Despaigne Wins Cuba Home Run Race on “Oddity”

Peter C. Bjarkman*

Alfredo Despaigne wins the 2011-2012 home run title and also sets a new Cuban league record with 36 blasts.

HAVANA TIMES, April 22 — A dramatic battle for mythical title of “Cuba’s Home Run King” raging for the past month has finally come to a dramatic and somewhat odd conclusion on the season’s final day of action.

Granma’s Alfredo Despaigne took back sole position of the league record with his 36th smash of the campaign, on an inside-the-park blast Sunday afternoon in his second-to-last at-bat of the season.

The blow in Nueva Gerona’s Cristobal Labra Stadium came off a delivery from Isla de la Juventud right-hander Alesky Perera and was ironically Despaigne’s only inside-the-park home run of the year. With four RBIs on the day the Granma “Stallion” also pushed his league-leading final total in that department to 105, a margin of six over runner-up José Dariel Abreu.

Despaigne’s final record performance was accompanied by some obvious oddities and notable ironies.

First and foremost was the almost certain claim that this was the first time in any modern-era league where a home run title was decided or a new all-time record established with a four-bagger that never left the field of play. So far there has been no video available to demonstrate precisely what occurred on the historic hit.

Isla made two substitutions in the outfield to start the inning (and also one replacement in the top of the previous inning). Did confusion on Despaigne’s fly ball to center result from the constant outfield “musical chairs” by the home team? Was Despaigne’s blast slightly tainted by lackadaisical effort (either intentional or otherwise) on the part of the Isla outfielders?

Or was there a misplay during the action that might well have resulted in a defensive error that was never credited by a home field official scorer. There is little reason to suggest that Despaigne’s rather strange homer was in any way illegitimate, and yet without a video replay or some further description from the Cuban press it is hard not to speculate, or at least to ponder the circumstances.

A second irony attached to the final day’s events is the fact that Despaigne was handed something of an assist by the absence of José Dariel Abreu from the playing field. Cienfuegos manager Iday Abreu had moved his slugger to the top of the batting order for the Friday and Saturday games – presumably to provide the big first baseman a few extra plate appearances that might increase his chances of overhauling Despaigne.

Abreu had made up a six-homer deficit over the last couple weeks and had also closed the gap on Saturday to only two in the RBI department. At stake for Abreu was not only his piece of the home run record (which he had previously shared with Yoennis Céspedes) but also a potential first-ever National Series Triple Crown batting feat. But then, for some so far inexplicable reason, Abreu sat helplessly on the sidelines Sunday afternoon.

The odd absence of the top Cienfuegos slugger not only handed the title to Abreu’s Granma rival but also gave a huge boost to visiting Ciego de Avila. The visitors eked out a narrow 3-2 win over the Abreu-less Elephants that pushed them into a post-season playoff spot.

It is indeed possible that it was injury that sent Abreu to the bench; he did also miss an entire series last weekend in Isla. But that scenario seems rather unlikely given the move to the top lineup spot on Friday and Saturday and the effort to gain extra ABs for Abreu in the opening matches of the series. Some explanation seems in the offering.

This was the second consecutive year that José Dariel met bitter disappointment in the final game of the campaign. Last season the Cienfuegos star was able to tie Céspedes for the home run lead (and league record) in the final contest yet also fell one short in the RBI chase. He thus missed an historic Triple Crown by only the slimmest of margins.

The Despaigne home run and four RBIs on Sunday meant that in retrospect Abreu would likely have been outdistanced today even if he had taken his normal spot in the lineup. But nonetheless it has to be far more of a disappointment to “go down sitting” than to “go down swinging” on the season’s final day.

Despaigne raced around the bases in Nueva Gerona with a new spot in the record book (if possibly a controversial one) but his top rival Abreu never had a chance to answer.

Alfredo Despaigne’s Home Run Inventory for National Series #51 (2011-2012)
Complied by Peter C. Bjarkman

HR Game Date Stadium Inning Pitcher (Throws) Team
#36# #96 April 22, 2012 Cristobal Labra Sixth Alesky Perera (RHP) Isla de la Juventud
#35 #85 April 3, 2012 Latinoamericano Sixth Roberto Santiesteban (LHP) Industriales
#34 #85 April 3, 2012 Latinoamericano Second Ian Rendón (LHP) Industriales
#33 #82 March 28, 2012 Martires de Barbados Sixth Miguel Lahera (RHP) Artemisa
#32 #81 March 28, 2012 Martires de Barbados First Miguel Lahera (RHP) Artemisa
#31 #74 March 18, 2012 Martires de Barbados Fifth Ciro Silvino Licea (RHP) Guantánamo
#30 #73 March 17, 2012 Martires de Barbados Second Dalier Hinojosa (RHP) Guantánamo
#29 #66 March 7, 2012 Cinco de Septiembre Fifth Jorge Hernández (RHP) Cienfuegos
#28 #63 March 4, 2012 Cinco de Septiembre Seventh Yuniel Leiva (LHP) Cienfuegos
#27 #59 February 27, 2012 Martires de Barbados Eighth Reinier Verano (RHP) Pinar del Río
#26* #58 February 26, 2012 Martires de Barbados Fourth Michel Martínez (RHP) Pinar del Río
#25* #58 February 26, 2012 Martires de Barbados First Yosvani Torres (RHP) Pinar del Río
#24 #57 February 25, 2012 Martires de Barbados Fifth Yaifredo Dominguez (RHP) Pinar del Río
#23 #56 February 23, 2012 Martires de Barbados First Joel Suárez (RHP) Matanzas
#22 #54 February 21, 2012 Martires de Barbados Seventh Yohan Hernández (RHP) Matanzas
#21 #48 February 10, 2012 Candido González First Yoan Fabre (RHP) Matanzas
#20 #46 February 7, 2012 Martires de Barbados Fifth Luis Suárez (RHP) Isla de la Juventud
#19* #45 February 5, 2012 Martires de Barbados Eighth Jorge Despaigne (RHP) Isla de la Juventud
#18* #45 February 5, 2012 Martires de Barbados First Wilber Pérez (LHP) Isla de la Juventud
#17 #42 February 1, 2012 José Antonio Huelga Sixth Jorge Pérez (RHP) Sancti Spíritus
#16 #41 January 30, 2012 Martires de Barbados Fifth Yusmel Aguilar (RHP) Holguín
#15 #40 January 29, 2012 Diez de Octubre First Juan Cruz (RHP) Holguín
#14 #39 January 28, 2012 Martires de Barbados First Raimar Navarro (RHP) Holguín
#13 #38 January 22, 2012 Martires de Barbados Second Darwin Beltrán (RHP) Industriales
#12* #35 January 18, 2012 Heroes de Mayabeque Sixth Lenier Rodríguez (RHP) Mayabeque
#11* #35 January 18, 2012 Heroes de Mayabeque Fifth Lenier Rodríguez (RHP) Mayabeque
#10 #33 January 16, 2012 Nelson Fernández Ninth Mario Batista (LHP) Mayabeque
#9* #32 January 14, 2012 Severino Méndez Ninth Jonder Martínez (RHP) Artemisa
#8* #32 January 14, 2012 Severino Méndez Fifth José Padrón (RHP) Artemisa
#7 #27 January 5, 2012 Nguyen Van Troi Second Yoennis Turcas (RHP) Guantánamo
#6 #13 December 16, 2011 Changa Mederos First Ebris Martínez (RHP) Metropolitanos
#5 #12 December 14, 2011 Capitan San Luis Sixth Isbel Hernández (RHP) Pinar del Río
#4 #11 December 13, 2011 Capitan San Luis Fourth Yosvani Torres (RHP) Pinar del Río
#3 #7 December 7, 2011 Victoria de Girón Tenth Yasmani Arias (RHP) Matanzas
#2 #6 December 5, 2011 Augusto César Sandino First Misael Siverio (LHP) Villa Clara
#1 #2 November 30, 2011 Martires de Barbados Ninth Yoandri Quiala (RHP) Camagüey

Cumulative Notes on Alfredo Despaigne’s Home Run Record:

Despaigne’s Home Run Ratio: 9.56 (Number of At-Bats per Homer Run)

# = Despaigne’s final home run of the season was his only inside-the-park homer of the year

Home Runs by Month: November (1), December (5), January (10), February (11), March (6), April (3)

Home Runs versus Pitching Orientation: against right-handers (29), against left-handers (7)

Multiple Home Runs versus Single Pitcher: 3 (versus Miguel Lahera [Artemisa], Lenier Rodríguez [Mayabeque] and Yosvani Torres [Pinar del Río])

Home Runs in Ballparks: Home (18), Road (18)

Home Roads in Specific Ballparks: Martires de Barbados (Granma) 17, Latinoamericano (Havana) 2, Capitan San Luis (Pinar del Río) 2, Severino Méndez (Bauta) 2, Heroes de Mayabeque (Güines) 2, Cinco de Septiembre (Cienfuegos) 2, Candido González (Camagüey) 1, José Antonio Huelga (Sancti Spíritus) 1, Augusto César Sandino (Villa Clara) 1, Changa Mederos (Habana) 1, Nguyen Van Troi (Guantánamo) 1, Nelson Fernández (San José de Las Lajas) 1, 10 de Octubre (Yara) 1, Victoria de Girón (Matanzas) 1, Cristobal Labra (Nueva Gerona) 1

Home Runs versus Teams (13 teams): Pinar del Río 6, Artemisa 4, Isla de la Juventud 4, Industriales 3, Holguín 3, Mayabeque 3, Matanzas 3, Guantánamo 3, Camagüey 2, Cienfuegos 2, Sancti Spíritus 1, Metropolitanos 1, Villa Clara 1

Teams Not Permitting a Despaigne Home Run in NS #51 (3 teams): Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, Ciego de Avila

Home Runs by Innings: First (9), Second (4), Third (0), Fourth (2), Fifth (7), Sixth (5), Seventh (2), Eighth (2), Ninth (3), Tenth (1)

Longest Consecutive Game Home Run Streak: 5 games (January 22 – February 1, 2012 in Games #38 – #42)

Longest Consecutive Game Streak without Home Runs: 13 games (December 17, 2011 – January 5, 2012)

*Multiple Home Run Games: 6 (January 14 versus Artemisa, January 18 versus Mayabeque, February 5 versus Isla de la Juventud, February 26 versus Pinar del Río, March 28 versus Artemisa, April 3 versus Industriales).

(*) Peter C. Bjarkman on his MLB Blog