As a sports writer for the Brooklyn Eagle and later in numerous roles—from traveling secretary to ticket manager to promotions director—for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels, Seattle Pilots and San Diego Padres, Harold Parrott witnessed firsthand the machinations of the game's top executives. His 1976 memoir, The Lords of Baseball, pulled back the curtain on the game, exposing baseball's front-office follies much the way Jim Bouton's Ball Four had taken readers inside the clubhouse six years earlier. In the book Parrott derided most owners as "little boys with big wallets" and delighted in detailing their misadventures on the job. He saved his most withering comments, however, for longtime Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, whom he considered selfish, vindictive and just plain cruel. Noted Chicago baseball writer Jerome Holtzman called Parrott's book "revisionist history at its absolute best, written with flaming and accurate pen."
So why isn't the book as famous as Bouton's? Despite its positive reception, The Lords of Baseball never made a big impact; in fact, it seemed to disappear almost entirely from public consciousness. For that the author blamed his villain. Until Parrott died, in 1987, he swore that O'Malley, livid at how he was depicted, had bought 14,000 of the 15,000 published copies, enough to make Lords all but impossible for people to find on store shelves but not enough to warrant a second printing.
Like many baseball stories, from the founding of the game to Babe Ruth's called shot, this tale is probably impossible to prove. Mimi Ross, who worked in the copyright division for Lords publisher Praeger Press back in the '70s, says no one who might know the truth is still around. (Publishing giant Henry Holt long ago swallowed up Praeger.) O'Malley died in 1979, and his son, Peter, declined to comment on the accusation.
"There's no evidence, but Dad believed it," says Parrott's son Tod, 65. His younger brother Brian, 54, adds, "That was the way O'Malley operated."
Fact or myth, the story helped inspire Tod, Brian and their brother Lynn, 63, to bring the book back to life. "After Dad died, it always lingered in the back of my mind that anyone who had read the book enjoyed it," says Brian. Adds Lynn, "Republishing it is a way of honoring Dad. When he wrote Lords of Baseball, he was truly in his glory."
Reviving Lords wasn't easy. Brian spent a decade shopping the book before the brothers struck a deal earlier this year with Atlanta's Longstreet Press in which the family assumed much of the financial risk for the book's distribution. Tod says more than 5,000 copies of a 10,000-copy run have sold in just a few months. Proceeds go to the nonprofit Bonfire Foundation, a sports-and-education-oriented organization started by Tod's children. (Bonfire was Harold Parrott's nickname.) The family is negotiating for a paperback edition.
Parrott had set out to write an insider's look at Jackie Robinson's early days in the majors. The editors at Praeger liked his personal stories, Tod says, and had him rewrite the book as a memoir. Seeing the results, they asked for another rewrite, this time focusing on behind-the-scenes tales from the front office. He gave them plenty. Parrott accused Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail and then St. Louis Cardinals G.M. Branch Rickey of colluding on a trade involving rising star Pete Reiser. Parrott portrayed Padres general manager Peter Bavasi as not only inept but also downright daft, and he accused Dewey Soriano, the owner of the expansion Seattle Pilots, of taking the city for a ride with the fledgling franchise, which he sold after one year to Bud Selig, who moved it to Milwaukee. O'Malley, though, comes in for the harshest treatment. He's portrayed as betraying everyone who ever worked with or for him, from Rickey to G.M. Buzzie Bavasi to Parrott.
Despite the passage of years, Parrott's book remains relevant, says New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, who wrote the foreword to the new edition. "Today's owners still think the way those owners did," Anderson says. "They create their own problems." Adds veteran baseball writer Leonard Koppett, "What Harold said about owners not grasping their own business is even more true now. In that respect baseball has changed very little."