Almost impossible: MLB has only had three players named Aurelio, and they all died the same way



Baseball lifers love to say the beauty of their sport is that, on any given day, they might see something they’ve never seen before. Maybe even something that’s never happened before, like the road team winning all seven games of the 2019 World Series or a player hitting three home runs in his second game with a new team

The sport produces amazing moments and improbable occurrences. And sometimes it produces things that are nearly impossible to believe, like this: There have only been three players in MLB history with the first name Aurelio, and all three died in car accidents. 

That’s crazy, right? The only three players in major league history to share this particular first name also share the same basic cause of death. Sadly, it’s true. Two were in cars, and one was hit by a car. 

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Aurelio Monteagudo played in the majors from 1963 to 1973 and died in 1990 at 46 years old. Aurelio Rodríguez played from 1967 to 1983 and died in 2000 at 52. Aurelio López played from 1974 to 1987 and died in 1992 at 44.

López’s death was 28 years ago today, Sept. 22. Rodríguez’s death was 20 years ago tomorrow, Sept. 23. And here’s another way Rodríguez and López were linked: They were teammates on the 1979 Tigers — the final of Rodríguez’s nine seasons with the club and the first of López’s seven with Detroit, both stellar, career-defining stretches for the players. 

“They were both about as friendly as guys as you’d ever want to be around. Always had smiles on their faces, always seemed to be enjoying whatever they were doing. Easy to talk to,” Lance Parrish, the catcher on that 1979 squad, told Sporting News.

I first learned of this strange, somewhat morbid fact with a reply to one of my Pack of the Day tweets on Twitter, when an Aurelio López card popped up in a pack of 1987 Donruss. 

I wanted to grasp the minuscule probability of something like this happening, so I reached out to my cousin, Kevin Fagan — an MIT graduate — for assistance. He reached out to one of his former MIT professors, who replied quickly. 

“I can tell you right now it’s a mathematical impossibility,” David Geltner, a professor at MIT since 2002, wrote in his email. “Hence, if it’s true, it proves that the universe does not really exist. We are all in someone’s dream …”

He was kidding. Kind of. The question intrigued Geltner, though, so he looped in a few MIT colleagues. The conversation, via email threads, was fascinating. The group discussed which factors to include, how to weigh them, theories to consider — it’s the inverse of the Fermi Paradox, they decided — and two numbers emerged.

1 in 35 billion: Geltner’s method, calculated as [0.02*(3/11,280)]^2.

1 in 42.6 billion: From Alex Van De Minne and Dorinth van Djik’s method — they dubbed their findings as “MIT-MLB-Consensus-Aurelio-Death-by-Car-Crash-Probability” — calculated as ([C(3,3)x(0.0444)^3x(1-0.0444)^(3-3)] x [C(11,280,3)x(0.000011)^3x(1-0.000011)^(11,280-3)].

To put this in baseball terms, the odds of this happening are roughly equal to Ty Cobb — owner of MLB’s highest career batting average, at .366 — getting 24 hits in 24 consecutive at-bats, or a batter with a .250 career average getting 18 hits in a row.

The current MLB record for consecutive hits, by the way, is 12, held by Walt Dropo (1952), Pinky Higgins (1938) and Johnny Kling (1902). 

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Through the discussions with his colleagues, Geltner concluded that random combinations of super-rare events — even bizarre ones such as the only three Aurelios to play MLB all dying as the result of a car accident — happen regularly, but nobody notices most of them.

“By some mathematician’s rules called the ‘Law of Very Large Numbers’ and the ‘Law of the Probability Lever,’” my cousin wrote, “completely random, nearly impossible combinations of events happen all the time, we just occasionally notice them and interpret them as unique. That’s why Geltner ultimately reconsidered the rarity of the storied fate of baseball’s only three Aurelios as ultimately NOT that rare.”

Basically, rare combinations of events — essentially, any arbitrary set of circumstances, such as name/occupation/death that occur without causality — can be found if you’re looking for them, or if you happen to stumble upon them. That doesn’t make them any less amazing, though.

Geltner offered a final thought: “So, bottom line, the universe DOES EXIST, and it’s FULL OF SURPRISES! (And “surprises” by definition, are RARE. Which just proves that the universe is an incredibly huge complex multifaceted entity, beyond our normal mental ability to appreciate its hugeness and complexity, leading us to feel awe when confronted by evidence thereof, such as the existence of the 1/35B chance happening your cousin has discovered.)”

To be clear, though, I didn’t unearth this fact. It’s out there, a note on each player’s Wikipedia page, the subject of a few Reddit posts and with plenty of mentions here and there. 

Today, though, we’re taking a look at not just how these players died, but how they lived and impacted the sport they dedicated their lives to playing. 

Aurelio López

Known throughout the sport as Señor Smoke for his ramped-up fastball, López was one of baseball’s most endearing, friendly people and one of its best relief pitchers during the prime of his career. The hard-throwing, rotund right-hander played partial seasons with the Royals in 1974 and Cardinals in 1978 (he starred on the mound in his home country, Mexico, in between) but found his MLB home in Detroit, where he was a bullpen stalwart from 1979 to 1985 before finishing his career with two years in Houston. 

“He’s one of those people who, when someone mentions his name, you just smile,” said Jim Deshaies, who was López’s teammate with the Astros. “Whether it was in the dugout, in the clubhouse, on the airplane, in the card games, he always had a big smile. Very affable guy. And a good competitor, too. He got after it.” 

Not that WAR existed as a statistic back then, but López’s 5.3 bWAR in 1979 with the Tigers has been eclipsed just three times since then by those who were primarily relievers. That year, he had a 2.41 ERA, 21 saves, 127 innings in 61 games and a 10-5 record. For the 1984 Tigers, who won 104 regular-season games and went 7-1 in October to claim the World Series title, López was again fantastic, racking up 14 saves, a 2.91 ERA and a 10-1 record while pitching 137 2/3 innings as the setup half of Detroit’s dynamic 1-2 bullpen punch of López and Guillermo Hernández. 

It was in that 1984 World Series that López threw the pitch he’s probably most known for, for better or worse. López replaced Dan Petry with one out in the fifth inning of Game 2, with the Tigers trailing 5-3. López walked the first batter he faced, Carmelo Martinez, and then Detroit pitching coach Roger Craig called for a pitchout on the first offering to Gary Templeton, to guard against a hit-and-run or stolen base attempt (even though Martinez was just 1 for 4 on stolen base attempts during the year). 

Catcher Lance Parrish put his closed fist down — the sign for the pitch-out — and López nodded. He went into his windup, and as he started to deliver the pitch, Parrish jumped out to his left for the pitch-out. The ball, though, went right down the middle. 

“I started to reach for it,” Parrish remembered, “but pulled back because I thought, ‘If he swings at this he’s gonna rip my hand off.’ ”

Templeton did swing, but he missed. And with Parrish’s glove out of the picture, too, the fastball caught home plate umpire Larry Barnett flush in, well, a bad spot.

“What kind of a mess was that?” legendary play-by-play man Vin Scully cried on the broadcast.

“I was kinda pissed off, to be honest with you,” Parrish said. “So I go out to the mound and as I got probably 15 feet away from him, he’s got this look on his face. As I get closer, he says, in his broken English, ‘Hey, I see the sign! I see the sign! I try to throw the ball outside and it goes right down the middle!’ All I could do was laugh. What could you do?”

The Tigers lost that game by the same 5-3 score — Templeton singled, but López got the next two batters without incident to end the frame — but it was the only one they’d drop in the series. López was brilliant in Game 5, throwing 2 1/3 shutout innings, allowing no base runners and striking out four, helping the Tigers wrap up the World Series title. 

The next spring, in one of Detroit’s first spring training games, the home-plate umpire was a familiar face. Yep, Larry Barnett. 

“When we got behind the plate, I felt obligated to apologize. ‘You know, I’m really sorry,’ and such,” Parrish said, laughing. “He goes, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. Actually, it worked out pretty good for me. During the offseason, I go on a little speaking circuit, and that became my opening line when I was speaking. I told everybody it was the first time I ever had a strike and two balls on the same pitch.’”

Aside from the big smiles and the “pitch-out” for a strike in the World Series, there was one other thing López was known for, too. 

“Back in the day, it was fairly common for players to carry briefcases,” Deshaies said. “I’m not sure why, but all us ballplayers would be boarding flights and you’d see us in a coat and tie, carrying briefcases. It’s not like we were carrying paperwork. Most guys were carrying magazines or playing cards or whatever. But Señor Smoke, he always had Tabasco Sauce in his briefcase. He never went anywhere without a little stash of Tabasco Sauce, so when he’d be on the plane or wherever, he could load up his food.”

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Tabasco Sauce wasn’t his only spicy vice, said Parrish, whose locker was next to López in the Tigers’ clubhouse.

“He always used to have a jar of jalapeño peppers in his locker. He carried Tabasco sauce with him everywhere he went, and he had a jar of jalapeño peppers in his locker,” Parrish said. “One day, he was down to the last one or two peppers in his jar. He opened his jar, took out the last couple and ate them, and then he did something I never saw anybody do in my life. As soon as he wolfed down the last one, he took the jar and drank the juice. That blew me away. Blew me away.”

López retired after the 1987 season. In 1990, he was elected as municipal president (essentially the mayor) of Tecamachalco, Mexico, his hometown. To anyone who knew López during his time in the majors, that wasn’t the least bit surprising. 

“I can just imagine that big mug on a poster, smiling ear to ear,” Deshaies said. “How could you not vote for that guy?”

On Sept. 22, 1992 — one day after his 44th birthday — López was in his fatal car crash, which happened roughly 300 miles north of Mexico City. Early reports said he was the driver; an article in The Sporting News said reports later indicated the car was being driven by a chauffeur. Either way, he was thrown from his car, and the vehicle rolled over him. His wife and another passenger survived the crash. 

After his death, Tecamachalco erected a statue in honor of its hometown hero. The statue, of course, has López with a big smile. 

Aurelio Rodríguez

Rodríguez was a wildly popular figure on the Tigers clubs, from 1971 to 1979, and not just in Detroit.

“He was very well known among Mexican fans and media as ‘El Mano Negra’ (The Black Hand), because that’s how he named his black glove,” said Gómez, the baseball fan who first alerted me to the Aurelios connection. 

That defense, where potential base hits died in his signature glove, was his calling card. 

“When I came up, Aurelio Rodríguez was already there, had been established on the Tigers. My first impression of him as a player was that he was an amazing third baseman,” Parrish said. “He had a cannon for an arm. I used to get a kick out of this: When somebody would hit a ball to third base, most of the time he would field it, make a great play like a backhand pick or whatever, and then he’d stand there and wait for the guy to run three-quarters of the way to first and then throw an absolute bullet to first base.”

Parrish was in his Age 23 season, part of a young core of players that included shortstop Alan Trammel (21), second baseman Lou Whitaker (22) first baseman Jason Thompson (24) and left fielder Steve Kemp (24). Everyone — especially guys on opposing teams — knew about Rodríguez’s defense at third base.

“He had a cannon,” echoed Al Fitzmorris, a pitcher for the Royals who faced Rodríguez often through the 1970s. “He was a very good ballplayer, very underrated defensively and could stick a little bit.”

Rodríguez made his big league debut at 19 years old in 1967, for the California Angels (fun side note: His 1969 Topps rookie card, for which a bat boy posed instead of Rodríguez, is one of the most famous uncorrected error cards in collecting history). He was traded to the Washington Senators in April 1970, then dealt to the Tigers the next offseason as part of an eight-person deal that sent Denny McLain — the 30-game winner in 1968 — to Washington. He quickly became a fixture at the hot corner in Detroit. 

Rodríguez won the AL Gold Glove in 1976 — ending Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson’s streak of 16 consecutive GGs at the position — and averaged 10 home runs in his first seven seasons with the Tigers, though it was clear his primary value was with the glove. He wasn’t just an icon in Detroit because of that glovework, though. 

“One of the attributes that Aurelio had was his great mustache, his trademark look, that Tom Selleck-looking mustache. That was him,” Parrish said. “And when Sparky Anderson became the manager of the Tigers (in mid-June 1979), his first edict he slammed down on everybody was no facial hair. I thought Aurelio was going to start crying when Sparky told him he had to shave his mustache off. But he did, for however long. That was one of Sparky’s big deals when he came over. He was going to set the tone, lay the law down. I was almost in shock, like, ‘You’re really going to make this guy shave his mustache off?’”

Rodríguez, who was born in Cananea, Mexico, in 1947, played his last big league game in 1983, seeing time with the Padres, Yankees, White Sox and Orioles after leaving the Tigers. All told, he played 2,017 games for seven different clubs over a career that spanned 17 big league seasons. When he retired, he owned the longest MLB career for any player born in Mexico; that mark was later tied by Fernando Valenzuela and Juan Castro and eclipsed by Oliver Perez, the Cleveland left-hander who is currently in his 18th season. 

Rodríguez remained a fan favorite in Detroit long after his playing days. 

He was back in the Motor City in September 2000 to sign autographs at a baseball card show, taking a break from his role as a hitting instructor in the Diamondbacks organization. Rodríguez was walking down a sidewalk around 2 p.m. in southwest Detroit when he was recognized and stopped to sign a few autographs. That’s when a car ran a red light, jumped the curb and struck him before running into a utility pole. Rodríguez had to be pulled from under the car and was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 52. 

The driver, Carol Escobedo, wasn’t even supposed to be behind the wheel. She had been ordered by her doctor not to drive six years earlier, after a brain aneurysm, and her license was suspended. Police said she suffered a seizure, which led to the crash. Two other people were hit, too, including Joyce Wyman, who suffered two broken legs and was in a wheelchair when she testified in court. Escobedo was charged with three felony counts, including manslaughter and operating a vehicle with a suspended license causing death. She received only prohibition, no jail time

“Just a freaky deal. It was a sad day when we heard that he had passed,” Parrish said. “And same with Aurelio López. Tough hearing the news on both of them. They were great people.”

Aurelio Monteagudo

A 5-11 right-hander, Aurelio Monteagudo pitched in seven different MLB seasons over a 10-year span, for five different franchises in four different cities, never throwing more than 31 1/3 innings in any season despite making his big league debut at 19 years old in 1963 with the Kansas City A’s.  

Though his MLB career was a bit sporadic, Monteagudo — the son of former big leaguer René Monteagudo, who was born in Cuba in 1943 but moved with his family to Venezuela as a teenager when Fidel Castro rose to power — was a fixture in Venezuelan baseball for 20 years. He made 371 career appearances in the country, threw a no-hitter in 1979 and was at his best in the postseason; 12 of his 20 teams made the playoffs — five won championships — and he posted a 2.57 ERA in 48 games (10 starts) with an 11-3 record. He was posthumously inducted into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009, part of a class that included Rockies, Expos and Braves slugger Andres Galarraga.  

Al Fitzmorris was his teammate on the 1970 Royals. Fitzmorris was in just his second year in the majors, still only a couple of years removed from making the switch from outfielder to pitcher in the minors. Monteagudo was called up from Triple-A Omaha in mid-June, his first taste of the big leagues since 1967. He’d spent the 1968-69 seasons in the minors, in the White Sox, Reds and Cardinals organizations. 

“He was a good guy, very professional. Very much a gentleman. We called him ‘Monty,’” Fitzmorris said. “I just remember him being a good teammate, very congratulatory when you did something good. It was my first full year, so I kinda stayed to myself a little bit. He gave me an opportunity to hang with somebody from another country, which is always interesting. He was one of the good guys.”

When he was called up by the Royals, Monteagudo joined a unique club, as Curt Nelson, the director of the Royals Hall of Fame, pointed out. He’s one of only four players — along with Moe Drabowsky, Dave Wickersham and Ken Sanders — to play for both the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City A’s. The A’s, you’ll remember, played in Kansas City from 1955 to 1967, coming from Philadelphia and leaving for Oakland. The Royals’ first year was 1969. 

“It was a good time to be in Kansas City,” Fitzmorris said of those early Royals years. 

Monteagudo made a handful of appearances for the K.C. A’s each year from 1963 to 1966, then pitched in four games for the Astros in 1966 and one for the White Sox in 1967. After appearing in 21 games for the Royals in 1970 — he had a 2.96 ERA — Monteagudo spent the 1971 season back in Omaha, then the 1972 season with San Diego’s Triple-A club. 

He was traded from San Diego to the California Angels in June 1973, and he made his final MLB appearances that season, posting a 4.20 ERA in 30 innings for the Angels at 29 years old. Monteagudo continued to pitch in Venezuela in the winter while coaching in the minors during his summers. He actually made four appearances for Edmonton, the Angels’ Triple-A club in 1983 at 39 years old — also his last year as a pitcher in Venezuela — posting a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings. He was the pitching coach for the club that year (thanks to @ABDugoutStories for that note). 

Monteagudo died in Saltillo, Mexico on Nov. 10, 1990 — nine days shy of his 47th birthday — when the truck he was driving veered into the opposite lane and crashed head-on into a trailer. 

So, yeah. The coincidence is crazy and heartbreaking and all those things. Whatever descriptor comes to mind now probably fits. What does it mean?

Nothing more than this: Three beloved humans died way too young, and they happened to have the same first name and same favorite sport.





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