The greatest slugger in Classic history wants more
Cuba's Alfredo Despaigne was born to hit home runs
TAICHUNG, Taiwan -- When you first see him, you probably wouldn't think Alfredo Despaigne is a legendary home run hitter.
He's 5-foot-7 and, most of the time, he's laughing or goofing around with his teammates. He's easily approachable, not the fierce, towering persona prolific sluggers generally give off.
But look at his resume, he's one of the greatest power hitters Cuban baseball has ever seen.
He has the single-season record for most home runs in one Cuban National Series season. His four National Series MVPs are tied for the most in history with Hall of Famer Martín Dihigo. He hits 350-foot, broken-bat dingers. And he's thrived on the international level -- delivering seven long balls over three different World Baseball Classics. It's more than longtime WBC greats Miguel Cabrera and Frederich Cepeda. It's, in fact, the most ever.
"Everybody knows Despaigne," longtime and current Cuba teammate Yoenis Cespedes told me. "Everybody knows he can hit. Everybody knows he's got a lot of power."
Despaigne basically was born to hit home runs.
The town he's from, Palma Soriano, is the birthplace of Cuban National Series' home run king Orestes Kindelán. Kindelán holds league records for homers (487), RBIs (1,511) and total bases (3,893).
Despaigne carried on the tradition of Palma power from a young age: He hit 10 homers in 83 games as an 18-year-old for Alazanes de Granma, slashing at a .313/.341/.491 rate. As he got into his early 20s, his slugging numbers only increased. He won the league MVP in 2008-09, swatting a then single-season-record 32 homers, while putting up a ridiculous .375/.482/.756 slash line. The following season, he won the MVP again with an even better year. He hit 31 homers, drove in 97 and slashed at .404/.489/.814. His OPS numbers from 2008-2012 are like something out of a video game.
But his stats on the international level might've been even more ridiculous during that time period.
His 2009 WBC was his only real letdown, although he still did hit one homer. He went on to hit .436/.500/1.109 in the '09 World Cup with a record 11 homers to help secure Cuba the Silver Medal. In the 2010 World University Championship, he had 13 hits in 24 at-bats with 3 doubles, 4 homers, 12 runs and 12 RBIs in six games. He was the tournament MVP -- beating out other stalwarts such as Jose Abreu and Cespedes -- and was the only bat Cuba needed in the finals against the United States. From the Japan Times:
On a day the mighty Cubans finally looked beatable, Alfredo Despaigne looked invincible. Despaigne hit a game-tying solo homer in the eighth inning and added a walk-off three-run blast in the 10th to lead Cuba past the United States 4-3 in the final of the 5th World University Baseball Championship on Saturday at Jingu Stadium.
"Playing for my country is when I feel most comfortable," Despaigne told me through translation from MLB's Javier Castellano. "It's extra motivation playing for my country than playing for my league team."
Despaigne paced Mike Trout in homers during the 2010 Pan American Games. He hit .474 during the that year's Intercontinental Cup. He's played in Japan's Pacific League from 2017-'22 -- leading the league with 35 homers during his debut season. But his play during the last two Classics -- a tournament that's become almost the Olympics for baseball -- has really put his name out there.
"I can't wait for [Frederich] Cepeda and Despaigne to retire," Australia manager Jon Deeble told MLB.com back in 2017. "They have worn me out for 16 years. They have destroyed us. This has gone on and on and on. They're great players, fantastic players."
It's simple why Despaigne been so successful. Or at least he talks that way.
"My success is in my training and my extra preparation for the WBC," Despaigne said.
Combining all the WBCs through 2017, the right-handed slugger has seven home runs, 24 RBIs, and 12 runs in 17 games. He's won an MVP and is in the top 5 of almost every major offensive category during that time.
Cespedes is happy to be playing with his friend and competitor again in this year's Classic, and the two now veterans -- leading a team with MLB stars like Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada -- hope to finally win a title for their country.
"That's our mentality," Cespedes said. "The games are hard, they're difficult. But we're gonna go on the field and do our best."
And even though the great Despaigne already has the tournament record for most homers ever, he's not opposed to adding to the number ... especially if it helps take his team to the end.
"I want a couple more," the 36-year-old smiled.
Photo art by Dan Phillips / MLB.com