by Bruce Baskin
February 3, 2017 - Mexican League (ML)
The presence of Minor League Baseball's president may have been required to broker it, but a detente of sorts appears to have been reached among the two warring factions of team owners and presidents in the Mexican League, at least for the 2017 season.
Pat O'Connor flew into Houton from MiLB headquarters in Florida to attend Wednesday's LMB Assembly of Presidents meeting in the Texas city. Smoldering tensions had reached critical mass between eight "Old Guard" owners and seven "New Breed" owners over the issue of Mexican-American players performing in the Liga. While the latter group preferred no limitations on such players (who do not count against the limit of six foreigners per team, a number not in dispute), the former wanted to cap the number at three after first proposing topping out at nine.
Various sources say things came to a head after last season's Northern Division finals, when a Tijuana Toros team with a large number of Mexican-Americans on their roster bested the Monterrey Sultanes, who relied mostly on homegrown talents. Sultanes owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz took great exception and has led offseason efforts to cut back on the use of American-born players of Mexican descent. Last month's Assembly resulted in the ouster of LMB president Plinio Escalante while Reynosa Broncos team president Eliud Villarreal, whose transfer of his franchise to Leon had been approved by the Assembly in November, was excluded from league affairs because his loyalties are with the New Breed. Villareal's exclusion gave the Old Guard an 8-7 edge in bloc voting but the increasingly bitter dispute between the two factions threatened to split the 16-team Liga into two separate eight-team loops or even cancel the 2017 season altogether.
Instead, O'Connor was able to convince (no doubt with a little arm-twisting of some owners) the Assembly to reinstate Escalante at the helm of the circuit while bringing Villareal into the debate. The MiLB majordomo reportedly stated in no uncertain terms that the governing body of minor league baseball, which accords the LMB its "AAA" status, would recognize nobody but the Yucatan native as the presiding authority of the Liga. Escalante had planned to retire after last season and return home to Merida and a front office job with the Yucatan Leones, but was talked into staying for two more years last winter in a move approved by 15 of the 16 team presidents (with only Quintana Roo dissenting).
The situation involving the renamed Leon Bravos is still unresolved despite the enforced recognition by O'Connor of Villarreal as a living, breathing member of the Assembly. Attempts to move the team to Leon's 3,000-seat Eastadio Domingo Santana had already stalled due to lack of progress on upgrades to the facility and owner Mauricio Martinez was said to be instead looking into relocating in Nuevo Laredo, where there are no ballpark issues but problems with drug cartel activity on the border city mirror the problems that caused the Broncos' move out of Reynosa in the first place. Word is that Martinez may seek to sell the franchise to a local group in Leon instead, although ballpark concerns there remain two months away from the season opener.
Speaking of the 2017 season, the LMB will be operating as one 16-team circuit. O'Connor specified that a final, binding decision on the number of Mexican-American players allowed per team must be reached by no later than next Tuesday. Whatever that allotment ends up being, however, the current state of detente should not be mistaken for peace. The only change in this boxing match is that the referee has shown up, but the combatants are still at loggerheads and the imbroglio will continue to roil beneath the surface for the coming months. In short, this ain't over.