Here’s the rookie card of that Gamble-haired late-’70s innings eater, Nino Espinosa.

Or as my Mad-weaned pre-teen friends and I used to call him, Nino Excellent ‘Fro Sir.

Espinosa was signed by the Mets as a 16-year old free agent back in 1970. He worked his way through the bushes and made it to the big leagues in 1974, appearing in two September games at the tender age of 20.

He saw action in two more games in 1975, including a single brutal inning (7 hits, 1 walk, 6 earned runs) in the back-end of a July 5 doubleheader against the Phillies at the Vet. The Bicentennial saw him ride 40+ innings to a 4-4 record.

Come 1977, Espinosa was a key part of the Mets rotation. He used his off-speed junk to rack up exactly 200 innings and post a thoroughly respectable 3.42 ERA. The ghastly burden of starting the first game of the post-Seaver era on June 16 of that year fell to him, and he pitched a solid 7 innings to pick up a 4-3 win over the Astros.

It was more of much the same in 1978, but Espinosa didn’t miss quite as many bats, and as a result his ERA ballooned to a robust 4.73. That off-season, he was dealt to the Phillies, for whom he produced one final decent season in 1979 (14-12, 3.65 ERA).

By the 1980s, it was clear that the innings had taken their toll. Espinosa hung on for a couple of years, but his time in the Show was over by 1981.

He returned eventually to his native Dominican Republic, and died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve of 1987 at the age of just 34.

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