Guillermo Romero Luna was a Mexican lefty, side-armer of sorts, who gained fame in late 1953 when St. Louis purchased Memo from San Diego of the Pacific Coast League for $100,000. By then, though, Luna was pitching without his best fastball, making it on control and guile. Luna said he lost his best fastball when San Diego asked him to stop pitching Winter Ball. By 1954, coaches and scouts worried that he wouldn’t have the fastball or size to be a durable and successful pitcher.
Luna quit school before he was a teenager to work in factories near his home town of Tacubaya. There, he would work in factories that assembled jewelry sold to tourists – eight hours a day, six days each week – for about $1.25 a day. Luna said, “I tried to make the high school, but (it was) too hard (to) work days (and go to) school nights.”
By 1944, he both managed and pitched for the Tacubaya Estrellas – a team without uniforms or cleats, but a lot of talent. Luna said he was the manager because he owned the baseballs… Anyway – that team won every game it played and Luna was the pitcher in most of them. When he was offered a job to pitch for more money than he made in the factories, he jumped at the chance. Before long, he was pitching in the Mexican League.
Unfortunately that league folded in 1947, but he got another chance when a Class C team in Juarez picked him up. Pitching summers and winters for the next three seasons, including a 26 – 13 season in 1951 when he logged 314 innings for Tijuana in the Southwest International League, he was eventually picked up by San Diego for $5,000. Luna won there even though San Diego struggled (17 – 12, 2.67 in 263.1 innings), which is why St. Louis paid such a lofty sum for the skinny kid with six pitches and impeccable control.
When he was pitching ten months a year, Luna threw just a fastball, a curve ball and a screw ball. “That was enough to pitch anywhere,” Luna noted. “But now I must try many things different. With no fast ball, I try knuckle ball, change-up, the sliders… The fast ball hurt my arm now. The curve ball hurt my arm. So I throw the slider.”
He may have thrown a spitter, too. He was once ejected from a game in 1951 for repeatedly wetting his fingers – umpires grew tired of warning him to stop and kicked him out.
Even Luna admitted that he might not make it to the Cardinals unless things changed – he needed his fastball, and he needed to pitch more regularly to regain it, and it wouldn’t matter if his arm continued to hurt.
On 20 April 1954, Luna was given his shot – after a fine spring, Memo was sent to the hill to face the Cincinnati Reds. He got two batters out, he gave up two hits, two walks, and two runs. “It was just one of those days,” Luna noted. “I lost my control, and when I got the ball over they hit it.” He was immediately sent back to the Rochester Red Wings and AAA baseball.
By 1956 he had been sold back to the Mexican Leagues. As long as his ailing wing allowed it, he was able to pitch in Mexico until 1961.
Interesting Trivia: Bill Kinsella, of Shoeless Joe (Field of Dreams) fame, named his fantasy baseball team the Memo Lunatics… And, the Cardinals had two rookies in 1954 with the same name – sort of… Memo Luna and Wally Moon. Get it?
“Luna Ejected As Team Wins”, Arizona Republic, 13 April 1951, Page 32.
Beahon, George. “Luna Blanks A’s For Wings, 4 – 0, In Stellar Debut”, 09 May 1954, Page D1.
Beahon, George. “In This Corner”, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 14 June 1954, Page 18.
Rice, Jack. “Typical Day for Mathes: Decision on Stop Watch, Bids for Memo Luna”, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 15 April 1956, Page 6D.
Bill Kinsella, of Shoeless Joe (Field of Dreams) fame, named his fantasy baseball team the Memo Lunatics…
Lundegaard, Bob. “Book’s Lineup Spans Baseball History”, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, 16 April 1987, Page 1C.