Carlos Arias Vicuna, Protection en la Tormenta, 1982, oil on canvas, 43 × 35½ inches, Mexico. Photo by Gerald Murrell.
I could hear the old man wheezing as he rubbed me down. He still smoked a couple of packs of Pall Malls a day. I smelled witch hazel and whiskey and sweat.
“I remember … ” he started out. He never started out “I forget … ”
“I remember one day … this was long after Robinson and Campanella and Doby came up. Well not that long, but long enough …
“I remember we had this big crop of youngsters trying out and there must’a been a dozen Latinos among ’em. Well I was hittin’ ’em fungoes. You know I always got on just fine with the colored boys and the spics—the Latinos. My grandmother was from Sicily, for Christ sake, and Italians consider that a nigger. Well I don’t know—some of those boys were just nice, you know. Maybe they didn’t speak word one to ya’ but they’d smile, say ‘Gracias’ or something and you knew it wasn’t horseshit.”
“Well, so I’m out there hittin’ fungoes and some of these Latinos looked pretty damn fine. I knew none of ’em was gonna make the club. The owners was all for it but Alvin, no way any no-spic was gonna make his team. Well, I had an outfield of ’em out there and they could all throw, and most of ’em could hit pretty good and they could all of ‘em run like hell. That’s why the National League today, ’cept for this Henderson boy, the Nationals is the runnin’ league. National League was the first to sign Latinos, even if they was called spics or whatever, they knew those Hispaniards could play some ball.
When he’d get excited he’d start pounding your back or legs like it was piece of steak he was tenderizing. I told him to ease off but now like usual he didn’t hear me.
“Well there was a couple of ’em I’d a signed on the spot and started and most of ’em I’d of given ’em a good shot on the farm, a year or two down the road they’d give our club a real shot in the arm. Course I knew the ones oughta be startin’ in the bigs might get sent down to our Oklahoma farm club, Alvin hopin’ they’d get murdered in a luncheonette or something. But I knew most of these boys would be playin’ their ball for some other club, that is if Alvin wasn’t enough to send ’em back to Panama or Dominica or Puerto Rica or wherever they was from, thinking every manager in the bigs was that much of a asshole.
“Now one of these boys looked damned good to me. He could hit like a sonofabitch and he had a arm like a bazooka. Plus that I liked his face. He spoke some English and he’d always have a good word for me and he smoked a damn fine ci–gar, not like the damn seconds and shit smoked by the crackers on our squad who didn’t chaw, and he’d give me one once in a while knowing that I, unlike a horse’s ass like Alvin, had some taste in tobacco among other things.
“Well, I figured this fella for havin’ a real good shot at the majors but I knew that with Alvin there was no fuckin’ way. But I was determined to speak my mind and, as I liked this fella, why if he was cut I think I woulda made a couple of calls if you know what I mean. I mean, I’ve always been a team player but friends is friends and assholes is assholes. Alvin was the latter.
“So, anyway I was poppin’ these fungoes out there and this fine fella was among the Latinos shaggin’ em. Well, I see Alvin comin’ over outa the corner of my eye and I knew what kind of shit would follow but I just kept hitting. Well, he just stands there for about five minuites stinkin’ up creation and watching those Latinos make some pretty lookin’ shags, and I can just tell you that he’s waitin’ for one of ’em to drop a ball. And of course one of ’em does and it happens to be my man—who by the way was a hell of a hitter and oughta been a first baseman anyways.
“Well, naturally Alvin calls him in and when he gets in he don’t even look at him, he just fuckin’ yells at me about what a asshole this guy is and how a spic like this must have a fuckin’ dentist for a papa and a whore for a mama because it sure as hell wasn’t baseball got ’em his ticket. I figure Alvin knew this guy understood every word but he was making out like this dumb spic didn’t know word one and like I was supposed to be the translator or something. Well the guy just stands there you know and he smiles, and the more shit Alvin says the more the guy smiles. Well, this is really gettin’ Alvin’s goat and his face turns all red and he’s startin’ to twitch and then he looks at the guys and he yells: “And the goddamned son of a whore has the dirty shit ass balls to come out on my field with a fuckin’ three day growth!”
“The Latino just laughs, real cool. He looks at Alvin and spits and says in a voice like Desi Arnaz, he says: ’Scuse me amigos, but I got to go shave ’cause I haven’t had one since I get up this morning and I got to go take a shower because I theenk I get too close by to a beeg pile of sheet out here.’
“Well the guy took a shower and a shave and he left camp and he left me a half a box of cigars. And you want to know something. I don’t think that guy ever shaved again. That guy was Fidel Castro. I tell you, God works in mysterious ways, ’cause if we hadn’t had a lame asshole cracker piece of shit manager like Alvin why there’d be a fuckin’s Caesar’s Palace, a mountain of cocaine and a million whores in Havana today.”
Ernie slapped me on the ass which was his way of sayin’ the rubdown and the story were over. I looked at him and I could tell he figured I figured that was the biggest bunch of crap he ever told me. “Yep,” he said grinning, “and I still get a half of box of cigars from that player every spring training. Find ’em in the bottom of my locker. Must send a spy up here special.”