Friday, March 24, 2023

Insight: A Major League Miscue

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

As a child growing up in the 1960s, it was difficult to imagine a life without baseball being a part of my future. I spent about every waking moment either watching games on television or in person, collecting baseball cards or playing in Little League games in my hometown.

Henry Aaron
But as I grew up and entered college, the prospect of becoming a major leaguer or working for a professional ballclub dimmed as I got married, settled down and had bills to pay. As I waited for a job writing about sports in the spring of 1975 to come to fruition, I walked in off the street and applied for work with the Albuquerque Dukes Baseball Club, the top minor league affiliate at the time of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The job was as an administrative assistant to the team’s general manager and what I lacked in experience, I more than made up in enthusiasm during my interview.

Somehow, and I truly don’t know why to this day, Dukes General Manager Willie Sanchez liked my bravado and hired me on the spot. The season was about to start and even before Opening Day, two major league teams were coming to Albuquerque and playing their final spring game of the season in our ballpark. The opportunity of being around major league stars set my young mind into a tailspin of anticipation.

The major league teams playing in the game were the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers, and they were breaking spring camp in Arizona and headed north for the 1975 season. The administrative assistant’s position during games meant I did whatever I was asked to do by the general manager and oversaw all team promotions on the field.

As the big day neared, I coordinated and made sure every request for food for each major league team was delivered and set out in the team locker rooms. It was quite the feast including a carved ham and a carved turkey in each locker room and plenty of fruits, vegetables and desserts too. I also was tasked to meet each team bus as it arrived from the airport and escort the players into the stadium facilities.

When I completed the job of getting each team settled into their respective locker rooms, I was summoned to the ticket office where the Business Manager of the Albuquerque Dukes, Bob Gilmore, handed me the name of the young girl who was the winner of a drawing to throw out the first pitch before the game. I took the name to the press box, and gave it to the public address announcer, with instructions for her to meet me by the third base dugout 15 minutes before the start of the game.

Then I was handed a clipboard and a yellow legal pad by Willie Sanchez and told to accompany him to the locker rooms and take notes for him of anything he asked me to write down. We entered the Cubs locker room and there I met Darold Knowles, a relief pitcher who I watched pitch in the minor leagues for the Rochester Red Wings. He was nice to me and showed me one of his World Series championship rings that he had earned while pitching for the Oakland A’s from 1971 through 1974.

No Chicago players or coaches had special requests, so we then moved over to the Brewers locker room. Right away I became transfixed on the sheer size of Milwaukee’s first baseman, George Scott. He appeared to be the size of a massive oak tree. He told the general manager he wanted more black olives for after the game and I scribbled it down on the legal pad. We then worked our way down a string of lockers, stopping and talking with each Brewers player.

At one particular locker, Willie Sanchez paused and had a photographer waiting in the manager’s office to come and take his photo with the player. Once that was finished, we were moving on to the next locker. But the player that Sanchez was speaking with then motioned for me to come back over because he had something to tell me.

I walked over to him, and he said to me, “Hey kid, is that something you want me to sign?” I explained to him that I was working for Willie Sanchez and was taking notes for him in the locker rooms. I still didn’t recognize the player and I told him again that I needed to catch up with the general manager. The player smiled, shook my hand, and turned away to tie his cleats.

As we were exiting the Milwaukee locker room, a member of the Albuquerque Dukes grounds crew asked me if I got the player’s autograph who I was talking with. I said no and he told me that it was Henry Aaron, who was playing his final season that year for the Brewers but had broken Babe Ruth’s long standing home run record the previous season. I was so embarrassed not knowing who he was and missed out on an opportunity to get the autograph of one of the most famous baseball players of all-time. <

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