Pepe Frias and Pepe Mangual

April 11, 2007


Here are the only two Pepes in the entire history of major league baseball, poised on the brink of their team’s putrid 1976 season. The Era of the Two Pepes had begun in 1973, when 24-year-old Frias made a major league roster that already included 20-year-old Mangual, who’d broken baseball’s Pepe line by playing a few games the previous September. The versatile Frias, who could fill in for regulars at three infield positions and who (along with Otis Nixon) will be in the record books until the sun explodes as the most-used pinch-runner in Expos history (despite the apparent lack of speed suggested by his mere 12 career stolen bases), got into more games during the first two of the two-Pepe seasons, but then in 1975 Mangual took the lead in Pepe appearances by becoming the Expos’ everyday leadoff hitter. Mangual’s status as the top Pepe continued in 1976, but this seemed not to be a recipe for success as the Expos swiftly plummeted from longtime middle of the pack also-rans to a borderline entry into the discussion of the worst teams of all time. By the end of the 1976 season the Expos had dropped 107 games. Worse, all the losing spurred the increasingly desperate Expos to trade Pepe Mangual in midseason to the Mets, thus banishing the short brittle epoch of the Pepes to the dustheap of history.

Yes, someday the sun will explode.

I mean, right? I’m actually not too clear about all that, but certainly there’s got to be some kind of finite cosmic end date on our lease at this location. We’ll blow ourselves up, or drown in the rising ocean, or poison all our food, or get hit by a meteor, or sucked into a black hole, or else cockroaches will finally get sick of waiting around for us to hand over the keys, or the sun will burst or fizzle out or whatever it does when it gets tired of shining. So what’s this all about then? I mean, why are people rushing for the downtown number 6 train or getting haircuts or writing prose poems or keeping records for most times used as a pinch runner? At a certain point all of this will be completely erased from any kind of human consciousness, unless we build some kind of spaceship so sturdy that it can endure not only the annihilation of our neck of the woods but also the eventual collapse of the whole universe back into itself. And though I know there are some smart people among us, I sort of doubt this can happen. So the question remains, what to do with the time we do have here, this life of ours that is so rare it makes the appearance on a single team at the same time of the only two Pepes ever to play major league baseball seem no more unusual than a dandelion popping up at the edge of a suburban lawn. The fact that we’re alive is a miracle far beyond the far-fetched tale of the two Pepes. There’s no life anywhere else as far as anyone else has been able to see, just this one blue marble in the endless black. We’re the only ones breathing. It’s too much, really. I can’t really fathom it. I have to go watch some television.

But first, just a few more words about the Pepes.

The Pepes did not appear together in the Expos starting lineup with much regularity, but on one of the last occasions when the Expos went to battle with a two-Pepe attack (just a little over a week before the Mangual trade, perhaps not coincidentally), Larry Dierker of the Astros hung a no-hitter on the Canadian squad. The Expos had nearly been no-hit a month earlier, but Pepe Mangual broke up Andy Messersith’s bid with a one-out ninth-inning single. Three years later, Pepe Frias, no longer an Expo, was among the contributors to a hitless effort by the hapless Atlanta Braves against Ken Forsch. In that game he was pinch-hit for by cup-of-coffee pro Bob Beall, who would finish the season batting .133. In the earlier no-hitter Frias had been replaced at the plate late in the game by none other than Tim Foli, which is like having been bumped as a keynote speaker at the 1994 Conference for Clearly Enunciated Optimism in favor of Kurt Cobain.


  1. 1.  Beautiful man. The brevity of life, and the seemingly inconsequential details of our existence is simply mind boggling. Despite our inevitable meaninglessness, I do remember these two damn Pepes (I had those two cards), and as a kid, there seemed to be some meaning in their collective tie to the Expos, and to baseball. Bud Selig should proclaim a Pepes Day during the 2007 season. Tim Foli can introduce them . . . at a Washington Nationals game.

  2. 2.  That was beautiful.

  3. 3.  I am very tempted to advertise on this site, as you obvioulsy want me to do, what with your “come hither” advertising box smack in the middle of your latest posting. And since this blog is “a popular and highly respected member of the baseball blogosphere” I don’t know how I can refuse.

  4. 4.  3 Hi chancellor. Thanks for checking in, old pal. I don’t know much about the advertising. (I don’t know if it’s really “smack in the middle” of posts.) I guess it helps pay to keep the Toaster site rolling.

  5. 5.  This post made my wife giggle.

    She still likes to refer to a man advantage in hockey as having “Pee-Pee Men!”

    (It comes from a graphic on an old computer hockey game-she saw “PP” next to one team, and I explained what it meant. So ever since then, if she sees me watching hockey, she’ll ask where the PP Men are.)

  6. 6.  My favorite is that after thinking hard about existence you have to go watch some T.V. The opiate of the masses, but is it also their religion?

  7. 7.  Otis Nixon – now that was a speedy pinch runner. On my late 80s Stratomatic team, Otis made some great appearances, sprinting from base to base quite successfully. He didn’t stand still waiting for the sun to explode, nosiree. That man got a move on.

    Unfortunately, I have no recollection of the two Pepes, but the whole issue makes me wonder about some kind of alternate universe of Cardboard Dios en Espanol – is there another universe of Spanish-language baseball cards out there somewhere?

  8. 8.  6 “T.V. The opiate of the masses, but … also their religion?”

    Interesting question. I’ll have to consult Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life, you know, just as soon as I get done watching “Comedy Night Done Right” on NBC tonight.

    7 Ellen (author of the always illuminating Palimpsest NYC–see link on this page in the “Riffs, Spiels” section) asked: “is there another universe of Spanish-language baseball cards out there somewhere?”

    I don’t know about other countries (is there a Fidel Castro rookie card somehwere in Cuba?), but in 2002 Donruss introduced some cards en espanol:

  9. 9.  8 – That is actually the one night of television that I can’t miss. I love all of those shows, but tonight I will be in the air, so I guess I can miss it.

  10. 10.  Thanks for the Donruss info site. Now I’m off on a tangent! Heading 120 degrees off the first base line. . . .
    I just read this:
    News Brief-Goya Opens Concession At Yankee Stadium
    Friday, Apr 13, 2007 5:00 AM ET
    GOYA FOODS, THE LARGEST HISPANIC-OWNED food company in the U.S., is bringing the taste of Latin America to historic Yankee Stadium this season. . . .
    The season-long sponsorship includes a permanent porch sign in left field, a promotional day on July 31 and the operation of a Latino food concession stand featuring food made with Goya products and ingredients.

    The aptly named “Salsa on the Go” is located at the Food Court on Field Level, Section 20 and will offer Cuban sandwiches with Plantain Chips, Chicken in Salsa with Rice and Beans, Beef or Cheese Empanadas, Sweet Plantains and beverages in flavors like Mango, Passion Fruit and Guava.

    Okay, time to “monetize” this cards en espanol thing. . . .

  11. 11.  Pepe Frias is a hard worker, and a great guy. Read: http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0708-02.htm

  12. My lasting memory of Pepe Frias is his 1978 APBA card. Somehow, despite only garnering 17 plate appearances that year, Frias ended up as one of the 26 players on APBA’s ’78 edition of the Expos. What made it more interesting is that Frias, never confused with a major league hitter, had one of those beautiful small-sample-size fluke seasons. Three extra base hits, two doubles and a triple, in those 17 PAs. Resulting a beautiful, and probably unique, distribution of power numbers among the 36 results on his card: 2-2-6-6-6-6.

    Also noteworthy, with no walks and 1 sacrifice fly, Frias belongs to the obscure club of “My OBP is lower than by batting average.”

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