This article was written by Brian McKenna
Major League Baseball’s revenue generating power exploded during the 1950s and 1960s due in large part to franchise relocations and expansion, though in truth it had to be dragged into the lucrative expansion era. William Shea drummed up support, at least on paper, for a third major league to be called the Continental League in response to the recent loss of two New York franchises to California fans. He enlisted a respected name, Branch Rickey, to gain the attention of the media, public, and especially the conservative major league magnates. In doing so, he achieved his goal, not the one involving a third league, but he gained a National League expansion franchise for New York. The majors also grew to include American League franchises in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Milwaukee and National League additions in Houston, San Diego, and Montreal by the end of the 1960s.
The expansion potential seemed limitless. Commissioner William Eckert’s reign shifted the focus to include the international game as well. First, he hired Robert Maduro to represent the league in international affairs, specifically to help cultivate Latin American talent. Then he set about to ease disputes between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, and later he turned the focus to the global market, even considering the lofty goal of a global World Series. Perhaps more importantly, he backed expansion into Canada, a radical idea at the time. In August 1968 the plans reached fruition when Montreal was awarded a franchise.
One man, a real estate developer from Evansville, Indiana, sought to take the idea to its zenith. He wanted to form a third major league, one that included teams from all over the baseball world. They would travel from country to country playing ball and, it was hoped, raking in the profits. The idea is farfetched even today. Like any farfetched plan, it needed a salesman. This plan had the ultimate one, a huckster who could sell anything to anyone. The problem was getting a hold of him after the deal went south.
Walter J. Dilbeck Jr. began his life innocently enough in July 1919. He was the first child of modest parents who in all had eight children to feed and support. The family struggled, especially with a father who listed his profession in the 1930 U.S. Census as “plasterer, odd work.”
The Dilbeck family lived in Fort Branch, Indiana, a home Walter Sr. had since his birth in 1896. Walter Jr. graduated from high school and found work on a dispatcher crew for the railway. Then, he carved his initial fame in this world in a big way.
He enlisted in the military on June 3, 1944, joining the Seventh U.S. Army, 253rd Infantry Regiment, F Company. April 6, 1945 found F Company just outside Buchhof, Germany. Advancing through the area, the company was attacked on both sides by over two hundred German SS troops. The Americans panicked, everyone scampering in retreat. The Germans started mowing down the fleeing soldiers. Private Dilbeck planted himself on a bare knoll and started firing as rapidly as possible, reloading time and again amid heavy return fire. Eventually, the enemy attack stalled. Dilbeck had wounded or killed over sixty SS soldiers. For his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest decoration for gallantry in action.
Dilbeck milked this fame until his dying breath. For all the good he did in Germany, The Sporting News eloquently summed up his flashy nature and penchant for self-promotion stating, “He is not inclined to let you forget it.” Back home, Dilbeck used all his guile and charm to build a fortune through real estate and other business interests in Indiana and Kentucky.
Dilbeck was loud and ostentatious. He wore flashy jewelry with huge nuggets on his rings. He rented out the entire floor of a hotel every Christmas for his family and friends and claimed to give a lucky fifteen of those a new Oldsmobile every year. He dropped names of politicians and show biz stars he claimed were close friends. He spent $120,000 once to take sixty friends to Buchhof to bask in his heroism and place a plaque near the site of his fame. His obituary posted his often repeated, and exaggerated, boasts that he was awarded two Distinguished Services Crosses, four Bronze Stars, and four Purple Hearts.
Underneath, Dilbeck was as sly as they came. He was under investigation more than once by real estate boards for varying infractions including practicing without a license. He was banned by one real estate board for refusing to return an investor’s deposit. At another time potential investors followed up his pitches with a call to his supposed banking investors only to receive a very disconcerting “no reply.”
Dilbeck latched onto politicians and celebrities, always trying to work some kind of angle. He once ran for mayor of Evansville and contributed heavily to Presidential campaigns, giving $140,000 to Ronald Reagan’s drive in 1968 and $200,000 to Hubert H. Humphrey’s in 1972. He got himself invited to Hollywood parties via a friendship with producer and studio executive John Beck. At a party at Frank Sinatra’s house in Palm Springs, Dilbeck found a soul mate to help put into motion one of the plans he hatched, Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Agnew had just resigned the vice presidency amid criminal charges for extortion, bribery, and tax evasion. Dilbeck hired Agnew at the cost of $100,000 a year and up to 50% of potential profits. What Dilbeck wanted was an influential face to present developing deals to potential domestic and international clients. The pair, seemingly made for each other, made headlines when they lured Kuwaiti officials to Kentucky in a plan to build some sort of Disney-like water park. The Dilbeck/Agnew relationship ended in the only fashion it could, with each claiming the other swindled him. The relationship, though, did bring Dilbeck some national fame and, unfortunately, piqued the interest of the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS determined that Dilbeck had made $2,800,000 from 1968-72. Amazingly, he had only claimed income in 1968 and ’69 of $10,400 each year and nothing for the other three years, despite the contributions to the Reagan and Humphrey campaigns and other heavy expenditures. He eventually pled guilty to filing a false tax return for 1969 and served sixty days in jail in 1977 plus ten months of probation.
Dilbeck first became involved in baseball in 1965 when he helped Evansville land a club in the Southern League. He then purchased interests in the Rock Hill franchise of the Western Carolina League and Columbus of the Southern League. In October 1967 Dilbeck secured the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League for $65,000 and moved them to Louisville. The franchise was later seized by International League officials amid mounting debts and after Dilbeck failed to complete the sale to an Indianapolis businessman. In 1968 Dilbeck attracted little interest from Charlie O. Finley when he offered to buy the Kansas City A’s in an effort to keep the club from moving to Oakland.
In the spring of 1966 Dilbeck toured Vietnam for two weeks as an observer and writer. He left the experience believing that Asians saw Americans as soft; thus, he believed this helped cause the spread of communism. He decided that he wanted to put a baseball league together that would foster mutual respect between nations. He claimed that to have conversations with Commissioner Eckert about the idea, but that just may have been his salesman’s rhetoric.
On October 7, 1966, Dilbeck made his first public announcement stating his desire to form a third major league. Later that month, representatives from thirteen cities met in Evansville to form the Global League. Officials represented Manila, San Juan, Indianapolis, St. Paul, Portland, Long Island, San Diego, Phoenix, Akron, Chicago, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee.
At the third meeting of the Global League on January 16, 1967, money was finally put up by two representing cities. Dilbeck wrote a check for $50,000 on behalf of Indianapolis, and Isadore Newman did the same for Jersey City. Vincente Corea, commerce attaché from the Philippines, also gave verbal assurances that Manila would back a team. However, the 1967 and ’68 baseball seasons came and went without a word about the Global League. Then, Dilbeck announced that spring training was slated to begin in February 1969.
On the surface, he had a good plan. First, he put a recognizable face to the endeavor on October 22, 1968, when he landed politician and former baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, who had recently gathered headlines as a potential running mate of Presidential candidate George Wallace, at $4,000 a month to act as the league’s commissioner. Six days later, Chandler hosted ceremonies displaying the first player to sign a Global League contract, 21-year-old Arnold Edward Davies.
In the early 1950s Chandler was president of the International Baseball Congress, a subsidiary of the National Baseball Congress, which held the lofty goals of bringing the American game to all corners of the world and creating a nonprofessional international championship tournament. After four years, he was able to organize the first such tournament in September 1955, which included teams from Canada, Hawaii, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the United States. In 1965 Chandler signed on as commissioner for the Continental Football League, an attempt to create a third major football league.
Dilbeck also hired George Yoshinaga, editor of the Japanese Los Angeles newspaper Kashu Mainichi, to travel to Japan in November 1968 to recruit a Japanese club or two; he was successful in securing a team. The club would be called the Tokyo Dragons after their manager Toru Mori, a former star of the Chunichi Dragons. Mori was a five-time, power-hitting All-Star first baseman and right fielder for three clubs in Nippon Professional Baseball from 1958-68. Mori, who had copped the home run and RBI crowns in 1959, had just retired. He brought twenty players and two trainers with him to spring training. For a Latin team, Dilbeck hired former major leaguer Chico Carrasquel to manage and put a club together. He showed up at spring training with 27 ballplayers from Central and South America.
To attract, recruit and manage American talent, Dilbeck hired former major leaguers Enos Slaughter, Johnny Mize, Stu Miller, and Gordon Jones. He was turned down by Eddie Stanky, Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds, Bob Turley, and Yogi Berra. Dilbeck also inked longtime American League umpire Bill McKinley to amass and administer an umpire staff and to officiate games as well.
Tryout camps were advertised in The Sporting News and set for February in Long Beach, California, Bryan, Texas, Mobile, Baton Rouge, and Jacksonville; however, not all the camps took place. The Global League set the lofty goal of asking for “All free agents with previous experience in AAA or Major Leagues.” The talent level of the Global League, though, would ultimately be well below that.
On the administrative end Dilbeck, the league president, hired several men with long resumes in the game. Eighty-one-year-old Jack Corbett was hired as executive vice president at a salary of $30,000 to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Global League. Corbett started playing professional baseball in 1904 in Indiana. In 1915 he became field manager for the Asheville Tourists of the Class-D North Carolina State League. Interestingly, his batboy that year was 15-year-old Thomas Wolfe, the future novelist. Wolfe would later base a character on Corbett.
Corbett also managed Columbia to the South Atlantic League pennant in 1917 before becoming president and later principal owner of Atlanta in the Southern Association in the early 1920s. During the ’30s Corbett ran clubs in Jersey City and Syracuse, and eventually moved to California and joined the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. There, he designed and patented a set of bases. By 1939, the Jack Corbett Hollywood Base Set would be used by major league clubs. Today, they are the only bases used by all thirty clubs.
Corbett purchased the El Paso of the Arizona Texas League in 1948. Two years later, he was suspended by National Association president George Trautman for signing Mexican League players. Organized baseball had recently signed a ‘no raiding’ agreement with the Mexican League. Corbett filed a $300,000 lawsuit charging Organized Baseball with anti-trust violations. His case was one of three lumped together and brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1953. In 1959 Corbett was part of an unsuccessful bid to form a second major football league, the International Football League. Five years later, he filed another suit against major league executives for ousting him from the game in 1950 and essentially blackballing him. It proved unsuccessful as well.
Danny Menendez was hired as vice president to help open up markets. In the 1940s he scouted for the New York Yankees, signing Hank Bauer, a St. Louis pipe fitter, to a contract after the war. In the early 1950s Menendez purchased the Toledo Mud Hens. He was sued by Toledo fans after moving the team to Charleston, West Virginia, in midseason 1952 and keeping their prepaid ticket money. He later worked as general manager for the Memphis Chicks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Menendez also joined the effort to form the Continental League, representing the proposed Toronto organization. During the 1970s and ’80s, he headed minor league operations for the Montreal Expos.
Hillman Lyons was hired to assist Chandler and Dilbeck. He had worked for various Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves’ minor league clubs throughout the 1960s. Paul May, Dick King, former associate of Pacific Coast League president Bill McKechnie Jr., and Thomas Redmond, representative of Bankers Acceptance Corporation, also took active roles in the Global League.
Dilbeck tried to land a television deal for the Global League. For this, he used his relationship with John Beck. Beck was a Hollywood producer and had worked as a production executive for Howard Hughes at RKO Pictures. Dilbeck and Beck approached the Hughes Sports Network with the proposal in February 1969. They were turned down flatly; however, Dilbeck, always the schemer, leaked a story that he had secured a $6,000,000 deal with Hughes. The related story secured quite a bit of press for the upstart league. Beck, for his part, only helped with the effort to cozy up to Dilbeck. He wanted to make a movie about Dilbeck’s life, especially the war experiences. Charles O’Neal, father of actor Ryan O’Neal, wrote a screenplay titled “The Private War of Walter Dilbeck.”
The Global League made some more headlines when it tried to raid the major leagues of some top names. Jim Bunning, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Jim Fergosi, Joe Horlen, Jim Maloney, Juan Marichal, Bill Mazeroski, Brooks Robinson, and Ron Santo were each offered four-year deals for $150,000 a year plus 2.5% equity in their teams. Hank Aaron was offered $500,000 over two years.
The Global League further encroached into Major League Baseball’s plans for Milwaukee. Milwaukee was starved for baseball after recently losing the Braves to Atlanta. They sought an expansion franchise, a drive led by future Brewers’ owner and future MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Dilbeck opened negotiations to use Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium for some league games. Walter O’Malley stepped in and basically threatened that such an occurrence would strongly hinder the city’s chance of landing a major league club. Needless to say, Milwaukee backed away from the idea.
Entering 1969, the Global League talked a good game. They claimed at various times to be representing cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Juan, Tokyo, Yokohama, Louisville, Jersey City, New Orleans, Caracas, Mobile, Honolulu, Manila, Houston, Kansas City, and Mexico City. They were also going to put on some football-like “colorful halftime shows.” After the fifth inning, they planned to display some international customs and traditions, such as featuring the flare of Geisha girls. For the most part, these grandiose plans went unfulfilled.
Only four clubs were ultimately secured for the league. Toru Mori brought over a full Japanese club, at an initial cost of $27,000, and Chico Carrasquel, from Caracas, put together a team of Latin players. The Americans attracted about eighty guys, few of whom had any professional experience. The American clubs may have claimed affiliation to certain cities but again that was just rhetoric. As The Sporting News noted, “franchise names changed faster than a guy on the lam from the cops.”
Spring training was first supposed to start in February and then March. Finally, 125 players met in Daytona Beach on April 2, 1969, to begin warming up. Mize, Slaughter, Stu Miller, Gordon Jones, Mori, and Carrasquel worked with the players. Moving fast, the Americans settled on about forty players to fill two rosters. In the first action, the “Jersey City” squad played Caracas that day. The league finally settled on a 138-game schedule.
The financial cracks were evident from the start. The cost of housing, feeding, and providing the men with $15 a week “walking around money” in Daytona Beach nearly broke the league and highlighted the precariousness of the endeavor. From the players’ perspective, however, things were going well: accommodations at a local Holiday Inn were comfortable and food and equipment was up to par; however, as a sign of things to come, no paychecks were forthcoming. The biggest problems hit as soon as the men left Florida for the Caribbean.
Opening Day was set for April 24 in Puerto Rico. The league set a few firsts for professional baseball leagues. The Global League introduced the designated hitter and the designated pinch runner. If it had survived, the league planned to operate with unlimited substitutions like football. A player could be taken out of the game and return at any time. This would allow offensive and defensive platoons, whereby a “good glove, no hit” shortstop could man the position but a teammate would bat for him. A team could field its best nine on defense and bat its strongest hitters; in theory, this could potentially involve eighteen different ballplayers.
The players themselves were lacking in professional experience, few ever playing above the semi-pro level. Stu Miller summed up the talent level as, “terrible…Class A at best and some of it worse.” Enos Slaughter was a little more kind. He claimed that one of the players was capable of playing at the major league level as a journeyman, but that the rest were “Class A or perhaps AA.”
As soon as they landed in Puerto Rico, the teams ran into a disorganized mess. The lead men hadn’t done their jobs. There was no advertising for the contests; as a result, attendance was scanty at best. The American squads played on opposites ends of the island, one competing against the Japanese club, the other taking on the Latin club. It was now obvious to some that Dilbeck talked a good game, but his inattention to detail was evident. Financial problems arose almost immediately. The hotels were not being paid. The players, making between $600 and $1,200 a month, were not seeing any cash as well. Neither were the coaches. Things looked bleak as virtually no one showed up for the games in Puerto Rico. Somehow, the hotel situation was cleared up, and the players, eighty-seven in all, took off for Caracas at the beginning of May.
Things seemed slightly better in Caracas. The first, and only, paychecks finally arrived. Moreover, the crowds were a little larger. It was all an illusion, though, because the bills were larger as well. The Global League played eleven games in Caracas and then folded. None of this information was getting back to the United States, as there was no press coverage.
The ex-major leaguers, the coaches, and most of the administrators took off for home despite being owed back salary. Smelling trouble, they had either left the league before Caracas or shortly after arriving. The Latin players were, for the most part, home so there was less of a burden there. The others, the bulk of the young American players and the Japanese, were stuck without any cash. They were stranded at the hotels. The hotels, by the way, were also not being paid. League representative Paul May was still in Caracas with the men. He was promising paychecks, so the men initially hung around with few complaints.
Eventually, the men felt trapped. No cash was forthcoming–and the league had previously gathered everyone’s passport and was refusing to return them. On May 26, 1969, word finally reached the United States about the plight of the league and the young ballplayers. The UPI reported that Caracas hotels were owed $90,000 and were threatening to cut off food to the men. The story only broke because the players made a formal complaint to the police that they weren’t eating.
The U.S. and Japanese embassies in Caracas were trying to mediate the matter. A U.S. embassy representative called Dilbeck in Evansville to stress the seriousness of the situation. That was the last anyone heard from Dilbeck on that matter or any other matter pertaining to the Global League for quite a while. The Sporting News tried several times to contact him, but the calls either went unreturned or the caller was flatly hung up on.
Most of the guys stuck in Caracas were teenagers with little to no money to make their way home. Jim Reemsnyder, age 19, was one such player. He went to Florida in spring training hoping to get a tryout with the Mets. Instead, he was recruited by Global League officials. He was the only American assigned to the Latin squad. Stuck in Caracas with the others, Reemsnyder appealed to the U.S. Embassy. The league had his passport and was refusing to give it back. The hotels would cut off the players’ food but would later feel sorry for the men and start feeding them. Reemsnyder said this cycle continually played itself out. He wasn’t sure where his next meal was coming from. At times he said the men scrapped together a little cash and purchased beans and bread to live off for a few days. He finally received some money from home and took off, still owed $1,200 in salary.
Rick Manders, a former five-year Cleveland Indians’ farmhand, was one of the outfielders. He claimed to have lost twenty pounds while in Caracas. Ultimately, he was only paid for half a week. Manders was one of the better players in the league, one of the few with professional experience. He arrived back in the United States in mid-June and joined Tampa of the Florida States League.
The Americans finally found their way home. In mid-June they were flown to Columbus, Georgia, and then scattered. On July 4 the Japanese players tried to take off for Miami. They appealed to their embassy for some assistance. Embassy officials gave them $200, so they bought some food and took seven cabs to the airport. They even boarded the plane. As it was taxiing down the runway, the plane was stopped by police who forced the players to disembark. The owners of the El Conte Hotel had obtained a court order preventing their departure. The team had nowhere to turn but their embassy, which eventually floated them some cash and mediated the crisis.
Dilbeck finally stuck his head out of the cave in July and opened up about the Global League debacle. To listen to Dilbeck, the financing for the Global League was on the up and up. He claimed to have personally put $2,800,000 into the operation. That figure is highly suspect considering all the bills that went unpaid from the beginning of the endeavor. A few years later Dilbeck would refine his statements, putting his losses at closer to a half million dollars. He would say in 1973 that he had “just finished up paying the last bills.” This was news to the executives, coaches, and players that took part in the Global League and never received their cash, not to mention the foreign hotels.
A shocking, yet in hindsight revealing, revelation came to light after the league failed indicating Dilbeck’s relationship with a seedy corporation known as the Baptist Foundation of America. Dilbeck supposedly sold his rights in the league, sometime in 1968, and a lake in Kentucky to the Baptist Foundation for $3.8 million. A year later, Dilbeck was telling investigators that he had actually swapped his rights in the Global League for notes in the Baptist Foundation and that he couldn’t find a buyer for the notes. The Baptist Foundation, having no actual affiliation with any religion, was at the time being investigated for numerous ethical violations. The whole Baptist Foundation and Dilbeck relationship was confusing to the point of being incomprehensible, which in all probability was its intent.
One amazing aspect of the affair is that many of those involved never seemed to blame Dilbeck personally. In fact, they had kind words for him, even after being stiffed. Clearly, he had a charismatic personality and was always able to spin situations to deflect personal blame or repercussions. The salesman could win anyone over.
Another interesting aspect of the experience is the effect on Johnny Mize’s career. Mize claimed that he was essentially blackballed by Major League Baseball for his participation in the Global League. He ended up as a recreation director for St. Augustine Shores in Florida.
The league itself is notable for its early use of the designated hitter. It was also foresighted in recognizing the need to better cultivate baseball abroad. Future decades would see a major league franchise in Toronto, an explosion of foreign-born players in Organized Baseball, greater international cooperation, major league clubs playing abroad and even the World Baseball Classic, a tournament of international clubs representing sixteen nations in 2006.
Summing up the Global League is best left to the men who were there. Stu Miller says, “I was conned.” He didn’t stay long. Another official was later interviewed by The Sporting News to give background information on the league but asked not to be identified because he would be “embarrassed” if anyone knew he was a part of such an operation. Jack Corbett was a little more forthcoming. The 81-year-old says he is “a lot wiser and a lot poorer since I got hooked up with the Global League. [It] was the most mixed-up affair I’ve ever see. Believe me, it was an Alice in Wonderland deal.”
Christian Science Monitor
New York Times
The Sporting News