Images of Béisbol in Mexico: Star Negro Leaguers, House of David, and More Photo Rarities from Mexico, Part II

This project is arranged into four installments (this being the second) to better manage the wide span of years and the archival finds that cover a wide range of baseball subjects. That includes anonymous players, some of whom are mere boys and girls, as well as Hall of Fame baseball legends.

As it stands, these photographs represent a significant piece of history—a history of the international game that is baseball. The following photos provide insights into early Mexican baseball, including the Mexican Baseball League (or Liga Mexicana de Béisbol). The photos date back at least as far as 1915 and continue on through the 1940s.

For those familiar with the history of the Negro Leagues, it will likely come as no surprise that Satchel Paige was the first African American to play in the Mexican League. According to John Virtue’s South of the Color Barrier, Paige “did so under regulations adopted by the [Mexican] league that allowed each team to import four foreign players”—steps taken in the hopes of improving the overall quality of league play. However, Paige did not make his trip to Mexico until 1938. At the outset of the 1930s, baseball in the Mexico League still had some ground to cover before its eventual heyday, when players by the dozens would follow in Paige’s footsteps and leave the Negro Leagues for Mexico.

Ramón Bragaña, a.k.a. El Profesor, who began playing professional baseball in Mexico in 1931 but pictured here later in his career (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Bragaña jugador del Veracruz, retrato

While still a fledgling league, by the 1930s the Mexican League did start to draw a higher caliber of ballplayer. This began primarily with black Cuban athletes who were already playing baseball in the Negro Leagues in the U.S.

The first were Ramón Bragaña and Basilio Rosselle, both of whom pitched for the New York Cubans before going to Mexico in 1931. Bragaña, known as El Profesor for his ability to teach others, played 20 seasons in Mexico, winning a record 211 games and losing 162. He had a 30-8 record in 1944, the only time the Mexican League has had a 30-game winner. Roselle played for 12 seasons, leading the league in strikeouts one year. Both were elected to baseball Halls of Fame in Mexico and Cuba. Both men loved Mexico, married Mexicans and settled there permanently. Bragaña became a manager under Jorge Pasquel [Mexican League president, owner of the Azules de Veracruz (Veracruz Blues), and minority stakeholder in additional league teams].

Of course, Mexico attracted visiting players and teams beyond Cuba and the Negro Leagues. Going back to March of 1907 with the first visit by Charles Comiskey’s newly crowned champion Chicago White Sox, major league teams from the U.S. found occasion to travel south and take advantage of the warmer weather for off-season training in the form of exhibition games.

The 1907 main match between Comiskey’s White Sox and the Mexican team El Record was held in Mexico City at the Reforma Athletic Field. In fact, perhaps due to their new status as World Series champions, as well as the diplomatic potential conferred by such a title, the journey by the Chicago White Sox was covered with special daily reports by the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago ballplayer tossing at Reforma (ca. 1935-40 Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Pitcher del equipo Chicago durante una jugada en el Parque Reforma

Apparently, this would not be the last time Chicago players traveled to Mexico City for exhibition play. Take, for example, the photo cataloged as “Pitcher del equipo Chicago durante una jugada en el Parque Reforma.” While the uniform and cataloging information leave the specific team affiliation unclear as to which Windy City ball club the pictured player belonged—whether to the Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox—Chicago baseball nonetheless returned to Mexico City.

Bit by bit, players from Cuba, the Negro Leagues, and major league clubs gradually visited or even immigrated to Mexico for organized league play or one-shot exhibition matches or series. It was only a matter of time before baseball took hold in the culture at large. When that happened, youth baseball followed.

Mueblería Nueva, or New Furniture Store (ca. 1932, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Equipo de beisbol infantil Muebleria Nueva, retrato de grupo

Another recurring subject in the INAH catalog of baseball photos comes in the way of team portraits. Again, many of these teams, especially the youth teams, appeared to have existed in large part thanks to business sponsorships. After all, baseball uniforms and equipment could be expensive and difficult to come by for many children and their families. While some sponsorships derived from larger companies and lucrative industries like steel, transportation, or electricity, other sponsorships came from small, family-owned shops.

Girls Play Tough También (ca. 1930-35, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Mujeres beisbolistas durante partido

Exploring Extreme Ballparks Past
A tour through some of baseball's most extreme climes.

Youth baseball in Mexico was not limited to young men and boys. Team portraits of girls and young women surface in the INAH catalog with dates beginning as early as the 1930s. And it can be reasonably assumed that they were playing baseball even before that time.

Along with the school and community youth baseball long played by girls, young women have participated in baseball games going back at least as far as the 1860s in the U.S.. Inasmuch, the “Bloomer girls” movement drew early attention (though often in the lamentable context of “novelty” acts). However, competitive college teams helped broaden the sport and its appeal.

Unidentified Girls Team (ca. 1932, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Equipo femenil de beisbol, retrato de grupo

Problematic gender-normative ideologies have carried through the years with influence across cultures and regions. In deceptively normalizing but persistent ways, they continue to do so with the repressive either/or gendered schism of baseball versus softball, an undemocratic divide that early on in talent development impedes practical, direct pathways for women to compete in collegiate and, later, professional baseball. (Saying so, however, is not an intended slight against softball and those equally gifted athletes who might otherwise prefer that sport.) Overall, these very kinds of ideologies and practices impede the continued growth and popularity of the sport.

Softball Girls Team (ca. 1930, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Equipo femenil de beisbol, retrato de grupo

No doubt there remain longstanding, pervasive issues in baseball affecting organized play—whether dating back to 1940s Minnesota or 1930s Mexico. Nevertheless, the baseball and softball photos of girls and young women in Mexico demonstrate the widespread popularity of these games across genders and national borders.

But who were young, baseball-loving boys and girls in Mexico watching at the time? The Mexican League did not form overnight. Like most new business ventures, it experienced the growing pains, and league as well as team structures and assets took time to cohere as stakeholders and players shuffled about. Indeed, it was not truly until 1940 when, according to Virtue, Jorge Pasquel “by sheer force of personality…and pocketbook…saved professional baseball in Mexico.” During this nascent period of professional baseball in Mexico, amateur and semi-pro ball found room to flourish and entertain—for both participants and spectators.

“Club Visitante,” or Visiting Club (ca. 1932, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Equipo de beisbol Huasteca Petroleum Compañy, retrato de grupo

Teams organized by industry and formed by competing companies continued to provide popular sporting entertainment for the Mexican public. The Huasteca Petroleum Compañy was one such company that assembled its own team. Huasteca was owned by American interests and later would be dramatically impacted by Mexico’s nationalization of the oil industry in 1938.

From everywhere and nowhere, everyone in the ephemeral scene appears to be but a temporary visitor in one sense or another. The player just right of center drawing much of the viewer’s attention and another foregrounded player posed further right with a bat on his shoulder both wear uniforms with equally prominent team patches; however, each emblem is distinct from the other. Also on the right side yet barely visible, “Leones” is scrawled on a chalkboard in shadows at the back of the players’ bench.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the photo, one player sits hunched over on top of the bench seat back. He wears a striped uniform with an “H” over the left breast, a detail that corroborates the Fototeca catalog information attaching at least some of these participants to the Huasteca Petroleum Compañy team.

When the details are taken together, the scene raises critical, albeit unresolved questions: Like other controversially foreign-owned companies in Mexico, was Huasteca more of an American company operated by Mexicans? Or was it a Mexican company owned by Americans? Who is the home team, and who is the visiting team; who is the resident, and who is itinerant? All the players remain unidentified.

John Tucker, middle., House of David (ca. 1930, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Beisbolistas del equipo HID

Private companies did not hold a monopoly on semi-pro baseball in Mexico. Furthermore, major league clubs and ballplayers were not the only ones taking trips south of the border to barnstorm. Consider, for example, three members of the House of David community from Benton Harbor, Michigan (originating in 1903) whose photo is filed as “Beisbolistas del equipo HID.”

The uniforms indicate these players belonged to one of the barnstorming House of David teams—or, if this photo was taken after the original sect split into factions, perhaps a City of David team. (The I in “HID” appearing on player uniforms stands for Israelite, to emphasize the affiliation with the Israelite House of David, the sect’s formal name.) Between the two communities, representatives toured and showcased their baseball talents, most notably from the 1920s to 1950s. As listed, the archive cataloging estimates this particular photo dates to 1930s.

Often the House of David and City of David teams would hire players who were non-members of the community. Typically, these players still donned beards per community and/or team requirements. Going by the known history as well as the available hired player names documented in House of David and City of David rosters, it is highly doubtful any of the three fellows pictured here were Mexican ballplayers enlisted as such for a House of David or City of David team. In fact, the middle player appears to be an older John Tucker. City of David baseball earned a name for itself with the oft-heralded touring trio of George Anderson, John Tucker, and “Doc” Tally. In 1941, John Tucker retired as a touring member of the City of David.

Baseball in the bullring (ca. 1932, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Equipo de beisbol en un estadio, retrato de grupo

Accounts of early Mexican baseball games actually played inside bullfighting stadiums remain scattered. In fact, the INAH catalog dates the photo “Equipo de beisbol en un estadio, retrato de grupo” to a time well after the dawn of Mexican baseball. Again, baseball in Mexico had grown in popularity by the 1930s: Major league players, talented players from other countries, skillful barnstorming teams, and organizers of youth teams found the climate for Mexican baseball to be promising and joyful.

That the pictured team (unidentified) would have actually played an organized ballgame in what appears here to be a bullfighting arena seems even less likely, considering how, by the 1930s, baseball fields were more readily available to the public, especially in cities. In all probability, this bull stadium was simply a picturesque scene for a team photo. The two sports were at odds with each other, however, at least in the view of advocates who were strongly against the bloody sport of bullfighting.

It was only a matter of time before baseball’s popularity surpassed other spectator events in Mexico, like cockfights and bullfights. Moreover, if crowds already saw potential for Mexican baseball by the end of the 1930s, then they were about to see something downright thrilling.

Notes:

INAH and its web servers are presently undergoing maintenance. As such, links to INAH and INAH’s own hosted files of these photos may be unavailable.

Photo catalog titles appear exactly as they are listed in INAH’s archive, including spelling errors or omissions of diacritics. All photos D.R. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México. All photos were accessed on January 5, 2018.

References and Resources


M. G. Moscato’s work has appeared in CineAction, Spitball, Sports Collectors Digest, Aethlon, Stymie, Harpur Palate, among others. Read his blog Pulp Ephemera and follow him on Twitter @PulpEphemera.
newest oldest most voted
dickfuld
Member
Member
dickfuld

great read

Las Vegas Wildcards
Member
Las Vegas Wildcards

Enjoyed the article, but once again, there is an allegation that women are being prevented from playing baseball, and that’s incorrect . Softball has a much easier point of entry for girls, and the sport is very popular. Softball has tradition, success, and young women have been able to play high school and college softball, and use elements of playing the sport into successful post-career lives. I don’t understand this mentality of trying to push baseball upon a segment of the population which clearly isn’t interested. Softball isn’t any less of a sport than baseball.