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THE PORTSIDER

The Mexican Pumping Bean
By Staff Writer

One nice thing about writing for a publication with a subscriber list the length of my address book is that you can say what you want. If I wrote the following in a big paper, even in the Rocheport Missouri Observer, I'd get fired or slapped with a libel suit. Of course, both of those things are possible here, too, but since Goldstein is desperate for any kind of publicity, I'm sure he won't muzzle me—even if I write something that's basely untrue, damaging, libelous and slanderous, which I freely admit this may be. (There, does that cover us?)

Because I know why Roger Clemens threw that bat head at Piazza. Two reasons, and you never saw these in the New York Times: One—and this seemed pretty obvious to me except no one said it because they didn't want to sound juvenile—Clemens thought the busted bat was going to hit him in the nuts. Look at the replay. Clemens sees something coming at him. He clenches up in the middle of his body, reflexively shielding his cojones. He fields that broken bat like you do when a two-year-old fires a croquet ball at your pecker. Hey, someone throws something at the old Johnson, you have a fight or flight response and generally it's fight. Especially if you've been taking steroids.

There. That's the part I couldn't say anywhere but here. I have no proof. Absolutely none. Except that Roger Clemens behaves just like a guy on steroids: Why else does his fastball suddenly perk up at an advanced age? Why else do you throw at somebody's head? And why else do you assume that Mike Piazza could triangulate his swing so precisely as to know just where to connect with a fastball to break his bat and send the head of it out directly toward your family jewels? But I have no proof. I have no intimate connection to steroids. In fact, I've only known one man who used them and that was a long time ago.

It was 1972, a time when a lot of people didn't think twice about putting any number of things in their bodies. Jo Jo El Greco was a distant relation of the painter's family, but they shared a visual problem: Both men saw the human body stretched and elongated. When Jo Jo was pitching, he was always bitching about how the umpire had a strike zone the size of a Barcelona hooker's G-spot. He was forever throwing shoulder high fastballs and claiming they were strikes. Well, to him, that ball looked belly high. The way Jo Jo saw it, the batter was Plastic Man; angled up at the plate like a Giacometti sculpture. For him, that ball was at the belt; for the rest of the world it was up around the chin.

So he got out of pitching and started managing. I ran into him in the Mexican Border League, a league that flourished for about four seasons, running along the Rio Grande. It was the brainchild of Jorge Gonzales, an El Paso fisherman. I know, there's not much fishing in El Paso, but he didn't know that when he bought the big trawler from an unscrupulous Texan. Jorge was living in the Yucatan at the time, and was sold a bill of goods by Ferd Dickwyler. Ferd was down in the Yucatan on a sort of permanent vacation and, frankly, when the two men met, Ferd was flying high on peyote. He convinced Jorge that he could take this trawler, work his way up the coast and then up the Rio Grande, ending up in El Paso with a huge haul of fish. There he could sell the entire boat—fish and all—to a friend of Ferd's for a huge profit. El Paso was the terminus because Ferd's friend Buddy LeKeck lived there; LeKeck was not interested in the fish, but in the healthy supply of LSD hidden in the boat's figurehead. That figurehead, a beautifully sculpted mermaid, was a bit of an unusual feature and Ferd convinced Jorge that its graceful line, particularly the sculpted nude breasts, added about $500 to the value of the boat.

Jorge bought The Bazonga and took to the open sea. The fishing was fine until he got to Laredo. Then the Rio started to shrivel a bit and the fish did, too. Jorge finally made it to El Paso, but he needed a mule for the final forty-five miles. (He did like the old Erie Canal line; tied a rope to a mule on shore and the mule pulled the trawler like a keelboat into El Paso.) Unfortunately for Jorge, when he arrived he discovered that Ferd's friend had been thrown in the slammer on a charge of indecent exposure. He had taken something which looked like a multiple vitamin, but it was a multiple something else, became convinced he was Lady Godiva and had ridden through El Paso on a stallion that was less naked than he was. So Buddy was in the big house, cooling his heels, and Jorge was stuck with a boatload of fish. He unloaded the fish as best he could with the only New England Chowder House in southern Texas. Then he pondered the boat.

Floating up the Rio Grande, Jorge had passed by Brownsville, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, and Del Rio and now he had a brainstorm: Jorge had always enjoyed baseball; he was a pretty good amateur player with the Chichen Itza Diablos and it occurred to him here was a way to parlay his ill-fated boating investment into something good: He could create an outlaw baseball league, a Mexican Border League, and use the boat to float his team back and forth across the river, working both sides of the border from El Paso down to Brownsville and back.

And so the Mexican Border League was born; four teams, using players from both nationalities. The Bazonga would serenely float down the Rio Grande; a mariachi band would be serenading as it pulled into shore, and the players would march through town, trying to drum up interest in the game. To tell you the truth, there wasn't much interest until Jo Jo came along. Jo Jo had always been a thrower, not a pitcher, and when I say that I don't mean that he threw the baseball. I mean that he threw other things. When things didn't go his way, he'd throw his glove. He'd toss the resin bag. He'd toss his cap. Finally, he tossed his pitching career in the trash can and started managing. Now from his perch in the dugout Jo Jo had a whole new array of material to toss in anger: bats, water bottles, pine tar rags, tins of chewing tobacco.

All of this was small potatoes until Jo Jo discovered steroids. He'd been upset with the pitching staff of the Del Rio Delores team, and kept saying he could pitch better at fifty years of age than they could in their prime. (Most of them were past their prime, but he didn't get into that.) The truth was, Jo Jo was blustering. He knew that his fastball had gone to seed. Then, one day he was standing at the bow of The Bazonga. Jo Jo was a whittler, adept with a penknife, and on this occasion he started idly scratching at the rear of the maidenhead. Suddenly, his knife went deep. The thing was hollowed out. Intrigued, he carved a little hole and got a glimpse of something inside. He enlarged the hole, reached in and discovered a clay pot holding about $30,000 worth of LSD. Jo Jo was no dummy; he'd been around the block more than once in Seville, and he took that pot to an acquaintance of an acquaintance in El Paso and came away with about $3,000. All right, he was a bit of a dummy. But how was he to know? He was not a professional drug user. He was a professional ballplayer and now he had enough money to try something out.

He'd been watching the Olympics that year, and figured those East German women knew something about adding muscle and pow to the upper body. He talked to an acquaintance of the acquaintance of the acquaintance and purchased about $2,500 worth of steroids. Jo Jo was never one to go halfway; he started popping those steroids and within a matter of weeks he was bulking out, acne was sprouting on his forehead, and his fastball was in the high nineties. Of course, steroids did nothing for his vision, but Jo Jo was now riding the roller coaster of steroid power and rage and oblivious of the fact he still saw a strike zone as elongated as Jesus in "The Burial of Count Orgaz." He decided to return to the mound.

It didn't take long for disaster to strike. In fact, just like Clemens, it was the third batter up: Jimmy "El Piso" Pace. Jimmy was an American playing for the Nuevo Laredo team. They'd coined his nickname because Jimmy was always wet somewhere—he spit and it drooled down his chin; he went to the water cooler and came away with his shirt soaked; he had one of those horrible perspiration problems where the seat of your pants reveals a line of moisture right up the crack. He was just a moist guy. He was also a good power hitter and quite often that summer I'd hear the crack of his bat and watch the sweat and tobacco juice and water fly up off his uniform as he ripped a homer.

Jo Jo had poured on the heat to the first two batters. They went for the first pitch and missed, and then he tried to climb the ladder on them. Of course, Jo Jo's ladder was no step stool. It was a fourteen-foot extension job, and the last balls on each batter sent our scrappy little catcher, Ray Xifo, leaping high into the air to snatch them. So he'd walked the first two men and two batters into the game he was in trouble. With the acne on Jo Jo's brow glistening, his bulked-up pitching arm reared back and fired what looked to him to be a perfect strike. Trouble was, it was around El Piso's chin. Ball one. Jo Jo couldn't believe it. He went back to work, reared and fired, and this time he saw a knee-high fastball. Of course, the elongation worked both up and down, and what the umpire saw was a ball around the ankles. Jo Jo was ready to blow. He motioned to catcher "Ray X" (as we called him) to set up outside—way outside. Ray was puzzled, but Jo Jo was, of course, manager as well as pitcher, so the receiver set up so far outside he was practically in the on-deck circle. Why Jo Jo was able to find his location on the next pitch, I don't know. Maybe God was on his side. Or the Devil. Because Jo Jo fired that next ball so fast it was just a blur to everyone until it hit the umpire right in the buttocks. I know, that's not where you thought that was going, but as Jo Jo went into his windup, the umpire saw where Ray was setting up and had a sudden insight as to what was coming. He was diving for cover behind the little catcher and turned away from the action, so the ball caught him right in the rear.

The irony was, that was the only strike Jo Jo threw and the umpire never saw it. He called it a ball, on general principles I guess, and Jo Jo went off. He stormed down the mound and got right in the ump's face. Ray X tried to get between them, but Jo Jo picked him up and threw him aside. That was the first object he threw. The umpire responded by throwing Jo Jo out of the game. A bunch of us surrounded Jo Jo and formed a kind of scrum to get him off the field before we forfeited the game. Little did we know our troubles were just beginning. Because once Jo Jo got to the dugout, he had some things he could get his hands on to heave. Bats. Batting helmets. Catcher's equipment. They came sailing out of that dugout, out onto the field. Play stopped. The umpire started toward the dugout to give a final warning about a forfeit when a toilet tank came hurtling his way.

Jo Jo had made it into the locker room and now he was hauling out showerheads, folding chairs, even the big lockers themselves and heaving them onto the field. By this point, we'd forfeited the game. But the crowd stuck around, just to see what was coming next. A whirlpool. A framed picture of Enzio Pinza (Jo Jo was a big fan). Light fixtures. Then, the next thing we knew, Jo Jo was up in the stands, ripping out seats. Tough job, but when you're as pumped as he was, anything seemed possible. The authorities were called in as Jo Jo got into the press box and started pitching Selectrics. It took twenty men from the Mexican cavalry to lead Jo Jo off. The last I saw of him, he was foaming at the mouth and throwing small change to children who laughed at the madman as he was locked into an army transport vehicle.

We sailed off on The Bazonga that evening, knowing the Mexican Border league was dead. Jorge couldn't afford to pay for the repairs to Nuevo Laredo's stadium, so he decided to fold up the league and use the boat to ply another trade. The last I heard, he was running cocaine up and down the river, and in the early eighties really made a killing with a huge sale to some failing oil guy named George W. But that's only rumor. And I'd certainly never write anything I couldn't confirm.

With the integrity that comes from a lifetime in baseball and over forty years in the upholstery business, this is Staff Writer.

—EFQ

As old as STAFF WRITER is these days, he doesn't get too pumped up about anything. Unless, of course, the topic of discussion is the designated hitter, divisional playoffs, or Bud Selig. Then he gets so mad he has to take a Valium to calm down.

© 2001 Elysian Fields Quarterly

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