No sports story is more inspiring and heartwarming than that of Los Pequenos Gigantes – The Little Giants — the 1957 Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico.
In the summer of 1957, a scrawny group of 12-year-olds overcame the odds to become the first team from outside the United States to win the Little League World Series. Most of their opponents outweighed them by 35 or 40 pounds. It was a journey reminiscent of the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a group of U.S. amateurs beat the mighty Red Army to capture the gold medal in hockey. The 14-man Monterrey squad was comprised of poor kids from an industrial city two hours south of the Texas border who had been playing baseball for only a few years. Their magical ride began in July. Spread over 13 games, it lasted four weeks.
Monterrey had been granted a Little League license the year before, assembling a humble four-team league for the 1956 season. Using homemade balls and gloves, they played barefoot – but not before first clearing rocks and glass from the dirt field where they learned the game. Celebrating its 11th year, the Little League World Series tournament did not yet have an international division in 1957. The brackets were divided into four regions, with Monterrey landing in the U.S. South grouping.
Their first game was in the Texas border town of McAllen. With one change of clothes and little money in their pockets, the players took a bus to Reynosa, then crossed the border on foot, taking a bridge over the Rio Grande and walking to their hotel in McAllen. “We didn’t even know Williamsport existed,” said Jose “Pepe” Maiz, a pitcher and outfielder on the team who went on to run a Monterrey construction company. “We were just supposed to play a game in McAllen.”
The Little Giants won their first game in McAllen 9-2 against a team from Mexico City made up of players who were the sons of Americans working south of the border. They swept through the rest of the regional and state tournaments, winning each game by at least five runs, until they reached the semifinal game in Fort Worth against Houston. There, Maiz came on in relief to help deliver a 5-4 comeback win in extra innings.
The players’ visas expired during their stay – no one expected them to last past one game – so the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico intervened to keep them in the country. The boys were homesick; only Maiz had ever left Monterrey. With little money for food, they got by on two meals a day. Despite the adversity, Monterrey kept winning. They beat Houston 11-2 in the Texas state championship, then trounced teams from Biloxi, Mississippi, and Owensboro, Kentucky, to win the Southern Regional title in Louisville. Monterrey then took a bus to Williamsport, where four teams remained.
As winners of the U.S. South region, Little League officials in Williamsport gave the Little Giants new uniforms emblazoned with South across the chest. The boys were so small, the uniforms didn’t fit. Undeterred, Monterrey beat Bridgeport, Connecticut, 2-1, to reach the final. There, they faced La Mesa, California, who had handily defeated Escanaba, Michigan, behind a one-hitter from standout left-hander Joe McKirahan.
The California boys averaged 5’4” and 127 pounds, while the Mexican youngsters averaged 4”11 and 92. While teams from Canada and Mexico had made it to the Little League tournament before, they’d never won – nor even reached the finals.
In the championship game, Monterrey sent number 8, Angel Macias, to the mound to face La Mesa. Standing 5 feet tall and weighing 88 pounds, Macias was ambidextrous and played all nine positions. He decided to pitch right-handed in the final. The first batter he faced was Lew Riley, his opponent on the mound. Riley, who had pitched three no-hitters during the regular season, drilled the first pitch down the right field line. Foul by an inch, it was as close as the Californians would come to a hit all afternoon.
Featuring a sneaky fastball and wicked curve, Macias baffled La Mesa. Riley was also cruising, and the game was scoreless through four innings. In the fifth, Monterrey sent nine batters to the plate and scored four runs, leaving La Mesa with one last chance [Little League games are only six innings]. With two outs in the sixth, Macias got behind La Mesa’s Byron Haggard, 3-0, before battling back and delivering two strikes. With the count full, he snapped off a curveball that Haggard swung on and missed. The 10,000 fans in attendance exploded and history was made, as Monterrey became the first team from outside the U.S. to win the LLWS.
Macias struck out 11 and set down all 18 batters in order. The Little Big Man did not allow a baserunner and La Mesa didn’t hit a ball out of the infield. It remains the only perfect game in a LLWS final. “I was concentrating so much on trying to win,” Macias said later, “that I did not realize that I was pitching a perfect game.”
It would be nearly a month before the boys returned to Monterrey. They traveled by bus to New York City, where they were the guests of the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. They went shopping at Macy’s after the department store had given each player $40. Then, they made stops in Washington, D.C. to meet President Eisenhower. The Little Giants attended celebrations in Mexico City, then finally returned to Monterrey, where they were met by thousands in the streets.
Each player was awarded a high school and college scholarship from the Mexican government, although only two went to college. Angel Macias was signed by the Los Angeles Angels and invited, at 16, to their inaugural spring training in 1961. He played briefly for the Angels as an outfielder in the minor leagues before going on to a 12-year career in the Mexican League.
The Little Big Man was enshrined into the Little League Hall of Excellence August 23, 2017 – the 60th anniversary of his perfect game. He joined Pepe Maiz, who had been inducted in 2005. The two men greatly influenced the growth of baseball in Mexico. Maiz served as executive director of the Monterrey Sultanes professional baseball team and Macias ran the Mexican Academy League, a minor league baseball circuit.
Monterrey returned to win the Little League World Series in 1958, beating Kankakee, Illinois, in the final. Forty years after “The Perfect Game Heard ‘Round the World,” a team from Guadalupe – a town adjacent to Monterrey – won Mexico’s third, and most recent, LLWS title.