“The best I ever saw? I hate these kinds of questions.”
“How about top five?”
“That’d be easier. But I don’t like making lists. I’m not that guy. I know that guy but he’s not me.”
“Yeah, I’m the list guy, the stat guy, the nerd guy. So, come on, tell me, what’s the best baseball play or game that you’ve seen in person?”
“I’m not sure this is where you were going, but the most memorable event at a game I attended occurred in the bathroom when I went in one of the stalls to smoke a joint.”
“What? No. That’s the best you got?”
“I was taking care of business when I heard someone in the next stall having a hard time of it. A lot of groaning and moaning.”
“I can’t think that’d make the best of list.”
“Either would I. But the longer I listened the clearer it became that the guy was having a different hard time. Soon we heard her moans and groans and, well it was distracting.”
“I’ll say. You’re right, dude. That wasn’t what I had in mind. I was thinking a no-hitter, a grand slam, a playoff game, that sort of thing.”
“I got to tell you. Guys were screaming along, shouting out encouragement and soon enough they both hit it out of the park and they got a standing ovation. It was memorable.”
I was standing behind these guys in the registration line, getting a contact high off of them. I couldn’t smell any dope but they still reeked of it. Maybe it was the Hawaiian shirts, surfer shorts, and flip-flops.
I was thinking this event catered to a strait-laced, middle-America kind of crowd because we were all registering for the Los Angeles Dodgers Second Annual Adult Fantasy Baseball Camp in Vero Beach, Florida. It was October 1984. The humidity was giving us a break, and we were going to shag balls, play some games, meet some all-stars, learn some pointers, and become better team players.
At least that was part of the job description I’d been given. I wasn’t here because I was a baseball fan or former player trying to relive my glory years. I was here because my client was launching a company and he wanted to do some team building. The Dodgers would assist him doing that. In case they faltered, I’d be there to pinch hit.
Sunday, October 7, 1984
I’ve got a good friend who read one of my earlier books and told me it took too long to get into the action, that I should have killed someone off earlier. Maybe I should have—after all, I’m a guy who prefers to skip the foreplay. In deference to his wishes, let me say in this first paragraph that the dead body I stumbled on in the outfield surprised me. We were supposed to be playing on baseball fields, not killing fields.
Honestly, I didn’t stumble on a body in the outfield. It happened someplace else and I didn’t exactly stumble. I said that and put the picture on the cover to make my friend happy.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let me give you the backstory; then we can get on to the real murders.
You know how trends go. Something starts small, momentum builds, and soon you have bandwagoners jumping on board. In 1980, Doubleday Publishing bought the New York Mets. It was the first time a publishing company had branched out and seriously invested in a professional sports team. But it wasn’t the last. In the four years that followed, other companies bought in and now the business world was viewing the sports industry as the next big thing.
Danny London had just been bankrolled to develop a publishing company. He’d contacted me when he signed the deal because I’d written some mystery books and was also a therapist. Foul Ball Publishing was going to specialize in sports books and mysteries with a sports connection. He’d hired a few staff members and, to build cohesiveness, decided to take them to the Dodgers Adult Fantasy Baseball Camp. He brought me along just in case.
There are all manner of companies and consultants who’d happily bill you for improving your team morale, cohesiveness, efficiency, and effectiveness. Heck, I’d be happy to do that. But Danny London was first and foremost a Dodgers fan. If you or I were to tell him we’d been surprised by something, he’d say life had thrown us a curveball. He looked at life through a baseball lens and wanted to take his new staff to Dodgertown to make them better teammates—the Dodgers’ Way.
Danny had grown up in Brooklyn and his family were Brooklyn Dodgers fans. After the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, he’d listen to games being reenacted on the radio. As a kid, he’d wanted to be in the majors and hit the grand slam to win the World Series. When he reached ninth grade he reluctantly grasped how he measured up against the competition and let go of his dream. Now he was starting his own company, and he wanted to give his employees an experience they’d never forget that incorporated aspects of his dream. He’d build their loyalty to Foul Ball as the Dodgers had built his loyalty, through the fundamentals—hard work, team play, and comradery.
“I’m not expecting trouble,” Danny told me. “It’s more like there are a lot of intangibles.”
That’s how he explained his wanting me to attend the week-long camp at Dodgertown. Not all his new employees played or even liked the game, but he’d heard that Branch Rickey and Walter O’Malley had built their championship organizations from the ground up and that’s what he wanted to do.
I’m an out-of-the-office therapist as well as a professor. When I first envisioned seeing clients out of the office, I thought it would involve some family meetings or facilitating a work dispute. I didn’t realize I’d be on planes, helping a client get over their fear of flying, going to a rock festival to support a musician, or attending a conference of mystery writers.
Danny read A Lesson in Therapy and Murder and called me and asked if I’d write a book revolving around a sport. I hadn’t considered it but told him my writing came out of the experiences I’d had. If I were at a sporting activity and worthy events took place, that might end up in a book.
That’s when he invited me to Vero Beach. I asked him if he was anticipating a murder, and he laughed and said, “Who knows?” It was eerie, almost a foreshadowing. No way anyone could forecast that unless they were the killer. He didn’t sound like a killer, but I’d only been on the phone with him for fifteen minutes so I didn’t have that much data at my disposal.
I told him I wanted to meet with him before deciding. He agreed but said there wasn’t time. He lives in New York. I live in Los Angeles. The camp began in three days.
I asked why the late notice. He told me he’d recently gotten the go-ahead from the money people and wanted to seize the moment.
I was intrigued.
He told me he’d want me to do all the activities with the rest of the team.
I hadn’t thrown a baseball since PE in high school, but if I could overcome my reluctance to show off my lesser skills, I could have a good time. Problem was, school was in session. I didn’t want to miss a week of class but I rationalized it this way—I was modeling taking care of yourself.
I was also modeling not fully honoring your commitments.
There was a solution of sorts. A former student who’d gotten her doctorate wanted a chance to teach. I’d let her sub for me and hope the students liked her but not more than me. If they did like her more, I wasn’t sure I’d want her to sub for me again.
Still, I’m a therapist who encourages people to do what they want to do and deal with the consequences. The downsides to the camp appeared to be sore muscles, sunburn, and hangovers. So I agreed to go.
Danny had interviewed and hired everyone. Suzie, his assistant, had done all the paperwork. The whole staff had met once—on their first day in their Manhattan office. Danny gave a welcome speech and they all introduced themselves. That was it. People set up their offices and then went home and readied themselves for a 4 p.m. meet at Dodgertown in two days.
There was one other thing I needed to bring in addition to the obvious. A nickname. We all needed one and we’d use them throughout the week. They’d even go on our uniforms, which was pretty cool. Danny was going with Boss but I was free to choose any other name I wanted.
I’ve learned to take into account my welfare so I put in four conditions. I wanted my own room, I wanted to play center field, bat third, and, of course, there was my fee.
He agreed to all three.
Time to play ball.