(If you like some cardboard with your baseball trivia, read the rest of our related posts here.)
Aurelio Lopez was born on September 21, 1948, just as summer officially gave way to autumn in the northern hemisphere.
Of course, the changing seasons were not quite so drastic and distinct in Lopez’s hometown of Tecamachalco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, as they are in, say, Chicago.
So you might imagine that Lopez was a bit shaken — as in shivered — by his first taste of fall baseball on U.S. diamonds in 1974.
After all, Lopez came straight to Kansas City after the Royals purchased his contract from the Mexico City Reds in late August of that year and made his relief debut on September 1. He appeared in eight games down the stretch for a Royals team that wasn’t quite the powerhouse they would become a couple seasons later.
That 1974 team lost all eight of those games, though Lopez didn’t pick up even a single decision. His last outing came on October 2 — the final day of the season — against the White Sox in Chicago, where the temperature swung from a low of 43 to a high of 69 (F).
A Long Way to Motown
Years later, of course, Lopez would gain some fame as a member of the 1984 Detroit Tigers and put together seven solid seasons in Motown. Along the way he earned the moniker of “Señor Smoke” for his blazing fastball and spent a lot of time in cold stadiums across the Majors.
Maybe that’s why my enduring image of him prominently features a shiny black Tigers warmup jacket and always makes me feel like winter is just around the corner. It’s how I picture all of his baseball cards, even though my collection tells me he appeared in white short sleeves just as often (or more often).
But all of that was several years down the road from his inauspicious KC debut at age 25. In between was an abrupt return to the Mexican League and, in 1977 another transfer to the States, this time courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The next season, the Cards installed Lopez in the Springfield bullpen and then called him up in late July. He made 25 appearances for the parent club, including four starts, and went 4-2.
That December, St. Louis traded him to Detroit.
New Old Card
You might almost have forgotten about Lopez’s time with the Cardinals if it weren’t for his 1979 Topps card.
And if I’m being honest (I am), then I have to admit that I don’t remember seeing this card as a kid. It was issued before I started collecting, and I never really focused on completing the 1979 set.
(Incidentally, that’s one of the beauties of cracking open the older cards again — there are still plenty of them that are “new” to me, and, I suspect, new to you, too.)
Sitting here as 2020 draws near, it’s pretty jarring to see Lopez in blazing Cardinals red. I mean, this dude was a Tiger through and through, and he always will be in the memory of those who lived through those years. At best, we might remember the very end of El Señor’s career, when he made it to the playoffs with the Houston Astros.
But if you look closer at that 1979 card, there’s something about it that rings true.
Most of Lopez’s 1980s cards featured what seemed — to me, anyway — to be a slightly amused expression, as if the righty knew something the rest of us didn’t. In the 1979 pasteboard, though, his eyebrows (and eyes) are raised and furrowed to an extent that seems to say he’s concerned or at least perplexed about something.
And who can blame him?
In the picture, Lopez is right around 30 years old, and he’s made the trip from his home into the cold American heartland for the second time in five years. He has yet to really make in the Majors, and his future is uncertain.
And winter is coming … again.
If you let your fancy have its way once in awhile, then you might imagine that Lopez is gazing off at the coming storm — his trade to Detroit, the thick warm-up jackets, and his ultimate fate.
Lopez was driving near his home on the day after his 44th birthday — September 22, 1992 — when something went wrong. His vehicle overturned, and Lopez was ejected. He didn’t survive.
And so baseball lost a talented performer and an interesting character, and his family lost a young man who should have had plenty of life ahead of him.
But like so many others who play this game, there is more to the Aurelio Lopez story. There is a coincidence.
In the long history of Major League baseball, there have been three men with the first name of “Aurelio” to see action in the Bigs:
- Aurelio Monteagudo, who went 3-7 over 72 games in a seven-year career that ran from 1963-1973.
- Aurelio Rodriguez, a solid third baseman for the 1970s Tigers who played in the Majors from 1967-1983. He also pulled off one of the greatest baseball card pranks of all time.
- Aurelio Lopez, our man of the hour, and Rodriguez’s teammate on the 1979 Tigers. When all was said and done, Lopez’s record stood at 62-36, with a 3.56 ERA and 93 saves.
Monteagudo spent time with the Astros and Royals in the 1960s, so he and Lopez share a tenuous club-based tie, as well.
But the big, dark bond between all three Aurelios is that each of them perished in an automobile accident before his 53rd birthday.
And so baseball sits and waits for its next Aurelio, hopeful that he will be as memorable as the men who came before and that the ultimate outcome will be kinder to us all.