Academic journal article Nine

Father Bought a Ball Team

Academic journal article Nine

Father Bought a Ball Team

Article excerpt

Will Rogers, or someone of equal shrewdness, once observed that there are two things the average American male is convinced he can do better than anyone else--cook and run a baseball team. I can vouch for the second half of this maxim. Back in 1947, my father, Lucius P. Ordway, bought himself a ball team-the West Palm Beach Indians, of the Class B Florida International League.

He didn't have to do it. He was already in what many would regard as an ideal stage of life, living in retirement in Florida. A veteran of World War I who subsequently prospered in Wall Street, he had gone back in 1940 to his old outfit, the Air Force, and served as Chief of Intelligence, 8th Air Force, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg. Upon being discharged in 1945, Colonel Ordway returned to his home in West Palm Beach with three tiers of ribbons, thinning locks and dreams of a life centered around waving palm trees, golden sands and golf links.

Father's dreams ran true for about two years. His war-induced stomach trembles quieted, his hands steadied and his disposition sweetened noticeably. And then some sneak told this relaxed and happy man that the local baseball franchise was for sale.

This insidious morsel of information doubtless was accompanied by sly blandishments about civic pride, sportsmanship and executive capacity--things which father holds in high regard. He was told he could swing the purchase for a "purely nominal figure' which turned out later to be $15,000. But none of these things really mattered very much. Once the unexpected opportunity of becoming a baseball magnate had presented itself to a lifelong fan like father, he was as good as lost.

He went through the motions of considering the matter for a respectable interval, but the consideration which occupied him most was whether it would be better to have the owner's box behind first base or third. By the time he had decided upon third base, the purchase details had been pretty well worked out, and the controlling stock interest in the Palm Beach Indians was his -- almost. A former Yankee scout and successful minor-league manager, Jimmy Hamilton, was also interested. Finally, in the late fall of 1947, father and Hamilton took over all but a few scattered shares. Jimmy was to act as general manager. Father was to have his name on the letterheads and his private box behind third.

Father had since argued that he went into baseball because he wanted something to occupy his mind. He got it, all right. His first big shock came when he took a look at the team as it stood on paper. He discovered that there wasn't any team. He had innocently assumed that a franchise and a team would naturally go together. He now learned the one could exist without the other--that all you sometimes get when you buy a franchise is a permit to field a team in a specific locality, plus "good will," if any, and the "physical property," which may consist chiefly of a 1936 bus with hard-rubber tires, several soiled but identifiable hotel towels, and a broken pencil sharpener.

What had happened was this: Shortly before the close of the 1947 season, the previous owners of the franchise, as was their privilege, had peddled off every alleged ballplayer on the roster in order to meet their obligations and generally improve their financial position. They had peddled off everyone, that is, except one Cuban pitcher who had somehow been overlooked by the none-too-eager shoppers in the Florida League.

The discovery, as might be expected by anyone who knows father, led to a certain amount of breast-beating, but this was stilled quickly by Jimmy Hamilton's soothing words, about the advantage of "starting from scratch" and "having a new deal all around." Jimmy began by delivering a playing manager, Rudy Laskowski, a catcher who had been with the White Sox and had a successful record managing in the minors, a shortstop, a first baseman and an outfielder. …

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