BACK WHEN the late Walter O'Malley was threatening to take my Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, Nelson Rockefeller, not yet governor of New York, offered to buy the team and keep it in Brooklyn. Two things happened almost immediately. O'Malley turned down the offer and my father, ever the cynic, said Rockefeller was preparing to run for political office.
As usual, my father was right, but what sticks in my mind is not his good sense but rather my incredulity at learning that someone would buy a ball club for no other reason than to promote a political candidacy. This kind of wealth was unheard of and it would not be too much to say that I have been fascinated by it ever since.
To me, the Rockefellers are the Scrooge McDucks of real life. Instead of putt-putting around their money bin in a bulldozer drawn by Walt Disney illustrators, they do other things that are equally impressive. The latest, it seems, is bringing the former shah of Iran to the United States. He is, like the Museum of Modern Art, a little gift of the Rockefellers.
We Rockefeller watchers are not surprised to learn this. We remember when Nelson Rockefeller offered the Senate seat made vacant by the assassination of Robert Kennedy to his nephew, Jay, with the conditions that Jay move back from West Virginia and give up this silliness of calling himself a Democrat. It is the sort of deal fathers with their own businesses offer wayward sons. Only Nelson Rockefeller, though, could look upon New York state as the family firm.
This sort of mentality is awe-inspiring, adn it is one of the things that makes Rockefeller-watching so much fun. I used to play imaginary house with the Rockefeller houses, counting them all -- the places in Maine and New York and out west and in Washington and the Caribbean and Venezuela -- and wonder about who made sure that there was, say, Smokehouse almonds in each house. I wondered if, when a Rockefeller buys a suit, he buys one for each house and I wondered the same thing about such things as razors and record albums -- "I'll take 10 of those, one for each house." It could run into real money.
These are, I admit, petty matters, but they point up how the world must look different to a rockefeller. The one in question at the moment is David, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank. It was he, along with the family retainer, Henry Kissinger, who was instrumental in bringing the former shah into the United States.
In fact, it might have been a good decision. It might have been the right decision -- right in a moral sense. As a nation, you could argue that we owed the shah a safe harbor since he was, to a very large extent, our creation. Our CIA restored him to power after a coup overthrew him and our arms kept him on the Peacock Throne, and our government -- not to mention the social lions of Washington -- gave him a standing and esteem enjoyed by few other world leaders. From Franklin Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, there was nary a president who didn't hug the shah.
The pressure to bring the shah into this country seems to have come largely from the Rockefellers. Starting with Nelson and then later with David, the family loaned the shah key personal aides and, along with Kissinger, pressured the government to allow the former Iranian ruler into this country. It was a Rockefeller man who became the shah's advance man and it was a Rockefeller man who became the shah's chief of staff and it was a Rockefeller doctor -- at least one chosen by David Rockefeller -- who flew to mexico and pronounced the shah too sick to be treated anywhere but Manhattan.
In the meantime, Henry Kissinger met with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance on the matter and arranged personally with the Mexican government for the shah to be given at least temporary hospitality in Mexico. Things went so far that the New York Times reported that "The shah's case was handled at the State Department primarily by David Newsom, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, whose office was the contact for . . . the Rockefeller interest." It almost makes the State Department seem the equal of the Rockefellers.
All this is not to say that the Rockefeller interests, whatever they might be, are not legitimate and worth hearing. But the Rockefellers seem to have gotten more than just a hearing. They were allowed to go to the front of the line, to conduct a private and quite secret dialogue as if the issue was a matter strictly between them and the government -- as if it didn't have anything to do with you, me and, of course, the people in the embassy in Tehran. Somehow we all got excluded. A decision was made, a plane allowed to land and the shah of Iran got out. There were good reasons to keep him out and good reasons to let him in, but the reasons had nothing to do with his arrival. There was something else instead.
He had a friend at Chase Manhattan.