Jack Newfield (1938-2004) wrote that growing up in Brooklyn, the great villains of his youth had been Adolf Hitler and Walter O’Malley (the owner of the Dodgers who arranged the team’s move from Bedford Avenue to sunny Chavez Ravine in 1957). Horace Stoneham, the owner who arranged the Giants’ move from the Polo Grounds to windy Candlestick Point, was somehow excused on the grounds that O’Malley had taken the initiative. Fans from Manhattan didn’t go around cursing Horace Stoneham.
But Stoneham was a profit-driven capitalist, hardly passive. He was taking steps to move the Giants to Minneapolis when O’Malley convinced him in 1955 to seek a better deal from San Francisco. A decade earlier it was Stoneham who urged his fellow team owners to blacklist Sal Maglie and the other major leaguers who signed to play in Mexico for higher pay. Eight of the 22 players who “jumped” had been with the Giants during spring training that year. The Pasquel brothers offered to double what Stoneham was paying them.
Some 90% of major league ballplayers had served during World War 2. Many of their fill-ins, as they headed for spring training in 1946, knew they were about to be displaced. First to accept the Pasquels offer had been a Giants’ outfielder named Danny Gardella, who signed after he had “suffered a series of misunderstanding and conflicts” with Stoneham. Gardella told reporters that two other Giants were signing: pitcher Adrian Zabala and Gardella’s roommate infielder Nap Reyes. (Both Cubans, BTW.)
The ferocity of the team owners’ response is recounted in “Baseball’s Demon Barber,” Judith Testa’s biography of Maglie, (The owners’ consortium, now branded “MLB,” was then known as “organized baseball.”)
“Although there was nothing illegal about Mexican baseball,” Testa writes, the US team owners “labeled the Mexican league an outlaw and pilloried it at every opportunity. For a combination of hostility, sneering contempt, and sheer vindictiveness, it is hard to find the equal of major-league baseball’s response to the Mexican league jumpers. From the way the American baseball establishment reacted, it would seem that the men who went to Mexico to play baseball had deserted the American Army and then used their American-made weapons to massacre American troops.
The Sporting News published crude cartoons that portrayed the Pasquels as caricatures of greasy, greedy Mexicans, out to fleece innocent Americans. One showed a stereotypical bandido brandishing a six-shooter and robbing an American businessman labeled “organized baseball.” The articles, as well as those in American daily newspapers, brimmed with negative ethnic stereotyping of Mexicans. The Mexican papers fought back… One accused American baseball of being “like a slave market.”
Sal Maglie had not been a fill-in during the war; he had worked in a defense plant. In 1945 he had pitched for the Giants farm team in Jersey City and he’d been called up in mid-season. He was on course to make the team, probably as a reliever and spot starter. When he arrived in late February, 1946, the Giants training camp was “abuzz with rumors of Mexican money.” Bernardo Pasquel, whom he had met while playing winter ball in Cuba, was still trying to recuit him and Maglie was still declining, but he told Pasquel that Roy Zimmermann and George Heinemann were interested. In a call they made from Maglie’s room, the two marginal players made their arrangements with the Pasquels.
Next day, writes Testa, “Horace Stoneham summoned the three players to Mel Ott’s hotel room, there informing them that their careers with the New York Giants were over and they would not be welcomed back… At Stoneham’s orders the three men were told to vacate their hotel rooms. Sal made a quick call to Jorge Pasquel, “who wired travel money, then he called his wife Kay to break the news.”
The bosses’ vendetta against their uppity employees had only just begun. “Team owners put pressure on Commissioner Chandler to bar any players who jumped their contracts from returning to the majors,” writes Testa. “The game’s ultraconservative and racist owners were already seething at Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson for his Montreal farm team. The Mexican crisis offered Chandler an opportunity to regain favor with baseball’s most powerful men by taking a strong stand on the sanctity of contracts and the inviolability of the reserve clause, regarded by baseball magnates as the foundation of the game.
Although reluctant to make any strong rulings, because he had not found anything in the rules that would justify extreme measures against the jumpers, Chandler nonetheless issued a statement on March 2 declaring that the jumpers had until Opening Day in the majors to return to their American teams or they would be barred from major league play for five years.
Given the brevity of the average major leaguer’s career, “a three-year ban was tantamount to a lifetime ban.”
Maglie pitched in ‘46 for the Puebla Parrots, managed by his mentor Dolf Luque, and continued developing his craft. The elevation of Puebla, 60 miles southwest of Mexico City, is 7,000 feet. Maglie learned that the thin air there and in Torreon and San Luis Potosi would make his fastball faster, whereas in the lowlands, Vera Cruz and Tampico, the humidity would help his curve. In a 90-game season he won 20 and lost 12.
As he made plans to pitch in the Cuban Winter League that winter, the MLB blacklisters intruded. “American players were warned against playing on or against Cuban teams that contained any of the ‘outlaws’ banned from organized baseball – a measure that caused resentment among Cuban major leaguers… Organized baseball helped establish an alternative league in Cuba, called the ‘National Federation’ but the fans, loyal to the Winter League stayed away en masse.”
The blacklisters were at it again, getting the Cuban League to join an “Association of Professional Baseball Leagues” that imposed a ban on everyone who had played in Mexico – including Cubans. This “caused widespread bitterness,” according to Testa, “and led to the formation of an alternative Cuban League called the Liga Nacional, which gave refuge to the outlaws.”
(To be continued…)