Aurelio Alejandro López Rios
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 220 lb.
- Debut September 1, 1974
- Final Game June 17, 1987
- Born September 21, 1948 in Tecamachalco, Puebla Mexico
- Died September 22, 1992 in Matehuala, San Luis Potosí Mexico
As a starting pitcher
Aurelio López made his professional debut with the Las Choapas Diablos Rojos of the Mexican Southeast League in 1967, going 5-3 with a 4.31 ERA. Promoted to the parent Mexico City Diablos Rojos at age 19 in 1968, Lopez was 10-10 with a 2.61 ERA (but a 4.06 RA) in his Mexican League debut. The record was fairly unimpressive on a pennant-winning club. For the 1969 Red Devils, López went 10-4 with a 3.86 ERA as a lower percentage of his runs allowed were unearned. Aurelio spent a fair portion of the year back in the Mexican Southeast League; the Red Devils farm club was now the Minatitlan Diablos Rojos and López went 7-4 there with a 1.95 ERA. He would have ranked second in ERA but didn't have innings to qualify due to his time with Mexico City.
In 1970 Aurelio spent the whole campaign with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and won 16 games (losing 11) while posting a 2.98 ERA. He walked 100 in 172 innings and completed 14 of 24 starts. He tied for sixth in the Liga in victories. He then hit the skids, going 4-7, 4.88 and 5-7, 3.64 over the 1971-1972 stretch. In 1972 Senor Smoke began being placed in the swingman role, making 12 starts and 29 relief appearances. Returning to that role in 1973, the 24-year-old went 12-10 with a 3.33 ERA, 10 saves, 12 starts and 41 relief turns for the Liga champions. He tied for third in the Mexican League in games saved and struck out 117 in 127 innings, while walking 82. He was 9-2 with a 3.08 ERA for the Mazatlan Deer in 1973-1974 to win MVP honors of the Mexican Pacific League.
López becomes a relief star
The 1974 campaign was Aurelio's first in which he pitched solely in relief south of the border. Making 60 appearances, he worked 113 1/3 innings, walking 70 but striking out 134 batters. He saved 20 games and went 7-7 with a 2.54 ERA. He had the most saves, games pitched and wild pitches (17) in the Liga in that year as the closer for the league's best team. On August 29 the Kansas City Royals purchased his contract but he did not do well in eight games with Kansas City - he struck out only five batters in 16 innings, allowed 12 runs and 10 walks with a 5.62 ERA. Early the next year, the Royals sold him back to the Red Devils. With Mexico City in 1975, Aurelio was 10-8 with 23 saves, a 2.84 ERA and 71 games pitched. He fanned 114 batters in 114 innings. He again led Liga pitchers in games, saves and wild pitches (18). In 1976, his age-27 season, Aurelio slipped to 4-11 with a 4.50 ERA in 59 games and allowed 111 hits in 98 innings. He saved 16 contests and led the league for a third time in saves and games, but was far from the top reliever in the Liga - Alfonso Cisneros was 5-4 with 15 saves and a 2.17 ERA for Coahuila for instance. With Mazatlan in 1976-1977, he was 0-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a league-best five saves for his second LMP MVP; the last pitcher to win two had been Miguel Sotelo in the early 1960s.
The career year?
Senor Smoke had his best and last year in the Mexican League in 1977. He went 19-3 with 30 saves and a 2.01 ERA in 73 games. He struck out 165 and cut his walks to 49 in 157 innings; his nine wild pitches were almost half of what he had done in less time the prior three years. Despite being a closer, he was fifth in the Liga in wins, set a new save record (six more than Manuel Lugo had posted in 1973) in leading the Liga for a fourth time, was sixth in strikeouts despite not making a single start, broke his two-year old record in games pitched and was named MVP for his dominating work. His games record would last 20 years until Roberto Osuna broke it and his save mark would stand 14 years despite a highly expanded role for the closer during the 1980s and save records falling everywhere else. In 1991 Mike Browning saved 34 to break Aurelio's record. López finished his Mexican League career with a 97-83 record, a 3.18 ERA and 99 saves. As of 2000 he was tied for 12th in the Liga in career saves and tied for 13th with 107 wild pitches.
Back to the USA
The St. Louis Cardinals bought Aurelio in 1978. He spent part of the year with the Springfield Redbirds, going 6-6 with 9 saves and 81 strikeouts in 76 innings, spread out over 34 appearances. His ERA was 3.55. He also spent time with the Cardinals, going 4-2 with a 4.29 ERA. He allowed 52 hits in 65 innings with only 4 homers but walked 32, his downfall. He fanned 46 and looked sharper than in his prior Major League Baseball appearance four years earlier.
The Tigers years
The 1979 season brought Lopez to the Detroit Tigers in what would be a lopsided trade. Senor Smoke dazzled the American League that year, with a 10-5 record, 21 saves, 106 Ks and just 95 hits in 127 innings. He had a 2.41 ERA (a 181 ERA+), was third in the AL in saves and 7th in the Cy Young Award voting. The next season - 1980 - brought another 21 saves, plus a 13-6 record. He appeared in 61 contests, throwing 124 innings, as he continued to be a workhorse reliever. His ERA fell to 3.77 and his ERA+ was only 109. It was his fifth season with double-digit totals in both the win and save columns and he was seventh in the AL in saves, plus he led the league in relief wins.
López slipped in 1981-1982, with an ERA of 4.18, six saves and a 7-3 record for Detroit. He briefly returned to the minors in 1982 with the Evansville Triplets and went 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA to finish his minor league career. In 1983 he bounced back at age 34-35. He was 9-8 with 18 saves and 87 hits allowed in 115 1/3 innings. His ERA+ was 139 with a 2.81 unadjusted ERA. He made his only All-Star team in his MLB career that season.
In 1984, López joined Willie Hernandez to form a fine bullpen for the great Tigers team. He won 10 of 11 decisions, was third in the AL with 71 games pitched, 10th with 14 saves (even though Hernandez was the main closer) and had a 2.94 ERA (133 ERA+) in 137 2/3 innings of relief work. He won game five in the 1984 World Series and went 12-1 including postseason play.
In his last season with the Tigers, in 1985 López slipped at age 36-37. In 51 games his ERA rose to 4.80 (an 85 ERA+) and he was 3-7 with five saves.
He spent the last two years of his career with the Houston Astros after being released by Detroit. He rebounded to have a good year in 1986 (3-3, 7 Sv, 104 ERA+, 3.46 ERA) in 78 innings spread out over 45 outings. In his last year, 1987 he fell to 2-1, 4.50 with one save and an ERA+ of 87. Overall in the majors Senor Smoke was 64-36 with 93 saves and a 111 ERA+ (3.56 ERA). In his professional career he had gone 184-132 with at least 198 saves.
After retiring from baseball, López returned to his hometown in Mexico and was elected mayor. He died in a car accident in 1992 one day after his 44th birthday. He was elected into the Salon de la Fama in 1993
Sources include The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, Viva Beisbol! newsletter by Bruce Baskin, various Baseball Guides, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database
- Gary Gillette: "Aurelio Lopez", in Mark Pattison and David Raglin, ed.: Detroit Tigers 1984: What A Start! What A Finish!, SABR Publications, Phoenix, AZ, 2012, pp. 113-119. ISBN 1933599448