by Carl Erskine
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The Dodgertown baseball complex was opened in 1948, right after World War II. Branch Rickey leased the Naval Air Station facility in Vero Beach, Florida, for $1 per year and converted it to a spring-training site. Some 790 signed players in the Dodger organization-both major leaguers and minor leaguers-passed through there each spring, from mid-February to the end of April, representing rosters of 26 farm teams, as well as the big-league club.
There was a lot of evening time to spend, with only one Ping-Pong table, a pool table, and a jukebox available for entertainment. Fortunately, we had a true showman among us, minor league first baseman Chuck Connors. Chuck would entertain us nightly with card tricks, poems, jokes, or debates. He was also one of several Dodger first basemen who stayed in the minors, because Gil Hodges was a fixture on the big club.
Once, Dodgers president Branch Rickey called Chuck into his office for a conference, a routine invitation for all of his players, sooner or later. Mr. Rickey always stressed the moral and spiritual discipline needed in life, especially in the pressure-packed arena of professional baseball.
Connors related his conversation with Mr. Rickey. "Son, do you smoke?" "No sir, Mr. Rickey." "Chuck, do you run around with fast women?" "No, sir." "Do you drink hard liquor?" Chuck swears he answered, "Mr. Rickey, if I have to drink to play for you, I want to be traded." Later he was traded to the Cubs, then optioned to their Triple A team in Hollywood before becoming, of course, a famous TV star known as "The Rifleman."
From Tales from the Dudger Dugout by Carl Erskine.
Copyright © 2000 by Carl Erskine. Reprinted with permission.