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02/10/2007 Archived Entry: "MAESTROS OF MEXICO #6: Roberto "Beto" Avila"

by Bruce Baskin

Remembered by North Americans as one of the mainstays of Al Lopez’ great Cleveland Indians teams in the 1950’s, Roberto Francisco “Beto” Avila Gonzalez is a true legend in Mexican baseball. Avila, who was known as Bobby north of the border, was born April 2, 1924 in Veracruz. He eventually grew to be 5’10” tall and 175 pounds.

Avila broke into the Mexican League as a 19-year-old with Puebla in 1943, batting just .229 over 88 games. He was a fast learner, however, and never hit less than .334 for the Pericos for the next four campaigns between 1944 and 1947. His performance was solid enough get him signed by Cleveland for $17,500 and he was assigned to Baltimore in 1948, where he hit only .220 but nonetheless got a shot the next summer with Cleveland to fulfill bonus rules at the time. Avila again showed a weak bat, posting a .214 average in just 14 at-bats over 31 games, where he was used as a defensive replacement and a pinch-runner while he mostly watched.

From 1950 on, however, he was a main cog in the Cleveland lineup, topping the .300 mark three times and leading the American League in triples (11) in 1952 and batting (.341) in 1954, becoming the only Mexican-born player to win a big league batting crown. Avila developed a little power at the plate, too, hitting 63 homers between 1951 and 1956. His batting tailed off after his great 1954 season (in which he also played in the World Series), and he eventually ended up traveling to play for Baltimore, Boston and Milwaukee, wrapping up his major league career with a .238 average in 1959 as a part-time player for the Braves.

Then 36, Avila headed back to Mexico for one more season, batting .333 for the Mexico City Tigres over 127 games in 1960 before retiring as a player. In 11 major league seasons, Beto compiled a .281 career average with 80 homers and 467 RBI’s in 1,300 games. His six Mexican League campaigns showed a .329 average over 603 contests. Avila then entered politics and eventually became mayor of Veracruz, owner of the Veracruz Aguilas and president of the Mexican League.

The irony is that Avila did not consider a baseball career while he was growing up. He spent time as a professional soccer player and had dreams of becoming a bullfighter before learning how to play baseball after reading a book by former big league pitcher Jack Coombs. He was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1971.

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