Friday, February 26, 2016

TOMMY AL BAT on Jorge Pasquel's Last Game

Tomas "Tommy" Morales is a baseball treasure.
Since making his 1956 writing debut for Hit magazine, the 83-year-old Morales is in his seventh decade covering the game in Mexico and North America via his "Tommy al Bat" column. Writers and announcers are given full membership in Mexican baseball's Hall of Fame and Morales was enshrined in 1990.

The Barcelona-born scribe may draw comparisons to the late Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich for their longevity, but where Povich produced one column per week as an octogenarian, Morales still puts out several columns a week.  Also, Povich was a local icon in the D.C. area but Tommy is cherished by Mexicans from Baja California to the Yucatan Peninsula. Perhaps the better comparison would be with Vin Scully, who transcends his Dodgers affiliation.

What follows is a translation of Morales' February 24th "Tommy al Bat" column describing the final game as an owner and baseball power broker for the legendary Jorge Pasquel, a 1951 contest Morales himself attended as a 19-year-old law student in Mexico City.  Apologies in advance if this translation doesn't hit every right note.  Something is always lost when removed from its original language and not being remotely fluent in Spanish presents an extra challenge for me, but I want BBM readers to get at least a taste of one of Mexican baseball's living legends writing now about what became an important event in Mexico's baseball timeline that he witnessed 65 years ago:

On October 8, 1951, exactly the same day as the Giants beat the Yankees, 5-1, in the first game of the World Series that year, Mexico City’s Delta Park that night featured a game that was historically very important, since not only was it the end of the Veracruz Azules but the famous magnate Jorge Pasquel, too.

The Mexican League then stretched their calendar until the Major League World Series.  It was the fifth game of the final series for the crown between the visiting San Luis Potosi Tuneros and the Veracruz Blues. These Azules dominated the series for title success, three games to one.  For this meeting the Tuneros, handled by "Chile" Gomez, opened with southpaw Wenceslao Gonzalez, who would have his chance to pitch in the Major Leagues with the Washington Senators in 1955, while the Azules opened with black American Rufus Lewis.

Jorge Pasquel was in his box next to the dugout of his Azules on the third base side for this game, which could be the coronation.  That year I was studying my senior year of law school at Colegio Cristobal Colon and went with a classmate to see the game.  I remember near the beginning of the game, when we arrived at Delta Park, there was lightning in the distant sky but it never rained. I went to my favorite place, the Shaded General section, on the third base side running into left. There were not many people in the park since the finals had broken down after a big fight that took place in San Luis Potosi and why it was decided that the rest of the series would be played at Delta Park.

In the second inning, the Blues scored the first run of the game when "Kanguro" Jimenez scored after "Bibi" Crespo and pitcher Rufus Lewis both singled. Wenceslao avoided further damage by dominating Felipe Iturralde into a double play groundout.

In the beginning of the fourth, however, the Tuneros scored twice to take the lead, all coming with two outs: Cuban veteran Carlos Blanco, always a good hitter, got a hit, advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on a single by gradulón Rene Gonzalez.  Singles by catcher Raul Navarro and Claudio Solano pushed across the second run.  For the sixth inning, Rufus Lewis exited as Pasquel called on Ramón Bragaña to relief.  It was a great twist of fate, as the "Professor" was going to win the last game in the history of the Veracruz Azules after 12 years of life as a star pitcher with the Blue team.

It was not until the eighth that the Azules managed the tying second run, an unearned one.  Panamanian Leon Kellman was awarded first base and Angel Castro hit a grounder that looked like a double play, but second baseman Beto Rodriguez made a bad play at short to leave two on with no outs. The bases were filled with a walk to "Kanguro" Jimenez and the tying run came in on a slow grounder produced by "Bibi" Crespo.

After Bragaña put up a zero in the top of the ninth, the Azules came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, starting with a Felipe Iturralde walk, but Wenceslao Gonzalez dominated Chema Castro for a strikeout and a high fly by Leon Kellman that looked like an out was not caught by Fernando Garcia, resulting in a double that left runners on second and third with one out, the runner on third representing the possible championship run for the Blues.  "Chile" Gomez ordered Angel Castro intentionally walked to load the bases loaded and sent to bat the stocky, but strong, Panamanian Archie Brathwaite, a candidate for a double-play grounder savior if he hit one.

But the Panamanian, on a count of a ball and a strike, hit a high fly to short right. Iturralde, a fast player, took off from from third on the hit and came home and beat the throw from outfielder Alfonso Zarate, giving the Azules their crown. Pasquel was already on the ground when the winning run scored and shared hugs and congratulations with his players. As I was watching the celebration,the lights were suddenly turned off at Delta and we were in the dark, a darkness that marked the disappearance of Veracruz Blues and retirement of the famous Jorge Pasquel, who four years later in 1955 died in an accident piloting his own plane.

The Veracruz Azules of 1951, the last Azules, were a different team than what Pasquel had when they commenced in 1940 with players like the great Josh Gibson.  They were both champions, the first and the last. The years have passed rapidly, as usual, and that darkness that came at the end of the coronation game also marked the end of a very important in our beloved Mexican League era.  We all got to ask a few days later: Could the  Mexican League survive without Jorge Pasquel?

Tommy Morales' "Tommy al Bat" blog is available en espanol on the Mexican League website.