Saturday, September 5, 2009

MEXICAN BASEBALL HISTORY 1: From the Pioneers to Pasquel

Just as it was in the United States, it’s impossible to trace the exact beginning of baseball in Mexico. Unlike the United States, nobody has created an Abner Doubleday myth for Mexican baseball. What is generally accepted among cronistas of Mexico’s baseball history is that the game was imported south of the border in the late 1800’s by either soldiers, sailors or railroad builders from the USA. While such places as Nuevo Laredo, Cadareyta de Jimenez and Guaymas have all laid claim to being the birthplace of beisbol, the only certainty is that American sailors from the ship U.S.S. Montana played an exhibition game in Guaymas, Sonora in 1877, and that a local Guaymas team was formed shortly thereafter. About ten years later, a team called the Mexico Club was created in the nation’s capital which continues to this day as the Mexican League’s 15-time champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos.
Baseball was played on a somewhat haphazard basis in Mexico through the first two decades of the 20th Century. The game grew steadily as American teams would cross the border to play ball against local nines of Mexican players, and clubs began springing up here and there across the country in a southward spread. The 1906 World Series champion Chicago White Sox were the first major league team to visit Mexico. As the 1920’s opened, baseball was becoming the most popular sport in the country, but there was no formal high-level professional league until a sportswriter and baseball manager put their heads together in 1925 to form what is now the Mexican League.
Alejandro Aguilar Reyes, better known as “Fray Nano” to readers of La Aficion, was a 23-year-old cronista when he joined with manager Ernesto Carmona to form the six-team Mexican League. Fray Nano was league president for two years before becoming LMB Commissioner from 1927 through 1942. While Fray Nano handled much of the new Liga’s organizing and publicity, the well-connected Carmona was able to bring many of Mexico’s best players into the LMB (along with another respected baseball man, Homobono Marquez, who ran the powerful Aztec club).
The early-day Mexican League was centered almost exclusively in Mexico City, with representation in nearby cities such as Veracruz and Puebla. Teams were usually named after sponsors, like modern clubs in Asian leagues, and it wasn’t until the late 1930’s that most teams represented cities instead of businesses in Mexico.
The Mexican League in the 1940’s was dominated by Jorge Pasquel. The 33-year-old Pasquel was a very wealthy man who entered the Liga in 1940 with his Veracruz Azules and eventually took over running the entire circuit. Pasquel was willing to spend money, and by the mid-40’s offered contracts to such major league players as Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Phil Rizzuto for far more than they were earning in the United States. While he fell short of bringing in the biggest names, Pasquel did induce Sal Maglie, Max Lanier and Vern Stephens into signing with the Liga. More important, Pasquel brought such Negro League stars as Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Ray Dandridge and Roy Campanella to Mexico.
However, Pasquel fell short in his dream of achieving parity with the major leagues, and was a bitter man when he left baseball in 1952. He died three years later in a plane wreck at the age of 48, and the Liga nearly died at the same time.

No comments: