My wife and I are approaching our 39th wedding anniversary, and though we were not young when we tied the knot, we are hoping that we will be able to stay healthy (and coherent) enough to eventually celebrate fifty years.  That will, I expect, be something special, we’ll have to have an extra portion of jello to commemorate the event.

But it reminds me that I met her, indirectly, through baseball, and all because of someone whose name I will never know.

I’ve loved baseball since I was nine years old, but as much (and as long) as I tried, I never displayed any great talent, a malady I’m sure many of you suffer from as well.  I never could hit the ball, and though I showed some ability on the mound, I did not throw very hard, which is the first thing coaches seem to look for in a pitcher, even if that kid couldn’t find home plate with a GPS.  So eventually I honed in on forging a career on the business side, and after receiving a Master’s from Ohio University’s groundbreaking Sports Administration program, I set out to conquer the baseball world.  It didn’t take me long before I settled on simply entering the baseball world.  Breaking into the game, especially back in the 1970s, was not easy, but after several years of trying, I was able to land my first job in 1978, as the Assistant General Manager of the St. Petersburg Cardinals of the Florida State League.  (See “Riding With An All-Time Great” for a little more about that experience.)  Working there, and working/volunteering at minor league headquarters, was a wonderful learning experience and led me to my next position, as Assistant General Manager of the Amarillo Gold Sox of the Texas League.  I was there for two fabulously interesting and educational seasons, and then thought that I was ready to move up and run my own club.  

In the aforementioned “Riding With An All-Time Great,” I mention that my boss, John Dittrich, and I drove to Dallas in December of 1980 for baseball’s annual convention, the Winter Meetings, where I spent at least part of my time searching for a new job (with John’s knowledge and permission, of course).  Though I passed out a lot of resumes and spoke to a few people, when we drove back to A-Town, I was still employed by the Gold Sox, and expected to be with them for the upcoming season.

While still in Dallas, I was attending one of the promotional seminars when a friend of mine slipped into the room, sat next to me and whispered “There are people outside the room wearing Waterloo jackets.”

Things are a bit more organized nowadays for job-seekers, but in 1980 we were not given a lot of direction.  We had heard that the Waterloo team of the Midwest League, the low Class A farm club of the Cleveland Indians, were looking for a new GM, and I was very anxious to speak with them.  Thing is, I didn’t know anyone from Waterloo, or Iowa, or the Midwest League, so how could I meet the right person/people?  Leagues often held meetings at the convention, and I remember finding out when and where  the Midwest League people would be gathering, but when I stood outside the room, I was unable to identify anyone specifically from Waterloo as they went in.  So when I got the tip that a couple of people wearing their distinctive jackets were just yards away, I went running.

It was a man and a woman, and I quickly introduced myself, handed them resumes, and told them that I had three years of experience as an assistant, was ready for the top spot, and could be in Waterloo before New Year’s Day.  The man, whom I later learned was Lefty Dunsmoor, a member of the team’s all-volunteer Board of Directors, had a pained look on his face.

“I’m sorry, young man,” he said.  “But we just hired someone last night to be our GM.  Good luck to you, though.”

Door opens a crack, door slams shut.  Oh well.

The day after we had returned to Amarillo, John and I were having a meeting to discuss sales and promotions for the 1981 season, but were interrupted by a phone call from Bobby Bragan, whom we had both worked for at minor league headquarters.  (Once again, see “Riding With An All-Time Great.”)  He didn’t want John, though, he wanted me.  “Fella from Waterloo, Iowa grabbed me just ‘fore I left the hotel,” he said with his distinctive raspy voice.  “Asked if I could pass a message along that he wants to speak to you about their GM job.”  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.  “I was told they hired someone,” I replied, as my heart started pounding faster.  “Dunno ‘bout that,” said Bobby.  “He just gave me his name and phone number, said you could call him ‘round 4 pm or so.  Do you want it?”

Yes, I wanted it, and since this conversation was taking place in the morning, the rest of the day went by V E R Y  S L O W L Y.  And when I did call, I only reached an answering machine.  Damn!  But I was good and politely left a message, with my name and number.  

He did call me back.  His name was Gerry Heber, and he was the President of the nonprofit Waterloo Baseball Club.  They did, indeed, need a General Manager, and would I be interested in coming up there for an interview?  


“Soon as you can get here.”

I booked myself on a flight for the next day.

The ballclub was good enough to spring for a room for me at the Ramada Inn, at that time the only hotel downtown.  I took a cab from the airport, checked in, then walked around a few of the nearby streets.  I ate in the hotel, brushed my teeth, put on a jacket and tie, and waited for Mr. Heber.  When he called my room, I asked if he wanted me to meet him in the lobby and he said, “No, we’ll come right up.”  We?  Yup, when I answered the knock, seven people came in, all members (I would learn) of the Executive Committee.  They sat everywhere, including on chairs, on one of the beds (there were two), even on a trash can that one fellow overturned.  I sat on the unoccupied bed, and proceeded to answer all their questions.

I, of course, had a few questions myself, starting with “I had been told you’d hired someone, what happened?”  Turned out that, about 24 hours later, their new hire changed his mind, leaving Waterloo Baseball high and dry just as all other candidates were leaving Texas.  The resume I had handed to Lefty was, undoubtedly, heading to a Dallas landfill, but someone remembered my connection to Bobby Bragan.

We arranged to meet again at the ballpark the next morning.  I remember it was cold, no surprise since it was the week before Christmas.  The park looked fine, old but OK, and they told me they were going to be enlarging the home clubhouse (a demand from Cleveland) and building a new concession stand, which would be an improvement on two fronts.  Then we went inside and they made me an offer and I accepted.  Now, between the two meetings, I had given the whole scenario some thought and realized I was in the driver’s seat; they needed a GM more than I needed a new job.  So I could have haggled for more money, and maybe I’d have gotten it.  But why?  That would have started me off on the wrong foot, and besides, it was just me and I knew I could easily survive on what they were offering.

That was December of 1980.  In early February of 1982, I met a young woman named Susan, who was divorced and raising two young boys.  Though I had always shied away from that situation, there was something about this woman…

Over the course of the next several years, I asked a few of those Exec Board people the same question: “OK, tell me, who was the guy who took the job and then rejected it the next day?”  I never got a name.  In the early days, I’m sure they knew his name but had decided, for whatever reason, not to give it out.  Even after I left Waterloo in early 1984, I maintained contact with several people and, as those years went by, no doubt that person’s name disappeared from their memory banks.  

Thus, I’ll never know who he was, or why he had a change of heart.  But I can speak about my heart, which still belongs to Susan, some four decades later.  So thank you, mystery person, whoever you are.  You impacted my life more than you could ever, ever know.