Latest in a series on top Dodger prospects as we count down to the very best. While Bill Shelley is…
Death Claims Dugout Minor League Editor
Bill was a walking encyclopedia of Dodger minor league baseball and, save members of the Dodgers organization, was the most knowledgeable I have encountered in my 63-year love affair with the club.
He has been the guiding force for the four minor league awards we have presented each year; Bill Schweppe Most Valuable Player, Ben Wade Pitcher of the Year, Guy Wellman Rookie of the Year and Larry Sutton Scout of the Year. He was the one who carefully picked the winners that were honored.
Early on, Bill and I tracked the winning minor league players down over the noon hour, after practice, or any time we could catch them to make a very brief but heartfelt presentation of the small trophies made up for the occasion.
Later on the Dodgers allowed the presentations to be made on the field before an exhibition game at Dodgertown, with club officials standing by when each was honored.
Bill and his wife Carol moved south from frigid Erie, Pennsylvania, to Vero Beach, the better to cover the Dodger minor league system. He missed few home games played by the Vero Dodgers and by the Gulf Coast Dodgers, or Coasties as he called them. His travels took him to nearly every team inn the system as well as Campo Las Palmas in the Dominican Republic.
Often he was the only reporter present at either of the games and in the cosy Vero Beach press box he would spend the game talking to the scouts, club officials and minor league players who had not dressed for the game.
During spring training, along with Ray LeRoux and Phil Spencer, we occupied the far left end of the front row of the press box, seated directly in a blistering Florida sun that seemed to melt the plastic pencil you were using to score the game.
A number of times there was no room in the press box for the Dugout "staff" and we found seats in the section behind home plate, discussing the game and arguing who would be on the plane to Los Angeles when the team flew home.
One afternoon, after much conversation, we finished our 25-man roster selection when a pretty young lady seated beside us leaned over and asked if a certain pitcher had made our "cut". We assured her that he did and she smiled and said, "Good, he's my husband."
One year, in the Baby Blue Casebook that was published for nearly 20 years, we rated the players and their probability of reaching the major leagues. We were accosted not only by the major league club manager but a number of minor league managers and coaches, disputing our predictions and insisting -- loudly -- that we should not be so presumptuous.
As the four of us started to move toward the four-score and seven that Abraham Lincoln spoke of, the end of each spring would be a bitter-sweet moment when we each said "see you next year" and went our separate ways.
Now as the days grow short to the opening of spring training, the wrongness of things come to mind. Just days from the time the Dodgers will start arriving in Vero Beach, for the final time, and baseball will come to chase the cold, gray winter away once again, things can never be the same without Bill around.
Now I know the tragedy of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and soon leaving Dodgertown, Thomson's homer, Alston's refusal to use Drysdale to clinch the 1962 pennant and Piazza's trade were not, as Roger Kahn had written, "like greater tragedy: incompleteness, unspoken words, unmade music, withheld love, the failure to ever sum up or say goodbye."
He will be missed by his family and a large number of baseball fans he called friends as well as hundreds of minor league and now major league players he talked to and watched over each season.
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