OBSERVATIONS: How I almost was arrested at the Tijuana border

By Hal McCoy


—This story involved two of my favorite things — baseball and cigars, not necessarily in that order. And it involves how I became a smuggler. . .and got caught.

When the Cincinnati Reds were in San Diego, I always took a day trip to Tijuana, back before the drug cartels began hanging bodies from the street lights.

The trip was for me to purchase some Cuban cigars. It was, of course, illegal to bring Cuban cigars across the border.

But I did it for years and never broke a sweat. I’d buy them at a cigar store. They’d put them in a brown paper bag and I’d carry them through customs. No agent ever said a word.

I made the trip, successfully, one time and carried them into the clubhouse. Second baseman Bret Boone asked, “What’s in the bag?” I told him what they were and where I got them.

“Hey, can you go back tomorrow and bring me some?” said Boone, handing me a wad of cash.

“Sure,” I said brashly, No problem. Uh, big problem.,

So fellow scribe Jeff Horrigan of the Cincinnati Post and I crossed the border, he to buy Claritan, which then was not available across the counter in the U.S.

This clerk I always dealt with put my cigars in a brown paper bag, but another clerk approached and they whispered in Spanish. My clerk removed the cigars from the brown bag and tucked the Cuban Cohibas into a bright yellow bag. That should have been a warning. Yellow is Cohiba’s colors and there was that whisper conversation and the changing of bags.

I entered customs carrying the glowing yellow bag. Horrigan had tucked the Claritan pills into his jeans pocket and when asked if he had anything to declare said, “No.”

My turn.

“What’s in the bag? I hope it’s not Cuban cigars,” said the agent.

Knowing the guy would check the bag, I said, “Mexican cigars.” Hey, I bought them in Mexico. He mentioned something about being written up, or confiscation or possible jail time.

I quickly and immediately chose confiscation. As other agents gathered around a table covered with 20 cigars, the agent said, “Next time at least take off the cigar bands and say they’re Dominicans. And don’t use a yellow bag.”

And that night, several U.S. customs agents enjoyed a fine Cuban Cohiba after dinner.

Ashamedly, I smoke three cigars a day and Nadine says, “Why don’t you just roll up a fifty-dollar bill and light it?” And I say, “Because fifty-dollar bills taste like R.G. Dunns.”

—QUOTE: From noted cigar smoker/comedian George Burns: “Sex after 90 is like trying to shoot pool with a rope. Even putting my cigar in its holder is a thrill.”

—Apparently, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB-TV are thin-skinned.

MLB-TV sent journalist Ken Rosenthal packing. It was reported that his sin was criticizing deal ol’ commish for the way he handled the pandemic.

Rosenthal is a deep insider who breaks many stories, but maybe Manfred didn’t like his bow ties. Rosenthal isn’t crying. He still writes for The Athletic and does dugout-side commentary and interviews on national FoxSports baseball telecasts during games.

MLB-TV also shoved Chris Rose and Eric Byrnes out the back door. Their sins? They were too entertaining.
—QUOTE: From baseball journalist Ken Rosenthal: “The best advice is this. . .work hard, nothing is given to you.” (So true, but MLB-TV certainly can take it away from you, no matter how hard you work.)

The football world is heaping the team’s problems on bruised-and-battered Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, especially after his performance Monday in a 26-14 loss at Pittsburgh, the worst quarterback performance these tired and weak eyes have seen.

I’m not so sure Mayfield is to blame. He probably shouldn’t have played the last half of the season. Blame it on coach Kevin Stefanski and his absurd play-calling.

On Monday night, the Browns faced the worst defensive team against the run in the NFL. And the Browns own a devastating running back in Nick Chubb.

So what does Stefanski do. He has Mayfield flinging the ball everywhere but into his receivers’ hands. He started 1 for 11 and missed 10 in a row, the first NFL QB to do that this season. He threw 38 times and completed 16.

And when he wasn’t throwing the ball into the grass, he was wiping grass off his posterior. He was sacked nine times, four times by T.J. Watt, who was treating Cleveland’s rookie offensive tackle James Hudson III like a rubber ducky.

The coaching staff gave Hudson no help, asking him to hold off Watt by himself, which was like asking the 98-pound weakling to stop the beach bully from kicking sand in his face.

And it drew criticism from Mayfield, who said, “Obviously Pittsburgh’s front is pretty good. It has been for years. But when you’ve got T.J. Watt over there and we’re not giving our rookie tackle a whole lot of help, it’s not going to be good.” And it was bad, bad, bad.

Meanwhile, Chubb carried the ball only four times in the first half for 35 yards, almost nine yards a carry.

—Congratulations to the Cincinnati Bengals for staggering into the AFC North championship. But I’m still scratching my ears over the last sequence of plays at the end of the game.

Why in the name of Paul Brown would you throw two passes from the half-yard line? Joe Mixon can fall forward that far.

And why would you pass on fourth down on the half-yard line when a field goal wins the game? Fortunately, the zebras called pass interference in the end zone on that fourth down pass, then they kicked the winning field goals.

The officials saved the Bengals’ butts. Not that those last-minute calls against Kansas City weren’t fouls, but they have been known to miss a few, too, and could have not called those penalties.

And the real kicker? On one of those pass plays quarterback Joe Burrow was injured and didn’t finish the game. For the Bengals, losing Burrow would be like the World War II allies losing Douglas MacArthur.

—QUOTE: From WWII general Douglas MacArthur: “We are not retreating we are advancing in another direction.” (Oh, so that’s what the Bengals were doing on those two fourth-and-one pass plays?)

—Jimmy Buffet owns four private airplanes. Why? Presumably to help him search for his long lost shaker of salt.

—From singer Jimmy Buffet’s song, Margaritaville: “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s my own damn fault.” (Buffet said he’s Catholic, so he had to end the song by taking the blame. Some football and basketball coaches should take heed.)

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