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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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"But I got my money back. He bet me there'd be a woman in organized baseball within two years. He knew about that West German broad somebody was going to sign. Somebody did, but the commissioner disallowed It. I won $100 on that one, so I'm ahead." Who says O'Malley runs baseball?

If he did, there would have been no expansion. He was in favor of the Continental League, for the simple reason that he believed it was doomed to failure. He is in favor of a "sophisticated" players' union for the same reason.

"The only way you could expand now," O'Malley says, "would be to form a third eight-team league. In the first place there isn't enough talent for 20 teams right now. And who'd want to get out of this league? You'd lose dates with us, the Giants, the Mets—all the new ball parks. They put me on the expansion committee—that's one of the most effective ways to still the opposition voice—and I wanted a provision that the new teams would be the ones to spin off if there ever was a third league. But they voted me down."

O'Malley believes the players are wasting their time flirting with unionism. "That would be fine if they all agreed to take the same money," he says. "But they'd be better off if they'd send their man to Washington to talk about taxes. Everything these days is taxes and depreciation. A man doesn't necessarily sell a ball club to CBS because he wants to. He might do it because he's afraid of the evaluation they'd put on it if he died.

"The players ought to be in Washington, telling Congressmen that their bodies are just as depreciable as an oil well. If you can write off an oil well at 27�% a year, the players ought to get some consideration."

Out on Field 1, behind the dreary old Dodgertown barracks, Albuquerque Manager Bob Kennedy was lecturing a group of would-be ballplayers on physical fitness. "You're a corporation," said Kennedy, who lasted 18 years in the bigs with minimal abilities. "You're the only asset you have. You have to take care of yourself."

O'Malley has come to feel that way about himself. He concedes after some prodding that he is "influential" in the affairs of baseball, but he argues that it is not his relative strength but his relative vulnerability that makes him so. "Among the owners we have the biggest lumberman in the country," he says, "the biggest brewer, the biggest chewing-gum manufacturer, one of the biggest real-estate men. If something goes wrong with the game and the bottom drops out, they still have their lumber and their gum. I'd lose the whole ball of wax, at age 62. My investment is in baseball, and I have more in it than any man ever had. I have to pay attention.

"Besides," O'Malley says, "they are extremely busy men and it's hard to get them to work on committees. I'm on so many of them because I'm available. And because I'm willing. In any organization there are a few guys who do most of the work. In baseball, I'm one of them."

It is difficult to imagine the bottom dropping out of O'Malley's operation. There is an annual subscription of 15,000 to 16,000 season-ticket holders, most of them at $265 a copy, assuring him of about $4 million in receipts before Maury Wills ever carries a lineup card to home plate. When the Dodgers won their last pennant in Brooklyn in 1956, they averaged 15,761 customers a game.

Some of the season-ticket holders are also Stadium Club members, which makes them eligible for the Safari Group. The fifth annual week-long pilgrimage to Vero Beach attracted 48 this spring, at terms that would make Cook's blush: $300 for the round trip on the Dodger plane and you find your own lodgings, but the golf and the booze are on the house and you get to attend O'Malley's St. Patrick's Day party (which was shifted to March 16 this year because the 17th didn't fit the Dodgers' schedule).

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