Friday, January 15, 2021

#132 Bobby Avila - Cleveland Indians

Roberto Francisco Avila
Cleveland Indians
Second Base

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'10"  Weight:  175
Born:  April 2, 1924, Veracruz, Mexico
Signed:  "Jumped" from Puebla (Mexican) to the Cleveland Indians before 1948 season
Major League Teams:  Cleveland Indians 1949-1958; Baltimore Orioles 1959; Boston Red Sox 1959; Milwaukee Braves 1959
Died:  October 26, 2004, Veracruz, Mexico (age 80)

Bobby Avila was a three-time All-Star who enjoyed his best season in 1954 when helped lead the Indians to an American League pennant while winning the league's batting title.  His .341 average that season earned him honors as The Sporting News American League Player of the Year.  He finished third in A.L. MVP voting behind Yogi Berra (#110) and teammate Larry Doby (#250).  A fine defensive second baseman, Avila was the regular at that position for the Indians between 1951 and 1957.  He finished first in fielding percentage at second base in 1953, first in assists in 1953 and 1954 and was in the top ten for putouts at second seven times.  After brief stints with three teams in 1959, Avila returned to Mexico for one final season as a professional player.  He hit .333 for the Mexico City Tigers and set a record with 124 walks.  In 1,300 Major League games, Avila batted .281 with 1,296 hits.

Following his playing career, Avila owned the Veracruz Eagles in the Mexican League and eventually became the league's president.  Avila was inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.  He also entered politics, serving two terms in the Mexican national legislature after earlier being elected mayor of his hometown, Veracruz.  He was the first Mexican-born player to find success in American baseball, becoming a national hero and serving as an inspiration for future Mexican-born players, including Fernando Valenzuela.  

Building the Set
August 29, 1996 in Winston-Salem, NC - Card #145
I attended college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  On humid days, or after a heavy rain, the air was heavy with the faint smell of tobacco.  I absolutely loved my time as a Demon Deacon and I realize how lucky I was to be able to attend such a phenomenal college.

There was a baseball card store called Season Ticket on Silas Creek Parkway I discovered half-way through my senior year, and I'd frequent the store whenever I had a little extra spending money - which honestly wasn't very often.  Given the timing of this purchase, I don't remember if my Dad was with me or not.  Save for a visit north for the 1996 All-Star Game, I spent the summer of 1996 living in Winston-Salem and this might have been a pre-start of the semester purchase that I made on my own.  I paid $10 for a lot of four cards needed for our 1956 Topps set, which included this Avila card.  $10 would have bought a lot of Taco Ball back then (and it still would now) but adding four more cards to our set was worth the sacrifice.  Joining the Avila card were the cards of Carlos Paula (#4), Jim Owens (#114) and Joe DeMaestri (#161).  The checklist shown here would have been the one I had with me for this purchase.

I haven't been back to North Carolina in almost 20 years and whenever I get around to taking my wife and my sons on a road trip to visit my old campus, I'd love to see if Season Ticket is still there.

The Card / Indians Team Set
I have to imagine somebody somewhere has already gone through this exercise, but I decided to try to figure out when the action photo of Avila crossing home plate was taken.  No one with the Indians wore #6 in 1955, so my starting point was 1954 when Bill Glynn wore #6, Doby wore #14 and Al Smith (#105) wore #32.  Within a minute or so, and with the help of Baseball Reference, I found this photo was most likely taken on August 14, 1954 at Cleveland Stadium against the Orioles.  With the Orioles up 3-0, Avila hit a three-run home in the bottom of the 8th off Orioles pitcher Don Larsen (#332), scoring Glynn and Smith.  Doby was the on-deck batter.

The birthday on the back is completely different than what Baseball Reference lists.  The cartoons on the back highlight Avila's 1954 battle title victory along with his strong fielding skills.  His one minor league season referenced came in 1948 with the Baltimore Orioles, then the top farm team for the Indians.

This is Avila's first appearance in a Topps set since 1952, and he must have been under an exclusive contract with Bowman during those missing years.

1956 Season
This was a tough season for Avila, and it marked the beginning of the second baseman's steady decline over the next three seasons.  Appearing in 138 games, Avila hit just .224 for an Indians team that finished in second place largely due to strong starting pitching from Early Wynn (#187), Herb Score (#140) and Bob Lemon (#255).

1951 Bowman #188
1952 Topps #257
1954 Bowman #68
1957 Topps #195
1960 Topps #90

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1951 Bowman #188
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (6):  1952, 1956-1960
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  1983 Topps 1952 Reprint Series #257

57 - Avila non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 12/14/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
The Trading Card Database

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