In the mid 1940s, there was a shortage of baseball players with most players either enlisting in the military themselves or being drafted into a branch of the service. With so few star players playing during the height of World War II, the league went to all different lengths to find players to play during this time. Many players that would be playing in the minor leagues were playing in the majors. Some players that may have otherwise retired stayed around to play in 1943-1945. Because of this, team owners started cutting the salaries of the players they had, believing that they were not the same quality of player that was participating in the war.
When the players returned, there were two major problems. Number one, many players who had proven that they could play at the elite level were out of the major leagues. There was all the sudden an overage of MLB players. And most importantly, the owners did not budge on the thought of paying the returning players from the war anything close to what they were making before they left for war. So, you risk your life fighting for your country for years, in a lot of cases, and your cheap employer cannot even pay you what you were making before you left.
This was the time when Jorge Pascual thought he was gonna push to make the Mexican League a major league. He started to recruit top Negro Leagues players such as Josh Gibson, as well as a lot of the Cuban born ballplayers who played in the major leagues while the others were away for the war. He would then bring in as many as 23 MLB players, talking them away from their MLB teams and paying them likely more money than they were to make in the states. Once MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler got news of this, he declared that any player who leaves his MLB team to play in this "outlaw" Mexican League will be forever banned from playing Major League Baseball.
Now that I understand how the Mexican League went from having an independent history to being considered an outlaw league, how about some of the players who decided to "jump" to this semi-major league? The player who generated the most controversy by going to the Mexican League was former Giants OF Danny Gardella. A couple years later, when he wanted to return to MLB, Commissioner Chandler made it clear he was not going to be allowed back. Because of this, Gardella thought it would be a good idea to challenge the reserve clause the game has had since its infancy.
Gardella was the property of the Giants and Chandler had decided that all players that jumped to this rival league would be blackballed. Stuck without a job, Gardella sued MLB and the Giants for $300,000 in damages. Within this, it was the first time a player sued the league on the grounds of the reserve clause. After he originally lost his suit in the Supreme Court, but in the Second Court of Appeals, was given a completely new trial. Chandler was concerned that he may lose this case, so he decided to allow all players who had gone to the Mexican League the chance to return. And Gardella, facing a long, hard road and a lot of legal fees, decided to drop his lawsuit. Gardella would sign with the St Louis Cardinals, where he would get just 1 at bat in the big leagues.
Catcher Mickey Owen, known for his passed ball in the 1941 World Series, was another prolific MLB player to "jump" to Mexico. According to baseball reference, he played for Veracruz in 1946, not playing baseball professionally until he was signed by the Chicago Cubs for the 1949 season. Sal "The Barber" Maglie started his career with the New York Giants in 1945. He "jumped" to the Puebla Angeles where he spent 1946 and 1947 and ended up playing for the Drummondville Cubs of the Provincial League in 1949. He rejoined the Giants for the 1950 season and would spent the next 9 seasons in the big leagues, winning a World Series Championship in 1954. Max Lanier, father of former Houston Astros manager Hal Lanier, left the 1946 eventual World Series Champion St Louis Cardinals to pitch for Veracruz for the 1946 and 1947 before landing in Drummondville for the 1949 season. Lanier rejoined the Cardinals in 1949 and pitched in MLB through the 1953 season.
Alex Carrasquel, uncle of All Star SS Chico Carrasquel, pitched for the Washington Senators from 1939-1945. He left to pitch for Veracruz in 1946 before going to Mexico City from 1946-1947 and Monterrey from 1947-1948. Like many other players who played in the Mexican League from 1946-1948, Carrasquel pitched in the Provincial League in 1949- for the St Jean Braves. He would pitch for the Chicago White Sox in 1953, but for only 3 games. Contrary to most other MLB players who went to Mexico, Carrasquel returned to pitch in the country for another 4 seasons.
Commissioner Chandler insisted during this time to make it difficult for any player to return to MLB after "jumping" to Mexico. Pascual made it very lucrative for these players, in some cases offering more than twice what they would be making in MLB. In most cases, these players were returning from war, so the amount of money they were getting paid to play baseball was even more important. The Commissioner was not a help in this situation and I think it was a shame that these owners would not budge on the amount of money they were willing to pay. I don't blame these players for going to a place where they would be better compensated. Mostly because of the Gardella suit, Chandler finally allowed these players to play in the major leagues again, where they should have been all along. Owen was the first to feel the brunt of Chandler's cluelessness, when he tried to return to MLB in that same season of 1946.
I understand the Commissioner doing what he feels represents the best interest of the game. It doesn't mean I feel what he did was right. Who is he to say another employer cannot outbid players for the right of their service? Was Chandler the one who was insisting the players make as little as they were? I know he worked for the owners, but it kind of is embarrassing when players in the Pacific Coast League were making just as much as major league baseball players. I understand why every player that went to Mexico did. What I do not understand is why more didn't go.
On another note, the best player to ever play in the Mexican League was Hector Espino. He was arguably one of the best to ever play. His career spanned from 1960-1984 and he hit somewhere between 755 and 796 career home runs. Among the top Mexican born MLB players are Fernando Valenzuela, Bobby Avila, Teddy Higuera, Aurelio Rodriguez, Aurelio Lopez, Vinny Castilla and Yovani Gallardo.