Dyer for the second game of the afternoon.
Estrada came into the game in the top of the sixth inning. He was catching relief pitcher, Charlie Williams. Paquín had never had the opportunity to catch Williams before on any team. So no real surprise that even the sure handed receiver allowed a passed ball on the fifth Expos’ batter of that inning. Not in the manner he wanted to but, he was now in the next day’s box score.
Bill Stoneman, Montreal’s pitcher, was throwing well that afternoon. So when Estrada finally got his chance to step to the plate it was with two outs, and nobody on in the seventh inning. Francisco got his pitch to hit and laced a line drive single over the shortstop’s head into left field. (It would be one of only four hits the Mets would muster that entire game.) The next batter, Ted Martinez ended the threat and recorded the third out retiring the side.
As blow-outs often do the game passed by uneventfully until the bottom of the ninth inning. New York assembled a sort of mini rally and scored one run on a pair of hits from Wayne Garrett and Dave Marshall. Then with two outs and, one on, Paquín came to the plate. Without much fanfare he grounded out to end the game that day. Little did he know that would be the end of his one game Major League career.
Francisco Estrada was involved in what is considered one of the worst trades in baseball history. The New York Mets dealt him along with Don Rose, Leroy Stanton, and the great Nolan Ryan to the California Angels for third baseman, Jim Fregosi on December 10, 1971. Paquín continued to play in the United States until 1973, but would never again appear in a major league game. He returned to Mexico, where he had been playing winter ball all along. Estrada won three additional championships in Mexico during 1979, 1983 and 1990. The last two accomplished during his hugely successful managerial career. In fact the combination led to his entrance into “Salon de la Fama del Beisbol” (the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame) and the title of “El Paquín” in his native country.
Francisco Estrada signed this baseball and card for me in March 2006. From a request sent to the Arizona training camp for WBC Team Mexico when he was manager.