Once I got to know Ray Kroc, I came to think of him as 70-year-old kid that I grew up with who loved baseball and just happened to be very wealthy from selling burgers.
I’m pretty sure that the main reason Mr. Kroc and I got along so well was because he found out about my persistence in trying to get a job in baseball.
The plucky hamburger impresario would remind me on more than one occasion, “You know what I like about you, Andy?” and then answer his own question, “It’s your persistence. I love people who are persistent.”
In fact, Mr. Kroc gave me his “Press ON” award that I’m pretty sure was for McDonald employees only. Inscribed on the wooden paper weight is a Ray Kroc quote, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not: The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
I later found out that I was the only Padres employee he gave it to.
Once I realized that baseball was as much a business as it was a sport I had to ask Mr. Kroc the obvious question.
Without sugarcoating it or over-explaining it, the question I asked Mr. Kroc was straight forward, which I knew he liked. I simply inquired: “Which is more important to you as far as the Padres are concerned, making money or winning the World Series?”
He response was priceless.
In his squeaky, pixie-like voice, he would look at me with one affected “lazy eye” and answered, “Well, Andy, honestly I don’t want to lose money. I would like to make a dollar. Not a lot of money, just one dollar and win the damn World Series.”
I never forgot his answer and kept it in mind often when generating income for the team, spending or saving money.
As we prepared to produce our season-ticket brochure for the 1979 season, our ad agency needed a photo of the San Diego Stadium scoreboard that boldly announced in lights WE WON!
Sounds simple enough. I was informed that to bring in the scoreboard crew and a photographer for this one shot when there wasn’t a game would cost $400.
This is what I figured: What if we had the team photographer, Noel Janko, who is at every game, shoot the photo after one of our games when the scoreboard crew is working? If we win, everyone stays an extra ten minutes while the photo is taken. And if we lose, then we wait for the crowd to disperse and put up the WE WON! sign. At most the crew and photographer stay and extra 20 minutes at no additional cost.
My inner voice echoes the thoughts of Mr. Kroc about making a buck. It whispers to me, “Saving money is as good as making money.”
So the plan is set for the September 20,1978 game when third place Giants were in town to play the Pads who are buried in 4th place, trailing the Dodgers by 13 games.
The Padres lost for the 74th time that season by a score of 6 to 3 in front of a little more than 13,000 fans. Oh well.
I’m behind home plate on the press level with a walkie talkie. Once the last fan left the stadium, according to my visual inspection, I radioed down to the photographer to get ready. I directed the scoreboard people to change the message to “WE WON!”
Moments after the scoreboard message changed, I heard a cranky voice that reeked with unhappiness.
“Who the hell is doing that?” The voice came from the owner’s box. I recognize it instantaneously. It was Mr. Kroc.
Immediately, I run over to the owner’s box and see our GM, Bob Fontaine. I quickly explain to him that I’m saving the team money and he very calmly tells me, “Just take it down.” Bob explains that Mr. Kroc had imbibed a few drinks and was irritated that we had lost the game. When “WE WON” went up on the board, that really set him off.
Mr. Kroc spotted me and yelled, “Are you the idiot who put that on the scoreboard?” “Yes, but let me explain,” I pleaded. He interrupts me. “You’re fired,” he said emphatically. Bob stepped in between us and said, “Don’t worry about it. Just go home and come in tomorrow as if nothing happened.”
Following Bob’s advice, I left the owner’s box and came into work the next day like nothing happened.
Later that afternoon, I saw Mr. Kroc before the game. I was a bit apprehensive but walked up to him and said hello. He was as pleasant and friendly as ever to me.
So I’m figuring last night was last night. He never mentioned the incident again. Neither did I.
Today, it’s a brand new ballgame. Press on.