|07-03-2002, 03:08 PM||#1|
Inducted Into The NetShrine Assembly of Fame
Rick Dempsey & The Bank Robbers
I saw this article in the June 30th Baltimore Sun & found it entertaining. It is your typical off-day story without all the usual cliche's you see in those articles(I'm giving 100%, I have to stay mentally focused,etc...)
By Joe Christensen
Originally published June 30, 2002
The news was right there on television. Fourteen-year-old Rick Dempsey and his childhood friends were in disbelief.
The man they had called Mr. Jennings that summer, the manager who guided them to the Pony League World Series, the tall man who never let the poor kids go hungry, was in handcuffs.
Mr. Jennings had robbed 13 banks.
It was November 1963, the same month of President Kennedy's assassination. Thirty-nine years later, Dempsey and his former teammates can't remember which news flash came as a bigger shock to them.
That summer, Dempsey, now the first base coach for the Orioles, had heard bits and pieces about a bank robbing duo that had been eluding the Los Angeles Police Department. Nicknamed Mutt and Jeff after the long-running comic strip because one was tall and the other stubby, these bandits were linked to a string of bank robberies that started in January 1963.
Mr. Jennings had led a dual life. Away from the ball field, he was Mutt.
"He was a great guy," Dempsey said. "You never suspected he'd be doing anything like that."
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.
Looking back, there were clues.
Court records show Jennings and his partner, Paul Rosenbluth, started by taking $8,572 from the Sylmar (Calif.) Bank of America on Jan. 14, 1963. Fifteen days later, they held up a Bank of America in Northridge for $11,217, using a BB gun and 22-caliber rifle.
By the time the All-Stars' season began heating up in June, Jennings and Rosen- bluth had robbed six banks. They started carrying .38-caliber revolvers and piled up more than $33,000 in cash.
The All-Stars played a tournament in Lancaster, Calif., that summer, and shortstop Bruce Davis remembers riding through the desert countryside with Jennings, whose son, Steve, was a catcher on that team.
"John turned to us," Davis said, "and I'll never forget it. He said, 'Boys, I want you to know something. There's treasure buried in this desert, and someday you're going to know about it.'
"I thought he was telling us some history. The treasure he was talking about was his own. Sure enough, when we saw him on television, he was right there showing the authorities where he'd stashed the money."
But the boys were oblivious, and so were their parents. Rosenbluth had nothing to do with the baseball team. Jennings would take the players out for fast food after games and pick up the tab for everyone. No one suspected anything, not even LAPD detective Hank Hankins, whose son Terry played third base for the All-Stars.
The Mutt and Jeff bank robbers made their two biggest heists during July, hitting two more Bank of America branches - one in Anaheim for $25,483 and another in Burbank for $27,645.
Davis tells a story about how Jennings liked to play poker with the other fathers when the team traveled and stayed somewhere overnight.
"John was losing one day," Davis said, "so he went to his briefcase, and took out a roll of money from the bank he'd just robbed. He went to Hank and said, 'Does that look familiar to you?' All that time, Hank didn't know who this guy was."
Hank Hankins died more than 20 years ago and couldn't substantiate that claim, but Terry remembers his father's shock the day Jennings was on television in handcuffs.
"They were good friends," Terry Hankins said. "We had him [Jennings] over to our house; he had us over to his house. It was kind of funny. Years later, we talked about it and kind of laughed about it. My dad said, 'Here we were, looking for this guy, and he was right under my nose.' It was kind of ironic."
Everyone was on a roll. Mutt and Jeff hit their 10th bank in early August, and the All-Stars won the Western Division tournament in National City, Calif., with a pair of 3-0 wins over Kearney Mesa.
From National City, the boys jumped right on an airplane and headed for the World Series.
Randy Cohen, who later pitched in the Orioles' minor-league system, went 8-0 that season, and he still keeps the black-and-white photographs in mint condition. There are pictures with the TWA stewardess, pictures from the big banquet before the World Series, pictures of Jennings in his baseball uniform as he stood for the national anthem.
Years later, after Jennings got out of prison, he called his former shortstop, Davis, to explain things.
"Basically, he'd been a failure all his life," Davis said. "He was an ex-Marine, and that was the only thing he'd done to be successful. There were two things he loved: baseball and being a success. So he decided to take this kids team to the Pennsylvania World Series, and bank robbing was kind of a whim."
At 12-0, the All-Stars liked their chances in Pennsylvania, but they lost their first game to a team from Evansville, Ind.
The boys went back to school. Jennings went back to robbing banks.
With 12 robberies under their belts, Jennings and Rosenbluth held up another Bank of America in Panorama City on Nov. 4, 1963. Using their .38 revolvers, they left with $20,373 in cash.
One day later, FBI agent Ken Arnold put Mutt and Jeff under arrest.
"Both defendants admitted the robbery to me personally," Arnold wrote in remarks printed on the court complaint. "They were positively identified by bank personnel as the robbers. A check of the money found in their possession two hours after their arrest indicated they possessed hot money taken from the bank."
When the news broke a few weeks later, Cohen, the pitcher, had no idea until he sat down with his family to watch the evening news.
"I was totally blown out of the water," Cohen said. "Your whole world falls apart. You can't believe somebody like that would do something like that. He really, genuinely loved each one of us."
Jennings and Rosenbluth each received a 10-year sentence. Davis, who has a pile of paperwork documenting the saga, said the courts were more lenient because the robbers turned back the money. Altogether, they had stolen $140,973.
From prison in McNeil Island, Wash., Jennings wrote to the judge, seeking a quicker parole, and included this line: "My family, already bearing the brunt of my shame and humiliation, face additional hardships which long incarceration can bring."
Davis said Jennings received his parole after 7 1/2 years and died of cancer sometime in the late 1970s. Jennings' son, Steve, had a hard time dealing with the humiliation, Davis said.
The younger Jennings transferred high schools at least twice, according to records kept by former Canoga Park High baseball coach Doug MacKenzie. He went out for the team his senior year but did not letter.
For the other boys, life went on.
Davis, Hankins, Cohen and a pitcher named Bob Johnson spent some time in the minors and then entered the work force. Yount became a pitching version of Field of Dreams real-life character Moonlight Graham, who appeared in only one major-league game, in 1905, never getting to bat. Yount made one appearance with the Houston Astros in 1971 but injured his elbow throwing warm-ups and never made an official pitch. He later served as Robin Yount's agent.
Dempsey, Davis and Cohen have tried getting movie studios interested in the story of John Jennings and the Canoga Park/Woodland Hills All-Stars. Dempsey, who is now 52, said he can already picture the opening scene.
He is standing in the Orioles clubhouse after the 1983 World Series, when a reporter asks him if that was the most interesting team for which he had ever played. Dempsey thinks for a moment about a team that included Ken Singleton, Eddie Murray and a young Cal Ripken. He thinks about the trio at the bottom of the batting order nicknamed the Three Stooges -- Dempsey, Todd Cruz and Rich Dauer.
"Well," Dempsey replies, "not exactly."
It's not a real HOF until Pete and Bert are in it
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