Seventy years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to play professional baseball with the most advanced major league franchise of the time—the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. They had a farm system of 400 ballplayers. They had an extensive and knowledgeable scouting system. They had teams represented in every level of professional baseball—the major leagues, AAA, AA, A, B, C, D—and sent some of their minor leaguers, including me, to play winter baseball. They had 32 minor league franchises. They had a spring training facility where players, managers, top brass, and coaches could share their knowledge in this multi-field baseball facility. It was called Dodgertown. In Dodgertown you had the luxury of picking the brains of members of the entire organization.
The Dodgers brass really liked me. The cues were there, spread throughout my eight years in the organization. I received a $4,000 bonus. Letters from Fresco Thompson and my mother were cues. They paid my way to and from spring training when I was in the service. They asked me to go out with owner Walter O’Malley’s daughter. They let me play three games in one day at Dodgertown. I played with the Dodgers’ major league club against the Pittsburgh Pirates. More cues. I captained the all-star team against the team of Dodger brass, managers, coaches, and scouts. They started me playing in Class C ball instead of D ball. They advanced me from C to AA ball. They sent me to play winter baseball in Venezuela. They gave me the opportunity to choose where I would like to play. They selected me as a player–manager at 26 years of age.
Only when I’d written a book and was 90 years old did I realize their tremendous interest and plans for me. The evidence through letters, newspaper clippings, articles, and other paraphernalia was overwhelming. Only a blind man or a man with tunnel vision could miss it. I guess I was that man.
At that time, communication in all franchises was negligible at best. Upper management didn’t speak to middle management. Middle management didn’t speak to managers, and managers didn’t speak to players. Fraternizing was frowned upon.
Never in eight years were there end-of-the-season assessments. There was some instruction at spring training, but during the season you were left on your own to figure things out. Instruction, if I got any then, was through teammates. My guess is that the numbers game was at play, the belief that the cream of the crop would eventually make it through to the “biggies.” Wholesome neglect was indeed at play. I sincerely believed that words of encouragement would have been the catalyst to changing my life.
What if, at the end of my baseball career or during it, someone in the organization called me to the office and said, “Marty, we think so much of you that we gave you the same bonus that we gave Jackie Robinson and the Yankees gave Whitey Ford.”
Marty, we have 400 ballplayers and only you are invited to go out with O’Malley’s daughter….You’ve been elected to be the captain of the Dodgertown all-star team….You had a .250 first-year batting average in C ball and you’re playing with the Dodgers against the Pirates….We jumped you from C ball to AA ball with one year under your belt….At 26 years of age, we made you the playing manager of the Orlando Dodgers and you did a great job…..
Other forms of encouragement during those eight years would have been the icing on the cake and tipped the scales. We like how you hustle. You have good resilience, keep trying. You have advanced bat control. Way to improve your fielding. You are an effective team player, excellent leader, highly skilled, etc. Had they worked me better, I’d probably have been a baseball “lifer.”
In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t. My life may have been more glamorous but not nearly as fruitful as the path I chose. I had so many jobs. This gave me insight into how rich life is. It’s made me a wiser, more considerate human being. The path I took gave me an excellent understanding of what the formula for a happy, successful life is.
Indeed, I am grateful!