For almost three hours he stood naked, fixed at attention, holding in his hand only a shower shoe. Coworkers, doctors and psychiatrists tried to communicate with him but failed.
Finally, under heavy sedation, he was taken to an ambulance. He was described as having suffered a catatonic trance. Roger Moret, a major league baseball pitcher, would not play that night for the Texas Rangers.
He returned 17 days later, at a news conference called by the team. He tried to tell baseball, in broken English, that he wanted another chance. He appeared frightened, watery-eyed and weary from sedation, thin and terribly vulnerable. He appeared to have only a remote perception of English, and his face bore the pain of confusion.
As a player, he no longer was able to fulfill the potential he had shown in compiling won-lost records of 13-2 and 14-3 with a previous team, the Boston Red Sox.
"He could be the next Vida Blue," a scout once had said. Instead, Moret became a victim of an emotional breakdown in the Ranger locker room last season. Finally, he was released by the team during the spring of this year and returned to the mountains of Puerto Rico, a baseball exile, a broken man.
He knew, however, he was not alone.
This season the Los Angeles Times has examined the experiences of major league baseball's Latin players in an American culture. Most of the 35 players interviewed told of a none-too-rosy existence, fraught with large problems, confusion, emotional complexity and tragedy.
Dr. Armando Desaloms, who treated Moret for almost a year after the locker room incident, said cultural setbacks in the player's 11-year pro career contributed directly to his breakdown, which was diagnosed, according to team medical files, as schizophrenia.
"Moret was a sensitive man," said Desaloms, a native of Argentina. "But he didn't open up very well. He was a quiet person who became quieter once removed from the gentle simplicity of the Puerto Rican life style. Puerto Ricans are generally expansive, but Moret wasn't. He was deeply traumatized by events.Some events were tragic."
Moret is a casualty, the most extreme victim of the process by which Latin athletes are assimilated into professional baseball.
But in many ways, it is far better than it was when Armando Marsans, a Cuban infielder, became the first Latin player in the major leagues in 1911. Marsans was signed by Clark Griffith, then the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The player Griffith really wanted to sign was a third baseman named Rafael Almeida, who, it turned out, was better at puffing $1 cigars than fielding ground balls. Marsans came along only as an interpreter.
Griffith liked Marsans, and he stayed. Many more Latins entered the majors, but since most of them were black, they entered only after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. The number of Latin players on major-league rosters grew from one in 1948 to 48 by 1965. In 1969, the number was 87, and in 1974 it was 97. This spring, of the 1,040 players who were listed by the 26 teams on their 40-man rosters, there were 104 Latins.
The consistency in the number of Latin players on spring rosters - 53 in the National League and 51 in the American - is governed by a quota that teams must maintain. A change in the number of Latins under contract to any team has to be requested through the Department of Immigration.
The pressures on the Latin player, on and off the field, are extraordinary.
He first leaves his homeland, where he is regarded as a hero, and in some cases comes to the United States without any knowledge of English.
With slim knowledge of the language, even less of American customs, he must settle in a new community. He has no friends except for other Latin players to whom he clings for companionship and understanding. To survive, he has to be adventurous, strong and able to weather a series of psychological and cultural shocks before tackling the larger issue - how to win and hold a major league job.
Some players who, unlike Moret, do not crack under the strain, go home on their own. Those who remain are like Tony Perez, of the Montreal Expos, a native Cuban who said, "We're the ones who prove survival of the fittest.""
But even these players are the objects of insults, both large and small.
When Fernando Gonzalez of the Padres steps to home plate to bat at San Diego Stadium, the public address announcer bellows out the name GONZALEZ, with an exaggerated Latin inflection. Last season at Pittsburgh, when Gonzalez played for the Pirates, he was repeatedly greeted at the plate by an organist's rendition of "La Cucaracha," a Mexican folk song that, translated, means "The Cockroach." Gonzalez is more chagrined than flattered by such attention.
"I am not Mexican," the Puerto Rican second baseman said. "I am closer to being American than I am to being Mexican. Relations between my country and Mexico are not great, whereas Puerto Rico is all but a state of these United States. The logic is odd. I don't understand it."
When Willie Montanez of the New York Mets plays in Shea Stadium, he does so in front of contingents of Latin fans. The idea pleased Montanez, a Puerto Rican, when he went from the Atlanta Braves to the Mets in 1977. His feelings have since changed.
"I knew New York was full of Puerto Ricans," he said, "But the brothers have treated me like a bastard child. New York is the worst place in baseball for a Puerto Rican to play. There are too many Latins who get on you too tough. I would rather play elsewhere and not because the Mets are awful. Just to be away from the brothers."
When Elias Sosa of the Dominican Republic played for the Dodgers in 1976-77, he found himself building up a resentment toward the team. "I had problems," said Sosa, who now plays for the Expos and lives in Montreal. "They (the Dodgers) would never help with anything." He describes the Dodgers as one of the coldest teams in dealing with Latins.
The Dodger manager, Tom Lasorda, who spent 13 years managing in Latin American ("No one knows more about Latin baseball than I do," he said), is surprised at Sosa's comment. "No way that is true," he muttered, and then quickly walked away.
Al Campanis, the Dodgers' vice president, a large, rough-hewn man, spoke with a lard-edged certainty. He called Sosa's statement sour grapes, saying, "He didn't get to pitch enough while he was here...so he's mad. Happens to a lot of guys."
Campanis is chairman of the only committee appointed by baseball to deal with Latin-American players. Its function, he said, is in the areas of contracts and injuries concerning both American and Latin players who compete in the winter leagues, most of them in Latin America.
The committee apparently avoids other problems of Latin players. Campanis said that no thought is paid by his committee to helping players learn English or adjust to a fast-paced American life style. It is up to the players to work out their own problem, he said, then added, "A good ballplayer won't have a lot of problems."
"We haven't found a problem (with Latin players)," said Campanis, a baseball executive of 40 years. "We don't try to address Latin problems. We have players like Manny Mota (a 17-year pro from the Dominican Republic) who can do that."
In regard to language difficulties, Campanis provides no tutors or English classes for Latins - unlike the Houston Astros, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals. Instead he tells them:
Go to (English-language) movies, eat at American restaurants, converse in English as much as possible.
Teams have, however, eased problems by employing Spanish-speaking managers like Lasorda and Pat Corrales of the Rangers, or Latin coaches like Preston Gomez of the Dodgers, Cookie Rojas of the Chicago Cubs and Elrod Hendricks of the Baltimore Orioles. Oriole Manager Earl Weaver and Billy Martin of the Yankees also attempt to reach players by trying to speak Spanish. The Yankees in addition have appointed aging pitcher Luis Tiant, a native Cuban, to the task of counseling fellow Latins.
"So many guys just don't understand," said the Padres' Gonzalez, the only Latin player on his team's regular-season roster of 25 players. "You have to completely relearn the way you live. There are so many fears and bad attitudes. I have known guys so scared they were afraid to go outside."
Hendricks, the Oriole coach who broke into pro ball as a catcher 20 years ago, also knows of such players. He was one of them.
When he entered professional baseball, Hendricks, from the Virgin Islands, spoke English only well enough to order "fried cheekin" and "poke chop" at restaurants. To avoid derision and embarrassment on road trips, he formed a habit of ordering each meal through room service in the hotels.
Hendricks now is able to describe his past in almost flawless English, mastered through years of practice. "I'm trained to expect that Latins and blacks feel the world is against them. If you are both, as I am, you are not easily understood."
The dilemma of being a Latin player - and a black one as well - hit home early for Hendricks. Playing in the minor leagues at Waycross, Ga., early in his career, he was harshly treated at a movie theater because of his color. "It's irrational as hell," he said. "The word "nigger" meant nothing to me then. But I've developed a phobia about movies. I won't even go to one."
He said there are also problems in contract negotiations in that some Latin players, to eliminate the confusion of language caused by legal and financial jargon, sign for less money than they are worth and feel depressed at being vitimized.
"Let me give an example," Hendricks said, "of how an excellent Latin player was cheated for years on his contract. I would say Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer were pitchers of equal ability for years with the Orioles. I should know - I caught them both. But all those years, Palmer's contract was much larger than Cuellar's. Dave McNally, a pitcher of less ability, in my mind, than Cuellar, had a much fatter contract." (With the Orioles, Cuellar compiled a won-lost record of 143-88, while McNally's was 181-113).
Hendricks said Cuellar, a native Cuban who retired from the majors in 1977, was exploited because he spoke English with even less fluency than Latin teammates.
"Latins are always ripped off on contracts," said Willie Montanez, although it should be noted that Latin agents have begun to represent players in contract negotiations.
Latin players who stayed to fight their cultural and baseball battles, and win their way onto a major league roster, cite added pressures applied by a frequently insensitive press and members of baseball's management.
The bridge to understanding Latins has not been crossed, they say, by sportswriters and sportscasters, who for years portrayed the black Latin in stereotypes similar to his American counterpart. He was thought of as slow, lazy, shiftless, if he was thought of at all.
Manny Sanguillen, a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, bemoans the fact that for years Roberto Clemente was portrayed in the press as being a hypochondriac, often over and above his excellence on the field. Sanguillen insists that Clemente never once asked to be taken out of the Pirate lineup because of an injury.
Said Sanguillen: "It took a big World Series (1971 against the Orioles, when Clemente was 37 years old) for Roberto to get the recognition he felt he deserved." CAPTION: Picture, Roberto Clemente, misunderstood star. AP