"It's a Sad Day"

Peter O'Malley said it best "It's a Sad Day." The Dodgers are divorcing Vero Beach. It will be over, one of the longest love affairs and marriages in sport. During World War II, there were lots of little Armed Forces training places in Florida, Vero Beach being one of them.

The northeners who went there said, gee, this would be a great place without the bugs and without the terrible heat. And God heard their prayer and invented air conditioning, DDT and a host of other things that made living in paradise paradise.

Now Walter O'Malley was a lawyer, a banker, a real estate expert and many other things, but he was a man of God as well. He had a revelation -- that what was invented for war could be well used in peacetime.

It really was a marriage made in heaven, and those of us true believers have benefited for more than half a century. Peter O'Malley said it "It's a Sad Day" before anybody asked baseball's Shakespeare, i.e., Vincent Scully.

Now Peter, Vince, old Tot Holmes way up there in Nebraska, Billy Shellheimer aka Bill Shelly and me are all of the same breed, a dying breed, those who bought 2 cent newspapers in Brooklyn, who remember who Hilda Chesler and Doc Griffin were, who have lived and breathed baseball and the Dodgers for six and seven decades now.

So when the current Parking Lot Owner who owns Dodgers pulls the plug on Vero Beach, it is not only a sad day, it literally and figuratively the end of an era.

Bob Barvey was one of the head chefs for Harry M.Stevens & Sons, the New York concessionaires at ballparks, race tracks, Madison Square Garden and most all sports emporiums. Walter O'Malley loved Bob Barvey and talked Harry Stevens into lending him Barvey for spring trainings in Vero Beach.

Barvey once told us that when the kid pitcher Don Drysdale would drive in from California, he would arrive in his old genuine wood-sided station wagon with the wood peppered with tar from the cross country trip.

Barvey told us how when annually overweight Roy Campanella would arrive, one of the first things he would do is give Barvey a hundred dollar bill. For this emolument, Barvey was to give Don Newcombe the end cut off the roast beef and the "first cut" for Campy.

Barvey also told us how Mr.Walter would take him along to his fishing camp near Vero Beach as bartender and general factotem for the long into the night poker games.

It was at one such game that Mr. Walter brought Norris Polsen, the mayor of Los Angeles, and it was over the poker table the deal to abandon Brooklyn for Los Angeles was cut. (The "cut" was appropriate, for Mr.Walter "suggested" that Barvey cut his, Walter's, drinks but spike the LA mayor's libations.)

Barvey asked us to not reveal this tale until after his death and we complied. He also told us many hundreds more Vero Beach stories, most of which have not been written -- yet.

Now as Brooklyn was cut out of the Dodgers at a Vero Beach fish camp, Vero Beach itself has been cut out of the Dodgers by the McCourts. The O'Malley's were and are loyal. They remained loyal to Vero Beach, they remained loyal to the Catholic Church in Vero Beach and until they were forced by inheritance laws to sell the team, they always gave the Dodgertown facility to the church for its annual fundraiser.

Over the years, we would see the great Dodgers play in big league games -- but from the stands. At Vero Beach we would get to mingle with them up close, as close as you wanted.

We once sat well past the midnight hour, one of the last four in the bar with no cash register, with Mssrs. Donald Drysdale, John Podres and Sanford Koufax, nee Brown, and it was a great baseball chat.

There are no bars without cash registers at Dodgertown in Vero Beach anymore. There haven't been since the O'Malley's left. But the ghosts of writers Bob Hunter and Jim Murray and so many others still float around. Vero Beach was a magical place.

To be truthful, of late it has more resembled the fading movie star Gloria Swanson in the great fillm "Sunset Boulevard."

But when Vero Beach's baseball day in the sun came up, California was a backwater, there wasnt a big league team west of the Mississippi, teams traveled by train, a million dollars would buy you a team, and a pop could take his kids to the ballpark and have one heckuva time for a $5 dollar bill.

We were a touch saddened but not surprised to hear Tuxedo Tommy Lasorda comment that while he loved Vero Beach, it was the "right" decision to make. Whatever else, this Lasorda comment is quintessential Lasorda.

Vero Beach was the favorite of the baseball lifers, the scouts. They knew they could sit in the press box out of the sun and the rain. They knew that at least through the O'Malley years they could eat what they wanted from the concession stands on the cuff and it would be brought to them at their seats. The scouts knew they would get treated at Dodgertown in Vero Beach than anyplace else in the game.

And it was not only the scouts, it was everybody. The fans, the customers, the retirees hanging around in part time jobs for something to do. the press (it never mattered if you were a big city prize winner or a local stringer), the players, the families. Under the O'Malley's, the players' wives got tennis lessons.

There were St. Patricks Day parties. Everybody was in the family. All you had to do was be included in the faithful.

If a player, like in most other places, would suggert a fee for an autograph, he was quickly pulled aside and told "The Dodgers don't do that here."

A lot of the best of Vero Beach and Dodgertown began to slip away ever so quietly but ever so quickly the day Peter OMalley had to sell. It was never the same again.

And now, very soon, it won't be at all. Baseball is the loser. The sport is the loser. And we are the losers. It is so unfortunate I could not have taken each and every one of you along for the ride.

Oh, you would have loved it as much as I did.

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