A story from the old days in Portland that you may not have heard and probably won’t find on the Internet:
The year was 1980 and David Hersh, still in his early 20s, but in his heyday as the owner and operator of the Triple-A Portland Beavers, was after another big-time promotion.
In 1979, his first year of owning the team, he had promoted one of the best old-timers baseball games in minor-league history. There were Hall of Fame players all over the field.
He had brought Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Whitey Ford, Bob Feller and even Beaver legend “Sudden Sam” McDowell in for the game. Oh, and though he didn’t actually play, Joe DiMaggio was there, too.
But Hersh was faced with the prospect of trying to do even better -- or at least match -- that game the following season. What does one do for an encore?
Hersh came up with the idea of bringing in some of the best home-run hitters in baseball history and staging a home-run hitting contest prior to the game. He’d had success with HR contests previously, when Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell hit a towering shot into the balcony of the Multnomah Athletic Club prior to a Pirates’ exhibition game in Portland. It was a legendary blast that’s still remembered by Portland baseball fans, as is the memory of Hersh, cigar in one hand and $100 bills in the other, rewarding the hitters with a hundred bucks for every homer.
The 1980 game would feature Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews and Aaron as its stars.
But it didn’t turn out well. In fact, it was something of a disaster.
I wrote about it a few days later, after a whole lot of reporting, in the long-gone Oregon Journal. The headline on that column I wrote said, “‘Hall of Shamers’ mar images.”
Mantle, a self-confessed alcoholic for most of his life, was out of control. And Hersh had tried to use appearances by Mantle and Mathews on local television to promote the game.
Mantle made the rounds of local morning shows and was already inebriated enough to cause problems with his aggressively poor behavior.
On KATU’s AM Northwest he made a couple of offensive remarks in front of a studio audience. Then on KGW’s Noon News, he was passable on camera, but prior to the show made life miserable for host Kathy Smith with his remarks and actions.
“I was embarrassed, both for myself and for the crew,” I quoted Smith in The Journal. “It’s unfortunate that people who are role models are so small.
“In my seven years of interviewing people, I haven’t run into anything like this. I am too much of a lady to go into what was said, but I learned that some of our athletic idols have feet of clay and the clay runs all the way up to their heads.”
Mantle and Mathews also missed an interview at another station because they insisted on stopping at a bar at 9:45 a.m. There were more problems, but you get the picture.
Later, Aaron appeared to be having trouble making contact with the ball during the home-run contest and reportedly had to be helped getting into his uniform.
“He said he had been taking medication and had too much to drink,” Hersh said. “He apologized for his condition.
“People have certain expectations about their heroes. Last year, those expectations came to life.
“I don’t think they did this year.”
Hersh, a terrific promoter, never staged another old-timers game in Portland.