Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Trip to the World Series--Memories of Tom Romenesko

It's been thirty years since my trip to the 1979 World Series so I thought I'd tell the story:

It was a cold winter day in early 1979 when I first met Tom Romenesko. I called on him in his "office" at Memorial Stadium to sell him on Greensboro Printing Company producing the season game programs for the Hornets, the new baseball team in town. Tom was general manager of the new franchise, but as one of a three-person staff he was just about everything else too. His office looked like a converted storage room (I think it was), and the rest of the stadium was just as dilapidated. It look all of its 50 years old. Tom's office must have been heated, but all I remember was that it was damn cold! We talked about baseball, the old Greensboro baseball teams that I had so ardently followed as as kid, and the advantages of his having GPC produce the Hornet programs.

It must have been pretty good salesmanship--we got the order, and over the process of producing the job (and for the next two years, too), Tom and I got to be good friends. Tom was one of the most promotional-minded people I had ever met. He knew he was in the family entertainment business, not just the baseball business, and he worked tirelessly to make sure Hornets games were good family fun. I believe this is more than slightly responsible for the success baseball has had in Greensboro since then.

Tom's zeal for promotions reminded me of Bill Veeck, the great Chicago promoter. (Tom had many good ideas, but one that didn't work out was selling sponsorship of the foul-poles at the stadium to the Holly Farms Chicken folks--foul-poles, fowl-poles, get it? har-har.)

For the game programs, Tom wanted to print "lucky numbers" throughout the program so he could offer prizes to program purchasers to stimulate sales. This was a difficult technical production problem. GPC could only number two pages at a time and Tom wanted eight numbers per program,which presented a big challenge. We found that another local printer, L&E Packaging, a tag-and-label printer and not a direct competitor, could number large 8-page sheets so we contracted with them for that portion of the project and Tom was a happy customer.

The Hornets were a farm-team of the Cincinnati Reds that year and the "Big Red Machine" was in a battle for the National League pennant that summer. As a farm team general manager, Tom got four World Series tickets. He wasn't able to go to the series so he offered the tickets to me and my friend Hugh Morton, Jr. We jumped at the opportunity and planned a great trip to Cincinnati.

And we'd have had a great time, too, except for the fact that the World Series was in Pittsburgh that year. The Big Red Machine lost three straight games to the Pirates in the best of five 1979 NLCS so Hugh and I stayed home. All I have is copies of the tickets to our great seats for games that were 300 miles away.

Tom was GM of the Hornets for three years before moving on to bigger things. We sort-of kept up over the years, but the last time I talked to Tom was in late 2000 I think. The Hornets/Bats/Whatever had new ownership and one of the new owners said what they needed was a GM like Tom Romenesko. Someone then suggested why not get the real Tom Romenesko so they contacted him to see if he might be interested. Tom called me to see what I knew about the new owners and I told him I didn't really know much but I thought a lot of Jim Melvin. I wasn't able to see Tom when/if he came to interview, and in the end he didn't get the job, and I haven't talked with him since, though we've e-mailed a couple of times.

I have suggested too the Grasshoppers that they should have a Tom Romenesko Appreciation Day sometime. It would be a fitting tribute to the person who more than anyone else made minor-league baseball successful in Greensboro.

Here is an article from Sports Illustrated in 1979 with a little about the Hornets and Tom. It brings back some fond memories:

"In the meantime, Nashville cannot rest on its laurels. Greensboro, North Carolina, is suddenly challenging it as the nation's top minor league town. Greensboro had been without professional baseball for a decade when the Hornets arrived this spring, under the direction of a former umpire named Tom Romenesko. The Class A ball club is on its way to drawing 170,000, which would exceed Greensboro's population and perhaps make Romenesko the choice to succeed Schmittou as The Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year. "

Here is a picture of Tom and his wife Becky (and my friend Jeanne Tannenbaum) from the fall of 1981.

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