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PAN AMERICAN GAMES : Racial Comments Spark Fight : Baseball: Canadian, Mexican coaches taken to hospital. Padre draft pick involved in brawl during game umpired by San Diegan.

August 09, 1991|From Reuters

HAVANA — Canada and Mexico's baseball coaches were taken to a hospital Thursday after their players fought a wild brawl that was said to have been sparked by racial insults during a qualifying contest at the Pan American Games.

Canadian first base coach John Upham, 49, who played for the Chicago Cubs in the 1960s, was in the hospital with a possible heart attack. Mexican Coach Antonio Pollorena needed four stitches to close a cut over his left eye.

Umpire Dan Pedersen of San Diego suspended the game with Mexico leading 7-5 in the top of the sixth inning. Mexico was awarded the game but Canadian officials said they were protesting.

Pedersen, an employee of General Dynamics in San Diego, is a former minor-league umpire who works collegiate games in the San Diego area.

Mexican officials said the fight, which lasted several minutes, was caused by racial comments against them.

The Canadians said at least three of their players were hit by bats during the brawl and pitcher David Krug suffered a possible broken nose.

According to the Mexicans, Canadian Alex Andreopoulos, who was drafted in June in the 20th round by the Padres, set off the incident when he called Mexican catcher Alberto Vargas a "Third World chili-eater, a tortilla eater."

Vargas replied that Mexico could still beat Canada at baseball anytime.

The fight then erupted with players, coaches and officials rushing on to the field from the dugouts as the shocked crowd booed. Cuban police had to rush on to the field in a Havana suburb, and pull players apart to restore order.

Dozens of punches and kicks were exchanged in the fight and players were sent flying as the two sides swung at each other wildly. One Mexican player went back to his dugout to grab a bat but witnesses said he was restrained by Mexican team officials.

Canadian Coach Jim Ridley told reporters at least three of his players were hit by a bat.

Upham and Pollorena were carried from the field on stretchers and rushed to hospital.

It was one of the worst on-field brawls in the 40-year history of the Games.

The game was vital for both nations because the top four teams from the nine-nation competition qualify for next year's Barcelona Olympics, where baseball for the first time will be a medal sport. With Cuba and the United States near certainties to finish in the top two spots there is intense competition for the remaining two positions.

Canada is 0-3; Mexico is 2-2.

Mexico scored five runs in the top of the fifth inning to take the lead for the first time before tempers grew short.

In the bottom of the fifth, Andreopoulos, 18, slid hard into second base in an unsuccessful bid to break up a double play that ended the inning.

Andreopoulos and Mexican shortstop Arnoldo Castro, who was involved in the double play, exchanged heated words but were pulled apart by teammates.

But Andreopoulos was still seething when he took up his position behind the plate at the top of the sixth and resumed the argument, this time with Vargas.

Abrahan Ferreiro, head of press of the Mexican delegation, said Andreopoulos shouted racial insults at Vargas. "He called him a chili-eater, a tortilla-eater," Ferreiro said.

Ferreiro said Pollorena suffered a one-inch cut above his left eyebrow when he was struck in the face by the Canadian catcher with his face mask.

A statement by Canadian baseball leader Harvey Bailey gave a different account of the incident.

"The trouble began when Canadian pitcher Alex Andreopoulos was called out on a controversial play at second base to end the fifth inning. When the Canadian team took to the field to begin the sixth inning, Andreopoulos and a player in the Mexican dugout began talking to one another before the benches cleared," Bailey's statement said. "I was in the stands and I saw the Mexican player run onto the field first."

Mexican officials said Pedersen contributed to the brawl by lax officiating.

"He let the game get out of control. He lost it," Mexican delegation official Cesar Osuna said.

Before the brawl, Pedersen had ejected one Mexican official for protesting and warned the Mexican coach for repeatedly questioning decisions.

Bailey said Upham, who has a history of heart problems, was in a stable condition and would be kept in hospital overnight for observation.

Upham was in the thick of the brawl for about two minutes before he pulled out of the melee clutching his chest, walked several paces and collapsed on the field. Minutes later, the semi-conscious Upham, from Windsor, Ontario, slipped from the stretcher as he was being carried up through the crowd in the stands.

Upham, who was on the coaching staff of Canada's team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, appeared in 21 games for the Chicago Cubs during the 1967 and 1968 seasons.

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