News Item: March 1999 - Virgil (Radiator) O'Reilly arrived in his chauffeur-driven limousine early this afternoon at the office of his sports attorney, Diamonds DeLuca, to await the final disposition of his salary arbitration case. A decision has been promised in just a few more hours.
O'Reilly, the veteran team bus driver of baseball's Shangri-la Bears of the National League, has been asking for a one-year, $5 million contract from the Bears, who have submitted a bid of $3.5 million. Labor arbitrator Honest John Quackenbush says it is one of the toughest cases he has ever had to decide.
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who is still waiting for his replacement to be named since he was put on hold by major league owners in 1982, has adopted a no-comment policy. Kuhn says that he doesn't think, under the circumstances, that he should touch the case with a 10-foot bat.
O'Reilly's attorney claims that his client had a great year last season; that he was late getting the team to spring training road games only four times; and that he drove through only 3,901 potholes as compared to 4,103 the previous year.
Radiator's mouthpiece also said that the arbitrator should be sure and take the following facts into consideration before making his decision:
1) That O'Reilly is the only driver in the league whose bus has its steering wheel on the right-hand side of the vehicle, which gives his client practically the same status as a switch-hitter.
2) That this is the fourth consecutive year that O'Reilly has been chosen by the nation's fans to drive the National League players from their hotel to the annual All-Star game.
3) That O'Reilly is the only driver in the league who allows the players to operate their radios (which are the size of suitcases) at full volume while the bus is in motion.
O'Reilly, who became a rookie bus driver with the Upper Valley California Stallions in 1983, claims that he has more than paid his dues to baseball.
He says the used bus he started with years ago had two broken springs; often boiled over on long trips (which is how Radiator got his nickname); and that sometimes the brakes weren't too good. He was also the only driver in that particular league to know where every roadside diner was that served Twinkies, which are a big favorite among all ballplayers.
Let the record show, O'Reilly's attorney added, that it has been years since he forgot to load the players' gear on board his bus before heading for the next city. ''Even though I once drove 40 miles before I realized what I did and then had to turn around and go back, the game that night started only 91 minutes late ,'' he said. ''Of course, there was nobody there but the players.''
Radiator still carries a two-year-old faded newspaper clipping naming him as the only bus driver who didn't miss an assignment with his team in 1981. He likes to remind everyone that owner George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees employed three different drivers that year.
O'Reilly, of course, is the son of Hall of Fame bus driver Kenesaw (Magneto) O'Reilly. It was Magneto who made history in 1926 when he used a leather strap from one player's suitcase to replace the bus's broken fanbelt en route to an important game. Pieces of that leather strap are now on display in baseball's 0 all of Fame.
Asked what makes an all-star bus driver, the younger O'Reilly replied: ''Well , you've got to have good hands. Anybody who has ever driven a bus in this league can tell you that your hands are the first things to go. Even if you wear gloves, it doesn't help much.''
Actually, this could be a very big year for O'Reilly, whether he wins his $5 million arbitration case or not. He is now within 75 games of Boo Herig's major league record of 2,130 consecutive bus trips without a flat tire.