BASEBALL. MUSIC. ROMANCE
Skyler Mills is recognized in college as a mathematics whiz and a true genius. Yet when it comes to sports, she doesn’t know the difference between a touchdown and a home run! She’s the last choice that a sane Major League Baseball owner would hire as their GM. Yet when a fortuitous event lands her in that precise role, this five-foot-two inch dynamo sets out to turn the game of baseball on its head.
She has two partners: one a neuroscience freak and the other a musical composer; neither care a wit about the game or the franchise. So can she succeed when the team is a mess, there’s little money to fix it, and she’s reviled by most all of the players and execs in the male-dominated world of baseball? It would take a miracle. Yet even when the unexpected happens, and it appears she might prove victorious, her secret weapon is stolen by the owner’s nemesis, a guy named Thorne. Using the discovery to turn the tables on her, it’s time to declare war. This little lady proves to be a street fighter, the type not to be mistaken as fragile.
Dennis A Nehamen
Golden Poppy Publications Los Angeles, CA
by Dennis A Nehamen
Copyright © 2017 Dennis A Nehamen All Rights Reserved
Published by Golden Poppy PublicationsTM Los Angeles, CA
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from Golden Poppy Publications or Dennis A Nehamen, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
All images, logos, quotes, and trademarks included in this book are subject to use according to trademark and copyright laws of the United States of America.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016906835
Lyrical Passages by Craig M Nehamen
Cover by Cline Cover Design
Nehamen, Dennis A Author
Dennis A Nehamen
Coming of Age
Printed in the United States of America First Edition
I want to express special appreciation to my son, Craig. Creating the lyrics used in the soundtrack of Musicball, as well as this novel, was no easy task. The nuggets of rhyme sprinkle the tale with laughter, cheer and dance. I’m blessed to have been able to bring them to life in the context of this piece.
It was madness.
Neptune swapped places with Venus in our Solar System and started to smell like rotten eggs.
Uranus held its breath, turning a darker shade of blue praying that the solar musical chairs would end up being a ruse.
Jupiter belched gas as if it had bad indigestion. Mars bragged of waging war on her neighbors, then threw a tantrum before giving birth to a new generation of moons.
The planet Pluto issued a formal protest, alluding to refusing to grant any future rights to Disney for movies.
The sun turned up its thermometer hoping to kill what was perceived as a potential malignant virus.
Mercury went into retrograde and threatened to never resume a forward movement again.
Earth? Well, we were the ones that had sent our space neighborhood into a buzz; word on the street was that we were going to hell, and might take the rest of our planetary brethren with us.
What shook the cosmos to cause opposition bordering on anarchy, to convince our cousins that we were doomed? That question would have to be asked to a five-foot two-inch, twenty year-old lady who happened to be one of my two best friends. She didn’t know the difference between a touchdown and a home run. Yet by the time she finished impacting the game she would have single-handedly given Major League Baseball a new point of view.
Nobody could have seen it coming, except perhaps my dad; they were two of a kind.
CHAPTER 1: RICH KID
As my family history was told to me, Arnold Wolf, my dad, made his fortune in cosmetics. It was an easy decision for him to begin a company making products for skin care, bathing, facial makeup, hair cleansing and beautifying, and fragrances. The products cost pennies to manufacture and they sold for a ton per unit. The only big expense was advertising to build brand recognition, and father knew he was a giant when it came to knowing how to get attention.
Growing up, I constantly heard how I was to follow in daddy’s footsteps, eventually take over the reigns at Aurora Industries. I recall my dad’s six foot-four figure gaining an inch or two when he’d introduce me to one of his associates. His lips would pucker and his eyes glisten as he draped his arm over my shoulder to pull my flimsy frame next to him.
“This is my boy, Ben. Better watch yourself, Harold, he’s a chip off the old block.”
Early on, I had no clue what he was referring to but I’d stand smiling dumbly in his shadow while whomever he was talking with would comment to me something along the line of, “I can see your old man in you already.” Then as I matured to the ripe age of nine, it became evident that dad believed I was destined to become a big shot no different than “the old man.” It was a wonderful fantasy, especially given that I idolized my father. Who wouldn’t?
The man could do about anything. Once on a ski trip, I witnessed him dash at full speed through a series of deep moguls, never breaking form. He starred on his college baseball team and was offered a pro contract but turned it down because he felt it was his duty to serve his country, volunteering for the Marine Corps—years later he’d lead his company team to one league championship after another.
He loved kayaking and would take summer trips with some of his buddies to rivers rated fives, the highest level of difficulty. He also had the reputation of being a world-class chess player.
Once I saw him spread his wings and fly, and on another occasions he walked on water. My mom swore the latter two instances came from dreams I’d had but I was equally convinced she was mistaken, and argued the point so convincingly that finally one evening she the plan being that my father was taking all the boys in my class and their fathers in a bus to the ball game. He owned the team, so why not?
I bring up this celebration not because this story is about his major league baseball team and how I was drawn into the business, but due to the fact that it was an event that to me demarcated a reality it would take me over a decade to reconcile—I’d never be close to the man my father was; by most accepted standards of masculinity I was a flop, especially with the girls. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the members of the opposite sex. I dreamed of them day and night—to the point that eventually my enuresis gave way to baths of sticky wet-dream heated fluids.
As I developed into my early teens, I remained a frail, stick-like kid with as much athletic prowess as a mitten, which might account for why my father endearingly used the word in my nickname—my little mitten. Worse still, I saw no purpose in going out and having the bigger and stronger boys beat the snot out of me while my father roared encouragement.
By mistake once when I was a young boy playing
soccer, I was standing dreamily while one of the fellows on the opposing team came dribbling furiously in my direction. As he crashed into me, he lost control of the ball. I couldn’t breathe for several seconds and was terrified but I heard my father’s voice through the madness of the rooting parents’ shouts.
“That a boy, son. Hold your ground.”
The play continued while I stood in the same spot, curiously staring at the man who had to be loony to believe I would intentionally step in the way of Larry Simms, a kid twice as big around as me and one I was sure needed treatment for rabies. Thankfully, the referee blew the whistle and as I gasped my first volume of oxygen, I shuffled to the sidelines to be congratulated by “coach.”
I sucked at sports by age ten, stunk at age eleven and by age twelve retired from an inglorious career as a listless spoke on any team I had been on. In spite of my shortcomings, my dad still professed undying love for me. In doing so he introduced me to the lone flaw I discovered in his makeup, hope. It would take me years to convince him that he wasn’t going to mold me into a replica of the great Arnold Wolf, even more years for me to give up trying.
One afternoon he came home early, hearing me picking at my violin strings. I nearly passed out when he grabbed the instrument and played it. Thank God he wasn’t orchestral material…I was. When I was with an instrument—and I learned to play several—I experienced the same high I believe the other young boys did when they clobbered one of their opponents on the football field.
The craziest thing was that my father never chastised me for pursuing an interest far afield from where he yearned for me to be. To the contrary, he encouraged my musical devotion, going so far as to support me choosing an academy for art and science rather than a traditional university. Only on occasion, would he unconsciously reveal the secret behind his patronage.
Once I heard him talking to my mother, comfortably forecasting on my future. “He’ll get over this infatuation with music. I was no different. When he wakes up, it’ll be about making money, you’ll see.”
Then I recall more than once, him patting me on the shoulder, assuring me that he had my number. “Son, you get this music business out of your system, then I’ll teach you what makes the world turn.”
Men like Arnold Wolf are accustomed to getting their way though they’re not typically famous for patience. I was convinced my father was an exception in that regard due to the fact that I had been permitted to dodge his wishes for my career year after year. In the end, I was to be proven wrong. The man was about to put his foot down, heel-toe, bearing the fullness of his weight to wake me up to The Real World.
CHAPTER 2: MASTERS OF SUPERSTITION
It wasn’t my favorite place to spend a sunny afternoon or cool evening but millions of people were willing to pay big for a ticket to take in a ballgame. It’s hard to estimate what those same fans might ante up to visit the clubhouse before the team took to the field. Then, to sit in the dugout during a game—any game—would be worth a home mortgage for the most devout followers.
One year when The Blue Stripes—the Wolf-owned major league baseball franchise—were in the divisional playoffs, I was on the bench with all the ballplayers. I’d have been bored out of my skull, if I hadn’t taken my iPad touch and played Pac-Man through the whole game. Then when it was over and the team was celebrating, I was taken to the clubhouse. Champagne was flowing, the smell of liquor snuffing out the stench of body sweat.
My dad made a rousing speech to get the troops ready for the next level of competition. I thought of contributing with a violin sonata but no doubt would have been tarred and feathered. Instead, I listened in awe, wondering why these people were so delirious.
Then a couple years later, the team had propelled themselves into The World Series. My dad invited me to come to the clubhouse with him before the seventh and final game. I didn’t have the heart to refuse him.
It had been two years since I’d visited the park. I had forgotten what it was like watching these warriors prepare for meeting the enemy. As I scanned the locker room, I was awed by the preparations that many of the men engaged in. Some of it was bizarre, by my assessment.
Bip Carter, the star third-baseman, was sporting a long, shaggy beard and his hair hung in filthy clumps below his cap. I noticed the other players keeping a physical distance from the odor of his body. Even when they were communicating with him, they stood as far away as possible. He had vowed to not shower or shave until the post-season play was over.
Reynaldo Reyes played outfield. He was holding a strange looking amulet, kissing it several times before he finally stuffed it in his shirt pocket. Al Warren put his lips on a picture of his wife and their two little children before palming the photo into his back pocket. Aaron Heisler could be seen in the corner of the room praying in front of his locker, the nook home to a picture of Jesus. A few cabinets away, Barry Blaire chanted in front of a picture of his guru. There were so many guys crossing their chests in prayer, one might have thought they were in a church.
Baseball players are known to be the most superstitious of any group of athletes. From my experience with them, I’d have to say there’s truth to the proposition. A pebble resting in the wrong place on the infield can make the difference between an easy out and a series winning single. An unexpected wind can push a ball foul that otherwise would have won a game. A slick spot in the outfield grass can cause the fielder to lose a vital step that makes the difference between a game saving catch and a ball finding the gap and producing a run-scoring double.
Is there an answer to combat the unexpected? Ask almost any player and they’ll tell you how they attempt to contend with chance, though none I’ve met have had much success. Still, they’re continually giving it their best shot, inventing new ritualistic behaviors every time they perceive an association between a real event and their state of being at the time it occurs.
I recall a player who wouldn’t step into the batter’s box without first tying his shoe—only the left one— while leaning over without bending at the knees and standing exactly three feet from the plate. Others I remember would bathe the barrel of their bats in olive oil before the game or swing precisely six times before stepping into the batter’s box. Some insisted on taking only three warm up grounders before the beginning of an inning. Others wouldn’t shave on the day they were scheduled to pitch because they believed it was bad luck. The list of idiotic habits that these guys manufactured, all with the intent to beat their Gods, was endless.
I remember the atmosphere in the locker room that day before the seventh game of The World Series. It was getting close to the time when the players were going out to the field. One of the leaders, Flip Montil, called all the men together.
“The seventh game of the series…I should be scared, but we’ve done everything we can.”
Then he motioned for everyone to gather in a circle. “Listen up, gentlemen,” Flip called to rally the troops. Once he had their attention, he started tossing out words like warm up throws. The bursts of sound took on a rhythm, a lyrical quality that seemed to spontaneously flow from his lips. Then some of the other players joined in with what seemed impromptu performances. “What’s it all about? Waking to blackened skies…lifting weights while the masses rise. Then after we practice, we run dashes to pass the time. Gentlemen, the bottom line is we work ‘til hustle tears us, far as our muscles dare us.”
“It there’s an obstacle that’s possible, we’ve thought it out, right, Flip?” Manny Fresco, a reliever chimed in. “Still, don’t fault our superstitions ‘cause tough luck could mar this bout.”
Bip Carter was itching to add to the excitement. “We’ve worked the whole year through to triumph, so the city blooms. Our fans are overdue but you tell ‘em we can win it too.”
Flip had to put in the final words. “Because every player plays for just this very day, and nothin’s gettin’ stuck in our way…no way!”
By now the assembly of players was shouting enthusiastically, wildly high-fiving anything that moved. A moment later, they stampeded out of the room.
I lingered a while before making my way to the large box overlooking the field where my father watched. It was an over-sized space. He had invited one of our state senators, several associates and friends, and sitting next to the owner was Bob Arlington, a shoe-in for Hall of Fame when he became eligible. He’d been the All-Star shortstop for The Blue Stripes for over a decade before retiring after the last season.
The atmosphere was festive, at least until the seventh inning. Our best pitcher, Toothless Bobby Hastings, was on the mound. He was untouchable for the first six innings but then something happened. Jessie Martinez of the Red Sox smacked a slider down the left field line, fair by close to the exact fifteen-inch width of the base. Our third baseman, Shinji Irabu, was positioned to catch the ball but it caught the inside edge of the canvas and ricocheted beyond his glove and past the infield.
The next batter, Clyde Poole, hit a line drive and Kia Coe, our new Golden Glove shortstop, simply miscalculated the one-hopper. It was only his third fielding error of the year—a near impossible feat—but couldn’t have come at a worse time. There were now runners on first and second with no outs. Immediately, the entire infield and the catcher converged on the pitcher’s mound for a powwow. Toothless Bobby was seen pounding the ball into his mitt while the other players seemed to be apologizing for putting him in a hole—they were encouraging him to work out of it.
Their thoughtful efforts were to no avail. After the two mishaps occurred, I could have outpitched him, and I can hardly bowl the ball over the plate. Within about eight pitches, the Red Sox had amassed as many runs. Even with a late inning rally, The Blue Stripes came up short.
I snuck out of the box in order to avoid the foul mood that I knew my father was in. He despised losing. The bitterness was worse for him since he had a different outlook on chance than most of his players. In fact, he had no respect for those who excused their shortcomings due to chance, luck or fortune. Superstitions were the pabulum of the weak and inadequate. Yet he lived his whole life surrounded by those who suckled on the teat of fortuity.
The clubhouse was full of a sad collection of just such sorts. I arrived precisely as the players were making their way inside. Kia Coe was the first in. He angrily threw his mitt into the wall of metal lockers. Then he sat on the bench, burying his head between his knees. Toothless Bobby was next in; the remainder of the team followed right behind him. He tossed his arms in the air as a sign of resignation.
“The Friday Hastings Curse. I’m sorry guys…I knew I was doomed before the game even started,” Toothless Bobby moaned.
He’d never said a word about it that morning but it was a known fact that from early in his career, he had a problem going to the mound on Fridays. If the pitching rotation called for him on that day of the week, he’d try to beg his way out. He was convinced that the alignment of the planets only during that specific span of time would be upsetting to his spirit, no different than caffeine caused gastric burning for a person with irritable bowel syndrome.
Had this fact been brought to the attention of my father, he would have intentionally pitched him on every Friday until he overcame the moronic belief, or traded him along with his sixty-three million dollar contract for a pitcher with a less restrictive form of magical thought. Why our manager insisted on putting him on the mound was due to the prior two games being long extra-inning affairs—he simply had no other fresh arm to employ.
Boomer, our clean-up hitter, was seen taking off his good luck beaded necklace and irreverently slamming it down to the floor.
“We pounded them at the plate,” Boomer muttered. “Sure, but they were all right at their gloves,” Kia retorted.
“And they caught them, didn’t they?” Boomer chided, intentionally rubbing it into Kia that it was his error that started the downfall.
Fortunately, there were no reporters permitted into the locker room of the losing team because the front office would have had, in addition to the job of mopping up the embarrassment of a pathetic display by the team, to explain a civil war. Kia had no tolerance for ridicule. As if spring loaded, he jumped up and commenced with a violent two-handed assault on Boomer.
It took several minutes for the teammates to break up the tussle. Kia was still struggling to release himself from the grip that five of the players had on him when he shouted back at Boomer.
“How many errors did I make all year? If you could do anything other than stand at the plate like a blind gorilla we may have staged a serious comeback.”
Boomer responded with a disgusted look, ending the encounter by turning away from Kia. It was Arnie Spann, one of the most respected and levelheaded of the group, who stepped in as peacemaker.
“This one just came at a bad time, Kia. Everything was against us.”
“The Friday Hastings Curse,” Kia muttered. “That had to be it.”
I noticed Flip never moved to intervene in the squabble between Boomer and Kia. He was taking off his jersey and removing the black sun reflection material under his eyes. After Kia spoke, he casually walked over to where most of the team was knotted.
“Look, I’m no happier about this beating than any of you. But we lost. That’s about all there is to it. They were better than we were today. It had nothing to do with the alignment of the stars.” Flip paused to look at Toothless Bobby, who, by the way, in spite of his healthy contract never purchased the dental care that would have plugged up the gaping hole in his mouth where two teeth had been knocked out by a ball that hit him in the face when he was a kid.
“It didn’t matter what day of the week it is.” Now he scanned the men slowly as he spoke. “Kiss your bat before you go to the plate, let your beard grow down to your toes, read your Bible before the game—deal with fear however you want, but in the end, it all comes down to the fact that they outplayed us and we were defeated.” Flip’s words had a melting effect on the group. The players, heads down, moping, began to slowly spread out through the room. Off to the side of the space, was a man I’d met several times, Reed Thorne. He was the only person present wearing a sport coat, slacks and a tie. What stood out most about him in my eyes was that his face was never seen without a smile, a sly smirk suggesting he knew he was brighter and wiser than anyone else. His apparent complacency might have been annoying had he not tempered his conceit with wit and affability. “Boys, if I may have a moment,” he called out appealingly. “Flip’s right, we were outplayed today. But my Lord what good is it going to do to blame each other?
Even worse, why be so hard on yourselves. We had a hell of a year.”
Why he would take the loss with the high spirit he expressed, I couldn’t compute other than to assume that he felt badly for his men. Still, he went way beyond what I might have expected under the circumstances, especially from the General Manager of The Blue Stripes. Rather than even permitting the players to suffer, he wanted them to celebrate. He was not going to settle for a compromise; he continued his speech, unaware that at the moment he was addressing the troops my father had quietly entered the room from a side door. He posted himself silently, watching the spectacle.
“I know disappointment. I’ve had my share,” Thorne continued in a consoling tone. “But I’ve learned some tricks along the way. There’s no time in life for wallowing in pity. Think of the positive side. You’re all rolling in money, young and fit…you just need to get out of this ballpark and forget the whole thing for a while. Come back next year, fellows, and we’ll try again.”
Thorne then began snapping his fingers, creating a pulse that ricocheted like sound waves across the room. “Hell, you all need to get out of this city.” Thorne then paused for a moment while he seemed to be hatching a plan. “You need to go somewhere that will keep you from sulking, remind you just how lucky you really are.” Now Thorne halted his pep talk. He seemed to be further contemplating a plan. “Men, I think I know just the place.”
He resumed the finger rapping, the amplitude of sound increasing while he was crafting words to keep his peppy talk going. “Every one of you has rides outside that would cost a fortune. And I’ve seen some of the women who are so sweet you can’t even believe you’ve scored them. Myself, I’ve got a chaperone and a flashy home to call my own. So if you fellows want to weep away so be it, but life awaits, go cry your way to Vegas.” The foul mood in the room was temporarily no match for Thorne’s brand of comic relief. A few of the boys began chuckling, encouraging Reed to continue. “Men, you’ve got our whole town hovering, loving you every time you’re near. What a wonderful feeling. Win or lose, they still show up and cheer. Now you have three months and nothing to do and a bundle to spend men.
Ah, pine if you’re so inclined but why when you can take off to the land of sin? Cry your way to Vegas.”
Even the most sullen of the players couldn’t resist a grin as the GM wrapped up his consolation speech. “I’m coming too. We’ll see the dancing clubs and fall in love each night and morning…and if you’ve got a wife on my life I’ll swear to never tell the stories.”
After he polished off the last statement, Thorne seemed to be on a high. He turned to the two players standing closest to him.
“How about a taste of the goods? Who’s got a deck of cards?”
One of the players yanked one from his locker and tossed the pack to Thorne. He quickly opened it and dealt a hand on the bench in front for all the players.
“Hit or stand?”
Thorne never waited for the player to decide. He pulled out the next card, throwing it down next to the other two.
“Screw it, there’s twenty-one!” he proclaimed as if he’d created magic.
Thorne gleefully peered at his captive ensemble of players. But then as he glanced around the room he noticed for the first time my dad positioned in the exact spot where he had entered. As Thorne made eye contact with his boss, my dad moved to center stage where he mimicked his GM. It was eerie. In no uncertain terms, he let Thorne and the rest of the team know he had a different take on the situation. The man was an artist too? I’ll name his speech, Wolf ’s Reply to Cry Your Way To Vegas.
“Vegas, it’s a nice town. I like it too. And, yes, you men are rich and healthy. Hell, I’m glad to support it. I’m like your bank and with a shake you can take your take. You might say I’m easy.” He puffed his chest as if he was about to blow down a brick house. He glanced at Thorne. “Not this time my wealthy shrew; the bank is closed to you because I’ll be damned if I get screwed while you destroy my jewels.” His eyes glared, a not at all friendly stare I would not have wanted directed at me. “The name is Wolf, not an easy Flow; you got it backward, buck-o.”
It was short of a tirade on the part of my dad, but sufficient to leave no doubt for all in attendance that the owner was peeved. He walked out on the stunned group, delivering a scowl to Thorne’s still shockingly peaceful demeanor.
CHAPTER 3: ME TOO STUNNED
What does a man do when he has all the money that he can dream of? It depends on the man—or woman.
Some of the fabulously wealthy prefer to adorn their sitting rooms with original oils by famous artists while others like to purchase giant rocks their wives can wear on their fingers to show off to friends. Still others build mansions so large they can conduct on-going affairs at home and never get discovered by their wives.
There are also those who have a fondness for living in privacy, purchasing their own islands upon which they build a palace. Yachts? I’m told that some of the richest people in the world compete with one another to see who can have the largest vessel designed for them. Some of these crafts are so immense that they can only be docked at a naval shipyard.
When the fabulously rich seem to have acquired nearly everything imaginable, they discover new ways to indulge by doubling, tripling or quadrupling their holdings in certain categories. My father told me of a gentleman he knows who when planning a trip to France was shocked to find out that the reason he didn’t need to lease a Riviera home was because he already owned one. Arnold Wolf? He was a different sort of animal. True, he couldn’t get enough of things, but mostly they were ones classified as assets. I couldn’t have estimated his net worth. I had never balanced my own checkbook or paid attention to a bank statement. I do know that not long before the time this story was unfolding, it had been rumored that Aurora Industries was about to be sold. One of my friends brought the newspaper article to my attention. I winced when I saw the buyout figure of just over three billion.
I later learned that the company was privately held, most of the stock belonging to my father. It was also brought to my attention during family discussions that Aurora was not his only asset. Yet to know him was to be aware that neither luxury, glamour or fame motivated him. In fact, I can think of only one “thing” he valued for his own pleasure and it had nothing to do with impressing the world with his enormous power. I’ll address that in a moment.
I did notice growing up that brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and close friends lined up like bellmen waiting for tips to collect samplings of my father’s fortune. My impression was that he was aware that these “loved ones” took advantage of his generosity, yet he never refused assisting them. On occasion, I overheard him discussing the point with my mother who would confront him with the fact that he was not only being used, but enabling some of the “parasites.” He’d agree, but then go on repeating the same acts of charity. I know for a fact he put two of my cousins through college. Another who lost her father when she was a child, he took under his wing, purchasing a real estate property in her name so that she’d have income for the rest of her life. The man was like most industrialists, a walking contradiction capable of spawning myths of greed as well as goodness. On the former side, make no mistake, he showed no mercy toward another businessperson if they permitted him to slaughter them in a deal. For Arnold Wolf, life boiled down to a game, and the pure thrill of making something happen was his reason for being. He’d by far prefer to spend an evening talking with friends about how he made a killing by buying a small company and weaving it into the Aurora parent than spend his time fantasizing trips around the world or overlooking architectural plans for a new estate. No, I had witnessed the ecstasy on his face many times from nothing more than having successfully completed a negotiation.
I purposely left off the above list of treats for the
filthy rich, the category of owning sports teams. The NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and about any other league of professional sports is dominated by businessmen who have a dream of owning a pro franchise. The esteem is immense. However, I’m told that it is not as grand as the predictable, non-stop increase in value that these assets provide. So while most of these power brokers are having a blast flaunting their team like a charm on a bracelet, they’re effortlessly realizing huge gains in the value of their property.
Recognition and status was not a motivating factor for Arnold Wolf when he purchased The Blue Stripes. Sure, he had a background in baseball and knew the game intimately. But that alone never would have motivated him to buy a team. It was because when he took under consideration purchasing The Blue Stripes, he had concluded that the organization represented a rare asset in its class that was grossly undervalued.
The team had been failing year after year. The previous owner wasn’t in a position to invest in the property in order to allow it’s actual worth to be realized. My dad figured that if The Blue Stripes started winning, he’d score huge on a new long-term broadcasting contract and then entice the city to fund a modern stadium that he could use to glean income not only from baseball but other programs as well.
It was one of the few times that his assessment of a business wasn’t panning out as expected. The town was a Mecca for college and professional football and basketball, and it also had a reputation for embracing baseball even more wildly. Still, no matter how much money my father threw at the team, and no matter how they performed, the city political elite rebuffed his attempts to package a stadium deal. More insulting was that the media interests offered pitifully low amounts for the rights to broadcast The Blue Stripes games—my dad was losing a bundle. Sure, it was proving to be a valuable tax write-off but that was little compensation for the humiliation he experienced.
One might now better understand why, after watching Thorne dishonorably trivialize the loss, my father reached the point of outrage. In fact, the attitude exhibited by his GM, along with another factor I was not aware of at the time, collectively had brought my father to a decision regarding the future of the team’s lead man, even before the locker room debacle. The problem for me, however, was that my father thought he had hit a stroke of genius, that he’d come up with a strategic plan that would in one pop reconcile several issues that were simultaneously gnawing at him…me topping the list.
One would expect when entering the office of a man of my father’s stature to discover an area large enough to house a basketball court. They would be disappointed in the case of Arnold Wolf. He worked out of a space not much larger than a child’s bedroom. There was none of the lavishness one would bet they’d find either. The walls were the most interesting aspect of his office. They were decorated with innumerable replicas of products his company had produced. A museum would be a good term to describe it. Scattered about were also a few baseball memorabilia.
It was rare that he’d ask me to visit at his place of business but he had called the day before I met with him, telling me he had a proposition he wanted to go over with me…in person. When I arrived, his secretary told me he was expecting me and to go in. I still stopped to knock before I entered. I heard him call out to me that I was free to come in. He was on the phone and motioned that he’d be off in a minute. I listened in on his conversation.
“I don’t need to tell you I’ve become attached to the players. I care about these men. That said, I realize now that we have big problems. No, Hank, it’s not just losing the series a few months ago, it’s more than that.” He sat silently for a moment while whomever he was talking with shared a thought. “Thorne!? I’ll have a story for you tomorrow. I promise, you’ll get it first. Look, I have to go. My half-baked muffin is here.”
I rarely traveled without my violin. On this occasion, I was holding the case in my right hand. While he was still on the phone I sat down and opened it. I placed the instrument under my chin and took out the bow. It was my way of easing tension.
“Son, we need to talk,” the man addressed me.
His tone was grave, causing me to haphazardly pluck a string with one of my fingers.
“Well, I know I keep harping on you about getting some real world experience; yes, even a job.”
The latter word commanded a full note, the bow sliding miserably across the strings and producing a dooming sound.
“If you think you can put me off by strumming that instrument…“
My intent had to have been to silence him with musical chatter, for I began fiddling the bow across the strings in an unruly manner. In response, my dad stood up and began motoring around the office. He picked up a baseball he had resting on a shelf and began popping it into his gloveless left hand. Then he repositioned a picture on the wall that wasn’t straight.
Next he opened a box he kept on the top of his desk and took out a See’s sucker, putting a caramel flavored goodie in his mouth. Finally, he rested his buttock against the edge of the desktop so he could tower over me as I sat. He took the box and stretched it out so I could choose one—I loved chocolate and immediately pealed the wrapping and mimicked him as I placed it in my mouth—at last, a chip off the old block.
“Damn it, Ben, we need to get down to business.”
I’m sure it had to be a mixture of insecurity and anxiousness, for I started to grin. Then the next thing I knew I was laughing.
“Dad, you have enough money for the both of us.”
“I have plenty. I have more than you and I and the next ten generations of Wolfs can spend. But do you know what I don’t have?”
I hadn’t a clue where he was going so I hit another note on the violin with my finger and looked up at him blankly.
“I don’t have enough to make you appreciate it.” “I don’t care—“
“Sure, you say you don’t care about wealth but how could you if you’ve never earned a dime?”
“I think I’ll be fine even if, god forbid, I never end up falling head over heels in love with money like you,” I lethargically informed him of an indifference toward riches I’d expressed to him innumerable times in the past.
“Son, I refuse to let you go your whole life without knowing what it’s like to earn something, to work for something…to succeed!”
“Are you going somewhere with this?” I asked him; the discussion was proceeding in a tone I found unfamiliar though the theme was ancient.
“You’re about to be news, my boy,” he announced gleefully. “I’m having you take over as General Manager of The Blue Stripes.”
This time my violin bow made an indolent de scent downward on the strings, gravity producing an unpleasant and sour sound that might have set a record for note length.
“You what?” I asked, as if I had been moonstruck. “What are you talking about? You have Thorne, he’s the best.”
“Thorne is the best all right; but only for Thorne,” my dad caustically denounced the man who had been responsible for bringing the team to The World Series.
“That’s what Thorne does best, get people to think what he wants them to think about him.”
“He took your team to within one game of winning a World Series,” I pled, more for my case than for Thorne. “Of course, he did. With a squad whose payroll is double that of any other team. It is a group of stars that cost me their salaries plus what I have to pay the league for exceeding the salary cap. Ben, you know me well enough so you’ll believe me when I say I wouldn’t utter a word about a man unless I’m sure. Thorne’s dishonest… and a crook,” my dad proclaimed without withholding his bitterness. “He lies to those players he claims to love. He’s lied to me about contracts, endorsements…you name it. I didn’t want to do anything until I had a chance to sort all this out.”
“I thought you trusted him,” I said with bewilderment. “A man never trusts in the way most people conceive the word,” he chuckled, emphasizing the word “man” to let me know there was a distinct difference between males in general who don’t get the point of what is meant by trust and a rare breed of man, like himself, who understand what foolishness it is to place blind faith in another human.
“But if you never trust—“
“Son, the misunderstanding is in the word trust itself. The average person is educated to define it so as to set themselves up for disappointment.”
“I really don’t understand what you’re saying. To me when I say I trust someone, I’m expressing my belief that they wouldn’t intentionally act to harm me. Why should I be disappointed unless they betray the trust I gave to them?” I was surprised to find myself engaged in what I perceived as a philosophic discussion with my father.
“You just hit the nail on the head. ‘Unless they betray the trust you gave them.’ It’s all about responsibility. When you, as you just stated, give someone trust, you’re, in fact, making them accountable for what is yours, whereas in truth the responsibility rests on your shoulders.”
“That’s a pretty twisted way to look at it, in my opinion.”
“Well, let’s see if that’s the case. I leave my wallet on the table stuffed full of money. I pay no attention every time the housekeeper is in our home. Then one time, I notice that five hundred dollars is missing. Should I blame her for violating the trust I put in her? Sure, she’s guilty for having taken the money. But who is responsible for her guilt? It’s me. I tested her when I had no right to do so.
“I’m not suggesting that nobody has values and principles precluding them from violating the honor of a relationship. Oh, no, not at all. I’m pointing out that if you leave yourself open by providing another person the opportunity to breach the trust, then you have to rely on what? Come on, son. If you’ve listened to me over the years you should know the answer.”
“Hope?” I answered tentatively.
“Bingo! You’re hoping that the other person’s conduct will turn out to be faithful to the principles you hope they’d adhere to. And yes, you might be fortunate sometimes, even a good percentage of the time. But succeeding in life does not result from laying down bets on a crap table in Vegas; only the house wins in the end. When Joe Average trusts, he or she is placing a wager, conducting their life like a gambler…and they’re surely going to get whacked eventually.”
He gazed at me, his smooth lips moistened as his tongue slid across them. I could see the gradual expression of humor creeping across his face.
“Never, never, never blame someone else for your carelessness,” he lectured. “Appreciate people’s talents. Enjoy their good intention to be decent and honorable human beings. But do not ever put them in the unfair and unpleasant position of having to schlep your fantasy of man’s benevolence by you trusting them.”
“Some people believe that man is by nature good, dad,” I reminded him.
“They’re correct. Man is good…when he adheres to rules: when he knows that there are laws and consequences for breaking them. On the other hand, when they do wrong, and then we forgive them their wrongdoing, we are really excusing ourselves. That’s why man has such a hard time punishing others. He elevates forgiveness as a high ideal because he wishes to hold out for himself the option to act with impunity.”
He halted for several seconds before making his final comments on the topic.
“If you steal from me, son, it’s on me.” “So you don’t trust me?”
“Of course, I do. But I would never disrespect you to the point of leaving you with responsibilities that belong to me…it’s my duty to look after my assets, not yours. Can’t you see? That way you never have to be tempted to betray me. It’s my love for you that dictates what you might call mistrust on my part. I love my fellow man. Its’ because of my caring that I’ll never impose blind trust on him.”
“Dad, getting back to Thorne. What did he do?”
“He was the only one in the locker room after The Series that didn’t care that we lost, right? You heard it with your own ears and saw it with your own eyes?”
“Yeah, he wanted the guys to move on without a pang of upset,” I concurred.
“He was giddy because he made money off of our loss. You see, Ben, he made a deal with one of the top agents in the business. If we lost, the agent was to pay him one and a half million dollars. If we won, the agent was to pay him one and a half million dollars.”
“You’re confusing me, dad. The agent must be a fool.” “No, he’s a crook but not a fool. It was all handled through a contract, one that I approved by the way. Anyway, we needed this particular player to enhance our chance of winning. The arrangement that I understood we made with him, to entice him to come over to The Stripes, was that we said that if we failed to win The World Series he would get a bonus of three million dollars, obviously not for losing but for agreeing to help our team. The promise to him was that we would be able to deliver him a World Series ring. His career was wrapping up and he lamented he’d never even played in a series.
“I had no way of knowing that this player would have agreed to play for The Stripes for half of his prior salary, just for the chance to win the big one. Plus, he knew nothing about the three million dollars. Reed and the agent had agreed that the player would never be informed about it—which is precisely what happened. After that, obviously, the funds would be split between the agent and Thorne.”
“Dad, how did you find out?”
“That I can’t disclose. But I will tell you that I’m not filing criminal charges.”
“Why not? You just said that people have to face punishment for this type of criminal act, right?”
“I did. But I have a different punishment in mind, far more beneficial to me than going through a court of law. I’ve documented everything. I can’t move against Thorne because I signed off on the contract…it’s tricky. The agent, however, is in a tenuous position. He has three million dollars that I can prove belongs to one of his clients. He’s soon going to find out that Arnold Wolf is not a docile man when he’s been swindled.”
“What will you do?”
“For one, he’s going to be paying me three million dollars. That will be his one and a half million—and then Thorne’s take. That will total three million. Then I’m going to hold a hatchet over his head for as long as he lives.”
“Blackmail?” I deduced.
“Never. That’s illegal. No, I’m going to retire him out of the business, give him choices that will end his career and leave him bankrupt. He’ll pay.”
“Okay, I understand. But why do I have to pay?” I said in a childlike tone. “I didn’t do a thing. Besides, you can fire Thorne and hire somebody else.”
“Why should I? I have you.”
“Dad, I never cared for sports, you know that. Besides, I’m happy; I’m having fun.”
“Fun? Smoking pot, chanting and laying around all hours…it’s time that you become a man.” Then he eyed me in the oddest manner, like he’d never seen me. “Oh, and you’ll probably want a haircut.”
“I’m a senior at the National Institute,” I proclaimed as if defiantly advocating for what I thought was one of my basic rights. “You’re going to pull me out of school… to run a baseball team? I sucked at baseball.”
As I was protesting his inane decision, my father took the baseball he was still holding and gunned it across the room, directly at me. Instinctively I reacted, clumsily reaching for the sphere to block it though it still dropped to the ground.
“There. You’re already better than you think,” he barked at me. “You’ll make a famous leader; might even discover you are better cut out for athletics than you gave yourself credit.”
“This is not funny,” I moaned. Then, like a little boy, I decided to smugly pull out the last card from my deck; the one I knew would trump him. “I’m talking to—“
“Mom? I already had a chat with the lady and she’s in delightful agreement with me.”
That’s when I knew I was in trouble. Sensing defeat, I leaned back in the soft leather chair, contemplating my options. Sadly, it took far less time than I might have wished; what choice did I have? Sure, I could have told the man to shove it and emancipated right on the spot but…I’ll shamefully admit I wasn’t ready. Still, there had to be something I was missing that might alter his decision or at least ease the misery I anticipated attempting to be a businessman. I decided to let the conversation play out and see if I could find an angle to use to my advantage—wait and see proved to be a wise strategy.
“How much would you be paying me?” I posed with nonchalance.
“Thank god!” my dad roared delightedly. “If you didn’t ask me that I might wonder if I failed miserably as a parent.”
“Well, how much,” I pushed, sensing that bargaining enhanced my position for no reason other than my father lived for the joy of the negotiation.
“Here’s the story, Ben. Of all the businesses in my inventory, The Blue Stripes are the only loser and—“
“How much is Thorne making?” I thought that might be a clever place to begin the bargaining.
Rather than answering, my father bent over his desk and pressed the button on his intercom, calling his secretary.
“Heather, get Thorne in here will you?” Then he turned to me. “He was getting a smooth four mil…plus a few perks.” He stopped to calculate his options. “I’ll tell you what, since you admit to knowing nothing I’ll give you a hundred grand…and that’s generous.”
“Generous?” I retorted with a heavy dose of insult.
I had an idea that I thought might sugar coat what I perceived was a dung sandwich being shoved down my throat. “I’ll need four hundred and fifty thousand plus an unlimited expense account. And I want one other thing.”
“Son, you’ve no hand for bluffing.” He was bursting with laughter by this time, I believe mostly due to appreciating my moxie. I assumed he was aware that he held all the chips but I knew he didn’t want to employ his power and risk bruising my pride.
“I want to hire Whitman and Sky as co-general managers. I’ll split the salary with them.” There was nothing humorous in the situation as I assessed it. Bringing along my two closest friends in the world might at least make it tolerable. “I might be able to coax them into this for a hundred and fifty grand each. As you know, they both live on starvation budgets.”
“But what good are they going to be?” my father asked earnestly, unable to ignore his habit of never spending money carelessly.
“What good am I going to be?”
“Okay, it’s your call,” he consented with a proud smile. The man had enjoyed a double win. At a later date, he would disclose to me that he wasn’t convinced that I would accept taking over the team and concluded he’d bluffed his way to victory. Then, he figured that the difference between Thorne’s salary and what he would be paying to the three of us left him ahead millions. He was overjoyed.
As the man was feasting on the fine outcome of his plan, the intercom went off.
“Mr. Thorne’s here, sir,” Heather informed him. “Send him in,” he instructed her merrily.
Thorne was a tall, thin man who walked with a stride reminding me of an actor walking up the aisle on his way to being presented an Oscar at The Academy Awards. He was the happiest cat I’d ever met, that wily smile wrapping fully across his smug mug an irresistible calling card.
There was only one chair across from the desk, the one I was sitting in. My father had returned to take his seat. He was reclining with a smirk of his own. Seeing me in the chair, Thorne grabbed one from a small table in the corner and began moving it over.
“You won’t be here that long, Reed,” my dad called out to halt his effort.
“Good. I need to get back to my office as soon as possible. I’m having a heck of a time with Hawk’s contract. Collins, his agent, is a SOB if I’ve ever met one.”
“You can’t figure out a way to make him happy?” my dad asked, but with derision. “These agents need a little incentive sometimes, Reed. You have to be inventive.”
My father smiled oddly at him, the insinuation enough to excite Thorne’s imagination that he might have been discovered but not sufficient to satisfy him that his boss was certain of the deception. That was precisely how my father wanted it.
“But you can forget Hawk’s contract. I won’t sign it anyway.”
“But he’s the best catcher—“
“Reed, let me get right to it. You’re fired. Ben will be taking over your duties.”
“Your son?” Reed laughed, certain that my father was enjoying one of his pranks. “Oh, I get it. April Fool’s Day in January.”
Reed turned to leave, jesting to my father. “I’ll get back to you later when I figure out this Hawk business.” “Hold on there, cowboy,” he called out to Thorne as if he were John Wayne. “This is no joke. When you get back to your office there’ll be a security officer waiting for you. Take your personal possessions with you— you’re out of here today.”
It was the first time I’d even seen Thorne without the glee in his face. He looked like a woman out in pub lic who just realized that she’d forgotten to put on her makeup. His forehead tightened and the skin under his eyes darkened. The man was fuming.
“Your son will drive the team into the cellar.” “Will he?” my father answered him.
“We made it to the final game of The World Series; what do you expect?”
“You’re out.” my dad declared convincingly. “And close the door, please.”
“Most of the players will follow me,” Thorne shot back like an insulted child.
“I hope they do, and take their big salaries with them” Thorne did close the door; he slammed it. All my father did was wink at me.
“You never told him why you’re letting him go,” I reminded him.
“Don’t ever give a liar or cheat the opportunity to argue their case, their defense will be worse than their deception.”
“So, what now? What if the players do follow him?” “I’ve already decided that I’m restructuring. I’m making this a low-budget, moneymaking organization. Son, I’m sick of this team sucking on me like a tick. Most people wouldn’t believe that an organization as successful as ours, making it all the way to The World Series, could be losing millions a year; sadly it’s true.”
“But with no money—“
“You’ll see how well you can do.”
“But you want me to learn how to win, don’t you?” “Ben, what I want is for you to learn to make money.
You’re going to study accounting, statistics, marketing, budgets—“
“Right. You’ll find it in the dictionary between Buddhism and buffoon.”