By Tim Hayes

The magical pennant run now being waged by my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, 20 years in coming, got me thinking about something that happened more than 40 years ago, when the Bucs won it all in 1971.

Ten years old and a dyed-in-the-wool Pirates fan, I knew they were gonna go all the way that year.  So did all of my buddies in my neighborhood.  We followed the standings in the paper every day, we knew the “magic number” needed to clinch the division title, it was a great summer to be a city punk in Pittsburgh.

Since we wore our love for Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, Bill Mazeroski, Al Oliver, Bob Robertson, and all of the Buccos – even Manager Danny Murtaugh – emotionally on our sleeves anyway, we all had the great idea to do it literally, too. 

We hopped a streetcar to the Honus Wagner Sporting Goods store Downtown, and each plunked down $3.50 for a round, black-and-gold cloth patch with the Pirate logo on it – the one from the Three Rivers Stadium era, the guy wearing the big pirate hat with the skull and crossbones on it.  Mrs. Mills, the mom of one of the guys in our gang who lived across the back alley from my house, said she’d sew the patches onto our jackets.  The perfect set-up, right?

Yeah, it was the perfect set-up all right, but not the way any of us were thinking.

We returned from Downtown, chattering on the streetcar the whole way home about how cool those patches were and how great it was gonna be on Monday when we walked into school with our jackets so jacked up.

Mrs. Mills took all of the patches and all of our jackets, and went to work.  The next day, we all congregated in her back yard and waited for the awesomeness to begin.  At last she emerged, but empty-handed.

“Mrs. Mills, didn’t you have a chance to sew our patches on?” we asked.  “Oh yeah, they’re all finished,” she replied.  “Can we go in and get them now?”  “Well, sure guys.  But first, that will be five dollars apiece.”

Scientists and sociologists have labored for years looking for a way to shut up boisterous pre-teen boys in the summertime.  They obviously had never met Mrs. Mills.  I had never been smacked up-side the head with a two-by-four before or since, but I could have sworn I was when I got a $5 invoice that I didn’t know was coming.  The sewing job cost more than the patch itself?  What in the blue blazes was going on here, Mrs. Mills?

Now remember, this was the summer of 1971, and I was 10.  Scraping up the $3.50 for the patch itself, plus streetcar fare Downtown and back, took some ingenuity and initiative, and I was pretty tapped out at that point.  Where was I – or any of my similarly broke buddies – going to get another five bucks, while our super cool Pirate-patch jackets were being held hostage in the Mills’ living room?

She must have seen the crestfallen, ashen, blood-drained looks on each of our faces.  Mrs. Mills did give us our jackets that day, but made sure she eventually got the five dollar fee from all of her customers (or their moms), too.  She had a business to run, after all, I suppose.  But the experience never left me.

The fancy Latin phrase is “caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware.”  I prefer to think of it as – and as I tell all of my clients – let’s not have any surprises.  That’s why I almost always agree with my clients on a flat project fee and a clear scope of work for every engagement before it ever begins.  That way they know how to budget, and I know what to expect for my cash flow.  No surprises.

Because the last thing I want to do is pull a “Mrs. Mills” on anybody.  Jeez.

Copyright 2012 Tim Hayes Consulting