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10/12/2009 12:52 PM ET
Mehring Monday 10/12: Spinoff
By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
This week, Mehring
Monday is going to introduce a new character that will be developed into its
own weekly series. This is a staple
of television. You know, like, The Mary Tyler Moore Show begat Rhoda,
Phyllis, and Lou Grant. Or, Diff'rnt
Strokes begat The Facts of Life. And
- more recently for you younger viewers out there - just as NCIS
spun off from JAG before spinning off NCIS:
Los Angeles. Now, meet Flashback
This was an idea over at Rattler
Radio a few off-seasons ago, but that was just putting pages from old Foxes
programs from the 60's and 70's. This
series is going to deal with a recent treasure trove of articles that were
recently discovered in storage. Most
are from the Appleton Post-Crescent.
But, there are a few from the Chicago
Tribune and even one from the Washington
Post. This feature will run most
Fridays during this off-season.
This week's introductory flashback is from
the September 1, 1985 Appleton Post-Crescent. It
is a column by Bernie Peterson, the sports editor at the time, and the title is Foxes'
GM job a training ground in practicality.
The subject of this column is Bill Smith, the current general manager of
the Minnesota Twins. You may
understand a bit more about the success of the Twins after reading the following
Gee, wouldn't it be nice to be the general
manager of the Appleton Foxes?
Here you are, running a team that has an
excellent shot at winning an unprecedented fourth straight Midwest League
championship. You're surrounded by
gifted ballplayers, many of whom doubtlessly will wind up in the major leagues
some day. It's got to be one
continuous series of thrills, right?
Yes and no, according to Bill Smith, who is
completing his third year on the job. The
excitement is there, for sure. But
it is merely the frosting on the cake. It
belies the incredible amount of work that must be done virtually every day of
the year just to keep the club in business.
When the Foxes close their season sometime in
early September, Smith and his assistant, Larry Dawson, will bid it a fond
farewell, turn right around and start diving into preparations for the 1986
Such is the nature of the work in a minor
league front office. It just keeps
on coming, and the routine, mundane activities far outweigh the glamorous
But ask Bill Smith if he regrets his decision
to come and work in
and you'll get a resounding "no". He
loves his job and he's good at it. That's
nice, because he wants to move up in the baseball world every bit as much as
those gifted players who populate the Foxes' roster each season.
"I've picked up enough experience here to
understand the problems (of running a baseball team).
I couldn't have done that if I was sitting in an office in
," he said.
Smith, who was born in
, but calls
his home town, has seen baseball's bright lights up close, even though he's
just 27 years old.
He broke into the business by spending a year
in an executive development program at the major league commissioner's office
New York City
. Then he spent two years working in
the White Sox' minor league office in
Still, he knew that he'd have to pay his
dues at professional baseball's grass roots level, and he actively sought the
Foxes' GM job when it opened up.
Smith is the kind of bright young person that
baseball needs. He's not a
washed-up player looking for a way to hang on.
Instead, he's an articulate individual who was attracted to the
administrative side of the business after he graduated from
Experience-wise, this has been a tremendous
move for me. I've had to become
totally involved in a wide variety of activities, such as marketing, public
relations, selling, doing payroll taxes, groundskeeping and arranging housing
for the players," he said. "It's
been an eye-opening experience in every area.
It's tough, yet extremely rewarding."
On one hand, he has to deal with the
day-to-day concerns of the players, manager, coaches, and trainer, who have to
weather a taxing 140-game schedule in the space of 144 days.
On the other hand, he has had to coordinate the invaluable efforts of the
team's large collection of directors, without whose never-ending volunteer
help the franchise might quickly go under.
Above all, he must vigorously promote the
team in the community, because the fans pay the bills that keep the Foxes in
Early last spring, I sat own with Bill and
listened as he spoke of plans and goals for the coming season.
There would be promotions of major league quality, nights at which useful
items would be given away, like mugs, caps, and gym bags.
There would be the famous San Diego Chicken.
There would continue to be traditionally popular promotions, such as Red
Smith, AAL, and Valley Banks nights. And
there would be another superb team, chock full of promising talent by a parent
organization that has brought so many future major leaguers through Appleton.
Now that the season is just about over, Smith
can look back and say that things worked out remarkably well.
The team delivered in style and the promotions lived up to their advance
billing. As a bonus, the weather
improved dramatically from the previous two years.
There had been 14 rainouts each in 1983 and
1984, and the showers of '84 had a bad habit of falling on major promotion
nights. Attendance, which had been a
very respectable 69,513 in 1983 fell off sharply to 54,281 in 1984.
This year, with just four rainouts in the
regular season, the Foxes drew 72,860 fans, their top total since 1978 and the
fourth best in club history. With
the possibility of 5 playoff games at home still remaining, Smith sees the
80,000 attendance mark as attainable.
Smith's job demands that he learn how to
stretch a dollar to the limit. He
has learned to be practical in ways that would make the most fastidious
Saving money, he says, is as good as making
it. So he has looked for as many
ways to save it as he does to earn it.
He has picked the brains of the Foxes'
directors to get competent (and free) professional advice on such things as
insurance and legal matters. He says
the Foxes pay half the insurance of some other teams, yet get the same level of
He bought an infield tarp, which he says kept
7 games from being called on account of wet grounds.
He set a goal of saving two balls per night,
which would net a $350 savings by the end of the season.
And he instructed players to be careful with their equipment.
"It is important that the players have
respect for the organization," he said. "They
have to learn to save equipment. We
pride ourselves on being economical with bats and balls.
We use fewer ones than anybody else in the league.
We haven't had a broken batting helmet in 3 years."
By getting a fulltime assistant in
, Smith has greatly expanded opportunities for promoting the club, which
translates into more fans and more dollars.
The extra revenue gets plowed back into
making Goodland Field a more enjoyable place to play or watch baseball.
"My goals at the beginning of the season
were to make enough money to re-sod the infield at the end of the season,
replace half the outfield lights, replace the public address system and possibly
the outfield fence," he said.
"We're looking at putting $20,000 right
back into this facility. It's an
old ball park and it needs constant attention.
Every time we can save $100 three times or five times we can get
something substantial for the ball park."
Beyond the business,
will always remain special to Smith for one reason.
This is where he met his wife, Becky.
"I married the boss's daughter," he
said. "Milt Drier was elected
president of the club the night I was hired in mid-October of 1982 and 2-1/2
weeks after I moved here I started going out with his daughter.
We got married last Sept. 30. That's
No. 1 on my list."
I dare any sports columnist to use the phrase "fastidious
homemaker" in a column these days
How do you save two baseballs a night?
Retrieve the foul balls before the kids can get to them?
They didn't have a tarp before 1985?
One of the reasons they didn't have any broken helmets in 3
years was maybe three straight championships.
Just commenting on stylistic choices that have changed over the
last 24 years. The abbreviations for
are understandable, but if you're going to use
, you might as well just spell out
. Also, '3' instead of
'three' and '7' instead of 'seven'.
That just seems odd.
This is the last collaborative effort for Mehring
Monday. The way it has worked
over the last few seasons is that I write the column and Jay Grusznski picks out
a picture to go along with the words. (Note:
My personal favorites are the Bucket
column and the Autographs
column with a Moose Haas photo.) One
of the reasons, I selected this column about Bill Smith for this edition was
that Jay said he had a baseball card of Mr. Smith and wanted a reason to use it
before he turned in his keys to the column.
Jay is staying with the team, but will have a few other duties that will
force me to come up with the pictures and the captions for these columns.
I hope that I can fill both roles.
Need More Mehring? Try the Rattler
Previous Mehring Mondays:
It's A Fantasy
Ryan Franklin, All Star
Appleton's Other Hall of Famers
It Hasn't Happened...Yet!
Get on the Bus
The End...For Now
It's a Common Question