Baseball greats caught at cockfight

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2008:
SANTO DOMINGO, D.R.–Pedro Martinez, a
three-time Cy Young Award winner as the best
pitcher in his league, and Juan Marichal, the
first Latin American player elected to the
National Baseball Hall of Fame, are at the
center of a controversy bringing cockfighting in
the Dominican Republic under probably more
scrutiny and criticism than at any point since it
was introduced by Spanish sailors nearly 500
years ago.
“Martinez and Marichal were shown in a
video posted this week on YouTube releasing
roosters just before they engaged in a fight at
the Coliseo Gallistico de Santo Domingo, in the
country’s capital,” summarized Jorge L. Ortiz of
USA Today on February 7, 2008.
Organized animal advocacy has little
presence in the Dominican Republic, but
Ameri-can denunciations of Martinez and Marichal
were soon quoted by Dominican media that closely
follow the deeds of 99 current Dominican major
leaguers–more than 10% of the major league work

“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’s animal cruelty, no matter where it occurs.
“Michael Vick,” the former Atlanta
Falcons quarterback now serving a 23-month
federal prison sentence in connection with
dogfighting, “brought home the lesson when his
career was ruined,” Pacelle said. “There is no
moral distinction between dogfighting and
cockfighting,” Pacelle asserted. “Both involve
animal torture for the titillation of spectators
who enjoy violence and bloodletting.
“HSUS calls upon the New York Mets to
take appropriate action to distance themselves
from Martinez’s behavior. 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
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 illegal.
“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 sought
immediately to distance themselves from the
implication of the video that they were
cockfighting contestants, if not entirely from
cockfighting. Neither apologized for his
“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 present team,
the New York Mets. “I was invited by my idol
Juan Marichal to attend the event as a spectator,
not as a participant.”
Echoed the Mets on their own behalf, in
a statement probably inciting more animal
advocates than were mollified, “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
“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
“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
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.
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, “Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis
Ramírez 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 on February 19, Ramírez declared that he
would not discuss cockfighting with U.S.
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.’ 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.”
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 Giants, long before a legal
enlistee would have been eligible for discharge.
Marichal in 1965 clubbed 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

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.
“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
ownŠHe won two matches,” but “was run over by a
pickup truck. Instead of a funeral, he was
given a roasting and served for dinnerŠI 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 before joining the Giants.
Cockfighting was still legal and openly practiced
in both places, 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.
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.”
To be caught at a cockfight today would
end an umpire’s career–albeit for participating
in an illegal activity and consorting with
gamblers, not for involvement in cruelty per se.
Umpires have been banned for life for crimes as
seemingly trivial as shoplifting baseball cards,
and are discouraged from attending horse races
and greyhound races because of their association
with gambling, but there is no prohibition
against umpires participating in legal pursuits
that harm animals, such as hunting and fishing.
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.

Videos & paraphernalia

The video showing Martinez and Marichal
at the cockfight was taken off YouTube within
hours, as a “terms of service” violation of a
YouTube policy against posting offensive material
which has also been invoked against SHARK videos
of rodeo cowboys electrically shocking bulls and
YouTube might have been concerned about
possibly being charged with violating a 1999 U.S.
federal law against creating, selling, or
possessing photos, videos, or other images that
show animals being intentionally injured or
killed. Passed in response to pornographic
videos depicting small animals being crushed by
women and transvestites wearing spike heels, the
law has been used to convict distributors of
videos of cockfights and dogfights.
The law exempts depictions of animal
cruelty that have “serious religious, political,
scientific, educational, journalistic,
historical or artistic value,” to avoid
infringing on First Amendment rights of
But the law is under constitutional
challenge from Jason Atkins, 35, of Advanced
Consulting & Marketing Inc. in Hollywood,
Florida. Atkins contends in a lawsuit filed in
July 2007 in Miami federal court that he should
be allowed to webcast cockfights held legally in
Puerto Rico at his web site
Also pending is an appeal on
constitutional grounds of the 2004 conviction of
dogfight video distributor Robert J. Stevens,
filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
HSUS meanwhile contends in a case filed
in February 2007 that is breaking the
law by selling videos of dogfighting and
cockfighting, and cockfighting periodicals.
“The company is so determined to continue selling
these materials that it filed a motion against
HSUS in federal court, essentially asking that
federal and state laws to protect animals be
gutted,” charged HSUS president Pacelle in an
August 2007 press release.

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