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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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Suddenly Mickey found Jorge Pasquel, who had rushed out onto the field, arguing at his side. The umpire threatened to bring down his mask on Jorge's head, and the omnipresent bodyguard pulled a knife. The umpire left the field and, that evening, the country.

If the umpire thought Cuba looked better than Mexico City, Vern Stephens made a similar comparison between the St. Louis Browns and Mexico. His short happy Mexican life began when Pasquel whisked him from the airport to the ball park, where he introduced his latest acquisition to the cheering crowd. After the game, Pasquel asked Stephens to be his house guest. The "house" proved to be a palace five stories high, one of which was a gymnasium and another a gigantic closet containing Jorge's wardrobe. Stephens was quartered in a room above the seven-car garage, which also housed Pasquel's bodyguards.

"I slept under velvet sheets," Stephens says. "The rugs were so thick you couldn't see your toes when you walked around barefoot. It was like out of the Arabian Nights."

That night Pasquel took Stephens and Gardella to dinner at a luxury hotel. The inevitable bodyguards tagged along. "When we walked in, the head waiter literally ran toward the door," Vern recalls. "Some people hadn't quite finished their dinner at the best table, but the waiters hustled them right out of there. We sat down, and the bodyguards eased the .45s out of their holsters and plunked them down on the table alongside the silverware."

The next morning Stephens agreed verbally to a five-year contract that he claims totaled $250,000. Pasquel mailed a certified check for $25,000 to Vern's wife in Long Beach and put the rest in escrow in a Mexico City bank. In his first game Stephens singled to win the game in the ninth inning. The spectators carried him off the field triumphantly.

"But I could see that the thing wasn't going to work out financially," he says. "It was a wonderful dream but the people Pasquel was appealing to couldn't afford it, no way. I knew that when I wanted the $250,000 it wouldn't be there—or I couldn't get it."

Stephens was treated as something special. He did not travel with his team but flew around the circuit in a private plane with one of the Pasquel brothers. His special treatment included a bodyguard, who went everywhere with him and who apparently opened his letters before they were passed on to him.

"I knew after three days I wanted to go home," Stephens says. "But the question was how?"

On the other side of the border there were interested parties who asked themselves the same question. One morning when Stephens arrived in Monterrey, near the American border, he was met in the hotel lobby by an American friend. "The Browns say they'll give you what you're asking for," he told Stephens. Vern could not help looking over his shoulder. "Now listen to this. Your dad and Jack Fournier [a scout for the Browns] are in a bar close by. Go two blocks down the street to your left and two bars on the right."

In a few minutes Stephens was joined for breakfast, as usual, by his bodyguard. Fortunately, the bodyguard was nursing a hangover and abruptly asked to be excused.

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