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Once a man signs on, he discovers that Pendergast can be a good boss to play for. Ernie Yaroshuk, general manager of Jerry's Caterers and an erstwhile player and manager of the team, says, "If a guy suddenly starts hitting the ball 290 feet instead of 300, a lot of sponsors will send him packing. Jerry would never turn his back on a player if he quit producing on the field, and I'm a prime example. I've been with him for 13 years."
Many players haven't been as fortunate. The lucky ones, like Elliott and Boyett, either aren't dependent on the sponsor for work or are content with their position in his company. Others are bitter and disillusioned. They feel they have been manipulated by a system under which they have built their working lives. The prospect of what they'll be doing when they no longer can regularly deposit a softball over a fence 300 feet away frightens them.
Jerry's Outfielder Harold Kelley is a typical case. In March of 1978 he gave up a junior high basketball coaching job in Eufaula, Ala. to take a better-paying position in Oklahoma City with the Nelson Painting Service, a perennial national slo-pitch power. Seven months later he was sweeping floors and running errands. So he headed for North Carolina, where he joined Dave Carroll as a territory salesman. Another bum steer. He didn't get much worthwhile job experience because Carroll rarely sent him out on the road during softball season. Today Kelley works in a concession stand and a hospital cafeteria and bats .622 for Jerry's Caterers.
"I was nothing but a toy for Mr. Nelson," he feels. "He said I'd learn to be an estimator, but he got upset because I didn't play as well as he thought I should have. He used to say, 'I don't have to fire them, they fire themselves.'
"Mr. Carroll treated his players well—gave us $150 apiece for winning the regionals and picked up a lot of rents—but I was miserable sitting around all day without anything to do. Five teams contacted me about playing for them this season. Richard Howard [of Denver, N.C.] made me the best offer—salary plus 10% of one of his Western Steer restaurants for life—but Carroll and Howard lived only three or four miles apart, and I didn't want to leave one man to work for the other.
"Jerry's been good to us, but everyplace I've been so far it's been menial work, something to get by. I just want a chance to contribute, learn and advance. I don't want to wait until I'm 40 years old before I finally get a decent job. During your most productive years, your boss is only concerned with how well you play ball. He knows that when you're through he can pay somebody else half what you're making to do the same thing. They own you. It's like you're on the streets."
Unfortunately, the road to success he always had a few bumps in it.