Happy Birthday Ray Kroc – An Andy Strasberg Memory

10/05/16 / Padres360.com / @Padres360

By Andy Strasberg … originally shared via Facebook 7/24/16

[Reposted with permission]


I am not ashamed to brag that once Padres owner Ray Kroc got to know me, I was his favorite front-office employee.

He told me so.

I asked him why, he said in that high, squeaky, pixie-like voice, “I know what you did to get a job in baseball. You’ve got persistence and I love persistence.”

Oct. 5, 1982 was Mr. Kroc’s 80th birthday. It was my responsibility to stage a birthday celebration in his honor on the last Saturday of the 1982 season, Oct. 2.

The celebration included a special pre- and post-game ceremony when the Atlanta Braves were coming to play the Padres at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

When I asked Padres president Ballard Smith what my budget was, he flatly told me there was no budget.

“Just get it done and do it right,” he said.

I knew this: Whenever I was told there was no budget, that always meant this was an expense the team hadn’t expected when costs were being calculated before the season. So I was trying to figure out how I could possibly make an event this important as memorable and significant as possible — with no budget.

Ballard then asked if I understood what he meant when he said there was no budget. Before I could answer, he explained that I should spend whatever I needed to get it done in a first-class way. And that I shouldn’t worry about the bottom line.

In my head I’m thinking, no budget really and truly meant no budget. More specifically, go crazy, Andy!

Boy, oh boy, did I.

My first thought was to increase significantly the red, white and blue presidential bunting that we used for Opening Day and the Fourth of July. I wanted the bunting draped from anywhere and everywhere in the stadium.

And, honestly, what’s a celebration without fireworks? Usually, when I purchased a fireworks show, the cost ran about $5,000. When I contracted the fireworks company and asked for a bigger and better show, they told me it would cost $10,000. I told them, great, make it $20,000 and let’s blow up the skies.

Hey, can you blame me?

I also had special souvenir baseballs made, inscribed with “Ray Kroc’s 80th birthday” on official Rawlings National League balls. Normally, we would purchase souvenir baseballs made in China at a cost of 55 cents each. But I didn’t hesitate. I bought official National League baseballs at a cost of $4.75 each.

Naturally, we also needed customized Happy Birthday pennants to go along with the special, custom-designed Ray Kroc birthday caps.

Keep in mind that the unwritten rule in promotional giveaways is that nothing should ever be dated on the chance that something happens and everything needs to be rescheduled. I didn’t care, so the date was put on the baseballs, caps and pennants. I was a big-time roller, playing with house money.

Among the dignitaries invited were The Chicken, along with Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar. Really, what’s a party without a guy in chicken costume, a clown with size 28 shoes and a villain dressed in a black-and-white-hooped shirt and pants, a red cape, a wide-brimmed hat and black gloves whose sole purpose in life is to steal burgers and cheeseburgers?

I remember Mrs. Kroc telling me a couple of weeks before the event that it was my responsibility to make Ray so happy that he would cry. I understood that the evening’s success would be measured by his tears of joy.

I spent a ton of money on advertising so that every San Diegan knew there was going to be a birthday party at the ballpark for Mr. Kroc and that they had to be there.

As things turned out, over 43,000 fans showed up for the occasion – despite the fact that the Padres were in fourth place, nine games out of first with only one game left in the 1982 season.

Mr. and Mrs. Kroc were driven around the ballpark waving to the fans for his grand entrance. The car stopped in front of the Padres dugout and the players, one by one, came out to wish their team’s owner a happy 80th birthday.

The fans sang “Happy Birthday” in unison. On the last note a barrage of fireworks filled the Mission Valley sky over the stadium.

I stood off to the side with the event run-down sheet in hand and watched as everything unfolded as scripted. The ceremony was big, special, sensational, splendid, and spectacular.

As the car carrying the Krocs slowly pulled away, I was the last person on the field to wave good-bye. I made a special point to look at Ray’s eyes. Tears were, indeed, flowing. Joan gave me the thumbs up. And I knew, like a Big Mac, the celebration was well done.

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Posted in An Andy Strasberg Memory, Padres History
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