Profile: XBL Founder Zig Mantequilla: Goin' Down Like Buttah!
by Mal Muscovy
Take a peek up toward any given owner's box, whether at the Meadowlands or any other stadium where XBL baseball is played. There you'll see one happy, chunky man, usually surrounded by friends and family. Also some blondes. Even when the black drapes aren't shut, a cigar-smoke haze makes it tough to make out faces, but the booming laugh of Zig Mantequilla can be heard even in the dugouts.
"I'm a big fan of baseball," Mantequilla says through his Don Diego Playboy Robusto. "My dad used to take me and my ma to see minor-league ball all over the place, and we got to know players and coaches and stuff. There's nothin' like watchin' baseball bein' played by guys who love to play baseball and don't give a damn what they're gettin' paid. That was the baseball of my youth, and that's what I'm bringin' to the XBL: players who care. I grew up in a good time with good values; why not share that with everybody else?"
On February 29, 1952, Armond Tincleton Mantequilla screechingly announced his entry to the world, weighing in at a then-record 14 pounds, 1 ounce. "My ma never forgave me for that one," she said. "'Three weeks o' labor, day an' night, huffin' an' puffin' an' sweatin' like a pig!' she used to say. 'That's what it took to get you outta there. Now stop givin' me lip and clean up your room!'" He chuckles at the memory. His parents, Lulu and Sevigny, called him "Tink," which he hated because it got him beaten up a lot, so Mantequilla spent much of his early life in search of something better to be called, until March 23, 1978, the day he dropped an anvil, broke seven toes (including three of his own), and wound up in a huge ward at St. Dympna's Hospital of the Blessed Sieve in Sook City, New Jersey.
Out of his mind on pain meds, Mantequilla spent three incoherent days before waking to the smell of decaying flowers all around his narrow hospital bed, courtesy of his mother. On his chest lay an envelope containing a get-well card featuring the lovable bald cartoon guy, Ziggy. Ignoring his mom's own written admonition to stop jaking and get the hell back to the steelworks, where he made increasingly unneeded horeshoes and shepherd's crooks, Mantequilla was deeply touched by the now-forgotten prose of the Ziggy card. Then and there he decided, "From this moment forth, I am Zig!" And to this day, the many Ziggyesque aphorisms he's seen over the years have stuck with him, if modified somehow. For instance, Mantequilla is fond of saying, "If life gives you lemons, gut-kick it till it spews lemonade."
An only child, young Armond grew up around dozens of cousins and neighbor kids, who taught him the first truly meaningful thing he ever learned about sports: he wasn't any good at them. "Too clumsy," he says with a touch of sadness. "I swing the bat, I knock over somebody. I throw the ball, down goes some innocent bystander. You hit me the ball, all hell breaks loose -- most of the time I'm not within five feet of the damn thing by the time it comes down. Bubs, get back in there!"
This last is directed toward Bubbles "'Cause of my bubbly personality" Trussky, Mantequilla's frequent travel companion, who offers us both an all-over blush before retreating, giggling, into the owner's box bathroom. Mantequilla shakes his head and gently grasps the bridge of his ample nose. "Where the hell was I?" he says, before returning to the stories of his youth.
The usual boyhood hijinx failed to escape Mantequilla: stealing apples from destitute fruit sellers, breaking windows at abandoned warehouses, dipping pigs' tails in inkwells, igniting the occasional classroom. In fact, he was in and out of trouble throughout his early years until Nicholas Schmeghetti, the principal of Public High School No. 2 in Pittsburgh, New Jersey, took an interest in the troubled loner.
"Mr. Schmeghetti, that guy was something else," Mantequilla muses. "You step outta line, bammo! on the backudda head, and your ears are ringin' like the Bells o' St. Mary's! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! You even blink too often around this guy, and you better be ready to duck! Hee!"
It took only three years for Mantequilla to learn that toeing the line hurt a lot less than what he'd been used to, "so I been on the straight 'n' narrow ever since." On Schmeghetti's recommendation, Mantequilla found himself at Yale despite a low grade-point average in high school. Without putting forth any discernible effort, his GPA rose like a weather balloon, and after four years he found himself making a valedictory speech.
"You talk about controversy," Mantequilla says. "You shoulda seen some o' those old professors. It was like they never heard none o' those words before." But the gist of the address was, "Hard work? Who needs it? Guts will get you there."
"An' I got guts!" Mantequilla says. "Lookadis," he says, gesturing all around him, to the beautiful astroturf on the field at the Meadowlands, to the ad-festooned outfield fences, and, reverently, to the place where the end zone would be if this were football season (which it is, but you'd never know it). "It's baseball! In November! I made that happen. It was a long, tough fight, but I made it happen."
At the moment, the XBL is profiting handily from merchandising -- it seems as though everybody wants an XBL cap, with its earflaps and laces, especially in colder climes. It doesn't hurt that the players all make five-figure salaries -- "They're happy enough," says Mantequilla; "they get to play big-league hardball."
What makes the XBL so successful?
"The rules," says Mantequilla. "The spectacle. People wanna see chin music. They wanna see a pitcher say, 'Not so close, pal, this half o' the plate is mine.' They wanna see a runner knock the second baseman inta left field on the DP. They wanna see Madonna sing 'Papa Don' Preach' instead o' 'The Star-Sprinkled Banner.' And you know damn well the guys that come to these games wanna siddown with their foot-long Polish sausages an watch'em cheerleaders innem tight costumes, each of 'em givin' you a pair of accurate weather reports the whole time. Annem legs... an' they wanna see those those thighs, those little skirts that barely go down past... anyhoo, you don't get that kinda entertainment in baseball except for in the XBL."
He's right about that. In Major League Baseball, rainouts mean "Cover the diamond with a tarp, stick all the players in their clubhouses, and hope the fans will stick around, still holding newspapers over their heads." In the XBL, rainouts mean "Quit? Are you kidding? Maybe if there's lightning, but we ain't quittin' for no little shower; and stick around after the game, 'cause cheerleaders... mud... you do the math."
We'll have to wait for the postseason to end in late March to see what the math tells us, but for now, the XBL adds up to entertainment galore, and great baseball, all thanks to one visionary, one man who's not afraid to take on the establishment. "I tell the major league team owners, 'I love baseball, an' you tell me baseball's such a wonderful game, it's sacred, well, why the hell we can't have baseball goin' on all year? You moan about football's takin' over as the number-one sport in this country, well, why the hell we don't give the people more baseball? Why the hell we don't go after kids, women, everybody else you don't market to?' They just laugh and say, 'Yeah, well, good luck, pally. You ain't gonna be seein' no Randy Johnson, no A-Rod, no Barry Bonds playin' in no cities like freakin' Memphis or Utah.' An' I says, 'Who asked ya? I don' want those guys. I want hungry ballplayers, that's what I want. You can keep your Billionaire Boys' Club.' An' they just laugh again. Well, what I wanna know is, who's laughing now?"