Ripken in the Minors

Interview with Marshall Hester: November 2006

Marshall Hester: If I may, I'll set the stage on how I happened into the Charlotte O's of 1980. Baseball was and is my first sports love. Lived in Southern California during the 60s and at age 10 beginning in 1965 became a fan of the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers. Read all I could get my hands on about the history, traditions and lore of baseball. The family moved to Monroe, NC near Charlotte in 1967. It was a big-league baseball vacuum. Our newspaper did not carry the daily box scores. No games on radio. Thank God for Game of the Week and for The Sporting News (back then when it was the "bible of baseball".) I played catcher on my high school team (Sun Valley HS, Indian Trail NC) but not good enough arm to continue in college at Wake Forest University, where I graduated in 1977. Not having a clue of what I wanted to do I knocked around in any job where I could avoid responsibility and meet girls, then did a short stint in the Naval Reserve and a semester of law school. February 1980 I was 24 and back in Charlotte. I knew about Charlotte's minor league team from my reading -- the days when they were the Charlotte Hornets and an affiliate of the Washington Senators, and later the Minnesota Twins when the Twins move from DC to Minnesota. Harmon Killebrew, Early Wynn among the alumni. But I was a big-league guy and a National League guy at that so I never went to any Charlotte games.

The first and only time I set foot inside their park before 1980 was to see an exhibition game between the Southern League all-stars and the Atlanta Braves in about 1973. Hank Aaron did not make the trip. Earl Williams was coming off a rookie of the year season for Atlanta and Eddie Murray playing for Charlotte was the star of the minor league team. I remember in that game that Murray hit a home batting left-handed that must have gone 500 feet. Now I did respect the Baltimore Orioles franchise even though they were American League. Maybe they were OK because they were compared to the Dodgers in the way they groomed players from the farm system. The stars Palmer, DeCinces, Dauer, Bumbry and the rest were familiar names. I had no idea who their 1980 farmhands were. Cal Ripken could have been Rumpelstiltskin. The Dodgers were too far away in LA and their AL counterpart had a team in Charlotte so I followed my heart as young men do. I decided to become the next Branch Rickey and start at the bottom with the local minor league club. (This greatly upset my girlfriend who in the space of a month saw her dream of being a lawyer's wife turn into bush league baseball. So I broke up with her.)

I called the O's offices and lo and behold they needed someone to manage the home clubhouse and help out on road trips. In a day or two I sat in the office of the general manager Frances Crockett. Frances was the daughter of the club owner, "Big Jim" Crockett. Big Jim made his fortune as a pro wresting promoter. By pure coincidence, when he bought the club, the stadium name was changed from Griffith Park (named for onetime Twins owner Calvin Griffith) to Crockett Park... It was still the same stadium however, built in 1937 with one tier of wooden grandstands seating about 10,000 from first base to third base. A small press box atop the roof. The clubhouses were located at either end of a concourse which ran under the grandstands. The club offices were in line with home plate on concourse level right inside of the main turnstile. It was musty and dark on concourse level. My first impression of the club offices was that a small bomb must have gone off right before I arrived for my job interview. Stuff piled everywhere - boxes, papers, mementos, souvenirs. I was absorbing this delicious baseball mess when Frances walked in and sat behind her desk with me in a small chair facing her. She was a power woman before they invented the term. She was I guess in her late 40's. Divorced with a daughter and son who went by her ex-husband's last name, Ringley. But she was Frances Crockett in Crockett Park and there was no doubt she was the boss. I got sized up pretty quick and was told the job was what is was and that a college guy aspiring to make it something more was not in the plan. I heard that but I didn't listen if you catch the difference. My duties short term were to refurbish the home clubhouse and do inventory of uniforms, supplies and the like.

I had a budget for paint and carpet and about 45 days until the players arrived from spring training. Thereafter I was to be responsible for the daily operation of the clubhouse, having the players uniforms, shoes, insleeves, jackets, caps, socks, jocks, tobacco, gum, sunflower seeds and pine tar in shape. Soap in the showers and toilet paper in the stalls. I could recruit helpers to wash the laundry and shine the shoes but had to pay them out of my pocket. I got to keep any tips from the players. The pay was around $200 per week. Did Branch Rickey start this way? Oh, well. It did get better when she told me about my duties on road trips. I was to get the equipment loaded on the team's charter bus, distribute the players meal money AFTER the bus left Charlotte, check the club in at the hotels upon arrival and get the equipment to the stadium in tandem with the home team visitor's club house guy. My roommate was to be the O's radio announcer. Now that sounded more like fun. Frances kept referring to the job as the "clubhouse manager" or the "equipment manager." I thought the title "traveling secretary" had a better ring and was more dignified. Considering my duties on the road it was not a stretch. And much more befitting of the next Branch Rickey. My reality from then on was Traveling Secretary. As we will see, Frances had her own reality. I took the job whatever it was called and departed without looking first at the clubhouse.... Driving home it struck me that during the interview any time money was mentioned in any context, Frances' eyes narrowed. Money was important. Very important. Most important. Hey, maybe SHE was Branch Rickey....

ripkenintheminors.com: What years were you with the O's and what was your title and  responsibilities with the team? 

Marshall Hester: Was with the team in 1980. My baseball card in the set lists me as "Equipment." I spent about 1 per cent of my time on equipment and 99 percent as home clubhouse manager and traveling secretary. But the club put Equipment on the card so I guess I was Equipment. 

ripkenintheminors.com: You're a part of the WBTV set. How did that come about?

Marshall Hester: I can't recall if a photo shoot was done exclusively for the card set (unlikely) or whether the card photos came from the normal team photo shoot (more likely). There was just one team photo shoot that I remember that season. It was before a game so I was in the dugout doing whatever and the manager Jimmy Williams called me, "Marshall, you're part of the team - get out here." I guess the photographer asked Jimmy if there was anyone else to shoot. What a wonderful man, Jimmy Williams. He treated me with the same interest and respect as any of the players. He liked it because I stood at attention during the National Anthem (a holdover from my Naval Reserve time). I don't know if the photographer wanted a final shot to finish out the roll, or if they had this card set in mind and another shot was needed for the printer's plate or if Jimmy was just being nice. I got out there quick and was being ribbed by all of the players off-camera because by then it was a month or two into the season and I was one of the guys getting in trouble with them and sharing every ball players interest in girls, cars, spitting and more girls. When the set was printed I was as surprised as anybody to be in it. Jimmy thought it was great.   ripkenintheminors.com: You told me in our initial conversation that many of the WBTV sets went unwanted and that it was the job of you and your brother to go around the park collecting the sets left at the park. Can you share the story for everyone else? Marshall Hester: The night the cards were given out either we had a sparse crowd or there was a distribution SNAFU because after the game there were hundreds and hundreds of unopened packs left around the concourse. The GM wanted everything cleaned up that night before we left and that included these cards. I assume it was the GM because the souvenir manager had orders from higher up to get rid of the leftover cards. A grocery cart was always tucked in a storage room on the concourse. My kid brother, age 13 and my clubhouse rat, got the cart and we went up and down the concourse chunking the cards into the cart. It filled the entire cart I know because it was tough trying to push it to the dumpster. Into the dumpster the cards went and that was that. My brother may have stuck a set or two in his pocket but I didn't take any. It was no big deal. I was around the players everyday and who cared about a card that had a TV station logo on it. As interesting to me as a refrigerator magnet. Besides my card had me as "Equipment" and that wasn't going to impress anybody. Over time my kid brother lost/discarded his sets and was down to one when Cal started to make it big and brother realized what he had. I keep reminding him his set would be worth squat without me in it. My treasure is a baseball signed by the 1980 O's with Cal's John Hancock right on it. But he didn't sign on the sweet spot between the seams. That was reserved for manager Jimmy Williams.

ripkenintheminors.com: The 1980 Charlotte O's was a very special team by all accounts. What are your memories from the 1980 season?

Marshall Hester: The season was my first and only time to be an insider in the world of professional baseball. I had notions about how things worked from watching and reading. In 1980 some things I believed about baseball were affirmed. Some were reshaped a bit.

MANY ARE CALLED - FEW ARE CHOSEN: I saw that AA ball is like the middle floor on an elevator. There are guys going up and guys coming back down. The guys going up are the prospects and phenoms. The guys coming down are on their way out of the game -- it's just a matter of time. The roster that season in 1980 was a mixture of elevator riders. Cal, Don Welchel, Drungo Hazewood, Victor Rodriguez, Tom Eaton, Cat Whitfield, Julian Gonzales, Brooks Carey, Will George, Alan Ramirez, Bill Swaggerty, John Shelby, Dave Huppert and John Denman were on the way up. Most played the year before at class A Hagerstown or class A Miami and before that in rookie ball at Bluefield. Promise and potential. They were going to get the playing time. The guys on the way down, and eventually out, either played in Charlotte in 1979 and were back without going up to AAA (the kiss of death) or were being demoted from AAA Rochester because the Baltimore brass had decided that's as far as they were going. Willie Royster, Dan Logan, Tommy Smith, John Buffamoyer, Russ Brett, Scott Christopher and Russ Pensiero were in the car going down. Just one or two players in 1980 defied the laws of baseball. Larry Anderson and Luis Quintana had pitched in the Major Leagues but had suffered injuries. They were at Charlotte to get a chance to go back, as the players called it, to "The Show". And both did over the next few years.Quite a difference of attitude between our groups of riders. Going up guys had a swagger, brashness, boyish energy and run-through-the wall mentality. Not a curve ball they could hit or a slump they couldn't break. The going down guys were subdued, pensive. A couple were openly cynical and bitter. The organization had not give them a chance. Or the Baltimore suits had decided to play their favorites. Just a few going down guys were serene types, understanding that they had done their best, but now it was their bottom of the 9th. The just-happy-to-be-here fellows were a bit older, if 24 or 25 is old. Tommy Smith, John Buffamoyer and Russ Pensiero come to mind. If they had to go they were going out with class.

BASEBALL IS A HARD GAME: In making the analogy to the up and down elevator I do not in any way diminish the talents of these players of 1980. If hitting a baseball is the hardest individual feat in sports, getting hitters out might be number 2. I played baseball in high school and never came up against anything close to the talent of the 25th guy on the O's roster. That 1980 season gave me an appreciation for the razor-thin line between major league and minor league. The guy who has one hole in his swing or lacks the one out-pitch or does not have power at a power position is not going to make it. Or a guy who has stud players at his position ahead of him in AAA or at Baltimore. In 1980 we opened with Kurt Fabrizio at first base. In April and most of May the guy was Stan Musial. Batting .400 and getting extra base hits and clutch homers all over the place. Then he got mononucleosis, was shelved for a month or two, came back with no strength and it was over. We had an 18-year-old relief pitcher from Nicaragua named Luis Peralta. Control problems but a live 90-plus mph arm. In June he walks the bases full in the 9th at Savannah, gives up a grand slam and we lose. A week later I am taking Luis to the Charlotte airport for his demotion flight to A league Miami. Luis is one more blown game away from going back to the civil war in his home country.

THE MANAGER IS THE BOSS, SORT OF: Minor league ball has several kingdoms and you have to learn quick who is in charge where and when. Three kings are the GM of the minor league club, the manager of the team and the team's bus driver. From the moment the players leave the clubhouse after a game until they come back the next day, the club's GM is the boss at the park. There is a natural tension between the front office and the team. For instance, the team wants more of this or that in the clubhouse but the budget is shot for the month and the front office is not going to get any more. The players moan that the GM is cheap. The GM says the players are spoiled. They are not really her players anyway. They belong to Baltimore. She pays for their uniforms and the park they play in and their travel and meals on the road. The players suspect the local club and GM are making money off of them so why not enough hot water in the showers? The GM has the final say in a rain situation of canceling a game early, or in turning it over to the umpires and letting them decide as events unfold. Our GM was loathe to cancel a game. The story was, although I never myself saw it, she would walk on the infield in spiked high heels and if the mud went up to the top of the heel it was no game. Otherwise, play ball! The GM also controlled what went in to and out of the clubhouse. Free souvenirs for the players to give away? No. Free food for the players? Not as a rule, no. Minor league ballplayers seem to have a reputation among minor league GMs of being long on IOUs and short on repayment so no monetary advances, long distance calls, peanuts or Cokes. Nobody got frisked when they left after a game, but it was a squeaky-tight ship.

The GM's authority transferred to field manager Jimmy Williams at a point somewhere in the tunnel from the clubhouse to the dugout. More precisely authority went from the Charlotte O's to the Baltimore Orioles. Jimmy Williams worked for the Baltimore Orioles in a Charlotte O's uniform. I have mentioned what a wonderful man he was. Part teacher, part father, part friend and part brother to the players. Jimmy was in his mid-50s, a product of the Brooklyn Dodgers system. He did not get to break into the Brooklyn outfield because some guys named Snider, Furillo and Robinson were in the way. A Canadian, he had black hair turning silver, a hawk nose and could really stick the needle in when he wanted to. His job from what I could see was to play the guys Baltimore wanted to play, work with them one-on-one, give daily reports to Baltimore on the players, talk a lot with Baltimore's minor league bosses Tom Giordano and Ken Rowe, turn his head to the indiscretions of youth while on the road and at the same time win games. So he was low-key most of the time but made it clear the team was expected to win. No pep talks, no umpire-baiting, but an unspoken sense of purpose. His reputation as a players' manager was known by the team and they did not want to let him down. Proof that leadership is the act of inspiring loyalty, not instilling fear. I sat on the bench during the games to make sure we had enough game balls, towels, iced drink and the like. I never said a word to Jimmy unless he spoke to me first. Jimmy did not have a curfew on the road or spy on the players. I guess he figured if they wanted to party and ruin their careers it was not his loss. He had been around, so he had a busy social calendar when we went to a new town anyway. The one and only time he had a player cross him was on the road when we were pulling out on the bus after a series was over and moving on to the next town. Jimmy always sat in the front passenger seat above the door well, with coach Minnie Mendoza across the aisle and behind the driver. Septuagenarian trainer Doc Cole sat behind Minnie. It was like the grown ups did not want to know anything that might be going on in the back. Jimmy had a special pillow as did Minnie. Those pillows went up against the windows above the vacant seats next to either of them so they could sleep sideways. The pillows were sacrosanct. Verboten. We had a guy who shall remain nameless who wasn't playing much and got an attitude about it. Maybe his bat should have gotten an attitude as he was hitting a buck 70 and whiffing every other at bat. Our friend gets on the bus before Jimmy arrives and some jokester tosses him Jimmy's pillow. To the back of the bus he and the pillow go. Jimmy gets on and barks, "Where the hell is my pillow?" No reply from the darkness of the back rows. Jimmy tells the driver to hold it and comes back for his pillow. Our surly player is fast asleep on it. Jimmy starts pulling on the pillow. The player, half asleep now, clutches it tighter. "Give me the pillow," Jimmy warns. The player is now awake but won't let go. "Give me the #@$%*& pillow!!!!," Jimmy bellows. Finally the player realizes what is going on a lets go. We are all pulling our jackets over our heads to stifle the laughs. The surly player grumbles something obscene and sleeps again. At the end of the road trip he is shipped to Spartanburg class A. Don't mess with a manager and his pillow.

The bus being the scene of this episode leads to a third kingdom of minor league ball which is - the bus. A ballplayer's work life is spent on the field, in the clubhouse and on the bus. The O's used a charter service so we always had the same coach and the same driver. It was a standard Trailways bus. No frills. About a month into the season some of the players got the idea to make bunks in the back so at least four players could sleep on the overnight trips. Jimmy said OK. Four sheets of regular plywood were laid on the tops of the seats in the back beginning at the rear window. There were two bunks on either side of the aisle, with the heads and feet of the bunks slightly staggered because the restroom took up the back corner of the passenger side. Foam mattress laid on top of the plywood. Pillows added (not Jimmy's pillow) and viola'! When the bunks were not in use, everything was stowed underneath the bus in the baggage compartments. The starting pitcher for the next day's game got an automatic bunk berth. The other three bunks most often were claimed by the originators of the idea; catcher Dave Huppert, pitcher Will George and pitcher Brooks Carey. Cal might have been up there some but did not have preferred status at all.

The ruler of the bus kingdom was driver David "Deacon" Jones. Not the Deacon Jones of LA Rams fame, but a celebrity in his own right. Deacon had been the O's driver for some time and had all of the players broken in on his plan. If you did not think Deacon was boss on the bus, you found out pretty quick. To help, Deacon would remind everybody before we left on the first leg of a road trip. Deacon stood 6'8", with a thin mustache. He was a very proud black man and a very proud driver. If you tried to treat Deacon like anything close to a taxi driver or a subaltern he would hand you your butt. He did not tote luggage or equipment. He did not like to be late. You DID NOT ever, ever, ever call his hotel room for anything unless it was within a half hour of leaving for the park. You did not spit in his bus or trash his bus. The carrier ruled and the passengers be damned. Deacon was in many respects about 25 years ahead of the commercial airlines of today....To his credit, he hauled us thousands of miles in complete safety. You went to sleep somewhere around Nashville and woke up at Crockett Park. How he managed to cover the distances he did in the time he did I do not want to know. I tried to figure it out one time and stopped after calculating an average of 85 mph for the trip. Deacon, or "Deac" as the veterans called him, had a son about 10 or 12 years old that Jimmy would let hang out in the dugout occasionally at home games. The boy's name was "Head". Yes, Head. I have no idea why he answered to that. Deacon and I got crossways really bad late in the season. Probably stemming from a lack of mutual respect and appreciation. I never liked riding buses before I worked for the O's. They smelled bad and a drunk was always in the front seat singing. A third-rate way to travel. So I did not think a whole lot of bus drivers either, especially drivers a foot taller than me with big egos. Deacon fussed at me a lot about taking too much time getting the equipment on and off the bus, called me "Clubbie" and generally cut me no slack. On a night in late July or early August we almost got jiggy with it. Think it was Jacksonville. Series over and heading out. Hot and humid. I got everything loaded and zipped back into the clubhouse to shower and change clothes because I was soaked with sweat. Deacon was standing in the door of the bus as I got on and gave me a pretty hard time for doing that. I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine in a way two men should not unless one is going to kill the other one. He pushed his customary toothpick over to one side of this mouth and said, "I know what you are thinking and don't do it. I will cut you." The Bus King carried a blade. I thought it over for maybe 1/2 second and extended my hand. "Must be a mistake Deac," says I. "Mistake," he snorted. "Almost your last mistake. Clubbie." 

CHEWING AND SPITTING: In 1980, the tobacco police had not arrived in minor league ball. We had a couple of cigarette smokers on the club. Most everybody else chewed tobacco and/or dipped snuff. We had lots of it in the clubhouse. The manufacturers gave us all we asked for. Levi Garrett, Chattanooga Chew, Red Man, Beechnut, Skoal, Copenhagen. Cal never partook as far as I know. I had smoked a few cigs in college. Could not prepare me for my first dip of Skoal. Zounds. A head-spinning, blood-pumping rush to the brain. Brooks Carey showed me how to spit. One of Brooks' nicknames was "Spew". Saliva up to the front, purse lips together, forefinger and middle finger in a V and pressed against the lips. Fire! Within a week I was able to hit any ant or spider crawling on the dugout floor. From there you can graduate to the gumball. Take a wad of loose-leaf chew about the size of a walnut. Wrap it lovingly with a couple of pieces of newly-chewed bubble gum (gum flavor optional) and tuck back in cheek. You now have the luxury of chewing on gum, tobacco or tobacco and gum at the same time depending on how you move the gumball around in your mouth. Tommy Eaton always had a hell of a big chew which I thought was fitting for a cowboy from Oklahoma. Cat Whitfield liked dip but not too obvious because, bless his heart, he truly was concerned little kids would see it. John T. Shelby ("T-Bone" or "T"), the best athlete on the team, would I recall take a small dip as we were starting a long bus ride at night. T-Bone had this stocking-looking thing he put on his head to protect his hair, then a pair of headphones over the stocking and finally a pinch of Skoal. Nite-nite.

A FOOD FIGHT AND A REAL FIGHT: There was a doubleheader scheduled during the summer of 1980 and we expected a Saturday night sellout. The rains came and stayed. The GM would not call the game or turn it over to the umps. It was nearly eight p.m. and not even the first pitch of the first game. At least Frances got to keep the gate that night as we got underway about nine. The players are very unhappy. They have been at the park since 3 p.m. The field is sloppy and risking injury. They have had to cancel their dates for later on. Game two of the twin bill passes 2 a.m. Perhaps 50 fans still there. Frances calls me to her office, hands me a $50 bill and tells me to go get the players something to eat. This is Charlotte NC in 1980 at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. One of grounds crew says there is a Bojangle's fried chicken place open all night a few miles from the park at the intersection of West Trade St. and S. Tryon St. Rand McNally not needed to know this is a bad part of town. No matter, I snag my clubhouse rat kid brother and off we got. For the $50 I get tons of Cajun fried chicken, "dirty" brown rice, pinto beans, biscuits and tea. As they players come into the clubhouse at 3 a.m. I am very proud of mission accomplished and the spread that is waiting for them. The first sign of trouble is when Drungo LaRue Hazewood snarls, "What the bleep is this bleep? That bleep thinks she can buy us off with some bleeping chicken? She can take this bleep and shove it up her bleep!!" Then he proceeded to show us the cannon arm he used from right field and fired a biscuit at the ceiling. From that point on, it got messy. The mother of all food fights. The players were so tired they were mad and silly at the same time. Cal was for sure in the food fight. It was right up his alley because he liked horsing around and play-fighting as much as anyone on the club. Frances had no idea what became of her $50 chicken dinner.

The real fight happened not long after the food fight. The first half of 1980 the Charlotte O's were a steamroller. They won nearly every series. But now it was the second or third time playing our rivals so some bad blood was up. Who knows why? A guy now on Memphis who hit somebody on the O's in A ball last year? A hard slide the year before? Whatever it was, this night was payback time. Memphis was in town. The Memphis Chicks. They were in the other division of the Southern League that year. Memphis, Nashville (both in the West) and Charlotte (East) were the best teams. Memphis had Charlie Lea (threw a no-hitter for Montreal Expos), Buck Showalter, Razor Shines (love that name) and were a tough bunch. Their starter threw a couple of chin balls early and our hurler retaliated. Then one of our guys took a bean ball -- it might have been Cal -- and the rumble was on. Our dugout emptied without anyone saying a word to charge the field. It was a real fight. Not pushing and pulling and shoving. Real haymakers and body slams. Jimmy and Minnie were smart. They lingered a few seconds in the dugout after the first blows then came on out to break it up. That took a while because one fight would end over there and another would pop up over here. The fans were screaming. Pandemonium. It's clear the fighting-est one of all out there is Drungo LaRue Hazewood. The umps have tossed Drungo, all 6' 3" 220 lbs. of him, and a couple of O's are trying to drag him off the field. Once in the dugout Drungo throws equipment and screams threats across the field to the Chicks. Then he makes a beeline for the clubhouse through the tunnel. My clubhouse rat kid brother comes into the dugout 30 seconds later with his face looking pale. Drungo was not finished. Back in March when I was remodeling the clubhouse I mounted two bats on an oak post that ran from floor to ceiling. I painted one bat orange and the other blue for the team colors. Drilled a hole through both bats at the trademark, put one over the other in crossed fashion and mounted them to the post with a 12' bolt. Drungo dismounted my bats with his bare hands. And intended to present them in some fashion to his friends on the Memphis Chicks in their clubhouse. By the time I got into our clubhouse, someone had locked our clubhouse door leading to the concourse from the outside. Drungo was thwarted thank goodness and finally simmered down. One whale of a fight and one very strong young man.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WILD BILL HAGEY: We all saw the TV images from the 1979 Baltimore Orioles. The upper deck fan with the beard and the big belly leading the crowd in the chant O-R-I-O-L-E-S by spelling it out with his arms. Wild Bill Hagey was hot and in demand. During 1980 Frances lined up some special talent to help draw a bigger gate. We had the great baseball clown Max Patkin. The San Diego Chicken (he signed a ball for me "Breast Wishes") and Rapid Robert "Bob" Feller. Frances was not done. She shelled out what was rumored to be $10,000 plus airfare, travel, lodging and beer for Mr. Wild Bill Hagey to be at an O's game. Bill was there in all of his glory. But how many times can you do O-R-I-O-L-E-S? The bit went flat around the third inning. No matter. Bill was just getting cranked up for a big night. After the game was a party at one of the player's apartments. Bill was the honored guest. And still drinking Frances' free beer.

ripkenintheminors.com: Working with the team I'm sure that you formed a great relationship with many of the players that came through Charlotte. Who in the organization did you have a great relationship with and who do you stay in touch with to this day?

Marshall Hester: I have mentioned my clubhouse rat kid brother. His name is Stuart Hester. In 1980 he was 14 and in the eighth grade. He spent way too much time at the ballpark and not enough at school that year. He got much closer to the players than I did as they adopted him as their little brother. Many nights he would spend at their apartments. I also have a kid sister who was 16 in 1980 so some of the players took a liking to her. The Hesters were well-known that season. Stuart is now a banker in Charlotte. He is the one who has kept the contacts up over the years and has graciously included me. 

CAL RIPKEN: I remember Cal as being "The Natural" in real life. He was 19 years old in 1980. Tall, slender, loose-jointed, blue eyes, quick wrists and soft hands. Had that sixth sense on the field to be where he should be, like Jeter does today. Cal was a kid at times and a seasoned pro at others. He liked to grab guys from behind and wrestle. He ate his cookies and drank his Kool-Aid before games. Did not have a flashy car - I really don't remember if he had a car. No big shot stuff. He might sip a beer once in a blue moon (legal drinking age in 1980 was 18) but I never saw him intoxicated. But he had these pro mannerisms even at 19. He was very particular about his uniform and equipment. The uni had to fit and be spotless. He had about seven or eight pairs of athletic shoes in his locker - one for warm ups, one for batting practice, one for a wet field, and so on. My brother Stuart, who took the job of shining shoes, dreaded having to do all of Cal's shoes. But Cal was a generous tipper.

JOHN SHELBY: He was our center fielder and lead off hitter in 1980. A three-sport star in high school from Lexington KY. Was recruited to play basketball for the UK Wildcats. Had a 31-game hit streak in 1980. Wizard glove man. Went on to start for Baltimore and won a ring in 1983. Brother and I were thrilled when he was traded to our Dodgers in 1987 and helped us win our last World Series in 1988. Just as good, T-Bone joined the Dodgers as coach when he retired. Now we had a buddy with the inside connection to our favorite team. He is a family man. One of the few married players in 1980, he referred to his wife as "the lady Trina." John and Trina now have six children. One son had Hodgkin's a few years ago but is recovered. Another son is an All-American second baseman at the University of Kentucky. The family still lives in Lexington. Being on the west coast all those years for the Dodgers was tough on T. Life must be better now that he is coaching closer to home in Pittsburgh. T-Bone always set us up with tickets if brother and I could get to a Dodgers game in Atlanta or Baltimore. We would be able to talk with him around the dugout. One time he introduced us to Manny Mota which was really cool. T hosted us at Vero beach in 2005 during spring training. Our middle brother Richard Hester made the trip and the four of us had a memorable dinner. We laughed about the old days and T gave us some inside scoops on the Dodgers. The guy looks like he could still play. His patented watchword was "Outstanding!", as in congratulating you he would say "That's outstanding!" or if a guy made a great play, it was "Hey, that was outstanding!" That about sums up John T. Shelby. Outstanding.

VICTOR RODRIGUEZ: Vic came up in the middle of the season I believe from Miami. He is from Puerto Rico. Was only 17 in 1980. Great natural contact hitter but Baltimore never found a position for him. Is the all-time hit leader in the minor leagues. Got a cup of coffee in the majors and hit well over .300. Vic stayed in the game as a coach and is now the top minor league hitting instructor for the Boston Red Sox. Vic was only 3 years older than brother Stuart so they became fast friends. There for a while that summer brother was spending as many nights at Victor's Econo-Lodge apartment as he was at home. Vic came over to my mom's house for dinner a few times. Had a crush on our sister. Brother Stuart talks with Victor a couple of times a month. Again, we get some good scoops. When the Dodgers picked up Bill Mueller as a free agent in 2006 after he left the Red Sox, Vic warned that he would never hold up physically. Sure enough Mueller goes down with a chronic knee in June and his career is over. When Vic is near Charlotte he and Stuart get together. On a recent visit Vic went to little league practice with Stuart's son and gave him personal batting instruction. No wonder the boy hit .800 for the season. Vic coined one of the 1980 O's team slogans, which was "Too sweet!" A guy gets a hit and the response on the bench is "Too sweet!" Your steak is cooked just right and it's "Hey, too sweet!" The game in Orlando is called after the fifth inning and you get to leave early for the trip home. "Man, that's way too sweet". Vic also authored my favorite quote of 1980. After I left the team, Vic told my brother to tell me, "Since Marshall is gone, the lemonade they give us in the clubhouse, it tastes like urine." 

DRUNGO LARUE HAZEWOOD: Besides Cal, he was the other "can't miss" prospect on the O's in 1980. From Sacramento CA. First round draft pick by the Orioles and tuned down a football scholarship to play safety at USC. Cal was the most talented ballplayer on the team and John Shelby was the best natural athlete but Drungo was the most fearsome. Raw speed and power. Played right field and batted clean up with Cal hitting third. Mistake hitter prone to slumps that put him into a general funk. Liked to get down and dirty to take out second basemen and catchers on slides. A bazooka for an arm. And that name. The PA man in Charlotte would take five minutes to announce him, "Now batting for the O's, the right fielderDrrrrruunnnnggggoooo LaaaRuuuuueee Hazewoooooooood!"

Drungo was a sweet guy off the field. A man-child. Did an imitation of Babe Ruth by being able to eat two Whopper quarter-pounders with cheese, fries and a Coke before the game. He got a big bonus when he signed with Baltimore but like Cal we didn't see any flashy stuff with Drungo. He had a good year in 1980. About the same numbers as Cal. Went to Rochester the next year but that was it. Too many strikeouts. We have a sportswriter at our local newspaper, Stan Olson, who covered the O's in 1980 and still writes the baseball column on Sundays. Stan wrote a piece on Drungo a couple of years ago. Back in Sacramento, Drungo is raising his children as a single parent and driving a truck. Doing things the hard way but the right way. I got Drungo's address from Stan and wrote him a letter, but never heard back.

Cal had God-given talent for sure but he worked as hard as anyone to get better. Baltimore had decided to bring him up as a third baseman and 1980 was the first year I believe he played the position exclusively. Lots and lots of infield practice. He had the natural bat action to handle AA fastballs but the off-speed stuff fooled him sometimes. He spent time in the cage learning to stay back longer on the curve. Man, he had a nice stroke. It never changed from 1980 until he retired. Those wrists ate up Southern league hard stuff in 1980. Was not a gap hitter. He would hit bullets down the left field line. Must have had 25 doubles that way. There was no doubt his season at Charlotte would conclude with a promotion to AAA Rochester, which it did after I left the team. He ended up hitting around .290 with 25 homers and around 90 rbi in probably 130 games.

BROOKS CAREY: The team free-spirit of the 1980 O's. Embodiment of the zany left-hander. A blond son of a fisherman from Florida. Bar handle moustache and crazy-lazy eyes. The O's most consistent twirler, Brooks had command of his pitches with ability to change speeds. Not a power arm. Crafty. Got hurt if he left the ball out over the plate or hung one. Kept you in the game. Even at 20 or 21 back then his arm was acting up and that ended the it after he got promoted to Rochester. Being a Southern man, Brooks placed value on straight talk, the bonds of friendship and hospitality. Drink your last beer? Brooks gives you one of his. Out of dip? Brooks offers a pinch from his can. Forget your warm up jacket? Brooks has an extra.

When you are around someone who goes on the achieve what he did you carry a small personal piece of it with you. During his career the second thing to look for (after checking the Dodgers score) was what Cal did in his game. My brother Stuart saw Cal at a book-signing this past year in Charlotte. Brother took his young son with him. They waited in line and then when their turn with Cal came brother introduced himself. Cal looked up and made a motion for the line to stop for a moment. He asked brother and his son to step behind the signing table and they talked for a long time. Cal quizzed my brother's son on baseball and encouraged him to play hard. Cal asked how I was. 

In addition to the moniker "Spew", in tribute of his expectorating prowess, his other nickname was "Spongey", as in an ability to soak up large quantities of liquid. Brooks was one of the rare people who can party hearty and come back fresh as a daisy the next day ready for more. He created the second mantra of the 1980 O's (remember "Too Sweet"?), which was "Work It!" Bus driver Deacon is bulling his way through traffic, so it's "Work it Deac, work it!" A player is spied making time with a girl in the stands and it's "Hey, work it Bubba, work on it!" A rally is going and from the bench comes, "That a way to work it baby!" Brooks has stayed close to Cal over the years. I believe they were roommates going back to Bluefield in rookie ball. Brooks is also good friends with Boog Powell. They like to fish and drink brew in the Florida Keys. He has invited my brother Stuart down this spring on an expedition. Me too. Wonder if Buffett will be there?  

ripkenintheminors.com: What was the best thing about working with the O's?

Marshall Hester: Being a part of a team unit operating at highest efficiency. I come from a big family - five brothers and sisters - so the season was like joining a new family with 25 or 30 brothers. You watched each other's back. Put team before self. Shared winning and losing. Once if you are lucky in life you get to be a part of an organization that is the best - a champion. The O's were the Southern League standard that year. It was fun going to the park knowing you were probably going to win. The anticipation of which of the guys would make the game's big play was a natural high. Everybody was jacked up. The thrill of victory!!! I respect the game of baseball and the people who have gone before. To be even a small part of a season that happened long ago is irreplaceable. Like being a kid and not only going to Never Never Land but getting to hang out and be one of the Lost Boys. If you wanted, it was easy to step back in time that season because the stadiums in the league were by and large classic old ball yards. Knoxville, Chattanooga (where In a League of Their Own was filmed), Savannah, Montgomery, Columbus and Charlotte all dated from the 1930s or 1940s. I would think about all of the players who played on those fields, sat in those dugouts and laughed in those clubhouses. You want a Field of Dreams? Those parks were the real thing. Finally, you got to go to a baseball game almost every night!  

ripkenintheminors.com: Other than Cal, what are some stories that you can share?

RADIO DAYS: The O's had a radio announcer for all games home and away. Jay Colley was our Chuck Thompson. He was from Nashville, young and ambitious like the rest of us back then. Jay and I roomed together on the road so we got to know each other pretty well. But Jay was not caught up as me in the "team" thing. He did not pal with the players. Journalistic standards, you know. He had been around pro sports so he saw things before I did. He'd tell me, "That guy will never make it," and I'd get upset. Why, "that guy" was a friend of mine and maybe had a family to support. Over time I came to understand and appreciate where Jay was coming from.

Performers, whether baseball radio announcers or rock stars are a peculiar breed. Jay could turn on and off his radio announcer persona in an instant. He would practice in front of the mirror in our hotel room. Always was sucking on a throat lozenge to soothe the golden vocal chords. Now, I liked the limelight as much as anybody so around June I started dropping hints that maybe I could visit the radio booth occasionally when we were on the road. (Frances likely would have had me ejected from the park if I tried it at home.) Jay acted like he did not hear me at first. So I turned up the volume a bit and regaled Jay with my baseball knowledge. Good anecdotal fodder any color man would be proud of. Jay tried to let me down easy, "Not a chance Marshall." Finally I pester and pester and we hit Savannah. Jay says I can come up to the booth for the last few innings of the second game of a double header if I promise to be quiet. Deal. Top of the 6th inning I move into position next to Jay in the booth. Best seat in the house! I keep my promise and say nothing. A bang-bang play at first ends the top of the 6th. We go off air. "He was safe!", I protest. "No, he was out," Jay comes back. "But he beat the throw by two steps, he was safe," I continue. "Marshall, what did the umpire call it? What does the scoreboard say?" He got me there. "Out..." Jay gives me a nod, "You're learning Marshall. He was out." The next night in Savannah, Jay is apparently trusting me more and says I can come up to the booth in the 3rd inning. Bad game. We are getting our brains beat in. 9-1 in the 5th. Jay must have run out of things to say because out of the blue he welcomes me to the booth on the air. "Joining us in the booth now is the O's traveling secretary Marshall Hester. He does a great job for the team." My hat size increased three inches. Traveling secretary! Take that Frances! Then the crusher. "It's lucky Marshall is up here because I am really hungry and he's going to get me a hog dog. I like my dog with mustard and chili." I wonder who was madder at that moment, me or Frances listening back in Charlotte.

PRO WRESTLING IS A SPORT?: Because the Crockett empire was founded on pro wresting and the baseball club was an extension of that empire, occasionally pro wresting and baseball intertwined. The park superintendent was a former Crockett wrestler named Klondike Bill. Bill worked hard to keep a 43-year-old ballpark in shape. The roof leaked, the electrical wiring was very questionable and the plumbing impossible. Bill's wrestling character was a big gold miner from the Klondike. In retirement Bill kept his long beard and hair. He wore bib denim overalls. Bill was nice to me and never tried to plant my head in a turnbuckle. One afternoon Frances summons me to go pick up a check at the Crockett Wrestling headquarters. My first time over there, I go in the wrong door, entering a big room with a wrestling ring set up in the middle. No one else is there. I look this over and notice that TV cameras are positioned all around the ring. What could they be for? To videotape wrestlers as they practice their choreographed bout? I decided to get out of there with my belief in pro wrestling still intact.

THE GREAT RACE: Nashville was the best stop on the Southern League circuit. There was an entertainment district and the ballpark was new. Nashville was the Yankees farm team. It was also Jay Colley's hometown so when in Nashville I never saw him and got a room to myself. We had a Saturday day game. There was a note for manager Jimmy Williams when we arrived. It was from the Nashville GM inviting a representative of the Charlotte O's to take part in a celebrity race prior to that day's game. In 1980 for some strange reason I liked to run. Not jog. Run. Around 5 or six miles a day. Jimmy thought it was weird. But on this day it served his purpose. He passed the note to me and said I was the O's entry and the race was in 15 minutes. Oh, one more thing. I better win. 

My running stuff except for my shoes was back at the hotel so I put on a pair of baseball pants and tee shirt. The note said to go to home plate at 12:45. Something is telling me this is not such a good idea. The players are giving me the business pretty good as I walk through the dugout and on the field. "You better win!" The stands are full, about 15,000 people. When I get to home plate only three other people are there. One is the Nashville PA guy with a mic. The other two are Nashville manager Stump Merrill and a very buxom Nashville ball girl. This is going to be the race? Three laps around the field from home plate to foul pole, along the warning track, to next foul pole and back to home plate. Me against a 55-year old manager named Stump and a size 38DD girl.

The PA guy introduces us ..."and from the Charlotte O's, traveling secretary Marshall Hester." (At least he got that right.) "Boo! Boo! Boo, O's!" "Did you get that, he's a secretary! Come do my typing honey!" "He's going to race against Stump and a girl!" I looked over at our dugout and issued a silent plea to Jimmy to save me. "Come on Marshall, you'd better win," he calls. Bang! Here we go. I am loping at half stride towards the right field foul pole, looking back over my should every step or two to see what Stump and 38DD have for me. They have gone maybe ten feet. I almost stop. "Come on," our team is screaming at me," kill them, smash them!!" Alright, what the heck. I turn on the burners and run full speed, as fast as I can. Stump and 38DD could care less. They are talking and giggling to each other. The PA guy is actually trying to do a call of the race. "And it's Marshall Hester of the Charlotte O's out in front. Does he have enough to hold off Stump?" Shaddup. The fans are abusing me the whole way around. "You suck!" "Go back to Charlotte!" "Get off our field!" Mercifully it is over. Our players are hooting and hollering, giving me the hero's welcome in the dugout. That night I got my "gold medal" from a few of them. A crushed beer can on a shoelace.

ripkenintheminors.com: How long did you stay in the O's organization?

Marshall Hester: I joined in February 1980 and left in the middle of August 1980.

ripkenintheminors.com: I know you mentioned leaving the team before the season ended. What happened?

Marshall Hester: You by now have noted a consistent thread in my recollections of 1980. That being a contentious relationship with the club GM. Not the first time it's happened. Iron-fisted boss and hard-headed employee. Insubordination was not what I planned every day I woke up. Some things that went on simply offended by sensibilities. Mostly how the GM treated the players, and me as a liaison of the players. I tried my best to make the O's clubhouse first-rate. Had new carpet put in, painted everything myself by hand - even the nasty showers and bathrooms with crumbling plaster. With the help of my brother Stuart, we had the uniforms always clean, dry and hung up in the lockers, the shoes shined, the towels (plenty) folded and the place bright and cherry. I went to the supermarket every morning and out of my own pocket bought fresh cookies and crackers along with Kool-aid and lemonade mix. The munchies were set out on a table when the players arrived for the game. The GM could have cared less. In fact her visitor's clubhouse at Crockett Park was so gross that visiting teams refused to use it, dressing before they came to the park and showering back at their hotel. I heard that the league office got a lot of complaints. I did not have anything to do with the visitors area, but my clubhouse was a reflection on me and it was going to be as close to major league as I could make it.

Music was a big part of that. Young people like music. Loud and lively. In the home clubhouse there was no music in the beginning because there was no stereo system. I had a system at my apartment in Charlotte that I did not use because my roomie had one. So I brought my system to the park and put it in the O's clubhouse. Smokin'! The music became part of the aura and identity of the team. We played the songs everybody liked every day and in the same order. Kind of mellow and light as the team filtered in, then more upbeat and funky as they left and came back from batting/fielding practice and then the really bad jam before they went to the dugout for the first pitch. The music was part of the ritual, the repetitive positive things a winning team does. I decided to allow the club to share in my commitment to excellence and turned in an expense report to Frances listing $250 for the stereo. You can imagine how that went over. Unknown to me, someone or some group lobbied on my behalf and in a couple of days I did get the $250 from Frances.

So the season rocks along and we are into August. At home for a double-header. The first game is over and the players are hungry. My cookies and crackers are long gone. A couple of the vets want their wallets from the valuables trunk so they can go buy a hot dog and soda. I suddenly start hearing voices inside my head. It was Ted Williams whispering, "This is bull." It was Pee Wee Reese whispering "This is real bull." It was Crash Davis shouting "This is total bull!" I then told everybody to put back their money. Brother and I left the clubhouse and marched to the concession stand behind third base. I asked for 50 hot dogs, 25 Cokes and 25 bags of chips. For the Charlotte O's players, I said. The little part-time lady at the stand got everything together but before we could go I had to sign for it. At that moment I didn't really care what sign for it meant. We got the grub back inside much to the delight of the team. Wolf, wolf, down the hatch and here we go to sweep the double dip. A few innings into the second game I'm called to the clubhouse door. The concessions manager is there to present me with a bill for the stuff I had gotten for the team. Frances had not approved it. Frances was not going to pay for it. I was. When I said no, he cussed me out and left.

I figured it was over until there was a large deduction from my next paycheck for the food. Well, I figured if the club was going to take something from me like that I was going to take something back. So the clubhouse stereo got loaded in my car after that night's game and it went home. The next day was routine enough. The usual preparations. Brother Stuart is with me. Frances comes into the clubhouse. Frances never comes into the clubhouse. She tells me to sit down. Asks where the club's stereo is. I tell her and I tell her why. She fires me right there. In front of my kid brother which was really no class. She left and I walked down the tunnel to the dugout and told Jimmy Williams I just got fired. He thought I was joking. No joke. I shook his hand and thanked him for everything. Asked him not to say anything to the players right then. I turned and walked back up the tunnel, out of the clubhouse and to my car in as long as it took for the National Anthem to be played. Brother and I drove away. With the windows of the car down we could hear the crack of a bat. And the roar of the crowd slowly fading, fading and finally gone.

ripkenintheminors.com: What are you doing today?

Marshall Hester: I live in Charlotte and work in corporate sales as I have for most of the past 26 years. Married to a beautiful woman and have three equally beautiful daughters. Also four dogs, four cats and two fish. Looking forward to an early retirement on the NC coast. Still love baseball, love the Dodgers, respect the Orioles and treasure all the fine men of 1980. 

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