This article was written by Victoria W. Guadagno
This article was published in the 1982 Baseball Research Journal
A career goal is not an easy thing to fulfill, as we all learn. Cy Block has reached his goals twice in two very different fields. Having left the baseball world and found his way into the insurance business, he strolled out of a Broadway theater one evening and his eyes caught sight of an empty billboard. The next day he called a friend in the advertising business who informed him that the price of the space was $3,000 a month. Cy told his friend to get back in touch with the agent and offer him $10,000 for a full year. His friend told him it wouldn’t work. But Cy didn’t see any harm in trying. Times were tough, and his offer was accepted.
So, for one full year, Cy Block was billboarded in full baseball uniform on Broadway advertising the life insurance business — “You Can’t Strike Out!” It gained him publicity and personal satisfaction. Last year, many successful moons later, Cy was thinking about taking out the space again, this time, “Cy Block is Happy to be Back on Broadway!” Just for fun. “My wife talked me out of it.” He looks amused, yet slightly disappointed. “She says there are too many crazies around, I might get kidnapped. So. . .”
But Cy doesn’t need any billboards to announce his success today. Those who know the business can see it clearly enough. At the end of 1982 he will have done $80 million worth of business. Today people have reason to ask Cy how it feels to be a millionaire. “I knew how it would feel as early as September 8, 1942,” he says happily. “My first day in the major leagues.” And you can bet he means it. Cy Block is someone who takes great pride and thankfulness in everything he gains or accomplishes. Consistently trying and having faith in the future have taken him a long way.
Cy and I sat down at our booth in the restaurant. He takes one look at the menu and puts it down. He knows what he wants. So it was at the first ballgame he sneaked his way into long ago.
“Dazzy Vance was pitching, Babe Herman was hitting, and that was it,” he remembers. “I never thought of anything else after that. They kept telling me that I didn’t have the size, but I found out that the winning race doesn’t always go to the one with the right attributes or abilities. Drive and enthusiasm can overcome.”
We run off our orders to the waitress and she returns with our beverages. Cy Block sits across from me wearing a suit that speaks professional business; however, most of our early discussion deals with professional baseball. He more than paid his dues in the minors, getting shuffled around from city to city, having contracts that weren’t lived up to by management, and not getting the chances that his consistently above average percentages deserved. “In 1942,” he says, “Stan Musial and I were voted the most promising rookies that appeared that year.” Good company to be in. “The years in the service hurt my career,” he mused as he sipped at his soda, “but coming back in 1945 with Chicago right into the World Series well, it was a thrill in my life just to be there.”
Cy was not, however, in the minority of those who go on to be superstars. He played a few games at third base for the Cubs in 1942, 1945 and 1946, but could not get Stan Hack’s job. He had Struggled throughout his entire baseball career. In wintertimes he took any job he could find. But his goal had just been to make the major leagues. “That was my goal. Now, Al Campanis was a great ballplayer but he never could hit that outside curve. But his goal had been to manage the Brooklyn Dodgers. Today, he is the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ed Stanky’s goal, on the other hand, was just to play baseball.”
Branch Rickey used to call the whole lot of us together, from all the teams staying in the same “dorm”, and he used to talk to us. “If you had the bases loaded in the ninth with two out, and the pennant depended on it, who would you want to bat for you?” They’d all invariably call out, “DiMaggio! Mays! Musial!” “You’re wrong!” Branch would say. “You’d call in Ed Stanky.” Ed Stanky. Couldn’t run, couldn’t hit, couldn’t throw. I roomed with him for years. Rickey’d go on, `Eddie would get up to bat and throw dirt on the plate, the ump would go and clean it off. He’d throw dirt on the plate again, and the ump would clean it off again. He’d take a swing back with his bat and hit the catcher in the mask, who by this time was so riled up he’d give the sign for a knockdown pitch that would make your hat stand up. Stanky’d take the pitch for ball one and proceed to laugh at the pitcher and scream how he couldn’t throw a fastball. Then he’d get knocked down with Ball Two. He’d get on base using all these tricks!
Cy laughs as he remembers. “Stanky used to spend hours just practicing kicking the ball out of a guy’s glove. He did it to Rizzuto once, and Phil never forgave him, still talks about it to this day. He told Ed that he was no gentleman. `I’m not here to be a gentleman,’ Eddie said. `I’m here to play ball.’”
So Cy was one of the lucky few who reached a goal set for himself. But after that, how does someone turn around and begin a new career to launch himself onto greater success than before?
“My wife’s mother was despondent that her daughter was never near her. Every spring I’d get a baseball job — wherever! I was playing in Japan, South America, Puerto Rico, and all around this country. In the winter I’d take a job anywhere I could find one. We were gypsies.” Cy’s wife Harriet wanted some stable element in their lives. She suggested the life insurance business, thinking that since Cy was a ballplayer people would be more willing to talk with him than the average salesman. “Quite frankly, just to get her off my back, I answered an ad in the newspaper,” he smiles. “Turned out to be the best break I ever had.”
But Cy had his dues to pay here also; the major leagues of the insurance world were no easier than baseball’s. He took the job one winter at that insurance firm, but quickly discovered that he was selling a product that nobody wanted to buy. If it wasn’t for baseball jobs he wouldn’t have survived the first year financially. It was his first success that allowed his second to grow. The next year in 1950, he made 57 phone calls in one day, had two sales and grossed a commission of $22. “Plus I got my foot stuck in a door and the doctor bill was $10. I sat down and I thought to myself, now who the hell is making money in this business? I knew someone was making money and I sure knew it wasn’t me. So then I thought, how did I get to the major leagues? I went through C leagues, B, double A, triple A, and all over so that by the time I got to the majors I knew what I was doing, I knew my business. It was at that point that I decided that if I was ever going to amount to anything I had to know what I was doing. So I went back to school.”
Our lunches arrive. Cy glances down at his, takes a look at the salad and puts it aside. He continues talking. A man who can wait. “This Professor Winston at NYU came up with the most fantastic idea I had ever heard.” he says glowingly, grateful even now. “It changed my whole life. The class was Estates and Taxes. The idea was so simple — it was unbelievable. As I said before, no one wants to buy insurance. The person buying it has to die and other people will get the money, you see. Out of 1,000 people, 996 of them are going to want to know — `What’s in it for me?’ Psychologically, everyone dreams about becoming a millionaire, what with Lotto, lotteries, the American Dream is `I can win!’ My objective was to find a handle for a client, and, listening to this Professor Winston,” he pauses meaningfully, “I felt like a curtain was rising. Changed my whole life,” he says again.
The idea was this — you’d have the client invest his money in a prestigious stock, borrow on it from the bank to pay the insurance premium — in those days you could borrow up to ninety percent of your stock value — and your dividends would pay your interest on the bank loan. Your dividends were non-taxable and you could deduct the interest on the loan from your taxes. Made them feel like millionaires. They felt like the life insurance was an extra, they didn’t even have to think about it. But they had it. Professor Win- ston told me I should do this myself first or I could never convince anyone else to try. I went out and borrowed $600 from by brother- in-law, bought $600 worth of stock and a $35 life insurance premium. That’s how it started, and it worked. I built a whole empire on that one idea. Never changed it to this day.”
The waitress comes by. Cy hands her his untouched meal and asks if she would mind removing the anchovies. Cy immediately knows the things he wants and how he wants them. That seems to be half the battle. The other half is having the patience and faith to see them through. “Every day is still a ballgame — ” the word brings a new smile — and I love it!!”
Cy has season passes to both Shea and Yankee Stadiums. He says he goes whenever he can with his grandchildren. One of them is a boy. Do you think? “We’ll see,” he says with a quiet but irrepressible grin. “If that’s what he wants to do, I’ll help him.” The man who batted .300 in baseball and .400 in business started eating his freshly returned salad.