In a season of renewed offensive onslaughts, the biggest headlines surrounding the showcase Cuban sluggers continue to be written by young Granma phenom Alfredo Despaigne. If Alexei Bell appeared to send a strong signal that he was ready to regain the league home-run bashing honors with his dramatic pair of clouts on opening day, Despaigne has been more than quick to respond. Showing no signs of slowing from last season’s 32-homer record-setting performance, Despaigne also logged a four bagger on opening day. He has since already put plenty of distance between himself and other rivals by upping his total to ten long balls in his first 18 outings. For good measure Despaigne was also the early leader in the league batting race with a solid .446 mark entering the fourth and final week of the season’s first month (as well as the pacesetter in both doubles with 8 and extra-base hits with 18). His current home-run pace if continued would mean an unprecedented and nearly inconceivable total of exactly 50 “cuadrangulares” for the entire 90-game league schedule.
Despaigne has now been on a remarkable home run streak that has lasted for most of a full calendar year. Any continued run therefore might well see him rewriting the record books over the next decade, if only he remains injury free and fully committed to the sport on his native island. In the last 108 Cuban League games (since December 2008) the Granma outfielder has stroked 42 round trippers, but 26 of last year’s blasts came in the months of January, February, March and April. That is, they were struck in the final 55 games of National Series #48. Add to this total the World Cup record 11 round trippers that Despaigne hit in Europe during the month of September. The result is 47 homers in Despaigne’s last 88 league games plus international contests. That would factor out to a total of 87 dingers across a normal 162-game big league campaign. But it gets better than that. Despaigne has played a fraction over five complete National Series seasons, with a total of 110 circuit clouds (during 90-games seasons, recall). But since turning 20, he has averaged one dinger every 9.4 official trips to the plate during the 2009 and early 2010 campaigns. Compare that with the HR/AB ratios of some immortal big league sluggers: Mark McGwire 10.6, Babe Ruth 11.8, Barry Bonds 12.9, Ralph Kiner 14.1, Alex Rodríguez 14.2, and Mickey Mantle 15.1. To amplify the picture, over his four-plus years Despaigne has cracked an extra base hit every 7.21 turns at bat, an unmatched number in the half-century of Cuban League history. Only three other Cuban sluggers have produced extra-base knocks at a rate of one for every eight trips to the plate or less: Linares 7.59, Yulieski Gourriel 7.60, and all-time home run champ Orestes Kindelán 7.61.
Naysayers will immediately point to inferior Cuban pitching and contend that Despaigne’s numbers can not be compared to those of top big leaguers. And of course we are considering in Despaigne’s case an all-too-brief career span for much long-range projection. But the issue is not to compare Cuban League numbers with big league numbers. The major league version of the sport is not the only game in town and stellar diamond performances do indeed occur in many other venues. What Japanese leaguer or Dominican winter leaguer–or performer in any other pro circuit at any level–can boast less than ten trips to the plate for each homer produced over a 100 game span? Alfredo Despaigne’s performance during the last twelve months already ranks him as one of the great sluggers of modern-era baseball. And there are no performance-enhancing chemicals to be factored in on the Cuban League scene.