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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, April 19, 2021

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            According to The Economist, ESPN is among the networks that will broadcast Mexican League games this summer. The LMB hopes to increase their audience spectrum and improve the economic conditions of all 18 teams. The announcement was made during a virtual league press conference last week, but no specific dates were given for ESPN live coverage. Other channels involved in 2021 will be TV Azteca, Multimedios and Canal 1.


            In an Assembly of Presidents meeting held in San Diego more than a year ago, it was determined that in 2021 the LMB will for the first time control the broadcasting rights of all member teams that comprise it to commercialize them collectively. One of the plans in the management of league president Horacio de la Vega is to increase its reach to spectators and promote teams beyond their local market.


            "Leagues like the NFL have managed to improve a lot in production issues to create a more competitive league,” de la Vega says, “so that the teams can have better conditions when making a global negotiation. For that reason, this agreement has been made."


            The Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Monterrey Sultanes were among the most affected franchises, since they already had lucrative contracts with SKY Sports, an ESPN competitor. The Proceso website detailed that the economic blow for the Diablos will exceed five million pesos (about US$250,000) with this decision.


            According to information provided at a press conference by Diablos executive president Othon Díaz, the process consists of packaging the games to sell them at three levels (A, AA and AAA). Each television station is assigned a certain number of games, depending on the amount that has paid, so that in the end all teams are on different channels.


            In addition, Diaz pointed out that in conjunction with the league, it will allow local television stations to carry important games.


            “In the case of local television stations, especially at the state level,” says Diaz, “they have normally broadcast the teams' games. There is a matter of negotiation where through the sale of the rights for those cities, the local television station only has the possibility of broadcasting in the city or state where it has been negotiated with the league.”





            Juan Jose Pacho has apparently been given an object lesson in the perils of bringing politics into the workplace. According to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros, Pacho was fired by the Mexican Pacific League's Mazatlan Venados organization after appearing in a photograph standing next to current Mazatlan mayor Luis Benitez Torres at a recent campaign event. Benitez stepped down as mayor in March to take a three-month leave until June 7 to focus on his re-election campaign.


            Benitez Torres and the City have been at loggerheads with Venados owners Jose Antonio Toledo and his family ever since Estadio Teodoro Mariscal reopened in time for the 2018-19 LMP season after undergoing US$18 million worth of renovations. The first dispute involved three clandestine water lines discovered by the City at the facility early that season.


            After the state-owned Jumapam water utility determined that the Venados owed them 12.9 million pesos, water to the ballpark was shut off in late November and city staffers closed the ballpark to fans in the stands until the bill was paid. The imbroglio lasted into December before an uneasy settlement was arrived at and the stadium opened back up to ticketbuyers.


            Differences between the City and the team flared up again last year when employees of the municipality evicted the Venados staff from their ballpark offices and padlocked the 16,000-seat facility in April after violations of the signed lease were cited. The Toledo family also had their concessions contract at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal terminated. That was a particularly hard pill to swallow for the Toledos, who had managed concessions there since 1980 and were able to build up enough wealth to purchase the team from the Mazatlan-based Pacifico brewery in 2005.


            The team was forced to operate out of temporary offices away from the ballpark and while Mazatlan had been awarded last winter's Caribbean Series by the Pan American Baseball Conferation (COPABE), the standoff carried into June and COPABE head Juan Francisco Puello was threatening to move the tournament elsewhere if his organization was not given access to the stadium during the event. Eventually, Benitez Torres relented and the Venados were allowed to occupy Estadio Teodoro Mariscal for the 2020-21 season and the Serie del Caribe, but the dispute concerning the ballpark lease has still not been resolved.


            With that as back story, it had to come as a shock to the Toledos when the picture of Pacho and Benitez Torres at a rally surfaced in early April. The former shortstop was relieved of his managerial duties during last season (the third time he's managed the club) but had remained on the payroll as a consultant while supervising a children's baseball school.


            A Salon de la Fama member as a player, Pacho first became the Venados skipper after replacing Dan Firova amid the 2004-05 season and led the squad to the LMP pennant and a Caribbean Series title, Mazatlan's first, that season. The Deer also copped the 2005-06 Mex Pac flag but Pacho was eventually let go with thanks, as all managers in Mexico experience. He replaced Miguel Olivo at the helm during the 2015-16 campaign and once again led them to the pennant and CS crown that winter but was eventually let go again. This time around, he was brought in to replace Joe Alvarez after the latter left with the team in first place during the 2018-19 season and held the post until he was sent back to the front office last winter.


            Now, however, the 59-year-old Pacho (who was fired shortly after his birthday) has apparently crossed a bridge too far by appearing to support a mayor that has been anathema to his team owners for the past two years. He will likely hop on the Mexican managerial merry-go-round and find a new job as dugout boss elsewhere because nobody seems to be out of work for long as long as they've had past success, and there may have been a lesson learned in what can happen when you back a politician who has been the bane of your employers' existence.





            Sinaloa native Jorge Fitch, one of the best shortstops in Mexican baseball history, died last Thursday due to health problems. His son of the same name reported in a statement on social networks that the senior Fitch had passed away after turning 87 on March 30.


            The former player and manager had battled serious problems for a long time after suffering a stroke. One of Fitch's last public appearances was two years ago in Reynosa at the reunion of the 1969 Mexican League champion Broncos.


            A member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame since 2001 (when he was inducted along with catcher Rudy Sandoval, first baseman Jack Pierce and utilityman/pitcher Pedro Ramirez), Fitch was considered the Mexican League's best shortstop during a playing career that lasted from the late 1950's into the mid-1970's, especially with Puebla and Reynosa. Playing winterball in the Mexican Pacific League, he also stood out in the middle infield with Hermosillo, Obregon and Navojoa.


            Born in Novalato, Sonora on March 30, 1934, Fitch broke into pro baseball at age 22 with the Fresnillo Mineros of the Class C Mexican Center League in 1956. Despite only batting .203 with five homers and 39 RBIs over 87 games while committing 25 errors at shortstop, he was acquired by the Mexico City Tigres for 1957 and spent three seasons with the team, socking 10 homers and stealing 25 bases under manager George Genovese in 1958. However, it wasn't until after Fitch was dealt to Puebla in 1960 that he hit his stride.


            Fitch topped the .300 batting mark in each of his first two years with the Pericos, for whom he spent eight summers and won one pennant (1963) while finishing second twice (1964, 1965). In the timespan, Puebla put together one of the strongest infields in LMB history with 1B Ronnie Camacho, 2B Moises Camacho, SS Fitch and 3B Jose “Zacatillo” Guerrero. Fitch and Moi Camacho (no relation to (Ronnie) formed an airtight keystone combo and all four are members of the Salon de la Fama.


            By 1969, Fitch was member of the Reynosa Broncos, who won the Liga pennant despite batting just .259 and hitting 44 homers as a team (pitcher Salvador Sanchez' 22-12 record and 1.84 ERA might have had something to do with their first-place finish). Fitch played one more year with the Broncos and spent 1971 in Tampico, where he was teammates with the legendary Hector Espino and a 22-year-old pitcher named Adan Munoz, whose yet-to-be-born son Adan caught 21 years in the LMB and is now manager in Quintana Roo. After that season, Fitch retired as a player at age 37, although he came out of the dugout to play 21 more games for Reynosa in 1974 and 1975 when he was managing the Broncos.


            Fitch played 1,670 games in his LMB career, collecting 1,676 hits for a .272 average. He spent nine winters playing in the Mexican Pacific League with Hermosillo, Obregon and Navojoa, batting .250 on 469 hits to give him a total of 2,145 safeties in both leagues. In addition to his managerial experience in the Mexican League, where he went an overall 525-518 with two flags over seven seasons, Fitch managed the Mex Pac's Tijuana Potros for several winters during the 1980's and won the LMP pennant in 1987-88.


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