Getting The Lead Out

added 1/11/2010 by Cot Deal

There was a young Cuban named Hank,
Who had the good Lord to thank
For keeping him going
With an odd way of showing
Some lead that surfaced, not sank.

Enrique "Hank" Izquierdo was my player-coach in 1968. I was the manager of the Oklahoma City 89ers of The American Association.

Hank and his lovely wife, Rose, were born and raised in Cuba, but moved to Miami when Fidel Castro took over. When the season was over they went back to their home in Miami. Hank was a catcher, and an outstanding receiver, but had never been a good enough hitter to win a regular job in the major leagues. He had played some in the major leagues, but never made the big money. He didn't have a formal education, or a particular vocational specialty other than baseball.

Many minor leaguers play in the winter leagues - Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela. Before Fidel Castro took over, winter baseball in Cuba was a big thing, but no more. At one time there was a league in Nicaragua, one in Columbia, one in Panama, but no more. Hank didn't have a winter league job, but being bilingual was a distinct advantage in this city filled with Cubans, so he took a job driving a cab in Miami.

December 23rd was a very busy day. As usual the late shoppers were dashing to and fro with a frenetic urgency. No cab was idle. Hank, as he told later, could hardly wait for his eight-hour daytime shift to end, and he too had some shopping to do.

The dispatcher and Hank were good friends. Hank had many friends, but this particular friendship tied the bind more because he wanted Hank to give the cab company a few more hours of his time that hectic evening. Hank tried, unsuccessfully, to refuse but the friendship, and Hank's conscientious makeup, won out. He called Rose. She, of course, understood.

Day became night. Hank became tired. He didn't have long to go.

At the time I was managing the Licey Tigres in The Dominican Republic winter league. We would not have a game on Christmas Eve so I was relaxing in our apartment and enjoying my leisure time with my wife, Katie, and our ten-year-old son Donnie. The phone rang. I wondered whether my Spanish might be tested.

"Cot?"

"Yes."

"Tony Pacheco. Have you heard about Izquierdo?"

"No ... what about him?"

"He got shot last night. I don't know much about it; he's in a hospital in Miami. He's in critical condition but they think he's going to live."

Tony, too, was Cuban. He and I worked for the Houston Astros. He was in the Dominican Republic, scouting the league for the Astros, and knew how to get in touch with me. He and Izquierdo, and their families, were close. Rose had called him to tell him what had happened. He would stay in contact with Rose and would keep me posted.

Hank did make it. Our season ended and I headed back home. Katie and Donnie had been with me only during the Christmas break. I scheduled my trip for a layover in Miami. I planned to get a cab and go see the Izquierdos, but Hank and Rose met me at the airport. It had been only a month since the shooting. Hank was unusually thin and quite stooped. He shuffled as he walked, but he showed his true nature: "I'll be ready for spring training, Skipper."

While sitting in the airport lobby he told me all about it. As the time neared for him to fulfill his working pledge that tragic night, two young men hailed his cab. He was empty, as fate would have it, and stopped. They gave him an address and he complied.

"Just pull up under the street light," one ordered, "so we can see." When he stopped one got out and stood by the door on the driver's side, and the other got in the front seat next to him.

"OK - give me your money," barked the one outside.

Hank said he was not really scared at that point, but as he looked into the eyes of the one giving the orders, he felt the pistol nudging his ribs from the one in the seat next to him. Intuitively he knew not to resist in any way, so he gave them his money with no comment, trying to mask his nervousness, and sensing trouble as he watched the deliberate money counting.

"You sonofabitch, you've got some money stashed someplace."

"I don't, man. That's all I got. That's the truth."

"Don't give me that stuff. I know you got more."

"Search me, man. That's all there is."

"Listen, if you don't come up with more money in thirty seconds you're a dead man. You hear me?"

Hank said he did not have any more money, and added that at that point he felt sure he was facing death. "I made a quick swipe with my right forearm," he recounted, "and knocked the guy's arm away from me. I tried to grab the gun, but he recovered and fired. I felt a hard burn in my belly. I knew he got me good."

The booming pistol blast brought immediate action. A patrol car was just down the street, and turned toward the cab, siren screaming. When the attackers heard the siren they fled. Hank mustered enough strength to get out of the cab and stand in the street to wave at the patrol car.

The two policemen helped Hank into the back seat. He showed them where he had been shot, and the bleeding, but instead of rushing him to a hospital they drove around the area looking for the robbers.

"I guess they thought I was dying anyway," he said, "and just figured they'd try to catch those guys first."

After searching the neighborhood, the driver turned toward Hank and said, "Well, we can't find them, I guess we'd better get you to the hospital."

Hank worked hard in spring training. He caught in some games, threw batting practice, did calisthenics and ran. The bullet was still down in there someplace because the surgeon said it was in too hazardous a place at the time of the emergency operation to attempt removal. He assured Hank it was not a danger, and that at some time in the future it would probably work its way to the surface.

One day, with about a week's training left, Hank came to me and said, "Feel this." With his thumb and forefinger he was holding his right side, just below the ribs.

I felt it. "Hank! That's it!"

No doubt about it - we could feel the bullet under the skin.

"Listen, you get yourself back down to Miami and get that thing taken care of," I urged. "We'll take care of things for you here. Besides, that thing'll be a cinch for your doctor to take out."

He took off and was back the next day, ready to go back to work, and proudly displaying the .38 slug as a souvenir. That was the only time I ever needed to tell Enrique Izquierdo to get the lead out.

Cot Deal coached the Colt .45s from 1962-1964 and coached the Astros from 1983-1985. He also managed Houston farm teams in Oklahoma City during 1968 and 1969 as part of a career in baseball that spanned five decades, including as a major league player with the Cardinals and Red Sox.

The above story was used by permission from the book Cot In The Act (c) 1992 by Cot Deal. All rights reserved.