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Joe Guzzardi One baseball owner who treated his players right

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Joe Guzzardi

Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:29 am, Tue Sep 6, 2011.

For Labor Day, here's a column about a professional baseball team owner who knew how to treat his workers (players) right.

During the 1950s, the era in which I became a baseball fan, San Francisco Seals were the luckiest players in uniform. Paul Fagan, the Seals' generous owner, spared no expense to make his squad comfortable. The Seals had stars-to-be like Ferris Fain, Gene Woodling, Lou Burdette and Larry Jansen, to name a few.

Under manager Lefty O'Doul's direction, the Seals often — but not always — fielded competitive teams. Fagan, hoping to make the Pacific Coast League the third major league to join with the American and National, kept an eye out for the best players. When he took over the Seals in 1946, Fagan said to previous owner Charles Graham, "I only know two baseball names — Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio. I don't know what they will cost. I want 'em."

One of the most innovative minds in baseball, Fagan introduced concession stands, upgraded the Seals Stadium's ladies room with a million-dollar investment and built a spring training facility on Maui. Fagan, whose personal fortune came from his family's banking businesses and Hawaii real estate, made sure his players always traveled first-class. The Seals had large sleeping quarters, a spacious dining area and a soda fountain where they could get ice cream at any time during the day.

On Maui, Seals' pitcher Cliff Melton developed his famous "Aloha" pitch, a variation of his outstanding sinker that once helped him win 20 games for the 1937 New York Giants.

Given Fagan's well-known propensity to spend money lavishly, the baseball world was shocked when one day in 1950 he declared that peanuts would no longer be sold at Seals Stadium.

Apparently overcome by his banker's green eye shade approach to profit and loss, on Feb. 16, 1950 Fagan issued this announcement: "We lose five cents on every bag of peanuts sold in the ballpark. That's $20,000 a year. It costs us 7 1/2 cents to pick up the husks and our profit on a dime bag is just 2 1/2 cents. The goober has to go."

Irate fans lit up the Seals' phone lines with their protests. Some threatened to bring their own peanuts and drop the offending shells everywhere. Newspapers along the west coast jumped to the peanut's defense. The Los Angeles Herald Express editorialized: "To many deep, dyed-in-the-wool fans, it was just like ripping the heart out of baseball itself. The privilege of buying, shelling and eating peanuts at the ball game is just too sacred."

Fagan's only support came from entrepreneurial types who saw an opportunity to sell peanuts outside the stadium to disgruntled fans.

In the end, the objections overwhelmed Fagan. Within 24 hours Fagan issued his second peanut-related press release: "I give up. Mr. Peanut wins. It's the first time in my life I've been beaten and it had to be by a peanut."

By opening day, the peanut had been restored to Fagan's good graces. Fagan even appeased the president of the National Peanut Council, who had charged him with manufacturing a peanut publicity stunt to generate free media for the Seals.

In an interesting non-peanut related note, the 1950 Seals ended up its season with one of the most curious records in baseball history: 100-100.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Adult School in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pa. With the collapse of his Pirates and San Francisco Giants, he's ready to turn his attention to the Steelers. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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