A more than a decade ago, I found an intriguing book at the Seattle Library Book Sale that caught my eye for several reasons. It was called, “The Tall Mexican: The Life of Hank Aguirre, All-Star Pitcher, Businessman and Humanitarian.” The cover art featured a beautiful painting of a brown pitcher in a Detroit Tigers uniform. As a Chicano baseball historian, the appeal is pretty obvious. What’s cool is that I had never heard of Hank Aguirre and was not aware of his work on the diamond, or life after baseball.
The book breaks down into two parts, the first covering his life in baseball, and the second part addresses his life in the business world. Both sections paint an incredible image of a great guy, to which I found great pride. It’s not that often that Mexican-American ballplayers craft such successful careers for themselves that galvanize many communities over one lifetime.
With that pride buoying my heart, I went in search of more info on Hank Aguirre, and surprisingly found very little. Aside from the book, and an obituary, there was not much on Hank. The basics were this: over the course of a 16-year pitching career with the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, Aguirre went 75-72 with an ERA of 3.25 in over 1,375 innings pitched over 447 games and two All-Star Game appearances. The bulk of his career, of course, was with the Tigers.
At some point, I’ll write a SABR BioProject article on Hank, but in the meantime, I satisfied myself with obtaining every one of his Topps baseball cards, beginning with his 1957 Cleveland Indians card (#96). I have 14 cards, indicating that his first two season with the Tribe, where he played a total of 10 games did not warrant a baseball card.
I had never amassed the total collection of any one player before. But Hank seemed to resonate with me. He was a southern California Mexican-American like me, and a tall, brown dude, like me. Though Hank has a couple of inches on me, his 6-4 to my 6-2. Regardless, over the years I have sifted through the 14 cards looking at the styles of cards over the years, looking at his poses, and how he had aged over the years. His 1957 card (#96) has a similar pose to his 1961 card (#324). His 1969 card (#94) pretty matches up with the 1968 card (#553), both indicating his affiliation with the Dodgers, while obviously sporting his Tigers uniform. Topps recycled numerous photographs from the 1968 series, and cropped the photos differently for use in the 1969 set. Though, Hank is sporting a blacked out ballcap in his 1969 shot. It’s unfortunate that the Southern Californian never had a card in his Dodgers uniform. That would have been pretty cool! In the book, though, there is a great shot of him in a 1969 Dodgers uniform posing next to Willie Mays.
The majority of his cards depict a smiling Hank. The smile is infectious, and you think, wow, he looks like a nice guy. In other years, he is pictured in a serious, albeit thoughtful demeanor. Flipping though the cards also provided me the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and instant recall of the card style of the vintage era.
Hank’s last card is with the 1970 Chicago Cubs (#699), though he makes a cameo appearance on the 1973 Topps Whitey Lockman card (#88). Lockman was the Cubs manager that year, and Hank was the pitching coach, and was pictured along with other Cubs coaches including Ernie Banks and Pete Reiser.
For now, Hank’s cards will stay tucked in their plastic pocket pouch until I decide what to do with them next. Maybe matte them in a single collage or something along with his photo. To me, he will always be the tallest Mexican!