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

These may have been the uniforms of the Mexico Red Devils from the 1940s.

This project is arranged into four installments (this being the third) 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.

Historic Images of Béisbol in Mexico: 1940s

The Pasquel Brothers Call the Shots (Jorge Pasquel, left, and Bernardo Pasquel, right, who helped his brother manage team and league business; ca. 1952, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Jorge y Bernardo Pasquel, empresarios vestidos con ropa deportiva en una cancha de beisbol, retrato*

Mexican professional baseball reached a pinnacle in the 1940s, thanks largely to the efforts of Jorge Pasquel. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that during this time Jorge Pasquel was Mexican baseball. In South of the Color Barrier, John Virtue noted that Pasquel has been “likened to a latter day major league owner, the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner.” That comparison may greatly underestimate Pasquel’s achievements. True, the two men shared a similar, albeit very general, life path: “both were athletes before inheriting family businesses that they made profitable enough to afford owning a baseball team.” However, the man synonymous with the golden age of Mexican baseball “bettered Steinbrenner” in that Pasquel “actually donned a baseball uniform and managed his team on several occasions.”

Of course it’s in baseball’s opposing legacies of racial segregation versus integration where Pasqual really stands apart from other team owners of the time, even next to a Branch Rickey or just about anyone else in major league history employed in a leadership position:

[After a visit to the U.S. and witnessing firsthand the racist treatment of Mexicans by whites, a] shared kinship of racial discrimination manifested itself when Jorge Pasquel formed a team that joined the Mexican Baseball League. Acting on behalf of all league teams, he recruited more than 100 players from the Negro Leagues in the United States. One of them was elected to the Hall of Fame . . . after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier . . . : Roy Campanella of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Eleven other African Americans who played in the Mexican League would later be inducted in Cooperstown for their play in the Negro Leagues. . . . Pasquel thoroughly integrated the league in 1946 when he raided the major leagues for players like Mickey Owen, Sal Maglie and Max Lanier. . . . American owners . . . castigated Pasquel for taking their players [, the same owners who] had raided the Mexican League and other Latin American leagues . . . [for Latino players that major league baseball subsequently] paid less than . . . American players. Pasquel likened his own raids to payback.

Despite his virtues as a progressive in baseball, Pasquel possessed his share of personal flaws. He had a short temper, which on occasion led to episodes of violent public outbursts. For example he threatened and drew a revolver on a complete stranger in a public park for some passing “‘inappropriate remark to [a] girl’” with whom Pasquel was jogging. Pasquel also shot and killed a man in a duel in Nuevo Laredo, though Pasquel was reportedly not the instigator.

On a basic level Pasquel was more businessman than saint. While he made incredible strides in baseball where integration was concerned, the racial history and dynamics of Mexico were not equivalent to those in the U.S. (though certainly no less bloody). Likewise, whatever feared financial jeopardy there was for breaking with convention when Pasquel decided to integrate Mexican baseball, those risks were probably negligible.

In one sense, he simply wanted to capitalize on accomplished black players who had already proven themselves in the Negro Leagues. Knowing their often dismal salaries, as well as living and travel conditions while playing for cash-strapped ball clubs, the wealthy Pasquel had leverage. His comparatively lucrative enticements for players to bail on their Negro League contracts were calculated investments to bring new talent that could bolster both his team and the Mexican League. So, surely, these were first and foremost just smart, competitive business tactics.

Pasquel also relished athletic competition, and baseball was a preferred outlet that allowed him to mix personal passion with his business acumen. Ultimately, Pasquel’s stakeholder prerogatives elevated the reputation of the whole of professional baseball in Mexico. In the process, he also valued African American ballplayers not as mere commodities for their on-field successes; he respected them for their insights and intelligence in the dugout, too. In this regard, Pasquel was truly decades ahead of his time. Policy-wise, he was ahead of both major league baseball and the United States when it came to race relations: setting new precedents, “Pasquel also named black managers who, for the first time, managed white players against whom they could not compete in the United States because of the color barrier.”

White, Latino, and black players alike—from Cuba to the Negro Leagues to major league baseball itself—Pasquel went to significant lengths to promote what he believed should be an international pastime. And in doing so, he sought to enlist the help of some of baseball’s greats.

Willie Wells, Mexico City Red Devils (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Beisbolista de México en cuclillas, retrato

In Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, John Holway remarks on how “in 1929 [Willie Wells] slapped 27 out of the park in 88 games to become the black Roger Maris.” Yet such an oft-iterated comparison inspires another version of the question about a player of color denied the opportunity to compete with white players on the same playing field: what if Roger Maris was the white Willie Wells? (Indeed, chronologically speaking, the latter makes better sense, too.) At the time, it was true that “no black ballplayer ever hit more in one year.” And that single season was not just a fluke for Wells. Over his career, Wells was fifth among Negro Leaguers in lifetime home runs, and was just 18 home runs behind Josh Gibson.

These accomplishments seem all the more startling when gazing upon Beisbolista de México en cuclillas, retrato, a photo of an older Willie Wells, a.k.a. “El Diablo.” Wells squats against a paint-chipped and faded dugout, his eyes narrowing. His face and hands look weathered from years of playing and traveling in rugged conditions. Those distinctive, sharply arched eyebrows show flecks of gray; maybe the cap hides an increasingly grizzled head of hair.

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And as for that baseball-savvy noggin—Wells took special care to protect his cabeza from the hazards of the batter’s box. The story goes that Wells was the player credited with inventing the batting helmet, specifically because of how frequently the opposing black pitchers threw at him. Wells fashioned his own protective headgear from a modified “coal miner’s helmet, [when he] knocked the gas jet off the front, and clapped it on his head.”

As further evidence of this fearless approach in the face of such hostility — and proof of how Wells excelled beyond just hitting the long ball -—Robert Peterson remarks in Only the Ball Was White that Wells was not only a powerful hitter but also a consistent one, with an average often above .320. This consistency kept Wells in the best of company, too, playing with such top teams as the Homestead Grays, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Chicago American Giants, among others. Even in comparison to the great shortstop John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, fellow players attested to Wells’s true “stature as a shortstop,” calling “Wells the greatest at the position.”

Like some of his compatriots in the Negro Leagues who sorely needed extra income, over the years Wells played for multiple ball clubs in Mexico including the Azules de Veracruz (Veracruz Blues), Tampico Alijadores (“Lightermen”), and the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Red Devils). The INAH cataloging data for the photo of Wells provides an estimated date range for the photo from 1940-45. Since Wells played only the 1944 season for the Red Devils (whose jersey he wears in the image cataloged as Beisbolista de México en cuclillas, retrato), the photo likely dates back to the same year—all of which places Wells here in the later stages of his playing days, nearing the end of his more than 20-year-long career.

Of the seasons in which he worked as a player and then manager outside of the U.S., Wells succinctly and proudly summed up his time Latin America, though he showed some hints of regret:

I played in Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico—13 years in Cuba, five years in Mexico. I replaced Rogers Hornsby as manager of Veracruz in 1947. They called me Diablico Wells [sic]. I was a manager for so many years, and I never had a loser. And I made so much money, I can’t tell you how much, but I bet it on the damn horses. I was a horse bettor.

Financial regrets aside, the cultural differences and greater respect Wells experienced in Mexico ultimately amounted to a very welcome departure from his playing experience in the pervasively segregated U.S. leagues. Wells conveys that sentiment in one moment from an old interview when he compared the two social-political climates thusly: “‘We are heroes here [in Mexico], . . . [while] in the United States, everything I did was regulated by color.’”

México (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Beisbolistas del equipo México, retrato de grupo

The photo Beisbolistas del equipo México, retrato de grupo appears to be one of the incarnations of the Mexico City Red Devils. Using the catalog date as well as the fashions as reference points (jerseys, style of caps with bills, and attire among the spectators), the pictured group is a later team than the prior Club México organization that placed as runners-up during both the 1925 and 1927 seasons in the early Mexican League championships. Instead, the Mexico City Red Devils of the 1940s seem a more plausible candidate here. With some small but noticeable differences in the sleeves, embroidery, and accent mark missing from México, however, these uniforms do look slightly altered from other versions worn by those Diablos Rojos.

Teammates Convene in Shade (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Beisbolistas del equipo la Junta descansan junto a una pared, retrato

In Beisbolistas del equipo la Junta descansan junto a una pared, retrato, two players take a break from the heat to rest in the shade. Although almost all of the jersey fronts are obscured, the top portion of the cursive letter “L” is visible. More clearly, the player baseball caps prominently feature that same letter. A review of the known professional ball clubs active over the years in the Mexican Baseball League suggests that these unidentified players may have belonged to the Leones de Yucatán (or Yucatán Lions). If, in fact, these are players for the Lions, then the estimated dates in the archive cataloging information is off by about a decade.

The Lions actually started after the relative boom of 1940s professional baseball in Mexico. The Yucatán club does not appear to have had nearly the same financing power as other professional teams in Mexico during or after that thriving period, though they did have some draws. Julio “Jiquí” Moreno was a hard-throwing pitcher in Cuba before he later joined with Yucatán in 1957 when the Lions won their first pennant. Moreno previously played major league ball for the Washington Senators; he also earned his nickname in Cuba where Jiquí is known as a type of remarkably hard and durable wood. Presumably that reputation followed Moreno to Mexico during his time throwing for the Lions.

Ray Dandridge, Mexico City Red Devils (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City)
Catalog Title: Dandrige beisbolista del equipo México, retrato

While Ray Dandridge may have been dwarfed by comparative giants such as Josh Gibson or Leroy Matlock (Ray’s teammates in Veracruz), Dandridge made up for whatever he lacked in height with absolute intensity, both in hitting and, especially, fielding. Although a physically diminutive opponent, he nonetheless could go toe to head with the best and roughest. As retold in John Holway’s Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers, after being spiked in a Mexican League game by Roy Campanella, who caught for Monterrey, Ray bided his time for revenge until he finally had his chance on a scoring play when Dandridge stormed home and “leaped, spikes first” with a cry, “‘I got you now!’”

As a teammate, though, Dandridge was capable of being a generous supporter: later in his career with the Minneapolis Millers, he was as a mentor to Willie Mays. Dandridge did not hesitate to advocate on behalf of Mays—even if, due to the unofficial quotas of black ballplayers during the period of Jackie Robinson and integration, it perhaps meant chances would be all the slimmer for Dandridge to ever advance to the major leagues. One day when asked by Minneapolis general manager Rosey Ryan for his opinion on the young Mays, Dandridge was quick to respond: “‘Are you kidding?’ Ray said. ‘If you came here to get him, then get him!’”

Ultimately, the call to the majors didn’t come for Dandridge in time. But he had a lifetime average of .319 in the Negro leagues, .318 over the course of five seasons of U.S. minor league play (while in his late 30s), and .347 against white major leaguers. Regarding Dandridge’s overall style and caliber as a third baseman, Monte Irvin had the following praise to offer:

Ray Dandridge was fantastic. Best I’ve ever seen at third. I saw all the greats—Brooks, Nettles—but I’ve never seen a better third baseman than Dandridge. He had the best hands. In a season he seldom made more than one or two errors. If the ball took a bad hop, his glove took a bad hop. He came in on swinging bunts, grabbed the ball bare-handed and threw to first without looking and got his man. . . . Once you saw him, you never would forget him.”

Amidst the daily grind, Dandridge enjoyed much of his financial success (what little there was at the time) while in Mexico playing for Jorge Pasquel. Reportedly, Dandridge earned enough money in Mexico from Pasquel to buy a house for his family. Dandridge also spent enough time as an international ballplayer that he developed a “thumbnail guide to Latin America” from those playing days:

Venezuela: “bad equipment, bad fields. A living.”
Cuba: “Beautiful. People who knew the game. Good parks. No money.”
Puerto Rico: “I remember the ocean, the way the sun used to do this little dance off it, and how beautiful they treated us. No money.”
Mexico: “Best of all. I set some records down there. I played some baseball!”

In Mexico, Dandridge went back and forth over the years, playing for the Veracruz Blues (1940-43, 1948) and the Mexico City Red Devils (1945-47). Before and during much of this period, he alternated between the different league seasons from the Mexican Baseball League and the Negro Leagues while lending his bat to the Newark Eagles (1936-38, 1942, and 1944). So although the cataloging information for the photo Dandrige beisbolista del equipo México, retrato suggests 1940-45 for the date, the uniform and his recorded team rosters likely put the photo’s date closer to 1945-47.

Dandridge in BP (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City,)
Catalog Title: El beisbolista Dandrige práctica con el bat

Dandridge with Young Boy (ca. 1940-45, Mexico City,)
Catalog Title: Dandrige beisbolista del Veracruz y niño, retrato

Dandridge’s time playing ball in Mexico is better documented than some in the photo archives. El beisbolista Dandrige práctica con el bat as well as Dandrige beisbolista del Veracruz y niño, retrato can be found among additional photos of the tenacious Dandridge included in the INAH collection.

In 1987, Dandridge was finally given his far-overdue recognition at Cooperstown. He died in 1994.

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

  • Baseball-Reference
  • Rory Costello, SABR Bio Project, “Julio Moreno.”
  • John Holway, Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers, Mecklermedia, 1988.
  • John Holway, Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, Revised edition, Dover, 2010.
  • Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White, Gramercy, 1999.
  • Society for American Baseball Research, SABR Baseball Biography Project.
  • John Virtue, South of the Color Barrier, McFarland, 2008.


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.

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1 Comment on "Historic Images of Béisbol in Mexico: Star Negro Leaguers, House of David, and More Photo Rarities from Mexico, Part III"

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Eric Robinson
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I love this series! Thanks for your research and sharing it. Are there any plans for doing a book of this?