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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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There were no outstretched arms awaiting the prodigals in their native land. Organized Baseball had imposed a five-year suspension on all the "contract-jumpers" except Stephens, who had returned to the Browns before opening day. With the collapse of Pasquel's league, the 18 suspended players sought jobs outside of Organized Baseball. They played in Cuba during the winter and in Canada during the summer. In 1948 they formed a team called the Max Lanier All-Stars and barnstormed across the United States. Barred from stadiums owned by teams in Organized Baseball and able to play only against semipros, the All-Stars won all of their 81 games but arrived home broke.

Players like Gardella, who had a family and no savings, were in trouble. "On Sundays I plied my trade with a team on Staten Island," Gardella says. "One day a wire came from the Commissioner's office informing our opponents, a Negro team called the Cleveland Buckeyes, that none of their players would be allowed into Organized Baseball if they played against me. I was an outlaw!

"Nobody would have me. God invests himself in every atom of the universe, but I was cast out. Finally a friend of mine sent me to his dentist's brother, who was a lawyer. I gave him earnest ear."

The lawyer was Frederic A. Johnson, who had been a baseball fan since childhood, a classmate of Happy Chandler at Harvard Law School and the author of an unfavorable treatise on baseball's reserve clause. Johnson and Gardella sued Organized Baseball for $300,000 in damages. Shortly afterward, Lanier and Fred Martin, having retained their own lawyer, sued baseball for $2,500,000, charging that it was in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

With its sacred reserve clause under fire, baseball grew jittery. Branch Rickey, speaking before an advertising club, charged that the clause was opposed by persons of "avowed Communist tendencies." But for the first time communication lines were opened between baseball and the outcasts. They were made to understand that if they dropped their lawsuits, their applications for reinstatement would be given, in the Gardellian phrase, "earnest ear."

Owen and several other players visited Gardella at his home in Yonkers in an effort to persuade him to drop his suit. On the advice of his attorney, Danny declined. "I hope Gardella loses his suit," Owen told reporters. "Baseball didn't force us to go to Mexico. We went because of our own weaknesses."

In June 1949 the courts refused to compel Organized Baseball to reinstate the suspended players before their cases had been tried. Baseball was now free to move without losing face. The players were welcomed back and guaranteed fair trials with their old teams. At least four of the players were paid off secretly to drop their lawsuits.

Gardella, the fellow who had set off the uproar three years earlier, remained the lone holdout. He refused to drop his suit, threatening to carry it all the way to the Supreme Court. In the fall of 1949 Danny finally came to terms with Organized Baseball, at a figure astronomically higher than the few hundred dollars that the Giants had denied him in 1946 when they pushed him toward Mexico.

Baseball chose to make the announcement under the protective hubbub of the World Series, the traditional period for firing beloved managers and consummating other moves club owners are ashamed of. All parties insisted that Danny's sole reward for dropping the suit was a contract to play with St. Louis. Lanier, Martin and Klein had been reinstated in time to take part in their unsuccessful pennant drive that year, and apparently the Cardinals showed their gratitude by accepting Danny.

At any rate, the suit was settled and an audible sigh of relief escaped baseball headquarters in Cincinnati. "If I was a drinking man," Happy Chandler said, "I'd go out and get drunk."

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