It was easy to
pick him out of the luncheon crowd at Toots Shor's. Squat, dark-haired, dressed
in a black "best" suit (dark tie, white shirt) that emphasized his
broad shoulders, he moved uncertainly through the assured, successful groups
around the bar—this lost and frustrated little man who had pursued his trade in
corners of the hemisphere that most Shorians had never reached, and never
intended to. Steered in the right direction by a maitre d', he walked up to the
reporter who had been waiting for him.
"I am Danny
Gardella," he said.
Twenty years have
passed since Danny Gardella breached that maximum-security compound raised by
Organized Baseball out of tradition and the reserve clause. A pistol-packing
Mexican millionaire and his ragtag "outlaw" league defied the astounded
world of yanqui baseball. Inflated salaries and bonuses stirred discontented
big-leaguers. There were dreams of a new Golconda. Danny jumped, others
But the mountains
of gold turned out to be molehills; the only diamonds they touched were dusty
enclosures. The benefits that accrued to the rest of the big-league players are
apparent today, but other traces of the Mexican adventure are to be found only
in the memories of those free-enterprisers who paid dearly for their sin.
had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Shor's establishment," said Gardella,
whose most casual comment is delivered in the style once cultivated by
candidates for county attorney. His eyes roved over the tables in the dining
"On my way
over here today," he said, "I was composing a song. Its theme was The
Boulevard of Broken Dreams. I suffer from a reflective neurosis, you know. I
often reflect on my life, the places I've been, the chances I've missed. I have
been a man driven by the winds of circumstance."
Gardella was an
outfielder with the Giants at the end of World War II. He hit 18 home runs in
1945, but his deficiencies as an outfielder were more notable. Of Gardella
circling around under a fly ball Dan Parker wrote that "the more casual
fans hoped that Danny wouldn't drop the ball, while connoisseurs prayed that he
wouldn't get killed."
During the winter
of 1945-46, while Danny waited to go south with the Giants, he kept himself in
shape at Al Roon's Health Club in Manhattan. It was there that he met Jorge
Pasquel, who happened to be in New York on a business trip. "Pasquel was
very vain about his body," Gardella says. Danny soon learned something
about Pasquel's background. He and his four brothers were among the wealthiest
men in Mexico. Jorge dabbled in almost every area of Mexican life—customs
brokerage, imports and exports, cattle, publishing, shipping and automobiles.
He was a close friend and financial supporter of Miguel Alem�n, who was to
become, within the next few months, the President of Mexico. It seemed that
Pasquel was a sort of president himself—president of the eight-team Liga
Mexicana de Baseball.
also learned, was looking for American players. Danny was not interested. He
was a member of the Giants, had already received (but had refused to sign) a
contract calling for $5,000 a year and would leave with the team in a day or
two for Florida. But when Danny presented himself at what he thought was the
appointed departure time, he was informed that the Giants had left the day
before. When he finally arrived in Miami, he was not allowed to register with
the team at the Hotel Venetian because he was still a holdout. To support
himself, Danny joined a local aquacade, singing "I'm forever blowing
bubbles," while a young lady dressed in a brief bathing suit swam up and
down the pool.
Danny, apparently dressed like a beatnik, met his teammates for dinner at the
Venetian. Eddie Brannick, the Giants' road secretary, was a member of the old
school. Disapproving of Gardella's attire, he ordered him to find a necktie.
Danny told him to mind his own business. Harsh words flared between them.
Gardella was barred from both the hotel and the Giants' practice field.