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Dodger manager Spike Russell's efforts to rally his team to a pennant victory are threatened by a scheming club secretary and the seeming irresponsibility of a star rookie pitcher.
The sun on the back of Spike's neck burned hotter than ever as he pawed restlessly at the dirt in the basepath and, leaning over, picked up a pebble nervously and tossed it behind him. Hands on knees, he glanced over his left shoulder at the row of goose eggs on the scoreboard. This was the thing that made being a manager no fun. One of the things. You gamble on a kid pitcher in a tight spot. If he wins, he's a hero; if he loses, it's your fault.
Lots depending on that game, too. Not just beating the Cards, not trampling on the league leaders; but much more, the confidence necessary to make a rookie a regular, to give him the stuff to go on to other triumphs. Most of all, it meant the unity of the club, the team that was moving at last and only needed this victory to prove it to themselves. There they were, locked in a pitchers' battle, a scoreless tie going into the ninth, with no one out, two men on bases and the boy in the box showing signs of weakening for the first time.
Take him out or let him ride? This was surely one moment when being a manager wasn't fun.
"Alla time, Bones, alla time, Bonesy-boy ..." From Spike's left came the sharp, shrill cry of his brother on second, and around and behind him familiar tones shouted reassuringly. It was a bad moment for the young pitcher, supported as he was by a rookie catcher. So much could happen and so quickly; one mistake in judgment, one ball where the hitter wanted it and bang! There goes the ballgame!
Bones Hathaway, the star rookie, straightened out the pitching holes before the rubber, shook off his catcher nonchalantly and, finally nodding, checked the men on bases, and threw. A roar went up over the field. The batter turned, tossed away his bat, and started down toward first. The bases were filled and the next Card batter stalked briskly up to the plate. Spike, the young manager at shortstop, instantly realized the necessity for delaying things, for upsetting the batter's tempo and saying a word to his pitcher. From the corner of his eye he saw Rats Doyle and old Fat Stuff, his relief pitchers, working furiously in the bullpen. Yet the boy stood off the rubber, calmly rubbing up the ball with his bare hands as if it were a practice game in Florida.
When a manager goes out to the pitcher in a tight game, he's usually playing for time, and invariably asks the same questions. "How you feel? How's the arm?"
But Spike really wanted to know how the boy's finger was holding up. Early in the year this kid, who had come up from the minor leagues with a good record, had injured a finger on his pitching hand and lost the nail. That kept him out of play for weeks, and this was the first game he had pitched since that injury.
"Your finger O.K.? Lemme see." Spike inspected the boy's finger. "Any pain? All right, we'll get this one for you." He walked slowly back to his place. I'm gonna stay with him, he decided. I'm gonna stay with him. I believe the kid has what it takes.
Undisturbed by the noise round the park, the boy stood motionless on the mound. He checked the runners, took the sign from the catcher, and shook his head. The crouching man behind the plate gave another signal; again the youngster in the box shook him off. Finally the catcher stood up. He came out to the mound and said something to his pitcher. Then he turned and came back again to the plate, while the runners danced off bases, the coaches yelled through cupped hands, and the crowd above roared.
Hang it all, Bonesy, throw him your hook, Spike thought. That baby is tough for a catcher to handle, no mistake. He's good, he knows he's good, but he wants his own way. And he can't be any fun to catch, either.
The batter swung on the first pitch. It was a comforting pop-up foul near first. Here's one of them anyway; there's a dead pigeon, thought Spike, as he watched the ball descend into Red Allen's mitt. That guy is sound; he's sure something to have around out there. Now for number two. I'm gonna stay with this kid.
The batter came to the plate, tapped it with his bat, touched his cap, glanced at his manager behind third for the hit or take sign. Would he bunt or hit away? The Dodgers were expecting a squeeze play, and as the arm of the pitcher went up Red Allen and Harry Street charged in from first and third. But the batter crossed them beautifully, hitting out and drilling a grasscutter past Red's outstretched glove.
From his place at second Spike watched anxiously as his brother Bob, the second baseman, dived for it, speared it, and pivoted all in one motion. Tense as he was, with the baserunner crashing down on him, he was stunned with admiration for the ease with which Bob made the play. No one else in the League could have pivoted that way or made that stop. The ball came to him low but hard; the man was out. One run was over, but there were two down.
He spit into his glove, leaned over and tossed some dirt behind him. Well, I was right to stick with this kid; he's a cool customer. What's more, he has a three-hitter now, and he deserves to win no matter what happens.
The batter waited while the boy on the mound arranged the dirt before the rubber, smoothed up the ball, looked round the bases, and did all the things a pitcher does in a tight place. It made the man at the plate nervous. He stepped from the batter's box, knocked the dirt from his spikes, and finally resumed his stance. From across the diamond came the confident chatter of the team behind their rookie hurler.
"Alla time, Bones. Alla time .." "Let him see it, Bonesy-boy, let him see your fast one...."
Still throwing curves, the youngster, bearing down and coolly confident with two out, was soon ahead at two and one. At two and two the man hit. It was a blooper back of third. Spike started with the sound of the bat.
"Mine ... mine ... mine, Harry ..." He had the angle, he had it, he caught it for the final out. Now they were running in together for the last of the ninth, one run behind.
Everyone was moving around the dugout, far too nervous to sit still; Swanny reaching for a towel to wipe his hands, Jocko Klein going over to the bat rack for his war club, Roy Tucker stepping up to the water-cooler. No one could sit quietly. They were standing, holding to the roof of the dugout, or kneeling on the step, or weaving in and out, talking to each other.
"Now, Jocko, put us back in there, kid...." "Hey, Swanny, save me a rap...." "C'mon, gang, le's go; le's get us some runs...."
Spike heard the roar of the stands above. The crowds had been riding this rookie catcher until lately, and he wasn't sure what those cries above meant. He put one arm over the damp, heaving shoulder of his catcher.
"Never mind those wolves, Jocko. Never mind those wolves up there. You're my catcher. Go get us a hit." The dark-eyed boy nodded and stepped from the dugout to that trip to the plate.
He hit hard on the first pitch, a blow that had authority behind it, a blow that brought the whole dugout to the steps. But the Card center fielder, racing back, made a beautiful running catch over his left shoulder. Klein had rounded first and was well down toward second base when the fielder grabbed the ball off the fence.
Shoot! Shoot! Five feet one way or the other, and that would have been a ticket for third base. "Hard luck, Jocko; tha's hard luck; tha's really tough, kid. Now, Alan, keep us alive. Keep us alive in there."
Alan Whitehouse, a pinch hitter, responded by getting a clean single into right field. Immediately activity began out in the Cardinal bullpen. The Cards wanted the game, too. Swanson waited a couple of pitches and then hit a furious drive down the right field foul line, directly into the first baseman's mitt. Shucks, how's that for luck! Two blows that would both have been good for extra bases. If only that big boy hadn't been covering, Swanny would have made second standing up. Shoot, we can't seem to win anyhow!
Two out and a man on first. The activity in the St. Louis bullpen died away; quiet descended on the stands. But Red Allen was always a dangerous man, and the pitcher finally lost him. He trotted down to first and Roy Tucker, another bad actor with his bat, came to the plate.
Spike watched anxiously from the dugout step. We can do it; doggone, we can do it, we can still do it.
The pitcher was keeping the ball low, throwing to Roy's weakness. On the third pitch, the man at the plate dribbled a short, slow grounder toward short. He was off like a flash and so were the other two men on the bases. The throw was late, and now the bags were full.
Clyde Baldwin, a novice fielder, strode up. Two out, the bases full, and a freshman at bat! In the bullpen in deep left the St. Louis pitcher burned in a couple of last minute throws, and then came striding swiftly across the grass. The noise was tremendous now, the fans were all on their feet, so was the whole Brooklyn dugout. Even old Chiselbeak, who usually listened to the game over the Doc's radio in the lockers, was out there with a towel over his shoulders, calling for a hit, pleading with Clyde at the plate.
The Card third baseman came over and handed the ball to the incoming hurler. He stepped to the rubber, threw in a few warm-up pitches, and nodded to his manager. The three white-clad runners stood poised on base, the tying run on third, the winning run on second. Clyde tapped the platter twice, significantly. The Card shortstop turned, looked at the fielders, and waved them back. He knew Clyde as a long-ball hitter. When he leaned his hundred and eighty pounds behind a ball, it traveled.
The man in the box went carefully to work. The first pitch was low. Ball one. The crowd yelled. Clyde fouled the second into the stands. The third was low again. More shouts from the crowd. Only 180 feet from the plate, 180 feet from victory now; the winning run was perched there out on second base.
"C'mon, Clyde, c'mon, kid. Le's have the old stuff." "The big one left, boy, the big one left," shouted Bob at Spike's elbow. The entire dugout was yelling; no one heard, no one listened, the uproar around the field was continuous, the mob on its feet yelling for a run. "Over the fence, Clyde, park one out there," they shrieked, while the pitcher, trying to take his time, stood astride the rubber taking the sign. He looked around the bases. Then he threw.
The pitch was low, just where Clyde wanted it, and he dumped a perfect bunt along the line and about a quarter of the way toward third, equidistant from the catcher, the pitcher, and the man covering the bag; the bunt, the smallest play in baseball, yet often the winning play.
Back deep on the grass the third baseman, caught by surprise, looked over at the pitcher and watched the ball trickle along. Right in that spot a bunt was the last thing he expected. It caught the pitcher, legs spread apart on the rubber, equally off balance. He also watched the ball dribble along the line, saw the third baseman was unable to make the play, and charged across. One run was over now, so, angry and flustered, he threw hurriedly to first. But Clyde was fast. He had passed the bag before the throw got there. The man on the base had to leap for it, and as he did so, Roy Tucker, speedster of the team, came roaring into the plate in a cloud of dust to score the winning run of the game.CHAPTER 2
Spike glanced over the crowded room. There's a difference, he thought, a big difference in this gang from last month. You can see it. Why, you can even feel it, too.
"Now, boys, we're really moving at last. That series with the Cards showed it, and I think maybe we opened their eyes to some things. They aren't the only ballclub in this League, they found out. We're starting to play like I knew all along we could, and I'm happier on lots of counts; think we're shaking down, think you realize we got a team that can go places if only we quit making mistakes...."
A good baseball club is a continual challenge.
You can insult them into having pep and life if you're one kind of a manager; you can do it more subtly in different ways if you're another kind. Spike Russell was the other kind. He looked around at his team as he had often looked at them before, warm, familiar, friendly faces, at the men on the benches before their lockers or seated on the floor or standing up behind; at Jocko Klein, the Jewish catcher who because of his race had been the butt of the club — and other clubs in the League also; at Swanny, the big right fielder, with one arm carelessly over Jocko's shoulder; at his brother Bob spitting into his glove, impatient for action; at Clyde Baldwin, the freshman who was busting fences all over the League and making a name for himself as a ballplayer in left; at big Red Allen, the veteran first baseman, a comfortable man to have behind you in a pinch; at young Hathaway, the headstrong rookie pitcher, who was working slowly into form; at this team he had gradually fashioned from a disintegrating rabble.
"Yessir, I really think we can go places if we only quit making mistakes. If we don't beat ourselves. Reason the Yanks win is they never give a thing away. They score on your mistakes and they just never make any of their own.
"The team's in fourth place today. And we aren't moving backward, either. What's that, Raz?" The star pitcher, unable to resist the chance, was making a quiet crack to Roy Tucker at his side. But the alert young manager heard it and threw it right back at him. "The pennant? Well, we gotta chance. I haven't written that off yet. Sure we got a chance. Even if it is the first week in August, even if we are ten games back of the leaders. As long as we're in the League we gotta chance....
"Now there's several things I'm gonna be strict about from now on. First of all, condition." He paused a moment, and turned his head to look at Bones Hathaway, the young pitcher, standing to one side. He wanted this to get home. "If you drink, and this applies especially to you pitchers, if you drink and stay out all hours of the night, you can't keep in condition. Get me? All of you get that? Now that brings up the second thing; hustle. Hustle and speed. You can all hustle, and I'm determined to get speed out of you. If we aren't a fast ballclub, we're nothing. We got Roy Tucker, about the fastest center fielder in the game...." Murmurs of protest ran over the room.
"Yeah, that's right, that's correct. The fastest man in baseball, Roy is. And Harry Street, and my brother there — why, he led the Southern Association in stolen bases several years ago. But we aren't grabbing them off the way we should. We gotta develop speed. 'S I say, if we aren't a speed club, we're nothing. I was looking up the records last night, and we're seventh in stolen bases. That's no good. From now on we'll start practice every day with a hundred-yard dash to the outfield, and then we'll run the same distance back again two minutes later. What's more, we'll run all out, everybody, me and every one of you. We'll practice hitting that bag with the left foot on the inside, same as we did last spring."
The room became silent. They could see their manager meant business. This was serious. He continued.
"I want speed, speed, and more speed; more hustle, too. I want you to run your hits out, run to your place in the field, run back to the dugout. I don't want to see any walking on this club from now on."
Man, he can really pour it on, thought his brother, seated before the locker with the big letters: RUSSELL, ROBERT, NO. 10, over it. He can sure pour it on, and they'll take it from him, too.
Why is that? It's because he's a good guy, because he's a real guy. He isn't one of these bench managers, getting fatter every day and running a club from the dugout. He does what he asks them to do; he's out there giving everything he has, same as the others. That's why they'll take it from Spike.
"Now we've got a vital three-game series with the Reds coming up. In my opinion, this Cincinnati team has no license to be ahead of us. They're just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill ball-club. Their new center fielder, Hutchings, is a pull hitter; watch that, Harry. They're not a fast club, so hurry them all you can. 'S I say, I want hustle and more hustle from every man on this team. They tell me when old John McGraw looked at a rookie he first asked him to run a hundred yards, then to bat, and last of all to throw. That's how important he considered speed." He hesitated a moment, and then started to name names.
Excerpted from Rookie of the Year by John R. Tunis. Copyright © 1972 Lucy R. Tunis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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