Phil Spencer, nee Filippo Spoletto, was the first. Phil, the old time radio station guy with the major league voice and the All Star heart, took a nap a couple of years ago and just slipped away.
A big guy with big opinions, Phil was the first in his family ever to live long enough to collect a Social Security check and he cheated the grim reaper for a dozen years after that before going home to be with the Lord.
Yesterday, our group of three became two as Billy Shelley and the Dodgers finally separated in the only way that would ever be possible.
Shelley and I had a forty year plus history. Back in the Gene Mauch-Dick Allen Phillies days, he would cover the Phillies for the Wilmington, Delaware, paper and I would occasionally cover the same team for the Lancaster, PA, New Era.
We reunited in the mid 80s in Vero Beach. Spencer was there already and during spring training so was Holmes.
If my memory serves, I introduced Spencer to Holmes. So for the better part of the last two decades, we had the good fortune to work together. And a joy it was.
We were all different but on the Dodgers we were bonded by the life long love of a story that began in Brooklyn, Spencer's home town.
Shelley loved the game. He loved the minor leagues. To tell you the truth, he probably was a bit put off by the pomposity and arrogance of the big league game. He reveled in knowing more of the little people in baseball than anybody else - the scouts, the wives, the instructors. Nobody - none of us - had better inside connections in the Dodgers organizations.
Now, Dodgers employees are trained to be careful not to talk to the press, the rule being saying nothing is a whole lot better than saying anything.
Lots of Dodgers staffers over the years have gotten in trouble, some big trouble, for something they said that would wind up in print. This is the rule throughout baseball. Pete Gammons and now Mr. Rosenthal are the two best in the big leagues at having connections.
In all of minor league baseball, there NEVER was anybody who could hold a candle to Billy Shelley as getting the inside info. Not once, not often, but year after year. When Billy Shelley told you some inside stuff, you could go to the bank with it.
The four of us - Spencer, Holmes, Shelley and me - each probably can or could be said to be potentially dangerous in that we all knew a little bit about the game. Each of us had friends in the game. We were offered a bird dog scouting job more than once as well as a big league writing slot.
Shelley himself was as good a talent evaluator as many a scout, before or after the mandatory requirements of toting both computer and speed gun. We all could tell when a pitcher in the late innings would begin to fly open in his delivery, a sure sign of being tired.
All of us were around the Dodgers long enough to know when, for example, Tommy Lasorda was really saying something, when he was talking to distract writers from something the front office didn't want being focused,and when, well, Tommy was just talking to hear himself talk.
The four of us all ranged from the end of Brooklyn and New York based writers - Dick Young to Roger Kahn - and most if not all of Los Angeles' best - Bob Hunter, Gordy Verrell et al.
Shelley moonlighted as a full time schoolteacher for years so he could afford to follow his full time love and real vocation - baseball. Like most teachers, he didn't make or save a lot. It was only when he inherited some money when his mother passed on that he had the luxury of a little bit of financial leeway. The first thing he did was relocate to Vero Beach full time.
Shelley was, as anybody who knew him up close knew, follically challenged (or short in the hair department). He for years sported a full toupee that, well, didn't come from the same shelf as Frank Sinatra's.
Like Boss Holmes points out, Billy Shelley was a walking encyclopedia of the Dodgers minor league department in all of its many facets. It probably can be said he knew more about it than all but a handful of human beings -all of them regular Dodgers full time employees,and most of them already dead.
Billy Shelley gave us - and you - stuff you couldn't get anyplace else. He was unpresupposing. But ask him a real question and rat-a-tat-a-tat you'd get a machine gun response, each bit on the mark.
Billy Shelley could write but he almost always cut back the impulse and just gave it to us simple and straight.
Oh boy, will we miss him.
Bill Shelley R.I.P.
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