Monday, June 11, 2012

Not Just About Baseball

(from the book, The Golden Game (The Story of California Baseball) by Kevin Nelson)

"Baseball was a boyhood passion," for Gene Autry.  He played shortstop on his Tioga, Texas American Legion team.  Played it well enough to be offered a $100 per month contract with a minor league club in Tulsa, a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The then 19-year-old had been working for the railroad in Oklahoma at the time.  He would chum around with the likes of Dizzy Dean.  Dean and Autry also shared a taste for ginger whiskey, and although Prohibition was in effect and alcoholic spirits were against the law, the pair knew a storekeeper who manufactured it and sold it for a fair price.

Autry turned down Tulsa because it paid less than the railroad.  But Dean went on to the Cardinals and a Hall of Fame career.  Autry eventually pursued singing and had the talent to make him a hit-making recording artist who was a major country & western touring attraction.  Hollywood beckoned and in 1934, Autry arrived to see if his charms and ticket-selling prowess could translate into the big screen.  But California struck him as "formless, too sprawling." Too far from the rest of the country.  So he left Hollywood to go back on tour after his first few movies did so-so at the box office.

The next time he returned he made "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" which became a smash hit and propelled Autry- singing songs of the Old West on his horse, Champion- to movie fame on top of his recording and radio success.

Autry is the only person to have 5 stars on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame, wrote "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which sold more than 25 million records.  In finances, he turned his radio stations (KSFO-Giants, KMPC-Dodgers) into a Bonanza-sized real estate and media empire.

When the Dodgers decided to switch to KFI, in late 1960, leaving KMPC without a team, Autry contacted Bill Veeck and Hank Greenberg who were certain to be owners of the new franchise for the American League (the Angels).  They assured Autry that if they became the owners, KMPC would broadcast its games.

Autry and Veeck had a distant baseball connection. Veeck was in the stands for the 1934 barnstorming game in Hollywood in which Autry's friend Dizzy Dean squared off with Satchel Paige in what may have been the greatest pitching duel of the segregated era. Autry described Veeck as "a born boat-rocker, with the sly grin of a man who is about to drop an egg in your pocket."

In scouting parlance, "working a living room" means that the scout is inside a prospect's house delivering his pitch on why the prospect should sign with the scout's organization. The Dodgers loved the quality about Tom Lasorda, his "bleed Dodger blue," rant tied together with his knack for selling a cup of sand to anyone in a desert made Lasorda a goose who was laying golden eggs.

Charlie O. Finley put in a bid for the Los Angeles Angels that would eventually be purchased by the "Singing Cowboy," Gene Autry.

From there, Finley sniffed out the Kansas City Athletics. Their owner just died and creepy Charlie O. became that guy after the funeral who could make everything better.  Arnold Johnson died of a heart attack which led to Finley buying a controlling interest in the club from Johnson's widow, then purchasing the remaining shares from the minority owners, Finley was in as an owner in a game he enjoyed.

According to Kevin Nelson...

While recovering from a severe case of tuberculosis he conceived of a group medical insurance plan for physicians, then an innovative idea that once he was back on his feet he tried to sell to numerous insurance companies. Finally, Finley found an insurance carrier willing to underwrite his plan and when the American Medical Association and other physician groups endorsed it, Finley heard those musical notes of success, "Cha ching."

(According to the author)
Finley was the Ty Cobb of owners. While he may have been despicable in many mannerisms or behaviors he offered the major leagues stability and could sign and develop talent.  Like Cobb, he was too good to ban from the league, no matter what was said about him.

In June of 1965, the College Player of the year, fresh off the Arizona State Sun Devil national championship roster was the first player chosen in the first-ever major league amateur draft, by the Kansas City Athletics, Charles O. Finley's A's. (His name was Rick Monday.)

Finley was advised that Oakland would be a good place to go because the Raiders of Oakland had just built a new stadium.  Gene Autry was looking for a new team to form a rivalry with the Angels and Finley liked the idea.

In the scouting game, Finley wanted Willie Crawford, Lasorda got him.  Lasorda wanted Rick Monday, Finley got him.

Kevin Marquez