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BANANAS IN THE BUSHES
Pat Putnam
September 12, 1977
Jim Paul doesn't know how the infield fly rule works but he's sure figured out how to fill up El Paso's ball park using ploys like the sundae doubleheader
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September 12, 1977

Bananas In The Bushes

Jim Paul doesn't know how the infield fly rule works but he's sure figured out how to fill up El Paso's ball park using ploys like the sundae doubleheader

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Square chin on chest, eyes closed, Jim Paul sat in his paneled office and tried not to hear the clamor of the arriving baseball crowd. He might as well have tried to shut out the sound of a passing freight train. It was 6:53 on a warm, nearly windless evening in El Paso. Minutes remained before the first pitch would be thrown, and not a seat was empty in the brightly painted, 54-year-old park a few hundred yards north of the Rio Grande. Still the turnstiles spun.

"Doesn't anyone go to the drive-in movies anymore," Paul mumbled. Then he prayed, "Please, Lord, no more people. Why can't You give me just a nice little crowd of 3,000 like they're having in San Francisco and Houston and Atlanta. Why do You do this to me?"

With a sigh, Paul arose from behind his tidy desk. He is young—34 next month—but he has just completed his fourth year as general manager (and his third as sole owner) of the El Paso Diablos of the Double A Texas League.

Behind Paul is an immense blackboard on which each of the club's 67 home dates is listed. Next to each date is a space to write in a promotion. Virtually none of the spaces is empty. On the opposite wall another blackboard, only slightly smaller, carries two more lists: the buyers of 53 ads on the outfield fence (at $750 per) and the purchasers of the 84 advertising spots in the Diablos program. Here there are no blanks.

There is no space for a blackboard on the wall opposite the door. It is covered by the collection of awards Paul has won since "returning" to baseball in 1974. He had rarely gone near the game, even as a spectator, since 1954, when he was cut from a Little League roster. He always knew that baseball's Hall of Fame was at Cooperstown but until recently he thought Cooperstown was in Michigan. "He still thinks all Chinese home runs are hit in some league in Peking," says Bob Rodgers, the manager this year of the Diablos, a California Angel farm club.

Proving that you do not have to understand the infield-fly rule to put people in the ball park, Paul has attracted almost 700,000 fans to Dudley Field since opening day 1974, and he has been named the Texas League's Executive of the Year the last three seasons. The league is 89 years old; no one else has been named its best executive three consecutive years.

After his first season at El Paso, The Sporting News named Paul the Class Double A Executive of the Year. The paper gave him a gold watch. He won the same award again in 1975, thereby establishing another first for consecutiveness. Although finishing 18� games out of first place, the Diablos had drawn 162,395 fans, more than the attendance in 16 of the 24 Triple A cities in the United States. "Forget the watch, I've already got one," Paul told The Sporting News . "Just give me a wall plaque."

Last year the Diablos came in third and El Paso's attendance jumped to 181,747; only six minor league teams, all in Triple A, did better. Going for diversification, The Sporting News gave its Double A award to someone else. Paul settled for the MacPhail Trophy, which is given to the outstanding organization in all minor league baseball.

"Can't blame The Sporting News ," Paul says. "Baseball can be boring enough without the same guy getting the same award all of the time."

The Sporting News is now facing the same problem again. After the season it must name its various Executives of the Year for 1977. Because the first-place Diablos drew 217,345 fans this year—a total exceeded by only four Triple A clubs—Paul again deserves an award. But which one?

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