Thursday, December 10, 2009
She was a wide-eyed witness to history, a charmed pioneer working in the male-dominated arena of professional sports, a regular foil to some of baseball’s largest stars. And now, 50 years after Carmel’s Flo Thomasian Snyder got her start as one of the first Los Angeles Dodger employees, she can add one more title to her resume: author.
Snyder’s long career has seen her thrust into an array of fascinating – and fortuitous – circumstances, which ultimately led to work as California’s first director of tourism. But first she was an aide to one of Major League Baseball’s most ingenious marketers, Red Patterson, who organized the ballyhooed arrival and promotion of the West’s first professional baseball team, the former Brooklyn Dodgers.
Her new Lady in the Locker Room: Madcap Memoirs of the Early L.A. Dodgers documents that time, 40 years after it was first suggested by her legendary boss that she was the only person who could write the book on those formative years. It recently received the Independent Book Publisher Award for Best Regional Non-Fiction in 2009.
Knowing nothing about baseball, but figuring the new team would need local help, Snyder pressed her contacts “thick and heavy” to parlay her short special events stint at the L.A. Times into a P.R. position, becoming one of the first women in pro sports to ascend past the title of secretary.
She survived a first day in which she immediately dropped a typewriter to its shattering death, thanks to her can-do spirit and an unyielding work ethic – doing everything from juggling ticket requests for seemingly every star in Hollywood to facilitating complicated transitions from New York to L.A. for a roster of pampered players and staff.
The first spring training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., is still her favorite memory from her decade with the Dodgers. When she went to get ready for the first team dinner, she says, “I got my key and ran to my room to freshen up, and when I opened the door there was 6-foot-5-inch pitcher Stan Williams, barely dressed.
“I was so embarrassed. But in less than a beat, he said, ‘Hey I knew they were giving me a roomate, but this is better than expected!’” Snyder still wonders if there was an honest mistake issuing room keys, or if she was set up.
Judging by the good-natured pranks played henceforth, the latter seems likely. Snyder soon bit hook, line and sinkerball for a pie in the face trick from Patterson – in front of the entire team at a fancy dinner occasion – in what doubled as her official initiation.
Then there’s the time when, on Snyder’s behalf, Patterson asked Yankee great Yogi Berra for an autograph after dinner. “Sure!” The catcher replied. “But Red, my kid always admired you so much when you were with the Yankees. He wanted to be just like you, and he would love to have your autograph,” he continued. Patterson was thrilled to sign Berra’s paper. But once he had, the Hall of Famer famous for phrases like “It gets late early out there” vanished faster than a line shot over a short porch. The paper Patterson proudly signed was the entire Yankee team’s dinner bill.
Snyder says that the hijinks were part of what made the tailfin era special. “It was just a different time. I’ve often wondered, ‘Do these guys have fun like we did in the good old days? Would they dare do to a secretary what they did to me?’ But it was always funny. You couldn’t help ending up laughing.”
While Snyder was victimized early and often – once she rushed from player to player in a desperate search to help a player find the “keys” to the batters box – she counts her own wins. She got the best of Dodger manager Leo (“The Lip”) Durocher with the assistance of a thousand cold pennies and a clothesline full of female undergarments.
The historical, often hysterical stories – she remembers a body-odor-laced dinner with Fidel Castro’s hairy band of revolutionaries, when she was whisked away on an impromptu team junket aboard owner Walter O’Malley’s Dodgers plane – are greeted by an audience so eager to relive the birth of baseball in California that Flo is contemplating writing a companion book next year.
“I have total strangers call me up and invite me to dinner, just to hear the old Dodger stories,” reports Snyder. “They can’t get enough of ‘em, and I’ve got plenty!”