Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Caught Stealing

By The Common Man

This story comes to us from former MLB reliever, OG blogger, and Twitter superstar CJ Nitkowski, who heard it from Tom Paciorek.  It's about how Rick Dempsey and Robin Yount's older brother, Larry (who would get injured warming up for his first MLB game, and never play again, which is another awesome story) played Little League together and went to the Little League World Series.  Their team, as it turned out, was being coached by a professional bank robber. 

TCM can't find the original June 30, 2002 article in the Baltimore Sun online archives, but Mr. Nitkowski pointed The Common Man to this reprint here, and here's a snippet:

"John Jennings always carried a briefcase and smoked rich man's cigars. But for Dempsey and the others on the Canoga Park/Woodland Hills (Calif.) All-Stars, Jennings was mostly a baseball man who drove them to win.

It was a special team. Six players would go on to sign professional contracts. Dempsey played catcher for 24 seasons in the big leagues, winning World Series MVP honors for the Orioles in 1983. Larry Yount, whose younger brother, Robin, made the Hall of Fame, was the team's top relief pitcher.

The All-Stars won four tournaments and took a 12-0 record into the Pony League World Series in Washington, Pa. Just like Jennings' bank-robbing spree, everything went right until they reached unlucky 13."
That's when the winning streak ran out for both the little league team, who then had to go back to school, and for the coachwho went to prison.  It's a sad tale about a guy who was never really good at anything simultaneously finding the two things at which he excels.  How those two things are so diametricly opposed is beyond The Common Man's insight.  According to contemporary articles in the Los Angeles Times, "most of the money was gambled away at race tracks," but Jennings was also known, according to the Baltimore Sun to "take the players out for fast food after games and pick up the tab for everyone."  Their crime spree lasted for most of 1963, but the law caught up to them in November.  The two men admitted their crimes, returned the money they had left, and their families never really recovered.  Jennings served 7 1/2 years on a 10 year sentence and his son transferred high schools twice, and never really played much baseball again.  Jennings died of cancer in the 1970s.

Dempsey apparently sold the story to Hollywood in 2009, and good for him for doing so, which will hopefully do a better job with this shaggy dog baseball story than it did with the Bad News Bears update.  TCM is thinking...Point Break with baseball instead of surfing.

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