"The two most important requirements for major success are....
What I really liked about Ray Kroc - that hard-nosed businessman who founded McDonald's and built it into a world class, mega-corporation...And later bought (and saved for the city) the San Diego Padres Baseball Club - was that even in the late autumn of his years, he continued to possess that wonderful, little kid-like sparkle of one still in awe of two nearly magical things.......Baseball and airplanes. (I could certainly relate!)
But Mr. Kroc could be cantankerous. He was known to occasionally berate employees - including me. But this always amused more than bothered me . . . although I certainly respected and immediately obeyed his requests. Nevertheless, although I did not know him well, I sensed we might have had a little something in common. He certainly had my respect, and I believe I held his. I also believe he had a "fighter-pilot mentality," and would have been one of the very best in that role.
My furlough notice from Continental Airlines came early, which thankfully gave me time to seek other employment. On a neighbor's offhanded suggestion, and almost on a whim, I contacted the San Diego Padres Baseball Club. At the time, I wasn't sure they even had an airplane for me to fly.
What I learned was that yes, the Padres had a team airplane - a B-727. But more importantly, Ray Kroc wanted to start his own air charter business. He had just attained an FAA airline charter certificate ("Part 121") that allowed him to charter any group in addition to flying only his San Diego baseball team. And he was in the process of acquiring two or three more B-727's from American Airlines in the building of his new sports charter airline business.
My timing couldn't have been more perfect. After three phone calls, I was literally hired over the phone, without ever having a personal, face-to-face interview. And on the same day I was furloughed from Continental was the same day as I walked into what is now Qualcomm Stadium to start yet another adventure.
Previously, their B-727 airplane had been for the exclusive use of the San Diego Padres baseball club. Now with an official FAA charter certificate, we were open for competing bids. Much to the chagrin of the players and others, the following season we contracted to fly the 1981 Billy Martin (whom I got to know and respect) managed Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants , more than the Padres.
I usually oversaw the ground handling on our trips. Sometimes, during a flight I would take a box of baseballs and pass them around the cabin for the players to autograph, if they desired. Many did. Then, whenever we received exceptional ground handling service, my "tip" would be to toss our handlers one of the autographed baseballs, or two. The response, once they realized what they held in their hand was classic.
Needless to say, we always received the best of service when that word got around. (Regrettably, I gave all those rare autographed baseballs away, never thinking to keeping one for myself. And while all the autographs were important, there were a number of Baseball Hall of Fame autographs on those baseballs!)
In the off-season, we flew both NFL and college football team charters, (primarily all BYU away games that fall, but also with some other college teams). We also had a long-term contract with Universal Studios, flying their cast and crews around the country for movie location filming. In fact that year a number of our trips were for the movie, Continental Divide with John Belushi and Blair Brown. (The cast and crew were great; the main star was not!)
Unfortunately, Ray Kroc's health deteriorated. A decision was made to cancel the planned expansion of Padres Air Travel. The order for additional aircraft was cancelled. I knew by the end of the season, the remaining aircraft would be sold. Still officially on furlough from Continental Airlines, it was time once again, to seek other employment.
But before I left Padres Air Travel, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Ray Kroc's friend and long time Chief Pilot for McDonalds Corporation from day one. With a little prodding, he regaled us with stories of the early days, when he flew Ray Kroc in a tail-dragger, open-cockpit airplane checking on his brand new McDonalds franchises in Des Plaines and Kankakee, and elsewhere in Illinois. Being all fellow pilots, we were all enthralled, sharing our common bond.[Sadly, Ray Kroc passed away in January, 1984. Only months later, his Padres baseball team would win the National League pennant and play in their first ever, World Series.]
There are a number more, but this will have to suffice for now:
Now retired, and with his son-in-law as president of the San Diego Padres, Mr. Kroc nevertheless still came into the Padres' offices daily around 9 AM and stayed until mid or late afternoon. I also usually arrived about the same time as he.
One morning, arriving in the vast but empty parking lot of (what is now Qualcomm Stadium), I pulled in at the same time as Mr. Kroc, parking only a few spaces to his right.
My 1972 Volvo 1800 by now had a few miles on it after enduring two East Coast winters, and many long and short sorties. Now ten years later, it was really showing its wear. Naturally Ray Kroc's new and gleaming white 1981 Rolls Royce convertible put mine to shame.
As we both exited our vehicles, perhaps 20 to 30 feet apart, Ray said: "Don't park that old ugly car next to mine. Move it away somewhere else! Aren't we paying you enough to afford a better car?"
I replied (with a bit of instant courage and maybe a slight smile), "No sir, you are not paying me enough! And until you do, I'm not moving my car!"
As we both went toward the Padres' offices into the stadium together, Mr. Kroc said, "Well, if we aren't paying you enough, maybe we need to talk about that. But just don't park your old rusty car next to mine in the future, OK? It looks bad."
I certainly honored Mr. Ray Kroc's wishes in the future, and indeed, he honored mine. I really miss the old, cantankerous man!
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