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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
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            The Mexican League recently held an Assembly of Presidents meeting during which a shortened 66-game season schedule was ratified while two new franchises were accepted as the LMB's first expansion teams in 30 years. There are now 18 teams in two divisions.


            Regular season hostilities in the Liga will commence Thursday, May 20 when the Monterrey Sultanes travel to Monclova for a game against the defending champion Acereros, who won their first pennant in 2019. A full slate of nine games is scheduled one night later. The regular season will be played through Thursday, August 5, followed by a 12-team postseason with berths determined by won-lost percentages. There will be four stages of playoffs (all best-of-seven series), with the Serie del Rey to run Monday, September 6 through Tuesday, September 14 if needed.


            There will be no All-Star Game this season. Teams will be allowed to carry seven foreigners on their respective active rosters in 2021 with another three on the Reserve List (which will be expanded from 38 to 60 per team to allow enough depth to avoid game cancellations due to the Wuhan virus. Talks are continuing with Major League Baseball regarding the transfer of player contracts. The current agreement expires in March.


            One of the expansion clubs, the Guadalajara Mariachis, will join the North Division while the Veracruz Aguilas will serve as the LMB South's ninth team. The Assembly of Presidents approved both franchises even though neither has paid their respective entry fees.  Veracruz has named a player from their 2012 championship team, Leo Rodriguez III, as manager. The grandson of Salon de la Fama member Leo Rodriguez Senior, the younger Rodriguez spent 15 years (seven in Veracruz) in the LMB as a catcher before retiring after the 2017 season. This will be his first season as a dugout boss. Guadalajara reportedly settled upon their first manager as well, but has not yet released his name due to a confidentiality agreement.


            Monterrey will also open the season with a new manager, as former Yankees outfielder Roberto Kelly (who led the Sultanes to the Fall 2018 title and was named Manager of the Year) has decided to sit 2021 out, giving concerns over the pandemic and a desire to work with one of his sons, reportedly a prospect for the upcoming June draft.


            Kelly's bench coach, Homar Rojas, will take the reins of the ten-time champions. Rojas debuted as an 18-year-old catcher for the Sultanes in 1982 to begin a 23-year playing career. The Nuevo Leon native previously managed five LMB teams over 13 years and has been Manager of the Year twice. He's also won two Mexican Pacific League pennants and led Monterrey to a 22-39 record in 2019-20, their first season of winterball in the Mex Pac.





            The divorce between the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros and former team president Salvador Quirarte has been anything but amicable, but now things are getting ugly, with accusations flying from both sides in dueling press conferences in a dispute that seems destined to end up in a courtroom.


            Quirarte lost his position as president of the Guadalajara-based team in a front office power struggle last November. At the time, Jose Carlos Campos of El Rincon Beisbolbero

(and a former LMP media relations director) said Quirarte's dismissal centered on questions of his handling of a pro basketball team he also operates, but statements from both the Charros and Quirarte are exposing a deeper rift that includes alleged financial irregularities involving 25 million pesos (or about US$1.25 million).


            Last week, a group of lawyers representing the Charros board of directors accused Quirarte of making 43 money transfers totaling six million pesos in loans between 2017 and 2020 to a company owned by relatives, Empresa Mexicana de Tabasco, adding that 3.4 million pesos have not been repaid. Another company owned by Quirarte's relatives, Controladora de Kioscos, was paid 3.2 million pesos for market analysis while another 12 million pesos' worth of Charros merchandise was reportedly given to the latter company without record of payment. Another 3.2 million pesos is said to have been transferred to the Jalisco Astros pro basketball team Quirarte managers without board approval.


            Quirarte is also accused of “abusing the trust” of his partners by assigning himself a monthly salary of 100,000 pesos while using a corporate credit for for 5.3 million pesos' worth of personal expenses between 2018 and 2020. The attorneys also claimed Quirarte acted in de facto fashion as the team's sole general administrator despite the presence of partner Armando Navarro, who became a shareholder in exchange for contributing the “Charros” name of the brand (which he owned the rights to when the franchise moved from Guasave to Guadalajara in 2014).


            Unsurprisingly, Quirarte has responded in kind during his own press conferences, saying that accusations against him are “futile” and must be proven before a judge. He accuses Navarro of not having contributed the “Jalisco Charros” trademark and thus is “not even a partner,” and that the origin of the conflict is that Navarro wants more than the 11 percent ownership he was granted in exchange for the team's name. Quirarte added that it is Navarro, not him, who is responsible for any financial mismanagement of the team: “I did not sign the checks. That responsibility was held by Armando Navarro.”


            In relation to allegations against him, Quirarte said that Navarro gave approval to all transactions on the corporate credit card, that board members' travel and food expenses to the same events Quirarte attended were similarly charged to the card and that all partners are in debt to the team for a combined 30 million pesos (but only Quirarte's debt was publicly disclosed). Quirarte stated that since the team is owned privately and not by the government, it is not a crime to do business with family members, adding that all partners have done the same (with members of Navarro's family on the team payroll). And on it goes.


            The dispute casts a long shadow over what has been one of the great success stories of Mexican baseball. Together or separately, Quirarte and Navarro helped move a moribund Guasave team to Guadalajara, where baseball had failed in prior attempts, and then built one of the strongest franchises in the country. After purchasing and renovating the stadium used for baseball and track & field during the 2011 Pan American Game, the Charros have since hosted the Caribbean Series as well as group stage games for both the World Baseball Classic and Premier12 tournaments while being among the LMP's annual attendance leaders while averaging crowds of 10,000-plus per game.





            After a six-year run as a conditional participant in the Caribbean Series following their 2014 return, Cuba has missed the past two tournaments. The leader of the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation is now saying that absence may extend further if the island nation fails to “solve its political affairs.”


            CBPC commissioner Juan Francisco Puello spoke with ESPN Deportes as the Serie del Caribe in Mazatlan drew to a close earlier this month and addressed conditions in Cuba, one of the original four participating nations when the CS began in 1949 before withdrawing after the 1960 event, precipitating a nine-year hiatus before it was resumed in 1970. “The thing about Cuba is a matter that has to do with politics,” Puello said. “When that country solves its political affairs, then we will see Cuba again. In the meantime the issue will stay quiet.”


            Later in the same interview, Puello opined, “The thing about Cuba is something different. It is a subject which I don't touch on anymore because it is an uncomfortable subject. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like politics or politicians. I'm about sports.”


            Puello did not address any specific solutions that would bring Cuba back to an event it has won eight times, seven before late dictator Fidel Castro (a noted baseball fan) pulled the country out of the tournament in 1960 after winning it for the fifth consecutive year. When the Caribbean Series returned in 1970, both Cuba and Panama had been replaced by the Dominican Republic and Mexico, who joined holdovers Venezuela and Puerto Rico in the four-team field until Cuba was added back in 2014, winning the event one year later.


            Times have changed since then, when Puello visited Havana in 2015 and speculated that the tournament might return in 2020 to Havana (where it was played three times during the 1950's). Things turned sour last winter when Cuba pulled out of the Caribbean Series in San Juan, Puerto Rico on short notice, attributing visa difficulties for its players and coaching staff. A year after Panama was recruited to host on an emergency basis when problems in Venezuela prevented that nation from serving as the event's site, Colombia was brought in to fill out the six-team field. As with Cuba, both Panama (another original member of 1949) and Colombia have played in the Series on a conditional basis. In the aftermath of the 2020 Caribbean Series, Puello announced Cuba's suspension for this year.


            Reactions to Puello's statements were not long in coming. The Cuban Baseball Federation released a statement that, “We absolutely reject recent statements by Juan Francisco Puello. No political problem affects the development of Cuban baseball or attendance at the Caribbean Series.” An initial tweet from the federation reads, “It was the CBPC that unjustifiable excluded the country from that fight.” A second tweet came minutes later: “Juan Francisco Puello has exceeded his authority on political issues in Cuba. We will denounce his words and actions before the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) and the member leagues of the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation.”


            The president of the Cuban Olympic Committee also chimed in. The Qba Deportes website reports that Riberto Leon Richards Aguilar tweeted, “The Cuban Olympic Committee considers it intolerable that the president of the CBPC, Juan Francisco Puello, accuses Cuba of political problems that prevent its presence in the Caribbean Series of baseball.”


            Puello's positions concerning baseball and politics have been a mixed bag. Cuba's communist government headed by Raul Castro since succeeding his brother Fidel in 2011 was in place when the Dominican CBPC commissioner visited Havana in 2015 and has not changed the past six years. Nicaragua, a communist nation under Daniel Ortega whose national league has lobbied for years to take part in the Caribbean Series, was passed over again this winter despite playing a full season with playoffs while Panama was able to send an all-star team without a single game taking place. Meanwhile, Venezuela (a nation roiling in social and economic turmoil for years under Nicolas Maduro) has never had its full CS membership questioned.


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