The summer of 1965 was one I’ll never forget. In fact, that whole year was just about the most enjoyable year of my life. It started out with my high school graduation in January. This was the last time that John Bartram High and all other high schools in Philly would have mid-year graduations. From then on, all graduation ceremonies would occur in the month of June. Since I planned to begin my studies and continue my baseball career at Temple University in September, I looked for a job that would ﬁ t into my schedule. I would be playing for two different teams in the summer, one in the Semi-Pro Delco league and also for my American Legion team sponsored by the William P. Roache Post. Playing all of these games and facing good competition was imperative since my ultimate goal was to play pro ball. Nothing else was as important to me, including any job I may have taken during the summer.
I was able to ﬁnd a job that was perfect for me. It involved working six hours a day for a large insurance company in town. The hours were 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and my duties would include being a messenger, hand delivering important documents from one ofﬁce at Fourth and Walnut streets to the ofﬁce and warehouse facility at 401 N. Broad St. I was given cab vouchers, so I didn’t have to deal with buses or the subway. I would make four trips per day and any down time I had would be spent ﬁlling stationery orders at the warehouse part of the Broad Street facility. My supervisor, a 40-something man named Mike, was a strange bird. He was like Barney Fife trying to act like Gen. George Patton. He didn’t like me or any of the other guys who worked in the warehouse. He had a perpetual scowl and walked around like he had to make life-or-death decisions. I learned at that young age that some people have to fool themselves by overemphasizing their relative importance to the world of commerce.
Come on Mike, we’re just shipping out pencils, tablets and pens. Lighten up!
I think Mike disliked me the most because he really didn’t have control over me. He seemed to love following all the guys around, like a shadow, and asking, “What are you doing?” when it was very obvious that they were putting supplies from the shelves into shipping boxes. I guess it didn’t help our relationship the day he asked me that question and I turned with my box of goodies and answered by smiling and saying, “mowing the lawn.” He also seemed to resent the fact that I’d be attending college on a baseball scholarship and made several snide remarks in front of the guys.
As the summer progressed, I was having fun playing for my two teams. Both were in ﬁ rst place and were very talented. In mid-July, my American Legion manager, John Hayes, informed me that I had been elected to represent my team in the league All-Star game. This game would be the ﬁrst of four games, played at different venues, culminating with the East-West All State game to be played in Erie, Pa. This was an honor and would give me a unique opportunity to further develop and enhance my career. Additionally, the game would be attended by numerous Major League scouts who would evaluate the players and choose several to progress to the next venue. The venues were Temple University Stadium, Harleysville, Pa., Connie Mack Stadium and ﬁnally Erie. Fortunately, I was chosen at each venue to continue to the next game and ultimately was chosen to play in the East-West game.
When I told Mike that I’d have to take off a few days, in August, for the All-State game, he smiled a crooked grin and said, “I can’t afford to let you go.”
I just thanked him and told him I was honored that he felt my absence, from my critical job of riding in a cab, could bring down our billion-dollar company.
Then I decided to play my trump card.
My messenger duties had provided the opportunity to make deliveries to and meet some of the company executives. One of them was Mike’s boss, whose name was Ed. He was a friendly man and also a Phillies fan. When I told him the story about the All-State game, his eyes brightened and he congratulated me. Conjuring up my best whipped puppy face, I also told him I was dismayed because Mike wouldn’t let me off. His expression turned from gaiety to anger and he said, “Don’t you worry about Mike, I’ll take care of it.” Of course, I was going to the game regardless of the results of my conversation with Ed. I wouldn’t miss that game for anything. When I saw Mike the next day, his face was still scowling except that it was also beet red. He came up to me and said, “The only reason I’m letting you off to go is because Ed is sending me a man.” I told Mike “Boy, that Ed’s a good guy, isn’t he?” He just walked away.
After my family and I arrived in Erie, after eight hours of driving, I was taken to the team’s quarters at the dorms at Gannon College, where I met my fellow teammates from around the state. When we reported to the ﬁeld for practice the next morning, I was thrilled to see who was managing our team. It was none other than Pie Traynor, a baseball Hall of Famer, who had a stellar career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a friendly, elderly man of 67 years of age. At 18, I was impressed that a man so old could still get around the ﬁeld. Now at the age of 76, I can look back at my “selective aging perceptions” with a chuckle.
Traynor was also generally acknowledged to be the best defensive third baseman of all time. Branch Rickey, the famed baseball executive who is most known for his signing of Jackie Robinson, once said of Traynor, “He was a mechanically perfect third baseman.” I was both star-struck and amazed at Traynor’s graciousness toward the players. His assistant manager was Danny Murtaugh, who had managed the Pirates to the World Series championship in 1960. It was a great thrill to rub elbows with such famous ﬁgures.
The game was played the next day. Besides the game, the thing I remember most was although it was mid-August, it was very cold, with temperatures in the 50s. The wind was whipping off of Lake Erie, creating large waves and as we gripped the bat our hands were freezing.
Despite the weather, it was a wonderful baseball experience. It was also a great lesson in human interaction of those involved at each step from that insurance company at 401 N. Broad St. to the East-West All Star Game at Erie Pa.