Pedro Martinez & Juan Marichal were videotaped releasing gamecocks at championship match
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2015, three-time Cy Young Award-winning former pitcher Pedro Martinez has apparently not been asked much lately about his past involvement in cockfighting.
Neither has Juan Marichal, the fellow former pitcher and native of the Dominican Republic who in 1983 became the first Latin American player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The world seems to have forgotten that in February 2008 both Martinez and Marichal were shown in YouTube video releasing roosters to fight to the death at the Coliseo Gallistico de Santo Domingo, in the Dominican capital.
Google searches discover only 4% as many mentions of either Martinez or Marichal as cockfighters as mention their Hall of Fame inductions.
The apparent public indifference toward the cockfighting histories of the two baseball Hall of Famers stands in stark contrast to the opprobrium heaped on pro football quarterback Michael Vick since his April 2007 arrest in connection with dogfighting.
Vick was was long ago convicted, did prison time, helped the Humane Society of the U.S. to campaign against dogfighting, and in 2010 successfully resumed his football career.
Despite leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the 2011 NFL Playoffs, however, and despite setting the all-time National Football League career record for yards gained rushing, nearly three online mentions of Vick in every four include some reference to his past as a dogfighter.
Few consequences for Martinez & Marichal
Martinez and Marichal have neither been charged nor convicted of any offense related to cockfighting, which remains legal in the Dominican Republic.
Nor have Martinez and Marichal spoken out forcefully against cockfighting, for instance by recommending that the Dominican Republic should make it illegal, despite trying to distance themselves somewhat from it after the videos became public.
And nobody much seems to care any more, even though the YouTube videos stirred a brief international controversy after their existence was exposed by Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today on February 7, 2008.
Organized animal advocacy has little presence in the Dominican Republic, but American denunciations of Martinez and Marichal were soon quoted by Dominican media that closely follow the deeds of about 100 Dominicans in the major leagues at any given time.
“Whether they play football or baseball, athletes know that animal fighting is a barbaric practice to be avoided at all costs,” said Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, a former high school catcher whose father was a longtime baseball and football coach in New Haven, Connecticut.
“Animal fighting has no place whatsoever among those who presume to be role models for youngsters,” Pacelle continued, “not in this country and not elsewhere. Pedro Martinez and Juan Marichal exhibited appallingly bad judgment in participating in a staged animal fight. It doesn’t excuse the behavior to find a legal haven for this reprehensible and inhumane conduct. It is animal cruelty, no matter where it occurs.”
Banned in all 50 states
“Michael Vick brought home the lesson when his career was ruined,” Pacelle added. “There is no moral distinction between dogfighting and cockfighting. Both involve animal torture for the titillation of spectators who enjoy violence and bloodletting. Major League Baseball should join us in condemning Martinez and Marichal for their shameful example. Cockfighting has been banned in all 50 states,” Pacelle reminded, “and it is a federal felony to transport cockfighting weapons or birds across state lines or international borders for the purpose of fighting.”
Wrote PETA assistant director Dan Shannon to Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, “It seems that education on the importance of treating animals humanely is in order for Major League Baseball. “ Shannon recommended that all major league players and nonplaying personnel should be required to take the day-long PETA course, Developing Empathy for Animals, that Vick took on September 18, 2007 while awaiting sentencing.
No major league action
Major League Baseball routinely suspends players who are charged with crimes, but took no action against Martinez and Marichal because their participation in the Dominican cockfight was not considered a crime where it occurred.
“We don’t condone any kind of animal cruelty, but we’re not going to comment on any individuals at this time,” Major League Baseball spokesperson Rich Levin told Mike Fitzpatrick of Associated Press.
Both Martinez and Marichal disavowed the implication of the video that they were cockfighting contestants, but neither apologized for his participation.
“I understand that people are upset, but this is part of our Dominican culture and is legal in the Dominican Republic,” said Martinez in a statement distributed by his team at the time, the New York Mets. “I was invited by my idol Juan Marichal to attend the event as a spectator, not as a participant.”
“Legal & part of the culture”
Echoed the Mets on their own behalf, “We do not condone any behavior that involves cruelty to animals. We understand, however, that in many other countries activities such as bullfighting and cockfighting are both legal and part of the culture.”
“Somebody puts something that happened two years ago on the Internet, and now everybody’s acting like Pedro’s a major cockfighting fan, which he’s not,” added Martinez’s agent, Fernando Cuza.
Marichal said he and Martinez were invited because of their celebrity, and neither one owned the roosters they released, reported Ortiz.
“We agreed to release them, and that s all that happened,” Marichal asserted. “I have great respect for the animal protection society and for animals, and I didn’t do anything inappropriate.”
Marichal told Ortiz that he is a cockfighting fan, but said that Martinez is not. “But he was invited that day, just like I was,” Marichal acknowledged. “It was a world championship, attracting cockfighters from 20 nations, that was celebrated in our country,” said Marichal.
Pitchers said to be cockpit regulars
Katie Thomas of The New York Times found reason to doubt Martinez’s and Marichal s stories. “The manager of a cockfighting club in Martínez’s neighborhood said that Martínez was a regular there,” reported Thomas on February 13, 2008, “and that he had also been a guest at the Club Gallistico de San Martín. Martínez visited the Manoguayabo arena two weeks ago, said the manager, Raul Mendes Vargas.”
“Marichal also raises fighting roosters, several cockfighting enthusiasts said. Marichal oversaw cockfighting when he served as his country’s minister of sports in the 1990s,” Thomas noted. “His tenure included a national scandal over alleged improper deals involving sports equipment.”
“It is no secret to anybody that Marichal likes cockfighting,” Club Gallistico de San Martín manager José Delio Jiménez told Thomas.
“He’s a professional cockfighter,” elaborated Manoguayabo Gallera visitor Ramón Dario Campusano. “A professional baseball player, and a professional cockfighter.”
Thomas found other prominent Dominican ballplayers are involved in cockfighting. For example, then-Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramírez, an 18-year major leaguer and three-time All Star, “is pictured in a recent issue of a Dominican cockfighting magazine, En La Traba, with several roosters that he raises for fighting,” Thomas wrote.
Reporting to spring training in Mesa, Arizona soon after the Martinez-and-Marichal story broke, Ramírez declared that he would not discuss cockfighting with U.S. reporters, but eventually said he should not have to defend his interest in it.
“It means ‘lower class'”
“Martinez grew up in Manoguayabo, a poor district, and is often praised for continuing to live there, remembering his roots. Dominicans call the Manoguayabo cockfighting arena the bajo mundo, the underworld,” wrote Michelle Wucker in Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (1999).
“The term does not mean clandestine, since fights are legal here. It means ‘lower class,’” Wucker explained. “Money, politics, and power are reserved for the sparkling Alberto Bonetti Burgos Cockfighting Coliseum, closer to town…The legendary San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal fights his roosters at the coliseum.”
Bludgeoned opposing catcher
Marichal first became embroiled in controversy at the very start of his baseball career, when then-Dominican dictator Fernando Trujillo drafted him into the Dominican Air Force before he was old enough to enlist. Trujillo was then alleged to have covertly sold Marichal’s contract to the San Francisco Giants, long before a legal enlistee would have been eligible for discharge.
Marichal in 1965 clubbed Los Angeles Dodgers’ catcher John Roseboro with a bat during the heat of the pennant race. Suspended for nine days, Marichal missed two pitching turns. The Giants lost both games and finished two games behind the Dodgers. Recollections of the incident apparently delayed Marichal’s election to the Hall of Fame for two years, until Roseboro actively campaigned for him.
One star quit cockfighting
Marichal was not then known as a cockfighter. But his longtime teammate and mentor Felipe Alou, now 73, was a cockfighter in his early teens, following his father’s example, and by his early thirties seemed to regret his participation.
Felipe Alou, the second-ever Dominican-born major leaguer, was in his third year with the Giants when Marichal joined the team in mid-1960. Alou’s younger brother Matty was added to the roster late in the season. Matty Alou would win the National League batting title in 1966, but could have ended his baseball career before he started, after a hard fall from a mango tree, Felipe recalled to co-author Herm Weiskopf in his 1967 autobiography My Life & Baseball.
Paid doctor with gamecock
“We had no money, and this was all right with the doctor,” Felipe Alou continued. “The prize of our small barnyard was a fighting cock named La Ley, The Law. He wasn’t much to look at, but he had earned some money for us, and had never been defeated in 10 fights. The doctor wanted him. There was no way out. It took a long time for us to walk back home to get La Ley, but it took much longer to walk back to the doctor’s little office with La Ley’s inquisitive head poking out from under my shirt.
“At that time in our country,” Felipe Alou explained, “almost everyone kept roosters, or wished they could. I had a rooster of my own. He won two matches, but was run over by a pickup truck. Instead of a funeral, he was given a roasting and served for dinner. I took one look at the remains of my once-proud, once-honored rooster, began to cry, and left the table without eating.”
Felipe Alou broke into professional baseball in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and played for Phoenix, Arizona before joining the Giants. Cockfighting was still legal and openly practiced in both Louisiana and Arizona, as in the Dominican Republic, but Felipe Alou never returned to it. “There’s no place for cockfighting in the States,” Felipe Alou concluded, 40 years before cockfighting was actually abolished by law in all states.
John “Buck” Freeman
As to how long it may be before there is no place for cockfighting in the Dominican Republic, a hint at the pace of evolving attitudes may be found in the biography of early-20th century slugger John “Buck” Freeman, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a longtime umpire after his playing days.
“He spent much of his time cockfighting, and became well known as a breeder of fighting birds, keeping a flock of more than 100 gamecocks in his barn,” recalled Eric Enders in the 2006 Society for American Baseball Research anthology Deadball Stars of the American League. “Even a 1937 police raid on a cockfight at Freeman’s home did not deter him. ‘I’d walk 20 miles to see a good cockfight,’ he once said.”
On the other hand, umpiring and hunting appear to attract conspicuously different personalities. As far back as 1969, when 56% of the players on big league rosters identified themselves to the annual Baseball Register as hunters, only four of the 51 major league umpires said they hunted––about 8%, half of the norm for men of their generation.
Only one 1969 major leaguer, Dominican relief pitcher Pedro Borbon, listed cockfighting as a hobby. Borbon lasted 12 years in the big leagues, but may be best remembered as the oldest of the strikebreakers who played exhibition games toward the end of the big league players’ strike of 1994-1995.
Jamaka Petzak says
So many people grow up with cruel traditions, all over the world, in every single nation. It is not always easy to buck tradition. But in these cases, I believe it is right to do so. Unfortunately, many times opposition to tradition means danger for those daring to raise their voices. If enough people stand up and point out the need for change, as well as effecting the change in their personal lives so that others are able to see it and know they will not be alone, sometimes, the change can occur.
John Pastier says
On SABR-L, Merritt Clifton pointed us to some interesting writing focused on certain Caribbean ballplayers’ involvement with cockfighting.
Cuba, one island over to the west, has had a reverse relationship with ritualized animal cruelty. When, after centuries of oppression and many failed revolutions, it finally gained its freedom from Spain in 1898, it banned bullfighting because it was the Spanish national sport (if that’s the right word for it.)
It adopted baseball as the Cuban national sport instead. Good call.
— John Pastier