#TBT Aurelio Lopez: Detroit Tigers Señor Smoke

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“Nothing surprises me about Lopez. I’ve had him for five years and believe me, there’s nothing like him. He’s got heart and there is none better. He’s one of the all-time hearts.” 

The above quote was given by Hall-of-Fame manager Sparky Anderson about his sometimes setup man, sometimes closer, the late great Aurelio Lopez.

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Earning the nickname Señor Smoke while a member of the Tigers from 1979 to 1985, Lopez had an intriguing career which took him back and forth from the Mexican League to the Majors.

Lopez was honored last spring as a member of Motor City Bengals All-Time Team, making the squad as a set-up man, though he did it all during his career in the bullpen with a smattering of career starts. Here’s a little bit from that post.

To be fair, Lopez did technically close games from time-to-time, in fact some years he served as the Tigers’ primary closer. Back when he pitched, the closer was not as defined and he usually went two to three innings, instead of today’s one inning. Lopez was the set-up man for Willie Hernandez during the 1984 season, posting a 10-1 record with 14 saves 2.94 ERA. He also closed out 83 games during his time wearing the Olde English D.

Lopez broke into the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals in 1974, but left America for his native Mexico where he pitched until the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract in 1978. He spent a rather nondescript year with the Cardinals before being traded to the Tigers prior to the 1979 season.

Lopez found himself in those early years in Detroit. He posted double-digit wins and 21 saves in both 1979 and 1980. During Spring Training 1982, he suffered shoulder problems and spent most of the season in the Tigers’ affiliate in Evansville, Indiana. Not long after receiving a September call-up, Lopez decided to retire and move back to Mexico, but reversed course before the 1983 season.

He was back in top form in 1983, posting a 2.81 ERA with 18 saves. After a terrific regular season regular season in 1984, Lopez pitched six scoreless innings over three games in the ALCS and World Series.

He regressed in 1985 (as did most of the Tigers who regressed a lot after winning 104 games and the World Series in 1984), and was granted free agency. Lopez finished his major league career with two years in Houston in 1986 and 1987.

Sadly, just like another Throwback Thursday featured star, Norm Cash, Aurelio met his demise tragically at an early age in 1992. He died in a car crash in Mexico the day after his 44th birthday.

If you would like to see your favorite Tigers of the past featured here, please Tweet us @MCB_Tigers

Next: Reexamining the Prince Fielder era

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