THE KING OF THE JUNGLE

Walter O'Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, would like to make friends despite influencing people, but his elfin spirit is a prisoner of the steel-trap mind that makes him major league baseball's most successful owner. The Master of Chavez Ravine has his monument but can't escape his image
April 18, 1966

The patroons of baseball, a few billion dollars' worth of business pour le sport acumen, milled around the lobby of the Dearborn (Mich.) Inn on a morning last July. Within moments they would assemble in plenary, secret session in a back room to consider the election of a commissioner who would commission wisely but not too well.

"We'd better get in there," one captain of the industry said. "I think the meeting's begun already."

"Not yet it hasn't," said another owner, who might be ranked lieutenant colonel. "O'Malley's still out here."

The colonel was not making a joke, and nobody laughed. It is not only American folklore but an article of faith among brother owners well-heeled enough to buy him out that Walter Francis O'Malley, president and two-thirds owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, runs baseball.

"If I run baseball," O'Malley said in his tiny office in the old Navy barracks at Vero Beach, Fla. one day last month, after informing the switchboard operator that Mr. Donald Grant, chairman of the board of the New York Mets, would have to call back later, "how come so many things have been passed in the past few years that I've been violently opposed to? Expansion, for one. The free-agent draft, for another. And I didn't even nominate anybody to be commissioner."

Like almost all of the ponderous legends built up around O'Malley in the 15 years since he took up the Dodger reins in Brooklyn, it is only partly true that he "runs" the game. It was also only partly true that Sherman Adams "ran" the government for a few years. Sherm didn't get everything he wanted either, but it was generally regarded as prudent to ask what he thought about things. It is a law of political physics that a take-charge guy will always move into a vacuum at the top, and O'Malley receives many more phone calls from baseball owners than General Eckert does.

Certainly, no single owner has ever enjoyed—and O'Malley enjoys it, make no mistake—a more prestigious and influential position. His organization makes more money than any of his lodge brothers (or O'Malley, for that matter) thought feasible a decade ago. He owns the most attractive, efficient establishment ever dedicated to the playing of baseball, the parking of cars and the vending of hot dogs, beer and tin horns, and the benevolent southern California sky is his dome. (Even if the Angelenos keep storming his gates at the rate of 31,000 per game, O'Malley won't actually own the place until about 1977, but it's a nice kind of hock to be in. "Money is one of the cheapest things you can buy," he points out. "The interest is tax-deductible.") Dodger Stadium was the first baseball park built with private capital since Yankee Stadium in 1922, if you can forget the controversial beneficence of several levels of government that got it off the drawing board. (O'Malley can forget it. "They keep calling it a giveaway," he says. "That property cost $3 million.")

Above all, it was O'Malley who tapped the Eldorado of the West at a time when baseball needed a transfusion of interest. After the game had had a brief, predictable flush of prosperity in the immediate postwar years, baseball fans were beginning to discover more rewarding forms of recreation than sitting through a double-header on Edwardian wooden seats in a dingy, outmoded stadium—almost invariably in the "wrong" part of town—and after the game walking to a car parked 15 blocks away. While O'Malley's radical exodus from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was motivated by self-interest, it enlightened public spirits—if not yet private capital—to the fact that baseball, like the cornflakes industry, was going to have to package its product. Caught in a pincers movement between football on one flank and the winter sports on the other, and with racing "seasons" being stretched from snow to snow, the National Pastime would have to discard its arrogant presumptions and compete, undignified as that might seem. The owners were going to have to make it easier for the fan to get to a baseball game and more comfortable for him to watch after he got there, or he wasn't going to show up. He, the fan, had warned them. (Dreary little Ebbets Field had bad seats only behind the poles, but there were barely 700 parking spaces for 32,111 seats; attendance had slipped from 1,633,747 in the pennant year of 1949 to 1,213,562 in the pennant year of 1956.)

Beyond the new ball parks built for "new" franchises, it must be noted that modern stadiums have risen in Washington and tradition-steeped St. Louis, that plans are in the works in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and Cincinnati and that even the unmanageables of Boston politics may yet pour concrete. And—oh, irony!—an optimist who had lived his life in New York might have assumed there would have been a Shea Stadium without the unthinkable trauma of the departure of the Dodgers and Giants. A realist—an O'Malley, for instance—would not have.

These changes, for whatever venal reasons and by however indirect an effect, O'Malley hath wrought. He has re-woven the texture of baseball and the attitudes of its entrepreneurs as much in 15 years as the late Branch Rickey, his predecessor as head of the Dodgers, did in 50. Yet it is highly unlikely O'Malley will ever enjoy the reverence accorded Rickey in his last 10 years by journalists who had chronicled his penuriousness for 20 years before that. Walter O'Malley's only son, Peter, is 27 now and general manager of the Spokane farm team. When he was 10 he was startled and puzzled by the audacity of New York sportswriters in calling Dad's boss "El Cheapo." Peter is too young to remember the calumny of the 1930s, when Rickey was running the Cardinals' "Chain Gang."

Strangely, Rickey's metamorphosis from avaricious old man to elder statesman began shortly after he applied a squeeze play to O'Malley when both were in the Brooklyn organization in the fall of 1950. There wasn't anything illegal about it or, from one point of view, anything unethical. It was exactly the sort of cute play that devious O'Malley might pull: bounded on the north by piracy and on the south by dirty pool, but in itself perfectly kosher. According to O'Malley, Rickey wanted to sell his 25% of the Dodgers because he had a nice offer to go to Pittsburgh and help John Galbreath with the reorganization of his pitiful Pirates. (The late Billy Meyer, then Pittsburgh manager, is reputed to have told his troops: "You guys could go on What's My Line? with your uniforms on and stump the panel.") Rickey said he did not want to go to Pittsburgh, but that was the kind of fib an O'Malley would tell. And Rickey wanted $1 million for his interest in the Dodgers.

"So he made a market," O'Malley said recently in his Vero Beach suite, with pictures on the walls of almost all the Dodgers' dignitaries, past and present, except Rickey. "It was the way he sold ballplayers. He'd have Branch Jr. go to the people and say, 'I think he'd give you Furillo, but you can't touch Walker.' "

In such a way was Outfielder Dixie Walker peddled to the eager Pirates in December 1947. Not only was "The People's Cherce" 37 years old, but he had that year announced his Alabaman option not to play on a team with Jackie Robinson. A number of Dodgers had shared this sentiment, but Walker was 37. So the market was made. Walker went to Pittsburgh, along with Pitchers Hal Gregg and Vic Lombardi, who had 18 big-league victories left in them. To the Dodgers came Preacher Roe, Billy Cox and Gene Mauch. To the Dodgers also came three (very nearly five) of the next six National League pennants. And to Rickey came Horseman Galbreath's undying admiration for his trading acumen.

"Rickey made a market," O'Malley said. "He got William Zeckendorf to bid $1,050,000 for his stock. He knew we didn't want Zeckendorf in the management, and he knew Mrs. Smith [widow of John Smith, president of Pfizer and. Cox, with whom O'Malley had bought his first piece of the nearly bankrupt Dodgers in 1943] and I had an option to meet whatever price he could get. It annoyed the hell out of me, because I'd gone on Rickey's note when he bought in."

There was, O'Malley said, only $200,000 in the bank, "not enough for spring training. The club had turned the corner under Larry MacPhail, and Rickey had improved it, but it wasn't the kind of property he said it was."

Divesting himself of his New York Subways Advertising Co. and his interests in J. P. Duffy and Co., building materials, and the Long Island Rail Road, O'Malley met the Zeckendorf bid. With Rickey's 25% now added to his own 25%, and with an option to buy 1% of Mrs. Smith's stock, O'Malley assumed control of the Brooklyn club and became president in a smiling ceremony that failed to mask the acrimonious maneuvering.

"I wrote two checks," O'Malley said. "One for a million, and one for $50,000. The $50,000 check came back endorsed by Rickey to Zeckendorf. I lost the money, but I had the satisfaction of showing it to Rickey. And I still have a photostatic copy."

The memory rankles, and part of O'Malley's often outspoken resentment of Rickey was jealousy of the latter's exalted place in baseball. "Funny thing," O'Malley said. "After that deal all the writers who had been knocking Rickey turned against me." A Celticly sensitive man with a firm belief that newspapers "make" public opinion, O'Malley yearns quietly for recognition of the fact that he isn't all bad. By 1957-58, when a towering majority of the press in the East was excoriating O'Malley for the betrayal of Brooklyn and a vociferous minority in the West was heaping maledictions on him for the attempted rape of Chavez Ravine, son Peter was a student at Penn and could read the papers even better than he could when he was 10.

"It made us sore as hell," Peter said recently, "because Dad had told us the real story. I kept after him to get somebody to write something to set the record straight. But he said no. He said the new stadium would be built eventually and that it would be a monument that would speak for itself."

(O'Malley weakened in this resolve at least once. During the 1957 season, the last in Brooklyn, The Saturday Evening Post decided it wanted a definitive story on the Dodger situation and asked for one from the late Tom Meany, who had begun covering the Dodgers in the early 1920s when O'Malley was living in his native Bronx and rooting for a young Giant named Bill Terry. "I opened all the correspondence files and gave him all the records," O'Malley says. "He wrote it and he got paid. But they didn't publish it. I guess it wasn't sexy.")

Using the time-tested Tammany techniques so well known to any New York lawyer who paid attention, O'Malley prevailed at length over his Los Angeles opposition, got his ravine and built his monument. No sports edifice in memory has shown such correspondence between the architect's visionary rendering and the fait accompli of the aerial photographs, which is perhaps an evidence of O'Malley's perception as "a half-caste engineer." But when he stepped back to admire his work it became, alas, another extension of his image—it was O'Malley's gold mine, O'Malley's "steal." It was precisely the wrong kind of image for a man who likes, almost desperately, to be liked. Being liked and making big money in the jungle of free enterprise, baseball style, are almost mutually exclusive, but O'Malley wanted both. He needs both. But the image is as monolithic as the monument.

There he sits, behind his desk, the long cigar in the plastic holder poised like a dart. The tailored suit minimizes the considerable paunch. A gilded 1903 silver dollar clasps the string tie just below his third chin. The thick brown hair, gray only near the ears, is combed straight back. Smooth, sleek. The eyes narrow only slightly behind the glasses, and the mouth makes a thin smile. He has aces wired and you have no pair showing. He purrs in a low register, like the last lion he shot in Bechuanaland. He'd like to do business with you, really, but he doesn't see how he could. Those damned taxes may make a Republican of him yet. But maybe we can work something out.

When the King of the Jungle stands up to show you the door, he is a real Walter O'Malley—the one the New York press embellished if it did not invent. To anyone who grew up as a Dodger or Giant fan in New York, the exodus hit with the cement-in-the-stomach impact of the day when the first-grade teacher decided it was time to put an end to that Santa Claus nonsense. For such villainy there had to be a villain. Horace Stoneham had moved his Giants, who had had great dignity years before the Dodgers even became funny, but would you believe Horace Stoneham as a villain? O'Malley was from Central Casting. The Dodgers haven't bothered retiring uniform numbers like 39 (Roy Campanella) and 1 (Pee Wee Reese) and 42 (Jackie Robinson), because Angelenos think Zack Wheat is a cereal. But Angelenos dig Central Casting, and they bought the image, despite its made-in-New York label. New York Cartoonist Willard Mullin put a beret and dark glasses on the image, and now he's our villain, baby. We stole that from New York, too.

Transplanted 3,000 miles, the image has grown in direct proportion to O'Malley's success. He can never have it both ways. Yet, undeniably, there is substance to the image, and O'Malley has helped to build it. If he does not keep a tight control on players' salaries as Rickey did—perhaps because Rickey did?—his rewards to auxiliary personnel are not lavish. "I am conservative only about money," O'Malley says, and that is supposed to be a bon mot. "I put it this way," said General Manager E. J. (Buzzie) Bavasi when asked if he considered O'Malley generous. "He wants value received for his dollar." And value received does not necessarily mean another dollar. There was the time in Brooklyn when a staff member, feeling his job had been well done, anticipated a raise from his modest stipend. "How old are you?" O'Malley asked, his arm around the man's shoulder as they looked out the window into Montague Street. "Forty-six," the staff member said. "There are a lot of 46-year-old men down there," O'Malley said, pointing to the street, "who would like to have your job." End of interview.

O'Malley indisputably connives, manipulates and tampers with truth—sometimes for pragmatic reasons and sometimes, it seems, just for the hell of it. Late on the night of Sunday, Oct. 6, 1957, he sat at a table in the Schroeder Hotel in Milwaukee, having an informal, off-the-record discussion with newspapermen he had known in New York. O'Malley kept saying "if" about the move to Los Angeles until one reporter said: "Let's face it, Walter. You are going to move."

"Don't bet on it, boys," O'Malley said solemnly. "Don't bet on it." On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 8, an off day for travel during the World Series, when the newspapers were hurting for material, it was announced officially that the Dodgers were moving. The boys were left to believe that O'Malley's multimillion-dollar decision to change the baseball map had been made in less than 36 hours. They knew him better than that, but they're still trying to figure out why he gratuitously misled them.

"I think he's like my father," said Vin Scully, the world's best left-handed baseball announcer. Scully, who has the same New York-Irish background as O'Malley and who has been with the team since Walter took charge in 1950, reads people pretty well, so maybe by now he has a clue to the compulsive deviousness. "I think he'd be very happy if you'd give him a long piece of string, all tangled up in knots, so he could have fun untangling it. There are some people who have to have a problem to solve, even when there isn't one."

"Yes, there are still problems," O'Malley said happily. He was sitting in his Vero Beach office, under a framed montage of L.A. newspaper stories celebrating the opening of Dodger Stadium in 1962. One of them, by Columnist George T. Davis, carried this headline: O'MALLEY SURVIVED BRICKBATS, NOW PLAUDITS ARE IN ORDER. There is a similar verdict, by Columnist Jim Murray, on the wall of his suite, and O'Malley says he hasn't read them, which is the kind of thing he says. It is quite possible they were matted and framed by staff members, since flattery has gotten some people somewhere in O'Malley's organization. But he hasn't read them? Don't bet on it, boys.

"We have one big problem in Los Angeles," O'Malley said. "The taxes are $800,000. You know what they were in Brooklyn? They were $18,000. We have to find something to keep the stadium busy outside baseball season. We've been thinking of making it an ice-skating rink."

All right. Obviously there aren't enough rodeos to go around. And the Dodgers are losing their prime tenant this year when Gene Autry's Angels move to Anaheim. How about pro football? "We don't want it," O'Malley said. "First of all, it would be a new franchise, and that means a bad team. Besides, you have to be careful about who gets into the management around here. I've already spent five years trying to teach baseball to a singing cowboy. I'm damned if I want to spend five more teaching football to some comedian."

There is the Hollywood problem. Last month O'Malley politely declined a presumably serious offer from Jerry Lewis to mediate the contractual stalemate with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. One of the things that had bothered him most about the holdout had been the introduction of an "agent." From the top to the bottom of the Dodger organization, the personnel who came west with the club have been changed to some extent by their propinquity to the Sunset Strip. (Except Bavasi; even if they plant Buzzie in Forest Lawn someday, there will be some corner of a foreign field that is forever New York.) Walter O'Malley seems to have been less affected than any of them.

"Sure, Walter has had Jessel and Danny Kaye and all those people around him," says a man who has tried life on both coasts. "You can't get away from that. But his only real friend in Hollywood is Producer Mervyn LeRoy, and he knew him before. He doesn't take those other people seriously."

O'Malley doesn't take himself too seriously, once he comes from behind the desk. A man who can shoot very bad golf and not get angry about it can't be all bad. Neither can a man who can laugh at himself. If you ask him, Walter can tell you hair-raising stories about shooting polar bear, lion and elk. But this is the one he tells without being asked:

"We were hunting lion in Bechuanaland. I got down from the truck to take the first shot, and the lion went down. When I started back to the truck, puffed up like a pouter pigeon, they were all yelling at me. I figured it was a gag until I turned around. The lion was up, and he was coming after me. I jumped to the truck, reloaded and fired. And I shot the radiator cap off the truck."

Among the trophies in O'Malley's office is a rusty radiator cap, mounted on a wooden shield. It is a present from his daughter, Terry, the mother of his six grandchildren. There was a limerick that came with it, which Terry can't remember except that it began, "There once was a hunter named Pop."

"She went to a secondhand-car dealer," O'Malley says, "and asked for an old radiator cap. The guy said: 'Why don't you buy a new one? It's only 65¢.' She said she had to have an old one. 'Look, lady,' the guy said, 'I'll give you a new one. You go home with an old one, your husband will kill you.' "

This is the other Walter O'Malley, and he is just as real as the image. In baggy old pants and golf cap, he careens around the Dodgertown reservation at Vero Beach in his gas-operated golf cart, stopping here and there to put a stake in the ground. There, in a short time, the two-man, diesel-operated excavator will dig a hole, and tomorrow a labor crew will plant one of the 436 Navajo willows O'Malley just received from a friend in New Mexico. Such mechanistic horticulture is a poor substitute for the greenhouse behind the modest home in Amityville on Long Island, where he grew orchids in the halcyon days before the money got big. But imprisoned inside every successful man is the kind of man he'd like to be if he had the time, or if he didn't have to send the kids to college, or if he didn't have to prove something to himself.

There is a Walter O'Malley who has entertained royalty and who pulls a six-iron shot 40 degrees off line and pronounces the wind a bastid, the pronunciamento being issued in accents that would be called pure Brooklyn by one who didn't recognize a perfect blend of Bronx and Queens intonations with a sprinkling of Long Island on top. This is the O'Malley who cheats at golf, arrantly. Anybody can make a 7 of an 8 and get away with it, but arriving at a par-5 green in 4 and saying you got there in 3 is big-league. And when you can act as if the other people in the foursome believe it, that is savoir faire.

O'Malley is also skilled at prestige cheating, the kind that has nothing to do with the score. There was this day he came to the 143-yard hole and said he was going to use a seven-iron. Cautioned about the opposing wind, he reluctantly took a six-iron. He hit it on a true line, and it stopped and sat up like a chipmunk, 10 feet past the pin. "Too much club," O'Malley growled. Bavasi and Fresco Thompson, a Dodger vice-president, broke up.

So he's a cheat. But the same O'Malley will play good poker hands badly for an hour so that a big loser can win some of his money back without embarrassment. He will take a ration of guff from a drunken reporter and act as if it never happened when one phone call could take the man off his back forever.

O'Malley doesn't always lean over backward. Two years ago, when his son was managing the Vero Beach camp, Walter went to 9 o'clock Mass and returned for breakfast at 10, when the kitchen closed, in accordance with an O'Malley edict. "He raised hell," Peter says. "I told him, 'Relax. You own the place.' " Walter stalked off, announcing to the winds that it was a hell of a way to run a training camp. His wife Kay subdued her mixed feelings and followed.

And now to Vin Scully for a vignette to show what kind of woman Kay O'Malley is. "Scene at Dodgertown: 20-year-old rookie in dirty baseball uniform knocks on door in barracks and lady answers. 'No towels,' he says. Lady scurries around until she finds him towels. Is this lady the maid? No, she's the wife of the owner of the ball club."

And Terry's a sweet kid, too. But before this deteriorates into an episode of Father Knows Best, let's get back to the "charming rogue," as the most disgruntled of O'Malley's former employees still calls him. Let's see the cynical way he operated when he wanted to build a new stadium on top of the Long Island Rail Road Station in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. There was a wild idea. It was almost as wild as the notion of putting a new Madison Square Garden on top of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, as they're doing right now. Almost as nutty as that domed stadium O'Malley patented back in the late 1940s. "Oh, give me a home with a Plexiglas dome," somebody caroled at a New York Baseball Writers dinner, and they laughed and laughed.

O'Malley got as far as this with that crazy scheme to take over Brooklyn's main crossroads: "Bob Wagner, the mayor, put our three friends on the commission: a Jew, a Catholic and a Protestant; two Democrats and a Republican. That was the way you did things in New York."

That was the way you did things in New York, but sometimes you made a mistake. Wagner couldn't get it through the Board of Estimate. There were other mistakes. Like when Rickey departed for Pittsburgh and took most of the Rickey men with him. If you worked for Rickey you were a Rickey man, largely because if you weren't a Rickey man you couldn't work for Rickey. But there was the remarkable coincidence that most of the people who followed Rickey were Protestants, and most of those who remained were Roman Catholics. A very large Mason called upon O'Malley and pointed out that Catholics alone would not do in Brooklyn. "You have to hire a Jew," he said.

"I have just the man," O'Malley told him. Lee Scott, a sportswriter with dark hair and a pencil-thin mustache, had just had the Brooklyn Citizen shot out from under him. O'Malley proposed to hire him as road secretary for the Dodgers, which he still is. "I didn't hire him because he was Jewish," O'Malley says, "but I was sure he was. I assumed he had changed his name from Feinberg or something.

"We hired him, and a few days later it was Ash Wednesday. So who showed up in the office with the biggest smudge of ashes on his forehead? Scotty. He had changed his name, all right. From Scottio."

O'Malley the Hunter has killed polar bear from an ice-breaking tug, miles north of Svalbard Island, many miles north of Norway. He has shot a record 50-inch sable from a Land-Rover in Bechuanaland. He has hunted guinea hen (and broken an ankle in the process) near Camagüey, Cuba. And if he and the sports at NBC-TV ever get together on a date, he's going to complete his collection by getting a tiger from aboard an elephant in India, in living color. But the most significant safari of O'Malley's 62 years was an expedition into the interior of Los Angeles by taxi-cab in the winter of 1956-57. They sought a rare species called Chavez Ravine, and they had to go without a native guide.

In Los Angeles the politicians and journalists still claw each other's eyes out over who did how much to lure the Dodgers from Brooklyn. That can be settled right here. "On the way through L.A. on our trip to Japan after the 1956 World Series," O'Malley says, "Vince Flaherty, the columnist, showed me this piece of property. When we got back I wanted to take a better look at it." So he assembled a party of Captain Emil Praeger, an architect-engineer; the late Bud Holman of Eastern Airlines (a director but never a stockholder of the Dodgers); and his daughter, Terry.

Captain Praeger had conceived the idea (and proved it on a small scale in Holman Stadium, Vero Beach) that a ball park can "lean" against a wall of earth, obviating the necessity of an expensive mess of structural steel, so he was essential to the safari. Bud and Terry were camouflage.

"We had already decided to buy a Convair 440," O'Malley says. "Going out to Los Angeles to see it just gave us an excuse to look at the property. But we couldn't find the damned place, and we couldn't ask anybody because you know what would have happened."

(Something like what happened later, in September 1957, when Nelson Rockefeller, not yet Governor of New York, came tardily and ostentatiously to the rescue with an offer to help the Dodgers finance purchase of the downtown Brooklyn property. The prices skyrocketed. The matter might have been handled more discreetly and the Dodgers might have stayed in Brooklyn had O'Malley not been stalking elk near Rawlins, Wyo., thereafter known as The Crossroads of the World. In Rawlins he just happened to bump into Harold C. McClellan, the former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, who was negotiating Los Angeles' end of the deal, and that's the sort of thing Walter O'Malley expects you to believe.)

With the help of a map from a gas station, O'Malley finally found Chavez Ravine. While Captain Praeger was estimating that seven million tons of earth would have to be shoved around, O'Malley stood like Balboa surveying the Pacific Ocean and beheld an island paradise: a body of parking spaces completely surrounded by freeways. That was the beginning of the end of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

But it was only the beginning of the end. O'Malley had scorned Flushing Meadow, the Shea Stadium site ("I was wrong as hell about that," he says now), but he would have stayed if they'd given him the property he wanted in Brooklyn. Norris Poulson, mayor of Los Angeles at the time, so deposes, and Norrie is too uncomplicated to fabricate such a tale. In a silly ceremony in San Francisco before the first big-league game ever played on the West Coast, Poulson hit San Francisco Mayor George Christopher's pitch about four feet and ran to third base. When they reversed roles for the opener in Los Angeles, Christopher hit Poulson's delivery about as far. But he ran to first, proving again that San Franciscans are sophisticated.

"Sophisticated" is O'Malley's favorite positive word; for the negative he likes "naughty." In the 1930s, doing well by mopping up after busted mortgage companies, he ran a "pretty sophisticated" law firm. To Bronx Borough President James Lyons, in whose purlieu the Yankees play, it would have been "naughty" for the city to help the Dodgers build a new stadium. It was also naughty for O'Malley's grandfather to help organize the first mailmen's union, and for this he was exiled to San Francisco. But you can't take the Brooklyn out of the boy; he returned.

O'Malley has one particularly naughty habit. Whether he is inviting you to play nine holes or asking 50 guests to hop on the Dodgers' Electra for an afternoon of frolic in Nassau, he wants people to come out and play with him. But the elfin spirit is never completely divorced from the steel-trap mind, and he wants to win when he plays. To make sure he wins, he always has a little edge going for him. Al Campanis, the Dodgers' superscout, is one of O'Malley's favorite pigeons.

On the way to Japan, O'Malley told Campanis about the cormorants, the birds Orientals use to do their fishing. They put a ring around their necks, see, but when they've caught 10 fish you have to take the ring off and let them eat one or they'll go on strike. Not only that, but the cormorants go into the water in a sort of batting order, and if anyone goes out of turn they go on strike. No, I'm telling you the truth. Campanis put his money where his doubt was and it cost him 10,000 yen ($28 at the time).

Then there was the way the Japanese tenderize beef: before the slaughter. They massage the steers, sometimes beat them with bamboo sticks, for several days before they kill them. "Darnedest thing you ever saw," Scully recalls. "On the train to Sendai, or someplace, I looked out the window and there were these two women, massaging a cow." And across the aisle there was Campanis, digging for another 10,000 yen.

But when Campanis got back to L.A. he still had one bet going for him. There sure as hell wasn't any such thing as square bamboo, and O'Malley hadn't been able to show him any in Japan. That's one I win, Campanis thought as he attacked his dinner in a Polynesian restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. Then a strange awareness came over Campanis. He was dining in the midst of a veritable jungle of square bamboo. Yes, sir, the waiter said. When the bamboo shoot is tiny they put this square metal tube over it, so when it grows—10,000 more yen.

"He has all these obscure facts in his head," Campanis says, "and he tells you he'll bet either way. But if you guess the right way the bet is off. He also comes up with some phony ones, so you can never be sure.

"But I got my money back. He bet me there'd be a woman in organized baseball within two years. He knew about that West German broad somebody was going to sign. Somebody did, but the commissioner disallowed It. I won $100 on that one, so I'm ahead." Who says O'Malley runs baseball?

If he did, there would have been no expansion. He was in favor of the Continental League, for the simple reason that he believed it was doomed to failure. He is in favor of a "sophisticated" players' union for the same reason.

"The only way you could expand now," O'Malley says, "would be to form a third eight-team league. In the first place there isn't enough talent for 20 teams right now. And who'd want to get out of this league? You'd lose dates with us, the Giants, the Mets—all the new ball parks. They put me on the expansion committee—that's one of the most effective ways to still the opposition voice—and I wanted a provision that the new teams would be the ones to spin off if there ever was a third league. But they voted me down."

O'Malley believes the players are wasting their time flirting with unionism. "That would be fine if they all agreed to take the same money," he says. "But they'd be better off if they'd send their man to Washington to talk about taxes. Everything these days is taxes and depreciation. A man doesn't necessarily sell a ball club to CBS because he wants to. He might do it because he's afraid of the evaluation they'd put on it if he died.

"The players ought to be in Washington, telling Congressmen that their bodies are just as depreciable as an oil well. If you can write off an oil well at 27½% a year, the players ought to get some consideration."

Out on Field 1, behind the dreary old Dodgertown barracks, Albuquerque Manager Bob Kennedy was lecturing a group of would-be ballplayers on physical fitness. "You're a corporation," said Kennedy, who lasted 18 years in the bigs with minimal abilities. "You're the only asset you have. You have to take care of yourself."

O'Malley has come to feel that way about himself. He concedes after some prodding that he is "influential" in the affairs of baseball, but he argues that it is not his relative strength but his relative vulnerability that makes him so. "Among the owners we have the biggest lumberman in the country," he says, "the biggest brewer, the biggest chewing-gum manufacturer, one of the biggest real-estate men. If something goes wrong with the game and the bottom drops out, they still have their lumber and their gum. I'd lose the whole ball of wax, at age 62. My investment is in baseball, and I have more in it than any man ever had. I have to pay attention.

"Besides," O'Malley says, "they are extremely busy men and it's hard to get them to work on committees. I'm on so many of them because I'm available. And because I'm willing. In any organization there are a few guys who do most of the work. In baseball, I'm one of them."

It is difficult to imagine the bottom dropping out of O'Malley's operation. There is an annual subscription of 15,000 to 16,000 season-ticket holders, most of them at $265 a copy, assuring him of about $4 million in receipts before Maury Wills ever carries a lineup card to home plate. When the Dodgers won their last pennant in Brooklyn in 1956, they averaged 15,761 customers a game.

Some of the season-ticket holders are also Stadium Club members, which makes them eligible for the Safari Group. The fifth annual week-long pilgrimage to Vero Beach attracted 48 this spring, at terms that would make Cook's blush: $300 for the round trip on the Dodger plane and you find your own lodgings, but the golf and the booze are on the house and you get to attend O'Malley's St. Patrick's Day party (which was shifted to March 16 this year because the 17th didn't fit the Dodgers' schedule).

And The Barbecue, a Lucullan event that takes place at the Holman ranch, far out in the snake-and-gator boondocks. The Barbecue was slow to swing this year because somebody asked Elmer, the drinking man's bartender, for a martini and there wasn't any vermouth. Bump Holman, Bud's son and the pilot of four successive Dodger planes, got in his car and took off down the road. "Oh," a sweet thing lamented, "he isn't going all the way back to Vero Beach just for vermouth?" No, lady. He's just getting his car out from under the trees so he can use the telephone. The vermouth arrived in a few minutes by airplane.

Meanwhile O'Malley put on a funny apron, grasped a tall Scotch and water and studied the mullet the girls were preparing. "Great food fish," he said. "And you know, that's the only fish that has a gizzard. That's right."

And how, he was asked, did he happen to know a fact like that? "Oh, I don't know," O'Malley said airily. "I guess I just read it somewhere. But it's true. It really is. You could look it up."

It might be a good idea for everybody to look it up. You never can tell when you might be passing through Rawlins, Wyo., The Crossroads of the World. Some guy dragging a dead elk might stop you and offer to bet you 10,000 yen on it—either way. Look it up. You're your own corporation and you've got to take care of yourself.

PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)