Friday, August 31, 2007

Procopi Herrera

Shyster is in Nashville today, takin' care of some business for the folks who put groceries on his table. It was a fun cab ride from the Nashville airport to my hotel yesterday afternoon. searching for something to talk about with my cabbie, I asked "so, how do the Titans look this year?"

The cabbie clearly detected my utter lack of interest in pro football and smelled me out as the charlatan that I am. Knowing he had me dead to rights, he leveraged his moral advantage into an opportunity to lecture me about something that has obviously been on his mind for some time, knowing full well that, having burned my political capital, I had no choice but to listen silently and nod.

What had my cabbie agitated on this hot Thursday afternoon was gambling. He asked me what I thought about Michael Vick. When I meekly responded that I thought that the whole situation was terrible, he said "the worst thing about it is the gambling! Because of that plea, Vick will rat out gamblers. He may as well have just killed himself right there!"

It soon became apparent that my driver believed that not only would Michael Vick be killed for snitching on those who would gamble on dog fighting, but that every single high profile sports-related death in the past 20 years was gambling related. The list, according to my cabbie:

  • Tony Dungy's son: killed by gamblers displeased when the Colts' coach refused to continue throwing games, as my cabbie believed he had been doing for several years;

  • Nicole Brown: O.J. didn't do it, it was the mob running the gambling ring to which Simpson was seriously indebted, sending a message. O.J. thought it was better to risk life in prison than to rat out the real killers;

  • Michael Jordan's father: the teenagers convicted of his crime were framed. It was really MJ's bookie that did it.

  • Isiah Thomas: No one died, but according to my cabbie "he took, um, $50 million to throw the 1989 Finals. The other dudes on his team took, like, a couple million each. They won, and the only reason they didn't kill Isiah is because he went on the TV and told everybody about it, so like, he was cool."

I gave a moment's thought to telling my cabbie that I had no recollection of Isiah Thomas admitting to taking tens of millions from, and subsequently double-crossing gamblers, but then I decided that it was best not to angry up his blood any more than it already was. Thankfully, we soon got to my hotel and I got out. I tipped him well, more out of fear than generosity.

The bad juju of that cab ride had me desperate to find something good about Nashville. A bunch of legal work to do had me stuck in my hotel room so Printer's Alley was out of the question. I had to turn to Google. One search of "baseball" and "Nashville" brought paydirt:

Procopi Herrera strode out of the fog hanging over Nashville's Sulphur Dell ballpark and into San Antonio baseball history in the fall of 1950. The native of Nuevo Laredo, who died last week in Mexico City at the age of 81, had pitched nine innings for the Missions just two days before, winning Game 5 of the 1950 Dixie Series between San Antonio and Nashville.

But with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Missions manager Don Heffner needed his hottest pitcher for Game 7 of the series between the Texas League and Southern Association champions. Herrera was the best he had. And he delivered, allowing just one base runner the rest of the way to preserve the victory and San Antonio's only title in the 39-year history of the Dixie Series.
The full obit is here. I had never heard of Procopi Herrera, but he sounds like everyting that was right about smalltime baseball. A man who took the rock whenever he was needed. A man who, despite a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Browns in 1951, didn't seem to build his life around making the majors, and continued to play semi-pro ball for several years after his time had passed. He was simply a ballplayer just like your old man was a construction worker or an insurance salesman. It was his job, and he worked hard.

The days where someone could play for years, never come close to the bigs, yet still consider themselves to have had a long, successful career are long gone. The men who did this, like Procopi Herrera, are dying out. It is my sincere hope that their stories are being preserved, be it by family members, obit writers, or quixotic bloggers cum would-be biographers. To lose their stories to history would be an utter tragedy.

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