Senor baseball

Luis Mayoral's job with the Rangers isn't all brown and white

At first, his efforts were to no avail: Sierra was one of several players traded to the Oakland A's for Jose Canseco, and the heir apparent to Roberto Clemente's throne would never be so great again. Worse, there was some initial resentment toward Mayoral from a handful of Anglo players.

"The problem here then was it was a small organization in the front office," Mayoral says. "And Texans believe Texas is the center of the universe. This is not a criticism, but it's what I got. All of a sudden, they see a member of--and I hate to use the word--a minority come in here to the front office, and I think it fucked up their minds big-time. But Blake and Schieffer understood."

Soon enough, Mayoral became responsible for showing young Latin ballplayers how to survive in the States. He taught Gonzalez how to open a checking account and showed Rodriguez how to pay bills; he meets with 23-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis on a regular basis and helps him adjust to life in the majors.

"When you get to the big show," Gonzalez says, "you need to mature a lot. You need a guy behind you, and Luis is that guy. He is a father, a best friend, a brother."

Mayoral's the link between the white and brown players. He's also a disciplinarian and diplomat, charged with raising rich adults as though they were children: In 1993, at the insistence of Juan Gonzalez's mother, Mayoral and the slugger shared an apartment in Arlington so Mayoral could keep an eye on her son, who had become distracted by the trappings of quick fame. That year, Gonzalez hit 46 homers--enough to lead the American League.

"Sometimes he would take me to the side and tell me to relax," Gonzalez says. "When you're young, you need peace of mind, patience. I have that now. I see everything."

Some Rangers still do not understand Mayoral's job. Once, in the middle of a team meeting, Mayoral says, Will Clark referred to him as a "babysitter," which stung him like a fastball in the chest. Still, they remain tenuous friends: Sitting on Mayoral's dresser are pieces of soft rubber he will give Clark to insert into his shoes that will ease the pressure on his heel, which the first baseman injured last season.

But that's Mayoral--a man who doesn't hold a grudge for long, who will often say that it was God who gave him his first job in baseball. You can't imagine Mayoral remaining angry at anyone for long: He's a walking grin, always on to tomorrow's project before today's is done, quick to call a stranger by his or her first name. He refers to most everyone as "Papi," which is his nickname for the person who hits home runs. Only someone as temperamental as Clark could bristle Mayoral, who ranks among his friends such major-leaguers as Baltimore Orioles stars Cal Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Raul Mondesi and every commissioner since Bowie Kuhn.

They're all pals from way back, when Mayoral would broadcast Major League Baseball games to Puerto Rico during the 1970s and '80s, including World Series and All-Star games, and as a journalist covering American baseball. In 1970, when Latin players made up a small percentage of the MLB's roster, he also founded the annual Latin American Baseball Players' Day for the major leagues. Now, more than 20 percent of the league's players were born in Spanish-speaking countries--and Mayoral thinks he's responsible to take care of every last one of them.

"Baseball is the stage that I perform on," he says now. "But in life, I perform in a humble, silent way, almost hidden."

Mayoral was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but grew up, between the ages of 9 and 18, in the Panama Canal zone and in Seattle; he traveled often because his father was an officer in the U.S. Army. When his father went off to fight in Korea in the early '50s, Mayoral spent time with his uncle, who had done play-by-play on Puerto Rican radio.

In 1965, he met Roberto Clemente--the greatest player ever to come from Puerto Rico, the Pittsburgh Pirates star whose on-the-field grace was matched only by his desire to do better off the diamond. Clemente, who died December 31, 1972, in a plane crash while delivering food and clothing to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, became one of Mayoral's closest friends and influences during Clemente's last years. They rarely spoke baseball. Instead, Clemente would tell Mayoral of the difficulty he had when he first came to the States in 1955--a black Puerto Rican who found that, because he didn't speak the language, he was somehow less a man.

"In Puerto Rico, Roberto was a smart, educated young man," Mayoral says. "Not here. In Pittsburgh, he was a stupid Latino because he didn't understand the language."

Mayoral's first job in baseball was as an observer, writing about the game for The San Jose Star, El Vocero, and other English- and Spanish-language newspapers. He was a journalist for 22 years, from 1970 to 1992, holding the job even during his days scouting Puerto Rico for the Pittsburgh Pirates (from '72-'78) and the Chicago White Sox (till 1980) and acting as general manager for the Arecibo and San Juan baseball clubs.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help