When the Newark Co-Pilots were looking to fill the general manager position for the 1969 season, Don Young seemed an unlikely candidate. Although he enjoyed a fine reputation around Newark as a teacher, basketball coach and part-time insurance agent, Young had no baseball experience. Yet, he got the job and in his first year, the Co-Pilots posted an upper division finish and out-drew larger towns. Today, Don Young works as an academic recruiter for Wells College. In September of 2001, I talked to him about his experiences as the Co-Pilots' GM.
The Co-Pilots' team logo.
Q: And how did Newark get a franchise?
A: It was a good baseball town...county ball, American Legion, an independent league. Several businessmen, spearheaded by John Bilotta, thought it would be great to get a pro team. They got the mayor on board and went to the national meetings, hat in hand. Eventually, they got together with the Pilots. The team was modeled after the Rochester Redwings in that they wanted to make it a community venture and so they sold stock in the club. I think really they were hoping to hook up with the Orioles.
Q: As GM of an expansion team in the low minors, you must have faced a lot of challenges?
A: Getting fans in the ballpark was my most important job. Newark, considering it was such a small town, drew double the size of the town, but the ballpark needed a lot of work. I thought Tommy Berg did a good job of describing it. It was small, with lots of moisture in a low-lying area. The Erie Canal was only 50 yards a way, but you couldn't see it. We played 35 home games a year and postponements or cancelled games hurt us in the pocketbook--and in the summer, Newark has hot, rainy spells. When the rain stopped, I would send one of the players down to the gas station for several gallons of gas and a then pour a quart of oil in it. Then, we'd pour the mixture on the basepaths and light it on fire to dry them off. The fire department was down a couple of times when people reported billowing black clouds coming from the ballpark. We put the firemen to work...you know, 'as long as you're here...' They'd even help us change the lights when the need arose. Also, in most places, the concessions are a profesional operation, but the people of the Newark-Wayne community ran the concession stands, took tickets...everything. We couldn't have done it without them. I saw you had a letter from Tom Hausman and his whole family helped, from Grandpa to the kids.
Q: Are there any particular players you remember?
A: Ron Jordan was a bonus baby an all-around bad guy. He fought with the manager and so I typed up his release papers and got rid of him. I didn't even check with the parent club first. Steve McCartney was a good guy, but he got married at shortstop during a game and wasn't worth a lick after that! Joe Larson was a local boy, from Seneca Falls; I think he's a nurse practioner now. Jerry Bell and Joe Jabar were our best pitchers and pretty good people. Wilbur Howard was very nice, too.
Q: Earl Torgeson is sort of a Seattle legend. What was it like to work with him?
A: He was a fun guy. He was a real beanpole and when he was ejected, he would leave the field, walk through the gate and hide behind the light pole. It looked like he had left the park, but really he was flashing signals to the players. They would relay the signs to the bullpen, then to the dugout. He was a nice guy. I was surprised when he didn't come back the next year.
Q: Did you have any memorable promotional nights?
A: We had pony night, where the winning kid could take home a real pony or 100 bucks cash. We never did give away the pony.
Q: Were the games broadcast?
A: Yes. I can't remember the names of the broadcasters now, but I did a couple of games myself. I wish I had taped some of them; it would be fun to hear them now. They were on WACK-AM, which is still on the air in Newark.
Q: How much contact did you have with Pilots' management?
A: I talked to a lot of Pilots officials. Marvin Milkes occasionally. Bobby Mattick more than the others really--I appreciated him. We were very much on a shoestring compared to other clubs in the league. Most big league teams do the paperwork on the players--contracts, releases, disability and the like, but I had to do it all. Other teams got more for uniforms, bats and equipment, too. I had to pay kids to get foul balls, batting practice home runs, etc. The park was open and I knew the treasurer was deducting foul balls from my salary! I later went to see the mayor and he ordered the Department of Public Works to put up fences. To be frank, the club got lots of attention from the Pilots the first year and the second year, it was as if we didn't exist.
Q: Were you surprised when the Milwaukee folks bought the Pilots?
A: I was not all that surprised, except by the timing. I figured they would make it through the next year...but I knew that Milwaukee was campaigning for a team. When it happened, a Finger Lakes Times reporter called me and asked for my reaction to working for the Brewers. I said, "What!?" I was hoping that the purse strings would loosen and they did. It was easier to work for Milwaukee, I got a lot more help.
Q: Tom Berg mentioned a mass purge when the Brewers took over. What do
you remember about that?
A: It wasn't really a purge. In Spring 1970, the Brewers brought in a bunch of players and there were just too many bodies. Some were retreads and had been around a year or so. Their reasoning was that if a player hadn't made it in one year in Newark, they wouldn't make it in another year. That was the hardest thing I had to to, telling a kid that he was gone. Then I had to drive him to the airport in Rochester. That 45 minute to an hour drive was not a fun drive.
Q: Any regrets?
A: Toward the end of my time with Newark, a couple of clubs talked to me about a job. If I'd been single, I'd have jumped at it...but I had a family and had to earn some money. We moved away and I haven't been back since then.
Q: Is there one special memory you have?
A: My son, Scott, was born in 1969 and my wife made him a Co-Pilots uniform just before the season started. It was a marvelous time for our whole family.