Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tomateros owner, Salon member Ley dies at 82

Longtime Culiacan Tomateros owner Juan Manuel Ley, a Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame member who also once owned the Mexical League's Saltillo Saraperos, has died at the age of 82 in Culiacan. Ley died of an apparent heart attack.

With his father, Ley formed the Tomateros in 1965 and remained the team's owner for over five decades, winning ten Mexican Pacific League pennants in that time along with Caribbean Series titles in 1996 and 2002.  Culiacan also opened a new 20,000-seat ballpark this past season, drawing over 16,000 fans per game to outrank every affiliated minor league franchise in North America in attendance average.  The Tomateros will also host the 2017 Caribbean Series next February.

Ley owned the LMB Saraperos from 1999 until he sold the club in 2013, by which time he had overseen renovations of the 17,500-seat Estadio Francisco I. Madero, the launching of broadcasts of all Saraperos home games on Canal 7 and the building of the 2009 and 2010 Mexican League championship squads.  Ley was elected to the Salon de la Fama in 1996, three years before he bought the Saltillo team and demonstrating his influence on Mexican baseball from his west coast headquarters.

The son of a Chinese immigrant who came to Mexico in 1910, Juan Manuel Ley was born in Durango in 1933.  He inherited his father's Casa Ley supermarket chain and built it into Mexico's largest privately-owned string of grocery stores, with over 150 stores and 22,000 employees throughout ten states in Western Mexico.  USA-based Safeway now owns 49 percent of Casa Ley, which was founded in Culiacan in 1954 by Juan Ley Fong, Juan's father.  Nicknamed "Chino" for his ethnic heritage, the younger Ley was ranked 29th among Mexico's 100 most important businessmen in a 2014 story by Expansion magazine.

A funeral mass was held for Ley last Saturday in Culiacan.