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The Great Mexican War of 1946
Frank Graham Jr.
September 19, 1966
Baseball still shudders when it recalls the year that big-league stars, seduced by money, fled to the turmoil and excitement, the fights and riots of the Mexican League. The fiery Jorge Pasquel lost his battle with the majors—but, oh, how he fought them
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September 19, 1966

The Great Mexican War Of 1946

Baseball still shudders when it recalls the year that big-league stars, seduced by money, fled to the turmoil and excitement, the fights and riots of the Mexican League. The fiery Jorge Pasquel lost his battle with the majors—but, oh, how he fought them

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"This fellow has to be taught," Manager Mel Ott said, "that players of his type aren't very important today. The war is over." But a new war was beginning.

The owners of the big-league teams had never sat so securely in the driver's seat. Baseball, like almost every other business, looked forward confidently to the big postwar boom that economists had predicted. Beyond the rosy financial outlook, the unprecedented flood of players coursing into their training camps elated the owners. The heroes of prewar baseball were returning from the armed services: Feller, Musial, DiMaggio, Williams, Mize, Henrich. And every camp harbored at least a couple of the young players who were soon to become stars themselves: Duke Snider, Yogi Berra, Ralph Kiner.

Thus there had grown up among big-league officials an attitude of "Who needs you?" when a journeyman player asked for a modest raise and the player had no recourse within the rules of Organized Baseball. The "reserve clause" in the standard player contract gives the team sole and exclusive right to the player's services for the rest of his athletic life. If he is traded, that right passes to his new club. Most of the time the player hardly notices the reserve clause. When he does, when it effectively hampers an effort of his to improve his financial position, he resents it deeply. In 1946 a few players saw a chance to escape it. Gardella saw it first.

Jorge Pasquel, through a representative, approached Gardella again in Miami and offered him a contract to play in Mexico. It called for $8,000 a year plus a $5,000 bonus for signing. About the same time, Mel Ott called the sportswriters together at the ball park to announce that the Giants would dispose of the unruly Gardella as soon as they could arrange a deal for him.

On leaving the park a few minutes later, the writers were confronted by Danny himself. "You may say for me," he told them, "that I do not intend to let the Giants enrich themselves any further at my expense by selling me to a minor league club. They have treated me shabbily. I have decided to take my gifted talents to Mexico."

Gardella went on to say that two other Giant players, Nap Reyes and Adrian Zabala, and Dodger Outfielder Luis Olmo also had signed with Pasquel. Danny left promptly for Mexico City, where he became Pasquel's house guest for a few days before being assigned to Veracruz. During his first week there Danny lost two fly balls in the tropical sun and cost his team both games.

The echo of Gardella's move was causing more consternation back in Florida. There were rumors that Pasquel was sounding out other big-leaguers. A handful of Latin-American players of doubtful ability accepted the bonuses to which their big-league status entitled them and ran for Mexico. The Giants' camp, where 60 players competed for 25 places on the roster, continued to be in an uproar. One vulnerable Giant was an obscure pitcher named Sal Maglie. He had never been very successful in the minors, but he had won 5 and lost 4 with the Giants late in 1945.

"I'd pitched in Mexico during the winter," Maglie, today the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, recalls, "and I met Pasquel there. I turned down an offer to sign with him then. But halfway through spring training I began to wish I hadn't. In one intrasquad game I struck out seven batters in five innings, but Ott just ignored me.

"Then one day at the hotel I got a call from Gardella. He said they needed players down there, and he wanted me to suggest some Giants who might be willing to go."

Maglie mentioned George Hausmann, the Giants' regular second baseman, and Roy Zimmerman, a first baseman who was about to lose his job to the returning Johnny Mize. The three players did not commit themselves but continued to talk over Pasquel's offer of a $5,000 bonus and a salary double what they were making with the Giants. "The Giants gave me $6,000 in 1945," Maglie says, "and I had a hard time getting $7,000 for 1946."

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