But the Mexican
problem was beginning to solve itself. Attendance, after the novelty of new
faces had run its course, quickly declined. There were heavy rains that summer.
At critical moments during a night game the electricity would fail. Both the
playing fields and the equipment were inadequate (American players often
referred to their "drugstore bats").
deteriorated tempers grew shorter. The Mexican players (making about $250 a
month) resented the high salaries paid to foreigners. American players
complained about the food and climate. Travel was arduous at best, and
sometimes hazardous. Landing strips in a few towns were simply open pastures.
"It was unnerving," Mickey Owen says. "Coming in for a landing we'd
look out and see eight or 10 of those big black Mexican vultures waiting for
us. That's one of the things I remember best about Mexico—those
Yet the planes
came to look awfully sweet to Sal Maglie, who was the only American player
assigned to Puebla. "I didn't care much about flying," Maglie says,
"but the only other way to get in and out of Puebla was by bus over the
mountains. The buses were driven by madmen. They used to push those old wrecks
as hard as they could on the narrow, winding roads in the mountains." Sal,
too, has alarming memories of vultures.
Nor did the
American players prove to be the superstars Pasquel thought he had bought. When
Veracruz, which Pasquel had stocked with the best players because it was his
favorite team, sank into fourth place, Jorge took matters into his own hands.
He fired Owen as manager and named as Owen's successor—Jorge Pasquel!
possible I did a lousy job of managing," Mickey says. "But I think the
main thing was that Jorge had a sneaky ambition to be the manager
uniform, took his place in the third-base coaching box. When he waved his arms,
which he did frequently, his 12-karat diamond ring glittered in the sun. The
crowd roared its appreciation. Between innings Pasquel retired to the dugout,
where a valet, a napkin draped over one arm, served him steaming cups of
vegetable juices and platters of chicken or crabs. When he had finished eating,
his valet produced a tooth brush, with which Jorge cleaned his teeth. At the
end of 10 days, Veracruz still languished in fourth place, the cheers for its
gallant leader were not so delirious, and Jorge stepped aside in favor of a man
named Chili Lopez.
was growing restless. "Mickey came to me one day looking very worried,"
Maglie recalls. "He'd heard somewhere that I was going to leave Mexico. I
told him there was nothing to the rumor. 'That's good,' Mickey said. 'We've got
to stick together.' "
A day or two
later Danny Gardella called at Owen's apartment to drive him to the ball park.
It was his usual procedure, but Mickey did not appear in response to Danny's
horn. Finally, the landlady came out and said that Mickey had gone off in a
"I knew I'd
made a mistake, and I wanted to go home," Owen says. "I was afraid if I
tried to leave by train or plane Jorge would find out and have me quarantined.
I took the cab to Brownsville, Texas, and it cost me $250. It was the biggest
cab fare I ever ran up."
Though the league
lingered fitfully for one more season and part of another, Owen's defection was
its death blow. The illusion of stability, which had been Pasquel's biggest
selling point, was shattered. A few Americans returned to Mexico in 1947
because they had no place else to go. In most cases their salaries were cut,
and only a handful of players lasted until the end of the season. Pasquel lost
interest and turned his attention to other things, like big-game hunting in
Africa. Several years after the great raids, he was killed when his private
plane crashed in the Mexican hills.