The next morning Kanehl was at his desk at Lanseair, a long-haul-trucking insurance company. Kanehl is a "safety engineer." He got into the safety business when the money market tightened and financing for his construction business became difficult and then impossible. But first, last winter, there was this offer from the Mets. Joe McDonald, low man in the Met office hierarchy, sent him a letter asking if he wanted to manage in the rookie league. Kanehl called and said well, his business was lousy and what was this managing job? A thousand dollars a month for two months, he was told. That all? That's all.
"I'll take it," Kanehl said, "if you can give me a year-round job."
This is as close as Kanehl ever came to begging. Sorry about that, McDonald said. The best Kanehl could get was an indication from Bing Devine, Weiss's assistant, that the Mets would probably no longer stand in his way if the Yankees or somebody else wanted to give him a job. The Yankees didn't ("We don't go chasing people down the street," Johnson says.)
Kanehl made one call, to Ed Lopat, then the Kansas City vice-president in charge of player development. Lopat said sorry kid, he was two weeks too late. "And that," Kanehl said, "is the old baloney."
I asked Kanehl why he didn't write letters to all the other clubs. "If you can't get a job with people you've worked for," he said, "who the hell wants you?"
Well, Joe Dando of Lanseair did. Dando was a schoolmate of Kanehl's in Drury College, which Kanehl attended for three years on the greatest scholarship ever obtained by man or football player. Kanehl high-jumped 6 feet 2, pole-vaulted 13 feet, threw the javelin 190 feet and in return got tuition, room, board (service by a motherly type), the use of a car and some spending money to boot. "My father," he said, grinning, "was the track coach, and I lived at home."
When Dando, a small, swarthy man with a touch of the dandy in his dress, heard Kanehl was looking for a job he offered him one. The money wasn't much, but it was a chance to get in on a rapidly expanding business and learn something about insurance. "And I've got security," Kanehl said. "You don't have that in baseball. I fooled myself into thinking I did, but I didn't."
Kanehl, whose mind is as quick as his personality is engaging, learned fast. One of his duties is to talk to truckers who have drivers with poor safety records and suggest ways of improvement. "People don't always take suggestions," Dando says. "The fellow is sure to feel you're trying to run his business. But with Rod's background, they have a common ground to break the ice—baseball. Of course, that's not why I gave him the job. I was told he was a hustler and a good worker, and he's proved that. I always knew he had the intelligence."
In addition to paying Kanehl, Dando supplies him with a tiny, four-seater Cessna 210, which Rod uses to make the 600-mile round trip to Wichita. He doesn't play in all the Dreamliner games, just the important ones, and on this Monday the opposition was an arch rival, Service Auto Glass. So Kanehl left the office early, met the pilot (who is paid by the owner of the Dreamliners) and was off winging over the careful squares of Kansas grain fields. Often the trip is like an hour-and-a-half roller coaster ride, thermal currents bouncing the little Cessna like a cork in the ocean. But this day the flight was smooth and pleasant. Kanehl slept all the way, his head resting, at an uncomfortable angle, against the vibrating side window.
At Wichita were the three former major-leaguers—Neal, Pendleton and Boyd—who are double Dreamliners. In the daytime they wear royal blue uniforms with Eisenhower jackets and visored caps and drive Dreamliner buses. At night they put on white knickerbockers and shirts with blue lettering designed to look like Dodger uniforms, and play for the Dreamliners. Pendleton needs the job. Boyd and Neal need the baseball.