Nino Espinosa

October 28, 2008
The few cards I have from 1981, the year I turned my back on the Cardboard Gods, are an accidental monument to a moment so empty it was likely gone from my mind within hours after it happened, if not sooner. I must have a bought a couple packs, opened them, leafed through them. I must have been so far removed from feeling the magic of receiving brand new cards that I didn’t even notice the magic was no longer there, didn’t even remember there had ever been any magic. The cards from that year were as drab as the tile floor of a subbasement government waiting room, no sun anywhere, the color drained from the world that had been throughout the previous few years a brilliant synthetic rainbow.

Nino Espinosa stands in opposition to 1981’s dull extinction of joy. I probably missed this while numbly leafing through the cards in the pack he came in. If I focused on anything, it was probably the backdrop behind him, a wall the color of nausea. Maybe I briefly noted his afro, the size of it by that diminishing year already an anachronism, but who was I going to tell about it? My brother was away at boarding school by 1981, and even before he’d gone away he’d been showing less and less interest in the things I wanted to show him. So into my shoebox of cards went Nino Espinosa with barely a glance from me, and a few years later, 1987, the house I grew up in was sold and into storage went the shoebox of cards.

That year, 1987, I didn’t think that much about baseball or my baseball cards. I missed the news near the end of that year, Christmas Eve, that Nino Espinosa, member of the lovable and useless late 1970s Mets, member of what as of this moment remains the only World Series championship team in Philadelphia Phillies history, member of my sad tiny collection of 1981 cards, died of a heart attack at the age of 34.

In fact I didn’t find out about his early death until this morning. We are all headed that way. The best we can do is stand in opposition to the fading of the magic, as Nino Espinosa does here in an ugly, off-center card, his loose, limber body exuding the feeling that things are just starting, that he’s just getting warmed up, that the whole day is still ahead of him, waiting to be explored, waiting to bloom. Life, like the bulging preposterous afro of Nino Espinosa, will not be denied.


  1. 1.  As someone whose first extraordinarily vague memories of baseball are from 1981, I see that year and these cards in a different light, of course. Far from being joyless and drab, they are full of promise and hope for the future, a theme best encapsulated by this example from the set:

  2. 2.  1 : Wow, a rare truthful “future stars” card. I may not be remembering this right, but the one guy who didn’t really live up to the card, Perconte, was a much-hyped youngster for a little while, a future batting champ, etc.

    FYI: There are new comments on old cards for Ron LeFlore (Tigers) and Bob Bailey (Reds).

  3. 3.  1
    Yup, 1981 was a good year indeed. Dodgers won a world series, I finally graduated from College and was able to escape the combo of work/school so I could begin my programming career. My wife and I moved from our 1st apartment of no friends into an apartment full of aspiring actors who all become our good friends. That was as good as it got.

    Young, full of vigor, broke, maybe the best year of my life.

  4. 4.  Regarding that last Bob Bailey comment: who was Taco on the 1978 Red Sox? Mike Torrez?

  5. 5.  I loved the way Nino Espinosa and Bob Apodaca rolled off the tongue. Thanks for bringing back one of my favorite ’70s era pitchers- ‘Fro and all.

  6. 6.  4 : That makes me feel better that you didn’t know who Taco was, too, Ennui. I had to Google it, and found a (harrowing) Sons of Sam Horn comment that confirmed your hunch:

    “We both wanted Torrez out of there before he even started to blow up. Never really trusted Taco. We were screaming for Zimmer to get him out of there. I don’t remember how we reacted to Dent’s homer. But I remember the crushing sense of disappointment after the game was over. I remember my brother and I throwing the ball against our garage door as hard as we possibly could but not finding that or anything else to be a satisfying outlet for the anger and disappointment we felt.”

  7. 7.  70’s Braves announcers Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson, Sr. routinely referred to infielder Marty Perez as Taco. Neither Perez nor Torrez came from abroad — Perez was from Visalia, CA and Torrez from Topeka. I guess Taco was a nickname that could only be hung on American-born players of Hispanic descent.

  8. 8.  1981 was a good year for me as well. fully pampered with food, entertainment, travel, clothes, the works. Any I could pee anytime I wanted. Being 6 months old rocked.

  9. Nino was a team mate of mine in 1971, I really enjoyed his laugh and sense of humor. He was really a great competitor at this level for being only, 17 yrs of age than. Key West SunCaps D.Horton

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