01/07/2004 2:27 PM ET
History of baseball in Mexico
MONTERREY, Mexico -- It is fitting that in the deep and sometimes troubled history of baseball in Mexico a young man named Angel would seemingly come out of nowhere and help rescue the sport from the depths from which it had fallen.
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Because for as much joy and optimism brought by the historic development of the Mexican League in the 1920s, and momentum that followed through the 1930s, there was something missing. During the 1940s, Jorge Pasquel tried to fill the void by attempting and eventually failing to turn the Mexican Leagues into a mirror image of its Major League counterparts just North of the border.
He died a bitter man in a crash of his private plane in 1955 and his dreams, already spinning out of control, went with him.
The Mexican League reorganized soon after Pasquel's death that same year, but the real boost came two years later when the baseball nation received hope gift-wrapped in the adolescent pitching arm of a local Monterrey pitcher named Angel Macias. For it was Macias, then 12 and known to pitch with both arms, who would unleash a pitch that would forever change the landscape of baseball in Mexico and re-energize the sport for everybody in the country.
The year was 1957 and Macias, from the underprivileged side of town, threw a perfect game to clinch a victory in the championship game of Little League World Series in Williamsport. With one pitch, the final pitch against La Mesa, Calif., in the championship game, Macias and his teammates put baseball back in the nation's spotlight.
Not long after the victory, the Monterrey Little League team went to the White House for breakfast with President Dwight Eisenhower. The youngsters also met Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon and spent a day at Ebbets Field with the Dodgers.
Upon their arrival in Mexico, almost a month after winning in Williamsport, the boys were treated as national heroes and spent the next few months traveling around the country playing exhibition games. There was a book written, "Pequenos Gigantes," and a movie by the same title made about the children.
"As a result of winning, many things changed overnight," Macias said. "A majority of us came from economically disadvantaged areas, but a lot of doors opened for us immediately. We received high school and college scholarships to begin with, and that meant we had the opportunity to rub elbows and walk among people who were economically above us. I was in a school with families like the Garza-Sada who have done so much not only for Monterrey, but for all of Mexico."
The boys were celebrities in every sense of the word.
"All we could do was adapt," Macias said. "Some of us did and some of us didn't. As for me, I did. It's hard to explain, but going from my simple school to a whole different world was not easy. But we assimilated."
The improbable "Little Giants," as they came to be known, featured a host of players that would eventually shape modern and the future of baseball in Mexico. Not the least of which were Macias, who went on to play professionally and is the current director of the revamped Mexican League Baseball Academy, and teammate Jose "Pepe" Maiz, the Hall of Fame owner of the Monterrey Sultanes and one of the two men who are trying to bring Major League Baseball to Monterrey. In 1990, Maiz built the 26,000-seat stadium, Estadio Monterrey.
"That experience is something I will never forget and has had a big impact on my life," Maiz, 58, said. "I still remember it all. I was playing left field and no ball went out of the infield. There were 11 strikeouts and seven grounders or flyouts inside the infield. I drove in the first run and scored the third run."
Macias parlayed his childhood fame and skill on the diamond into an 11-year professional baseball career and long stint in a prominent position with Grupo Alfa, the steel and petrochemical exporter. He took the job as the academy's director in 2001.
Maiz also played professionally in Monterrey before giving it up for the family business, Maiz-Mier Construction, the oldest construction company in Northern Mexico. Maiz pitched for several years in the Veterans' League -- at one point winning 40 consecutive games during a six-year stretch -- and is currently undergoing massage therapy on his injured arm with the hopes that he will pitch again.
Origin of baseball in Mexico
Macias and the Little Giants have their defined place in history. The origin of baseball in Mexico is not quite as clear.
Many believe baseball arrived in Mexico at different times between the years 1870 and 1890, and a debate exists about the actual birthplace of the sport in the country. Among the locales that claim to be the origin of baseball in Mexico are Mazatlan in 1847, Guaymas in 1887 and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas in 1870. Veracruz had baseball in 1886, San Juan Cadereyeta in Nuevo Leon near Monterrey played baseball in 1889, and Ciudad Progresso in Yucatan had baseball in 1890 since to the Cubans who settled there already knew the sport. Saltillo, Coahuila, first had baseball in 1899.
"In 1847, if you go to the history books, that is the time where the U.S. is trying to take control of Mexico and this is the time the armed forces from the United States were in Mexico," said Magdalena Rosales Ortiz, director of the Salon de la Fama, the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, in Monterrey. "All during the 1840s and later there were different parts of Mexico where the Americans tried to take control. These dates coincide with the origin of baseball in each area. The American troops played baseball and shared the game."
The laying of track for the railroad, specifically the Monterrey-Tampico railway, played a large part in the spreading of baseball throughout the country, specifically northern Mexico. Colonel Joseph Robertson, who was from Tennessee and once served under General Robert E. Lee, introduced the game in Nuevo Leon when he granted his railroad workers a holiday on the fourth of July in 1889. Robertson and his workers celebrated by playing baseball.
"Colonel Robertson plays a very interesting role in the development of baseball in Mexico, but his influence is larger than sports," Rosales said. "He also brought the first orange trees to the state and we eventually became one of the strongest citrus producers in Mexico. He also brought the first brick company to that area."
The biggest argument for the origin of baseball comes from the Monterrey contingent. The city is the home of the Sultanes, the Hall of Fame, the academy and the 1957 and 1958 Little League teams which won consecutive championships in Williamsport. Those factors lead the people of the city to believe they have the right to state the origin of baseball is in the state of Nuevo Leon.
Rosales does not necessarily agree or disagree.
"What we have here in Monterrey is circuitry of baseball that combines to make it a special area in history," Rosales said. "Although many areas in the country can say they played baseball earlier, I feel the beauty is in Monterrey and the entire story of the country."
The Mexican Leagues
The official story of the Mexican Leagues begins in 1925, when Mexico's most famous sportswriter, Alejandro Aguilar Reyes "Fray Nano", along with renowned baseball manager Ernesto Carmona founded the Mexican Professional Baseball Leagues with six teams.
The history of the Mexican Leagues is often divided into three stages: The first stage consists of the years 1925 to approximately 1940. Games during this period were almost exclusively played in Mexico City and highlighted by the performances of imported Cuban players.
The period of the 1940s, the second stage, is marked by the efforts of the Pasquel brothers, specifically Jorge Pasquel, to create a league in Mexico similar to the Major Leagues. Pasquel's first step was to hire players from the Negro Leagues and by the mid-1940s he hired players away from the Major Leagues. He reportedly offered open contracts to Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, but both players declined to play south of the U.S. border.
Pasquel's dreams were grand, but by the end of the 1940s, his plan failed because he was forced to decrease salaries and consequently, his imported players abandoned him. He eventually disappeared from baseball in 1951 and died four years later in a plane crash, almost taking the league with him.
The third and most current phase of Mexican League development followed soon after.
In 1955, the Mexican League was near death when new management under Anuar Canavati, who was president of the Monterrey Sultanes at the time, entered and eventually saved the league primarily by reaching working agreements with Major League teams for players.
Under Canavati's guidance, by 1979, the league peaked with a total of 20 teams. Despite some financial trouble, the league now boasts a total of 16 summer league teams divided into a North and South zones in the Mexican League and eight winter league teams in the Mexican League of the Pacific.
More than 100 Mexican Nationals who participated in the Mexican Leagues have gone on to play in the Major Leagues since Baldomero Almada, the first Mexican to play in the Major Leagues, made his debut with Boston in 1933. There are approximately 100 Mexican Nationals currently in the Major League system today.
A perfect time revisited
Looking back at 1957 and what has transpired in baseball in his country since that fateful summer day in Pennsylvania, Macias smiles. He remains humble about the chain of events that changed his entire life and said there is no way he could have predicted throwing a perfect game in the Little League World Series or what followed afterward.
"In that moment the only thing I remember is that we won the championship," he said. "We enjoyed it. We jumped. We celebrated. I never knew that I was pitching a perfect game or that I had pitched a perfect game. It never crossed my mind. We were just concentrating on winning the championship."
He is proud to say that baseball made him the man he is today.
"There is no reason to doubt or question that," he said. "Some of us more, some of us less, but things changed for all of us because of baseball and the fact we became public figures. All the doors opened and everywhere we went somebody would point us out or want an autograph. People knew our names, and my name was Angel Macias, champion child."
For many in Mexico, it still is.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.