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GUSSIED UP FOR THE GAME

Nov. 02, 1987
Nov. 02, 1987

Table of Contents
Nov. 2, 1987

World Series
Redskins-Jets
Bucks-Soviets
Tony Cherico
Jacksonville Oilers
Gymnastics
Pro Football
The Corner Man
First Person
Television
Point After

GUSSIED UP FOR THE GAME

All the field's a stage at Series time, even for the owners

The world series is, among other things, a busy stage on which sundry performers strut their stuff. Forget the ballplayers. They may get star billing, but they are in constant peril of being upstaged by such multifarious scene-stealers as managers, broadcasters, domed ballparks, hyperactive organists, press-box prophets and, most recently, fans—or have you been oblivious to the Red Sea and the Hanky-Panky? Everybody, it seems, wants to get into the act. And that number would certainly include those ordinarily shy and retiring fellows who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring these extravaganzas to you—the owners.

This is an article from the Nov. 2, 1987 issue Original Layout

Over the years and with varying success, owners have contrived to insinuate themselves into the proceedings. Oakland's Charlie Finley made an art form of stealing the show from his players. That reprehensible old trouper was not even above firing a player in the middle of a Series (Mike Andrews, 1973) or triumphantly bussing his soon-to-be-estranged wife on the dugout roof. Charlie O's logical successor was George Steinbrenner. George was bad enough when he was in the Series, once getting into a fistfight in an elevator. But now he's even worse. In the fall classic just completed, George used the off-day before the third game to announce breathlessly his fifth hiring of Billy Martin as manager of the Yankees. Since a Steinbrenner hiring of Martin is about as newsworthy as an Elizabeth Taylor wedding announcement, the press might reasonably have ignored the event entirely or buried it among the classifieds. But, no, George got his space.

A more curious form of World Series one-upmanship is the nightly ride of old Gussie Busch in the stadium that bears his name and sells his beer. Cardinal games are mostly Budweiser commercials anyway, but the real hard sell comes when the octogenarian beer mogul is propped up on the buckboard of his beer wagon and dispatched on a couple of pre-game laps around the ball yard. The whole shebang is pulled by the company's trademark Clydesdales to the tune of the company jingle, Here Comes the King. And here, indeed, comes the frail old man, who the day before had sustained paper losses on the order of $150 million, gamely waving a hankie overhead. What, besides the obvious commercial message, is all this supposed to mean? Is the old fellow simply welcoming the paying customers into his ballpark? Is he the Beer Baron acknowledging his subjects? Or is he just showing off in the grand manner of World Series team owners everywhere? Actually, his appearances last week sometimes offered more suspense than the ball games they preceded, because of the unnerving possibility he might fall off the wagon and land on his AstroTurf.

Calvin Griffith is no longer an owner, having sold the Twins to banker Carl Pohlad three years ago, but, through no effort of his own, he became the real owner celebrity of this past Series. In his active days, Griffith was often reviled as a skinflint who wouldn't pay his players top dollar and as a baseball troglodyte who couldn't keep pace with a changing game. In this Series, he emerged as a respected elder statesman, a welcome survivor of a baseball world long gone. Calvin is the nephew of the late Clark Griffith, whom he succeeded 32 years ago as owner of the Washington Senators. But Calvin found he couldn't make it in Washington, and moved the team to Minnesota after the 1960 season. He prospered in the Twin Cities for a decade or more, but as players' salaries climbed stratospherically, he reached the unhappy conclusion that he, a man who earned his living solely from baseball, could no longer compete with the corporations and conglomerates that were gobbling up other teams.

So he sold the team he first worked for in 1922 as a 10-year-old batboy. It was a sad moment for him, emotionally if not financially. He was convinced he would have to adjust to becoming a newly rich "nobody." But a funny thing happened: He discovered that people in town liked and respected him. "Maybe it's my integrity," he says. "Sometimes it hurt, but I always told people the truth. Or maybe it's because I helped make this a big league city, a big league state." Whatever the reason, he's a star now. Everywhere he went during the Series, friends and strangers alike called out his name. He signed autographs, shook hands and delighted both geezers and youngsters with the old stories. He still has an office in the Dome—"I'm a consultant who's asked maybe four questions a year"—but he had trouble getting to it last week because of well-wishers.

"I never thought this would happen to me," he says. "Things sure have changed. People don't look at me funny anymore. I like that. I go to bed every night smiling."

Who knows? Maybe something like this will happen to Steinbrenner when and if he sells the.... Naw.

PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSE