- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
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 followed.
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.
"I've never 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 room.
"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.
Pasquel, Gardella 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.
One evening 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.