The Last Inning
In 1978, O’Malley was the first recipient of the equivalent of the Most Valuable Player award for baseball. He was named winner of the August A. Busch, Jr. Award for “meritorious service to baseball” as voted by a committee from baseball, the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals’ board of directors and a member of the Busch family. Busch himself was owner of the Cardinals and established the honor in 1978 to be awarded to “an individual involved with baseball in a non-playing capacity, and has the stature, on the front office level, the Most Valuable Player award has on the playing field.” The handsome silver trophy was designed by Tiffany and Co. and was presented at Grant’s Farm to a grateful O’Malley.
The Dodgers made World Series appearances again in 1974, 1977 and 1978. In 1979, the Dodgers signed a young left-handed pitcher who would enthrall the hearts and minds of their fans in a magical 1981 World Championship season. For years, O’Malley had asked his scouts to find a Mexican player to appeal to the ever-growing Hispanic fan base in Los Angeles. When it finally happened, they certainly got more than they realized as Fernando Valenzuela, from a tiny village in Mexico, became a larger than life hero in Los Angeles, the United States and in his home country. Unfortunately, O’Malley would never see the results of this diamond in the rough. Also in June 1979, the Dodgers scouted and signed another fine young pitcher by the name of Orel Hershiser, who would, years later, make headlines for his heroics on the mound and for guiding the team to the 1988 World Championship.
In the years in which he worked about four hours a day as Chairman of the Board at Dodger Stadium, O’Malley continued to enjoy the love of his expanded family. Daughter Terry had married native Californian Roland Seidler, Jr. at St. Therese Church, Alhambra in October of 1958 and the couple gave Kay and Walter their first grandchild when John was born in 1959. Son Peter was married on July 10, 1971 to Annette Zacho in St. Ansgar’s Church in Copenhagen, Denmark and their first child Katherine was born in 1972. By 1975, the O’Malley’s had 12 grandchildren, seven boys and five girls with whom he would spend time either at home in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles or at Lake Arrowhead. Birthday parties and family gatherings were a regular part of his routine and he and Kay loved every minute of it.
On July 12, 1979, the First Lady of the Dodgers, Kay Hanson O’Malley passed away in Los Angeles. The compassionate and loyal Dodger fan had seen so much in her time as her husband rode the elevator from student and sports enthusiast to powerful baseball executive. She had achieved a great deal herself, as a loving and dedicated wife, mother and grandmother, community volunteer, recognition as Los Angeles Times’ Woman of the Year in 1971 and the ability to continue on and not let her impairment ever stop her from living a full and exciting life. To honor Kay and her affection for the organization, the Dodgers named two team-owned airplanes used for transporting the players for her — the Kay O’, a 1962 Lockheed Electra and the Kay O’II, a 1971 Boeing 720-B Fan Jet.
A mere 28 days later, Walter O’Malley followed the great love of his life, passing away at the age of 75 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He was buried alongside Kay, his wife of 47 years, at the family grave site at Holy Cross Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Recognition and sympathy poured in from throughout the country and around the world in honor of O’Malley. In Japan, the Tokyo Giants held a moment of silence and “prayed for the repose of O’Malley’s soul” prior to a game with the Taiyo Whales. The Dodgers and their fans mourned and held a moment of silence, with the flags at the house that he built, Dodger Stadium, flying at half mast in his honor. Tributes and kind words were written and spoken by countless friends, colleagues, fans and media members.
Former Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist Jim Murray wrote: “O’Malley belongs in the Hall of Fame as surely as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and certainly Judge Landis. He made more people rich, quicker than the gold strike of the 49ers who beat him west by only a century. Ted Williams might have had the vision to see a ball curving 60 feet ahead, but Walter O’Malley had the vision to see three decades ahead.
“...can anyone deny that what Walter O’Malley did served baseball — if not, indeed, saved baseball? There are now — count ‘em — six major league franchises on the West Coast and two in Texas, where there were none before. O’Malley built a Taj Mahal of a ballpark, setting the tone for subsequent edifices. He brought the game kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.”Jim Murray, Column, Sports, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979
And so it was, that O’Malley dined with world leaders, was honored by Pope Paul VI, received the B’nai B’rith “Man of the Year” award, the George Washington Carver Supreme Award of Merit for “contributions to sports, better race relations and human welfare” and the Silver Beaver Medal from his beloved Boy Scouts. A not-so-complicated man, this New Yorker named Walter O’Malley, who loved life and his family, a wide circle of friends, cooking for everyone, a good game of poker with the boys, an even better cigar, cultivating orchids in his greenhouse and most of all, baseball.
Pioneer, visionary, leader, sportsman, family man. The eclectic O’Malley touched all the bases in a fulfilling and successful career.
O’Malley once said, “I’ve had a marvelously interesting life. I don’t know what there is that I missed.”Penelope McMillan, The Boston Globe, Sports Plus, July 28, 1978
And no one would dare disagree with that.