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Monday, June 11, 2012

Bob's Books - The Lords of Baseball by Harold Parrott

The Lords of Baseball is an insider’s look from Harold Parrott. Parrot was a sportswriter for the Brooklyn Eagle who became the travelling secretary for the Brooklyn Dodgers during Branch Rickey’s tenure. He moved to Los Angeles with the team and became the ticket manager: the same position he held with the San Diego Padres and Seattle Pilots, as well as promotions manager for the California Angels.

First off, there is some fascinating stuff. There are plenty of baseball books by players, managers and sports writers; even a few owners (hello, Bill Veek). Plus, the occasional tome from a baseball-side executive, like Parrot’s long time coworker, Buzzy Bavasi. But it’s rare to find an informative account from an operations person, like Parrott. Having said that, a caveat: Parrott is a bitter writer.
There is a caveat for this book: Parrot is a bitter man. His dislike of the owners, various and sundry individuals, and most certainly, Walter O’Malley, cannot be described as “thinly veiled.” It is palpable, jumping off of page after page. A description of O’Malley, when the owner was calling Parrot’s wife to try and get her to coax Parrott to take a promotion, sums it up well: “…he was the villain who had forced our dear Mr. Rickey to walk the plank.” It’s safe to say you’re not going to get a lot of unobjective commentary from the ex-reporter on that topic. Now, that’s not to say Parrott isn’t honest, accurate, etc… I subscribe to Bill Terry’s statement that “Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it.” Major League Baseball succeeds in spite of itself. Richard Nixon famously said, “I gave them a sword, and they stuck it in and twisted it with relish.” This book is Parrott’s sword and he’s happily twisting it.

O'Malley (left) would drive
Branch Rickey out of Brooklyn
Parrott stories and insights into the behind the scenes stuff over three decades (the game has changed mightily) are attention worthy. Branch Rickey regularly outwitted Pirates owner John Galbraith on trades. When the Dodgers won a World Series, some employees were given rings. O’Malley required them to turn in a previous ring (if they had one before they could receive the new one. Apparently you weren’t allowed to have two rings.  And Parrott says that O’Malley was going to fire manager Walter Alston in 1974 and bring back Leo Durocher. But the Dodgers hit a winning streak, Alston was kept and the Dodgers went to the World Series. That’s a story I’ve only run across in this book.
A particularly great look inside is when Parrott tells the story of how he had to inform Leo Durocher in mid-season 1948 that The Lip was fired. Naturally, Parrott was worried. Durocher had been thrown out of the first game of a doubleheader and was in a foul mood, shaving in his office, razor in hand. And Parrot wants to hurry up and do the deed because…he was also afraid of Durocher’s fiery wife, movie star Larraine Day. He wanted to be done and gone before she made her regular visit to see her husband. Understandably, Durocher is pissed at Branch Rickey, who had given Parrott his instructions from a hospital bed. Which he apparently checked out of as soon as Parrot was gone: Rickey fled to his farm in Maryland. Durocher’s Dodgers kept winning and he wasn’t actually fired. Except that Rickey arranged for Horace Stoneham, owner of the Giants, to buy Durocher to be his manager. Afterwards, Parrott went into Durocher’s empty office. Day had taken everything personal, leaving behind just one thing. An autographed picture of Rickey, addressed to her. That was left in the toilet.

Durocher going from the Dodgers to the Giants in 1948 is on the record. But Parrott gives the reader so much more. The book is full of stories like that.
Rare photo of actual Seattle Pilots game play at
Sicks Stadium in 1969. Parrot gives the inside
story on how the owners set the franchise up
for certain failure through...
If you accept that the author has quite a bit of disdain for much of the subject matter, this is an excellent read and provides a great deal of information that you aren’t likely to find somewhere else. I would buy this just for the Durocher and Jackie Robinson stories alone. You also get a look at the old days of sports reporting and the newspaper business (the Brooklyn Eagle was printing FIVE editions a day: sometimes more when events warranted). Parrott had an adventurous life in baseball and it is fun to read about. I think this is the best ‘baseball insider’ book I’ve read yet.

...Dewey Soriano: the
original Frank McCourt

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