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THE KING OF THE JUNGLE
Jack Mann
April 18, 1966
Walter O'Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, would like to make friends despite influencing people, but his elfin spirit is a prisoner of the steel-trap mind that makes him major league baseball's most successful owner. The Master of Chavez Ravine has his monument but can't escape his image
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April 18, 1966

The King Of The Jungle

Walter O'Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, would like to make friends despite influencing people, but his elfin spirit is a prisoner of the steel-trap mind that makes him major league baseball's most successful owner. The Master of Chavez Ravine has his monument but can't escape his image

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O'Malley doesn't always lean over backward. Two years ago, when his son was managing the Vero Beach camp, Walter went to 9 o'clock Mass and returned for breakfast at 10, when the kitchen closed, in accordance with an O'Malley edict. "He raised hell," Peter says. "I told him, 'Relax. You own the place.' " Walter stalked off, announcing to the winds that it was a hell of a way to run a training camp. His wife Kay subdued her mixed feelings and followed.

And now to Vin Scully for a vignette to show what kind of woman Kay O'Malley is. "Scene at Dodgertown: 20-year-old rookie in dirty baseball uniform knocks on door in barracks and lady answers. 'No towels,' he says. Lady scurries around until she finds him towels. Is this lady the maid? No, she's the wife of the owner of the ball club."

And Terry's a sweet kid, too. But before this deteriorates into an episode of Father Knows Best, let's get back to the "charming rogue," as the most disgruntled of O'Malley's former employees still calls him. Let's see the cynical way he operated when he wanted to build a new stadium on top of the Long Island Rail Road Station in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. There was a wild idea. It was almost as wild as the notion of putting a new Madison Square Garden on top of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, as they're doing right now. Almost as nutty as that domed stadium O'Malley patented back in the late 1940s. "Oh, give me a home with a Plexiglas dome," somebody caroled at a New York Baseball Writers dinner, and they laughed and laughed.

O'Malley got as far as this with that crazy scheme to take over Brooklyn's main crossroads: " Bob Wagner, the mayor, put our three friends on the commission: a Jew, a Catholic and a Protestant; two Democrats and a Republican. That was the way you did things in New York."

That was the way you did things in New York, but sometimes you made a mistake. Wagner couldn't get it through the Board of Estimate. There were other mistakes. Like when Rickey departed for Pittsburgh and took most of the Rickey men with him. If you worked for Rickey you were a Rickey man, largely because if you weren't a Rickey man you couldn't work for Rickey. But there was the remarkable coincidence that most of the people who followed Rickey were Protestants, and most of those who remained were Roman Catholics. A very large Mason called upon O'Malley and pointed out that Catholics alone would not do in Brooklyn. "You have to hire a Jew," he said.

"I have just the man," O'Malley told him. Lee Scott, a sportswriter with dark hair and a pencil-thin mustache, had just had the Brooklyn Citizen shot out from under him. O'Malley proposed to hire him as road secretary for the Dodgers, which he still is. "I didn't hire him because he was Jewish," O'Malley says, "but I was sure he was. I assumed he had changed his name from Feinberg or something.

"We hired him, and a few days later it was Ash Wednesday. So who showed up in the office with the biggest smudge of ashes on his forehead? Scotty. He had changed his name, all right. From Scottio."

O'Malley the Hunter has killed polar bear from an ice-breaking tug, miles north of Svalbard Island, many miles north of Norway. He has shot a record 50-inch sable from a Land-Rover in Bechuanaland. He has hunted guinea hen (and broken an ankle in the process) near Camag´┐Żey, Cuba. And if he and the sports at NBC-TV ever get together on a date, he's going to complete his collection by getting a tiger from aboard an elephant in India, in living color. But the most significant safari of O'Malley's 62 years was an expedition into the interior of Los Angeles by taxi-cab in the winter of 1956-57. They sought a rare species called Chavez Ravine, and they had to go without a native guide.

In Los Angeles the politicians and journalists still claw each other's eyes out over who did how much to lure the Dodgers from Brooklyn. That can be settled right here. "On the way through L.A. on our trip to Japan after the 1956 World Series," O'Malley says, "Vince Flaherty, the columnist, showed me this piece of property. When we got back I wanted to take a better look at it." So he assembled a party of Captain Emil Praeger, an architect-engineer; the late Bud Holman of Eastern Airlines (a director but never a stockholder of the Dodgers); and his daughter, Terry.

Captain Praeger had conceived the idea (and proved it on a small scale in Holman Stadium, Vero Beach) that a ball park can "lean" against a wall of earth, obviating the necessity of an expensive mess of structural steel, so he was essential to the safari. Bud and Terry were camouflage.

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