Last winter Getty Oil paid $10 million for a majority interest in a hitherto unknown and practically non-functioning little cable TV company in Plainville, Conn. called The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, Inc., or, more informally, ESPN. Indeed, Getty's decision to underwrite the firm seems to have had more than a few overtones of extrasensory perception and supernatural insight: ESPN may become the biggest thing in TV sports since Monday Night Football and nighttime World Series games.Cool as that was, my favorite find was another 1979 issue which I hunted down only after solving a long-standing mystery thanks to The Baseball Index, SABR's bibliography resource available via BaseballLibrary.com.
ESPN plans to launch the nation's first 24-hour sports network by Dec. 1, a nonstop telethon that will ultimately result in 8,760 hours of annual programming—every single possible hour, and seven times as many hours of sports as the three major networks combined now air in an average year. ESPN will present a mind-boggling (and, perhaps, numbing) flow of games, matches and contests, ranging from live tennis from Monaco shown at 3 a.m. to taped NCAA football games on view from 8 a.m. to midnight on most autumn weekends to a mixed bag of volleyball, water polo, fencing, crew, etc., etc.
As 23-year-old ESPN vice-president Scott Rasmussen puts it, "What we're creating here is a network for sports junkies. This is not programming for soft-core sports fans who like to watch an NFL game, then switch to the news. This is a network for people who like to watch a college football game, then a wrestling match, a gymnastics meet and a soccer game, followed by an hour-long talk show—on sports."
It was the greatest feeling in the world — or maybe the worst. Five years ago, there I was in a San Diego uniform about to take a pregame workout with the Padres. Warming up on the sidelines were the champion Cincinnati Reds — Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, those guys. This was the big time. This was where I belonged. Nobody ever wanted to be anywhere more than I wanted to be in this spot.I had always assumed that Perone, like the protagonist in Man on Spikes (which, to be truthful, I've never read for more than a handful of pages) was a fictional character, particularly because the story is written in the first person. The fact that Perone's game action came not with the Padres but with their minor-league affiliate in Walla Walla -- where my grandparents lived and where I spent a good portion of that summer, ironically enough -- meant that he left no major league stats behind and further strengthened that supposition.
The trouble was, it wasn't me. Or, to be more exact, nobody knew it was me. The guy on the field was known as Rocky Perone, supposedly a 21-year-old rookie from Sydney, Australia. At least, that's who the Padres thought they had signed. Actually, my name is Richard Pohle, and I'm from Lisbon Falls, Maine. And my age, by God, was 36!
Except for Satchel Paige, I probably was the oldest rookie ever signed to a professional baseball contract. But look, at 36 I was desperate. I had to do something. I wasn't some rinky-dink from Pipe Dream City. Over the years, I'd proved myself repeatedly. I had to prove myself again just to be here. I'd had to show them something. The hoax about my age was just a device to get the scouts to look at me, to really look at me. Can anyone picture a scout giving a tryout to an American shortstop who is 36?
God knows the number of places I'd gone for tryouts, how many times I'd hitched to spring-training camps, traveling from Maine to Florida or from California to Florida, and how close I'd come to making it years ago. The trouble with scouts is that they seldom believe what they see. What they want to see is some big rangy kid with a sensational high school rep, a .575 hitter with power, someone destined for a big bonus, someone about whom the scout can tell the front office what it wants to hear. But who was Richard Pohle? Just some dumb kid from Maine, a little guy who was already 18 and no one had ever heard of him. They can really cut a man down. Year after year, I kept coming back for another shot, and then I would end up playing ball in Canada, Mexico, Japan, Cape Cod. It seemed like I was never more than a month or two away from the opening of a season. I even went to England, Sweden and Australia. Name places where anyone plays decent ball, and I've been there.
Sir:A few minutes in Google led me to an excerpt of a book called When Towns Had Teams mentioning Dick Pohle as one of Lisbon, Maine's better players in the early 1960s. Soon after discovering that, I came across Harold Parrot's often-hilarious account of front office shenanigans, The Lords of Baseball, which devotes a brief passage to the Perone saga in discussing the ineptitude of the mid-Seventies Padre front office, and in particular that of Peter Bavasi (son of Buzzie) and his attempt to bring psychological testing to the realm of player development:
I remember Dick Pohle from a baseball school we both attended in Cocoa, Fla. in 1957. He impressed me then with his tremendous desire and love for the game. It would be nice if a greater number of the more gifted athletes in the big leagues had some of that burning desire. God bless Dick Pohle. He's beautiful!
Peter Bavasi often quit his job and went home in frustration, too, but his mother would get him on the phone and talk sense, and get him back to his charts and tests. The whole outfit seemed ready for the psychiatrist's couch.Further drilling in Google yielded a homepage for Richard Pohle, who's apparently now a baseball instructor in California:
Not long after that Rocky Perrone [sic] appeared.
The Oglivie-Bavasi mind-reader must have given Rocky a fine personality rating; that, along with creams and facials to take out his age lines and a hair piece to cover his bald head, fooled all the Padre experts. They rated Rocky as a hot prospect at shortstop, and he actually got to play in one game to win a bet he had with the bartender. Then he confessed he was a thirty-eight-year-old busher who had bee knocking around semipro sandlotws since the Dodgers fled Brooklyn.
Rich Pohle has been featured in Sports Illustrated, SPORT Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Portland Press Herald, San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. He has worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. Pohle's reputation brings players from all over the country to train under him. He is also available to travel to any location throughout the United States for special consultation sessions and seminars. Pohle (pronounced POE-Lee) has played and coached baseball all over the world, including Australia, Germany, England, Sweden, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. If you want to play professional baseball, Rich can help you in the pursuit of your dream. If your goal is to play college ball, he can also help open that door. Rich will teach you the Pro way - hitting, catching, pitching, infield play and base running.Pohle's site features a photo of his son Richie, who spent two years in the Phillies and Mariners systems and last year played in the independent Golden Baseball League; he has a stat page at the Baseball Cube. An older version of the site (which has been changed since I began working on this piece) pictured Pohle pupils D.J. Houlton (a former Dodger now playing in Japan) and Phil Seibel (a Red Sox farmhand) -- both of whom I've covered in Baseball Prospectus annuals -- as well as a picture of the original Sports Illustrated article's opening page, and links to the SI article and to a couple of newspaper pieces about him.
The San Francisco Giants' front office never knew it. Hardly anybody did. But baseball's perennial flimflam man, Richard Pohle, orchestrated one of baseball's most elaborate and long-running stings, and the club was snookered.Between that article, one from the Portland Press Herald, and Pohle's own bio it's revealed that baseball lifers like Phoenix Giants manager Rocky Bridges, longtime Giants scout Jack Schwarz, Padres minor league director Mike Port and Padres scout Jim Marshall were conned by the assumed identities of Pohle or his proteges, among whom five such ballplayers are named:
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