The Obit For Ernie Trujillo

Teto remembered for athletic prowess

Ernie Trujillo, 80, was a force in basketball and baseball.

By Joe E. CerviI
The Pueblo Chieftain, January 15, 2010

Ernie Trujillo was as big a mystery outside the lines as he was a force on the court.

Trujillo, or "Teto" as he was known, generally was regarded as one of the best athletes in Pueblo history. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, he was considered a giant in the 1940s and ’50s. He used that size and natural athletic ability to grow into an urban legend - one with legitimacy. He pitched in the minor leagues for six seasons and played semipro basketball for years.

And he did so without ever attending high school or college.

Teto died Dec. 31 - nine days after his 80th birthday - at a Denver-area hospital. He was cremated and his ashes spread in a park near his home. While there was no memorial service - he hadn't seen his immediate family or returned to Pueblo since 1981 - Teto's death stirred the memories of generations lost.

"He was the greatest athlete in Pueblo history that we don't know a lot about," said John Salas, whose late father, Max, played with Teto during that era. "Everyone alive in those days has a Teto story. Had Teto gone the way of high school and college, he might be remembered as the best to ever come out of Pueblo."

While the passage of time often turns good athletes into superstars, no one ever questioned Teto's abilities. He was the real deal and everyone in town knew it.

Teto's youngest brother, Jess, has the scrapbook to prove it.

"Ask anybody that was alive back then; Teto was as good as there was. He made it to Triple A for the Cleveland Indians as a pitcher. And he was even a better basketball player," said Jess, who is 10 years younger than Teto. "He used to pack the Steel Y (the old YMCA near the steel mill) when he played basketball. People wanted to watch him play."

Despite having no high school or college experience, Teto signed with the Cleveland organization in 1948 at the age of 18. He pitched for six seasons, compiling a 66-63 record with an ERA of 4.60. He also hit .250.

After bouncing around the minors, Teto returned to Pueblo to work. He played basketball for Jones Mortuary, a city league team that was the team in Pueblo.

The local event most often associated with Teto took place in 1955. Pueblo Junior College had just finished its basketball season and the city YMCA held a basketball tournament.

Of course, Jones Mortuary was the favorite, but many of the college players, including all-American Gene Poston, entered under the name Pueblo Merchants.

And yes, the two teams played for the championship.

Poston scored 38 points and Teto scored 36. The Jones' boys eventually pulled away and claimed an 82-78 victory.

"The college players got in the tournament just to face Jones Mortuary," Jess Trujillo said. "They even had (PJC Coach) Harry Simmons on the bench. Teto matched Poston, who was one of the best ever, in that game."

Ivan Hendren grew up with Teto and they were best friend as kids. Hendren, who went on to high school and college, returned to Pueblo in 1998 and spent more than 10 years, in vain, trying to find his buddy.

"A lot of people always wondered what ever happened to Teto. I was one of them and I was as close to him as anybody," Hendren said. "After he was done with baseball, he worked in Pueblo for a lot of years at the old Triplex (manufacturing plant) by the mill. Then he just went away."

Teto's oldest brother, Danny, died in 1977. Jess said Teto took that loss so hard that he turned into a recluse. It was around that time that Teto moved to Denver, only to return to Pueblo a handful of times in the next 30 years.

"When Danny died, Teto took off. He didn't take that too good," Jess Trujillo said. "He didn't talk to anybody anymore. It was his choice to disappear. He'd call sometimes at Christmas, but he just stayed away.

"As he got older, he got sick and was injured and was in a wheelchair and I don't think he wanted his family and friends to see him like that, so he stayed away."

Teto lived with extended family in Denver until he died. It took more than a week for the authorities to find and notify immediate family members.

While he grew old the way he wanted, Teto was the standard-bearer for Hispanic athletes in his youth. Pueblo was not considered a racially divided city and Teto proved that athletic prowess knew no skin color.

Teto also made several questionable decisions in his life. Joe Borjon, one of the most-respected basketball and baseball officials in Colorado, is Teto's son. The two were estranged from the start.

"He had a decision to make back then. He could become a dad or take off and play baseball. He chose to go and play ball," Borjon said. "There were a lot of times I hated him because I feel like he could've done something with me as an athlete."

The last time Borjon saw his father was in 1981. Borjon admitted that his memories of Teto are formed by stories told by old friends.

"I used to hear the old-timers say ‘Teto did this,’ or ‘Teto did that.’ And I really took offense to that because I didn't get that from him," Borjon said. "I don't really have a bad thing to say about Teto. When I found out he died, my heart hurt for about 15 minutes and that was it.

"As time went on, I grew up. I did more growing up married to my wife (Rita) these past 30 years than anything else. God always has the perfect plan and there's no remorse from me. I give it up to my grandfather who adopted me and gave me his name."

The news of Teto's death conjured up images from decades ago. Former teammates and opponents alike remembered how good Teto was on the field. Family members remembered the brother or uncle who would play anyone at any time.

The son remembered nothing special, only that Pueblo lost another fine athlete to time and circumstance.