Bomber Great Charlie O'Connell joined the Derby in 1952 after training school in Passaic, N.J. He made Rookie of the Year that first season and is one of the few players in the game to earn big money. The highest Derby salary ever is supposed to have been $40,000 and probably went to Charlie. He owns a bar in San Leandro, Calif., the Pandora. Now, in 1968, he was about to play the final game of his farewell tour in Duluth. Charlie had never thought about it before but, pressed, he estimated that he must have played well over 3,000 games, 200 a year or so. The thought did not stir him to much emotion because he had to start the drive back to San Leandro the next morning, and that was all that was on his mind. "It's too long a trip ahead," he said. "How can you think about anything else? If it was only 60 miles or something, maybe then it would be different."
Charlie was ready, though, when the action began, and it was apparent from the first that he was going to go out with a lively farewell. He was spitting regularly, an affectation that appears to relate directly to his concentration. He even goosed All Star Pivotman Thumper Woodberry a couple of times, a bit of byplay he had not engaged in for a while, and as he skated by pretty Margie Laszlo, who was standing in the infield, he reached out and pulled her pigtail. Mostly he kept his helmet tilted to emphasize his scowl, and he would be almost snarling during jams in which there was a lot of contact. It was hard to imagine that this would be Charlie's final game, because he was so obviously the dominant skater on the track, the way it had been since he was Rookie of the Year. The Bombers lost a big lead, however, and on the last jam of Charlie's career the All Stars boxed him out. Krebs and Allen Littles got through for six points, and the Bombers lost 41-38. Charlie stood there, high on the track, leaning on the rail and shaking his head. But he didn't say anything, and soon he skated off to the locker room, thinking about the long drive home. He was still sitting in his uniform, sipping a beer and talking about route numbers, when the last of the construction crew put on their coveralls and moved out to dismantle the track for the final time. Jimmy Pierce was going to leave for the Coast as soon as they had the semi loaded.
"What time does the bar close in this town?" Krebs asked.
"All these towns," Charlie said.
"Well, save us some beers at the motel," Bill Morrisey said. "Save the crew some beers."
"How many miles is it?" Charlie asked. "Well, we'll go through Reno and stop there anyway." He put his beer can down and pushed his long hair back with both hands. Then, before he showered, he reached for one more cigarette.
Three weeks after the tour ended in Duluth, the Bay Bombers began their regular season with a series against Calvello and Hein and the rest of the "new" Midwest Pioneers in the Bay Area. Seltzer had made some changes. He had shaken up the Bomber girls team, and although he had made only one change in the male team, that was the important one of replacing O'Connell, now the infield coach. Thumper Woodberry, everyone's villain, had been Seltzer's choice, and as soon as he put on the Bomber orange and black, Woodberry was cheered for the same things that had always brought him boos.
Charlie, in a sports shirt and slacks, with a small black comb peeking out of his right rear pocket, watched the game with passing interest, aroused and cursing loudly only at some theatrics that Joanie and Calvello fell into. He even drifted away to have a smoke when his male charges came on. He was very restless. It was the first time in 16 years that he wasn't skating. "This job gets kind of boring," he said. "They all bring me their problems and things like that."
The Pioneers held a 26-21 lead going into the last period, and Hein took advantage of the spread to start some mischief. He already had a bunch of penalties anyhow, so late in the game he started punching Cliff Butler for no good reason. Quickly Hein was whistled down. It turned out to be his sixth two-minute penalty, which is automatic dismissal for the balance of the game, and he started off the track to a cascade of paper cups and jeers. Charlie watched the crowd, distracted. Butler, still shaken by the altercation, came coasting around the outside of the track, hands on his knees, trying to regain his breath. This was very accommodating for Hein, who, strolling by on his way to the locker room, was able to swing out with his helmet and slam it hard into Butler's groin.
Cliff collapsed, while Hein, unmolested and with no Bomber near him, hardly broke stride in continuing on to the locker room. O'Connell leaped up, moved to the track and reached over to console Butler. Cliff got up at last, grimacing and doubled over, and was helped off the track. He was through for the game.