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10/12/2009 12:52 PM ET
Mehring Monday 10/12: Spinoff
When is Mehring going to get his own baseball card?

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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 Friday.

  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 article.

 

  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 campaign.

  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 aspects.

  But ask Bill Smith if he regrets his decision to come and work in Appleton 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 Chicago ," he said.

  Smith, who was born in Monterey , Calif. , but calls Northhampton , N.H. 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 in New York City .  Then he spent two years working in the White Sox' minor league office in Chicago .

  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 Hamilton College in Clinton , N.Y.

  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 town.

  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 homemaker proud.

  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 coverage.

  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 Dawson , 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, Appleton 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."

 

Reactions: 

 

1.)     I dare any sports columnist to use the phrase "fastidious homemaker" in a column these days

2.)     How do you save two baseballs a night?  Retrieve the foul balls before the kids can get to them?

3.)     They didn't have a tarp before 1985?

4.)     One of the reasons they didn't have any broken helmets in 3 years was maybe three straight championships.  Maybe?

5.)     Just commenting on stylistic choices that have changed over the last 24 years.  The abbreviations for New York and New Hampshire are understandable, but if you're going to use Calif. , you might as well just spell out California .  Also, '3' instead of 'three' and '7' instead of 'seven'.  That just seems odd.

6.)     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 List 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 Radio Blog

Previous Mehring Mondays:

5/11: Bucket List

5/26: It's A Fantasy

6/1: Sweep

6/8: Painful

6/15: Walk Off

7/6: Ryan Franklin, All Star

7/27: Appleton's Other Hall of Famers

8/3: First Impressions

8/10: Toasty

8/17: It Hasn't Happened...Yet!

8/24: True Story

8/31: Get on the Bus

9/7: The End...For Now

9/21: It's a Common Question

10/5: Other Sports