The Second Longest Tenured Dodger Employee
(Re-posted from Opinion of Kingman’s Performance - June 2011)
He is the second longest tenured Dodger employee, behind Vin Scully. He has a face you would easily recognize, but many don’t recognize him because he has been a background fixture for years. He has never sought the limelight or recognition. 1950 was his first year in the organization, and he was still in High School.
The son of a Vegetable Truck driver, raised in a Brooklyn tenement. Who would have thought back then that 62 years later, he’d be practically a permanent fixture in the Dodgers organization?
Billy Delury has had a good life. How many of us can say, in the sunset years of our life, that we wouldn’t change a thing? I sure can’t, but Billy can and he does.
My first real contact with Mr. Delury was in 2001 when tickets were left for me by former Dodger player and coach for some Spring Training games. The arrangements were made through Billy Delury. I’d often see him at Spring Training events and even this year, I saw him at Camelback Ranch and attempted to speak to him briefly, but I received a work related call right at the moment of my chance of opportunity, and I missed it.
So early in the season, I wrote him a letter and asked if he would be willing to sit down for an interview. I told him that I thought he would be an interesting subject since he had witnessed so much history over his 60 plus years in the baseball business. He called me in mid April and said that we could meet the next time he was in San Francisco in July. He questioned whether I really was looking in the right place, because he humbly told me that he wasn’t very interesting, but I disagreed. I told him that I’d be in Los Angeles in June and he said to call him then.
Things didn’t quite work with our schedules and Mr. Delury called me after I returned from L.A. and asked if we could do the interview over the phone. I agreed and we set up a time.
I found him to be honest, loyal to the organization, opinionated and a friendly fellow. He’s a gracious man and a grateful man, having spent most of his life working for the organization he loves. He is forever indebted to Walter O’Malley, who reached out to him as a young boy and showed him that he mattered. Bill Plaschke wrote about it in 2008, when the legendary former owner of the Dodgers was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Here is an excerpt from that article:
“He is an older man now, weary after traveling from Dodger Stadium to a Best Western Hotel in upstate New York. But ask Billy Delury to describe an important day in his life, and he brightly remembers why he made this trip.
Ask him to describe a precious moment in his career, and he quickly explains why, today for the first time in his 74 years, he will be sitting on a folding chair on a Cooperstown lawn for a Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
‘It was 1955, I was just an errand boy, an office boy, the lowest of the lows,‘ Delury remembers. Yet one day that winter, a club official approached the kid and asked him for his size.
Size? Shirt size? Shoe size?‘ They said they wanted my ring size…and I said,‘Holy mackerel.’ ” Holy O’Malley. The Brooklyn Dodgers owner was buying the most menial Dodgers employee a World Series ring commemorating the Dodgers’ first world championship. ‘I was a nobody, and Walter made me feel like a somebody,’ Delury says. ‘It was the treasure of my life.’ “
Below is the text of our phone conversation:
Opinion of Kingman’s Performance (OKP): You are probably the longest tenured Dodger employee with the exception of Vin Scully, is that correct?
Bill Delury (BD): Yes.
OKP: I guess he beats you out because you did a couple years of military service?
BD: Yes. That’s correct.
OKP: So, you and Vin are fairly close, you’re the traveling secretary to the broadcast team, you’ve know him all these years. I know that he has said that he is reluctant to ever write a book about his experiences, which is kind of disappointing to a lot of us fans, but I understand his modesty and his desire to keep himself outside of the story. Is that pretty much the way his personality is?
BD: He’s an extremely private man, and he likes to keep all that stuff to himself because he doesn’t have to try to go out and win any fans or anything like that. His broadcasting does it for him. He doesn’t need to be in the limelight, that’s not important to him.
OKP: Right. Well he does realize how much he is revered and loved to Dodger fans?
BD: There’s no question about it. He knows that, but that doesn’t mean that he feels he needs to go out and take bows or anything. He doesn’t need that. The fans love him and everything, and that’s good enough for him. He’s a private person. A lot of people don’t understand that, but that’s just the way he is. And you’ve got to respect that.
OKP: Yes. I think that’s difficult for many, but I do understand that. Let me change gears here. Tell us how you got started. I know you were young, 17 or 18 years old when you first joined the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.
BD: I was 16 years old when I started as an office boy.
OKP: Wow, Sixteen. What was it that an office boy did back then?
BD: You were really a gofer. You know, you go do this you go do that. You make sure the water bottles are in the machine, you make sure the envelope’s are stamped and that the stock room is supplied with writing pads and pencils and things like that.
OKP: Was it pretty much a dream job for a 16-year old boy?
BD: Yeah, oh yeah. It was and uh, I never regretted the 60 years that I’ve been in the Dodger organization. There hasn’t been one moment that I regretted it. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing.
OKP: Well, how was it, that as a 16 year old kid, that you got such a great job? Were you just persistent, knocking on the door, asking for a job? Did you have any connections or anything like that?
BD: No, no. I just went to an employment agency in Brooklyn, and the day before I got there, they got a call from the ball club stating that they were looking for an office boy. And I was sent over for the interview, and I was fortunate enough to get the job.
OKP: I know shortly after you started, when you were very young. You had a lot of tasks down at Vero Beach. I read that you were doing the laundry and the mail distribution.
BD: Yes, yes, I did all that. I was the ticket master down there, as the years went by. I did a lot of things, let’s see. I spent some years in the minor leagues and was the traveling secretary with the big league club for about twenty-five years.
OKP: Right. I’m aware of that. I’d like to talk a little bit about Vero Beach and your time there, especially in the early years of your career. I understand that there were about 800 ballplayers there and it was… (he interrupts)
BD: At that time in the early fifties, we had twenty-six minor league clubs. With the staff and the media that was there, there was close to probably 900 people there. It was quite a place. During World War II it was a Naval Training Center. It was a great place to train because the accommodations were laid out there. It was a great place to train.
OKP: As a youngster working with the organization at that time, you were a gofer and was doing laundry, distributing mail, selling tickets, that kind of thing. Was the Dodger organization so close at that time that you knew everybody? From the front office to the players to the secretaries…
BD: Yeah, it wasn’t the big organization like you have today. We didn’t have such things as marketing and programming and computers and all that. It was much more closely knitted with personal contacts, whereas now everything we have today is machines and we didn’t have anything like that?
OKP: But even as an office boy, were you in contact with the stars of the era?
BD: I was in contact with the players and things like that but uh, you mean stars uh…you aren’t talking about motion picture people are you?
OKP: No, I was referring to the ballplayers.
BD: Pee Wee, and Gil Hodges and Campanella, those guys. Yeah they were all friends of mine.
OKP: I read that in 1955, when the Dodgers won that World Series. Mr. O’Malley awarded you with a World Series ring too.
BD: That is correct.
OKP: In fact that a ring was awarded to everyone on the front office staff, is that correct?
BD: Uh, well to be honest with you, I really don’t know for sure, because uh, I just don’t know, but I would imagine if I got it, that a lot of other people got it because I was low man on the totem pole.
OKP: Were you surprised?
BD: Very much so. You know as an organization, you’re on the bottom, and you get a World Series ring, which I still have today in a safe deposit box in the bank and I don’t think I’ve worn it more than a twelve times in my life.
OKP: Do you ever pull it out and just take a look at it now and then?
BD: Oh yeah, every once in a while I take it out and look at it and I always think the same thing. Remember where you come from. That’s what I keep remembering. Remember where you come from, never get to a point where you’re too big for people. Because, you meet the same people going up as you do coming down.
OKP: Well that’s a great philosophy. You did military service and left the team for a couple of years, is that right?
BD: Two years, yes.
OKP: Was there a job with the Dodgers waiting for you when you finished your duty?
BD: Uh yeah, if I wanted to come back. There was no contract when I left to go in the military. Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Bavasi, who was our General Manager at the time, said that when you serve your time and you come out, you have a job if you want to come back. He said when that time is up we’ll talk about it, and we’ll go from there.
OKP: And at that time, they moved west, during your stint in the military, right?
BD: I was in the military when they came west.
OKP: Were you upset about the move?
BD: No, not really. I mean, I was born in Brooklyn, lived in Brooklyn all my life and on Long Island. And coming 3,000 miles away, I mean uh, I was probably not really upset, but it was a shock. It was a shock.
OKP: Right, and you never really had any ties to California at the time either?
BD: No, no ties to California. No ties at all.
OKP: Well I understand that shortly after returning you worked with Fresco Thompson in the Minor League department, is that true?
BD: Yes. When I first got out of the service. I had an interview with Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Bavasi and Mr. O’Malley said to me, “what do you want to do? I said I just don’t know but I want to learn the business. And he said “If you want to learn the business, well the best place to start is in the minor league office.” So, Mr. Thompson who was our farm director was called by Mr. O’Malley and he told him “Billy’s coming back and he wants to learn the business. Minor League operations is the best place to start. If you take him, he’s yours.” So Mr. Thompson said, “I’d love to have him, I’ll take him.”
OKP: Did that mean you were doing a lot of traveling from minor league venue to venue?
BD: Yeah, yeah, it was uh a little bit. I spent I think 8 years there and maybe it was 9 years, time goes by so fast. But as each year went by it seemed I was doing more and more and more. After I did the minor league stuff I was the Assistant Ticket Manager.
OKP: And then following that, you were the club’s traveling secretary?
BD: Following that I went into road secretary.
OKP: As the traveling secretary was there ever a time when you came close to having the club miss a game due to weather or a travel glitch, flight delay or anything like that?
BD: We all run into that, with uh, as much traveling as you do in the course of a season. You don’t run into much of it out here, but in the midwest where you get storms, thunderstorms and they close the airport, you may be waiting for your plane to come in or you may be on the runway and you can’t get off because of bad weather, and there’s nothing you can do about that, you can’t control that.
OKP: I imagine that’s a frustrating situation, there’s probably some camaraderie with other traveling secretaries from other teams that understand the troubles of the job coordinating a team’s travel.
BD: Yeah, I mean I’ve had a lot of good friends, some have passed away and a couple have retired. But there’s still eight or nine guys in the National league that I’m very, very close to, I just talked yesterday with the fellow from the Houston Astros who I’ve known for twenty-five years.
OKP: Let me try to wrap this up, because I know you have things to do, Is there a favorite team that you’ve been affiliated with over the years, a group of guys that uh, the memories are the best with?
BD: I answer that question two ways. Probably the best team was the ’55 Dodgers, but the teams that won that I was most close to was, because I was the traveling secretary was the ’81 and the ‘88 teams. Probably the ’88 team I was more proud of because it was never expected to win. And we beat New York and then we unexpectedly beat the Oakland A’s. So that was probably the two clubs, the ’55 team was the best and most memorable because that was the first team to win a world series and probably the best talent of all the teams.
OKP: Okay, Gil Hodges. Should he be in the Hall of Fame?
BD: Yes, definitely. He should be, yes. Why he isn’t in already, I don’t know? I don’t understand that.
OKP: Neither do I. What is the smartest piece of advice you’ve received from anyone?
BD: Ha, ha. I just…somebody asked me that same question just today. In the winter of ’50 or the spring or early summer of ’51, there was a scout that we had working for us by the name of George Sisler, and I had just started working less than a year. And he said to me, “young man, if you want to stay in this business, remember one thing. God gave you two eyes, two ears and one mouth. And he did that because you should see and hear twice as much as you say.” And that was over 60 years ago, and I’ll never forget that. It’s the best advice I’ve ever received. And I just told somebody that same thing today.
OKP: Well over these 60 years, what would you say the biggest changes in the game are?
BD: Oh wow, the biggest change, well, there’s a lot of them. Let’s see you’ve got free agency, you’ve got arbitration, you’ve got big salaries. You know, I don’t know what business you’re in, but whatever business anybody is in has progressed over the last 60 years. Be it for the better or for the worse we don’t know. I’m not in the position to say. it’s progress, that’s what they call it. Is it progress? That’s what they say, but I really don’t know. But I’m not going to be able to change the game. It’s still three outs and the bases are 90 feet apart, and there’s still 4 balls and 3 strikes. So some things haven’t changed. With the things that have changed, some of it’s good, some of it, I don’t know. Who knows what the next 60 years will be, there will be progress, some for the better, some for the worse. We just don’t know.
OKP: What advise would you give to a youngster that is considering a career in a baseball organizations front office?
BD: It isn’t like it used to be, it’s very, very, very difficult today. Much more difficult than it was years ago. There were more minor league jobs. We had 26 minor league clubs in 1951 and 1952, today we’ve got six. There were thirty or forty extra jobs that were available that aren’t available today, because they’re not needed. I would say to a young man today, if you want to make a good living, don’t get into baseball, unless you are a player.
OKP: Well that’s interesting, but I understand what you’re saying. There are limited opportunities.
BD:If I was a young man today, if I was 50 years younger and I got a job in baseball, I would only stay in it one year. I’d see how much it pays and I’d say, I can’t make it here, I’ve got to get out of here. You know, sometimes you get involved, let’s say the Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants or the New York Mets. The glamor, the glamor takes precedence over other things. But you can’t take that to the store and buy meat. It is a tough business to break into in today’s world.
OKP: Thank you so much. I appreciated you getting back with me. You’ve been really gracious with your time. You answered my letter, answered my phone calls.
BD: Send a copy to Ned Colletti my boss. Tell him I was nice to you, to give me a raise. (laughs).
OKP: I’ll see what I can do.
Excuse me, Ned? Anything you can do to help a very good man out?
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(Editor’s Note: As of spring training 2013, Billy Delury is still with the Dodgers organization).