By John R. Tunis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1969 Lucy R. Tunis
All rights reserved.
This was different.
It was the same room, same scene, same faces. Yet terribly different, too. In the corner were the black equipment trunks with BROOKLYN BASEBALL CLUB painted in red on the sides. There were the bats slung on top of the green lockers, the clean shirts with their big numbers in blue hanging from wire hangers inside. As usual, Dave Leonard was sitting with his arms folded over the back of a chair, his toothpick doing its dance across his mouth while he looked around. At Karl Case spitting into his glove, at Harry Street nervously chewing, at Ed Davis, his chin in his hands, gazing solemnly ahead. At Hank West who had just learned he was going to catch. As usual, Chiselbeak, the locker man, wound through the group taking money and watches for the valuables trunk. In short, the same scene that took place before every game.
Yet this was different. There was a different atmosphere in the room. No one was reading Casey's column in the Mail. For once Raz Nugent had stopped talking. Babe Stansworth had tossed away his crossword puzzle, and even Elmer McCaffrey, always late, had his shoes tied and was ready. As a rule they met before the game in the early afternoon. Now it was ten-thirty, and there was a small fire in the stove in the center of the room because the fall morning was brisk and snappy.
Why wouldn't this be different? After all, two—maybe four—thousand dollars were at stake for every man. Four thousand! Imagine what that would do on the farm. Gosh, wouldn't Grandma be tickled if ...
"Now, boys ..." Silence over the room as they watched him remove the toothpick from his mouth. "This ball game can be won right here, so better listen carefully." He paused. No one needed that. There was a deep furrow over Red Allen's face and a frown of concentration on Fat Stuff's usually jovial brow, and Harry Street kept yanking off his cap and running his hand through his hair. Because this was different. No use fooling, this was different. Two ... maybe four thousand ...
"Just want you boys to play like you've played for me all season—heads-up, hustling ball. Go into 'em. Upset 'em. Shove 'em hard. Want you should watch 'em careful-like in batting practice, you pitchers; you may be able to tell their weaknesses. This Cleveland club has a star pitcher; they're a smart team all right; they take extra bases every chance they get and never let up. That's why they won the pennant. They play ball like you've played ball all season, which means they're no better than we are. And they're older. 'Cept for Miller and McClusky in center and that kid there at third—what'shisname, Painter—they're an old team. Why ... that gang is so old they remind me of the Nine Old Men. Don't forget it.
"Remember one thing. If we can stop Hammerstein and Gardiner and McClusky, we've stopped their hitters. We knew Bruce Gordon, Fat Stuff and I did, when we was with the White Sox in nineteen and thirty-four. A high, fast-ball hitter. Center and left, play toward left. You Tucker, I want you should hug that right field line, especially with a man on first. Get that? Jake, when you pitch, keep your fast ball low on Gardiner. Or, in a pinch, I'd throw him a curve. Short and third, play him straightaway. If they're ahead, he'll bunt ... every time he's lead off man.
"Now this boy McClusky, in center. Yes, he's fast all right. Fields ground balls well. Meets 'em fast and throws quick; don't want to see any of you take extra bases on him unless you're dead sure...."
Gosh! Just think of it. Two...maybe four thousand bucks at stake. Four thousand dollars! And a sellout for the first three games, so the papers said. How many was it ... seventy ... eighty thousand that Stadium in Cleveland held? Why now, if it was four thousand ...
"You gettin' all this, Roy? Remember, it's just as important where fielders play as where they are pitched to." Everyone turned toward him. He nodded, although he hadn't heard the last words and Dave knew he hadn't. Dave missed very little.
"Did I understand you McClusky is their only good thrower in the field?" Some managers would have bawled him out; not Dave. That was why Dave could work them harder, get more out of tired men, ask them for more. He always saved things of that sort for private conversation.
"Yep. If you get a chance on the others, why go ahead."
"What about Hammy?" piped up Ed Davis from the rear of the room.
The toothpick went back in Dave's mouth. He glanced at the piece of paper folded in his hand. "I'm coming to him. Hammerstein led the American League in homers this year. We had a scout watching every ball he hit. Here's the report." Dave unfolded another bit of paper as the pitchers leaned forward nervously. "He hit homers on ... on twenty-two fast balls above the waist and on fourteen curve balls below the waist. The others on curves, high. You can slow up to him any time you want to."
"Well, I got him out on fast balls high inside in those Florida games last spring," said Elmer McCaffrey.
"That was last spring. You pitch like I told you." Dave's manner was gentle but no one could doubt who was boss of the Dodgers. "Now this man Spike Johnson. Back in nineteen and thirty-one he was with me on the Senators. His first one is usually a fast ball. Then if he misses, he comes across with another; so if there's a man on base, lay onto that first pitch." He paused and the toothpick did its dance across his mouth. "Everyone get it?" He looked round. "Yes, Mike ..."
From the back of the room Mike Sweeney spoke up. He was the club scout, an old and canny ballplayer who had been following the Indians the last weeks of the season and was therefore listened to with respect. Heads turned in his direction.
"Jes' wanted to say, I been watching these boys pitch to Hammy lately. He shortens his grip on his bat when he's looking for a curve ball, so they don't throw him much he can hit. You can fool him with a change of pace, too."
"Okay, you pitchers. Get that?" He glanced again at the list in his hand. "Carey Thomas always wastes his fast ball. It's high and wide, so you can't get hold of it. He's been with the team since nineteen and thirty-three, so like Spike this is probably his last season. Likely they'll use him as relief if he does pitch. Wait him out, just wait him out; we'll get to him in three-four innings."
Funny how easy and relaxed Dave was. Might have been playing a game in April. After all, though, it wasn't his first Series. Nor Fat Stuff's either, nor Rats Doyle's, both of whom wore World Series' rings. Nothing new to them, this business of two—maybe four—thousand extra in cash hanging on a few hits at the right time or a single error in the field.
The toothpick waggled in the mouth of the old catcher. "Jake, you played against this bird Miller; tell us 'bout him, will ya?"
Silence over the room. Somebody's spikes dragged nervously across the concrete floor. Someone else coughed. "Well, he sure is fast. Yessir! He leans back and pours that speed ball down the middle, and there isn't much you can do. Coupla years ago he had no curve. He's got a honey now, all right. Can hide it, too. Point is, when he comes from up here—" Jake Kennedy, the pitcher, stood up in the rear and everyone stretched to watch—"when it comes from up here ... see ... it's usually a fast ball. When it comes from here ... it's likely a curve. But not always."
Everyone was talking. Everyone had seen him play one time or another. Yet everyone had a query. Without Miller the Indians were just another ballclub. Miller was the man to beat. If they could only lick that baby the Series was theirs. Four thousand instead of two thousand per man. It went through the mind of every single player in the room. All together they began bombarding Jake or Mike the scout.
"Like that man Murray of the Giants?"
"What's he throw with men on bases?"
"Is he really as fast as they say, Mike?"
"Listen," said the old scout. "He stands up there in the box and shows you a baseball, and then he winds up and reaches in his hip pocket and throws a pea to the plate."
"Well, can you bunt him?" asked someone.
"Bunt! Boy, he leans back and lets you have that fast one and there ain't nobody in a monkey suit can bunt it. You'll either miss it or it'll zip off for a foul strike. No siree; one way and another he don't figure to be any help a-tall with men on bases."
"Can't you dig in and hit him, Mike?"
"Jes' you try, Harry. A guy isn't gonna dig in very deep when he knows Gene might take the button off his cap with a fast one. First day I saw him pitch I went out and had my glasses changed. Sometimes I think no one can be that good and do those things I tell folks he's doing. Then I watch him and doggone he's doing 'em before my eyes. He's a sweetheart, that baby."
From the rear of the room one player murmured something about signs. "Signs!" said the old scout. "Signs! Everyone in the league knows his signals. That don't make no difference. 'Course, if it isn't his fast ball, it's either his curve or his floater. You gotta be ready for any of them. And figure when it's on the way, too. Sometimes I scare myself, talking this way 'bout that boy. I wonder maybe if I'm not going nuts, and Heaven knows after the things I've gone through in baseball it wouldn't surprise me a bit. Not one bit. Then I sit up there and watch Miller, and I know it ain't me ... it's him. He's a manager's dream and enough to make any old busher like me wonder is everything okay upstairs...."
Dave interrupted. "Never mind signs, you fellas. You know I don't care much for sign stealing. Too easy to switch ... then where are you? Now here's one thing. You Eddie on second, when Hank is chasing fouls, you foller that ball and yell to him where those stands jut out. The new box seats they just put in, I mean. Point is, he stopped ten feet short of those seats twice in practice yesterday. That might mean two putouts wasted...all the difference ..."
"One thing more, boys. Keep your ears open. That's what God gave 'em to you for, remember. Listen to these-here-now newspapermen. Never mind any wisecracks, Razzle. You and Jake try and listen to someone else for a change, will ya? Don't forget, those boys have all talked with Baker and the Cleveland players. Sometimes they drop a hint that's mighty useful. Now this man Miller. Sure he's good; but he pulls his pants on one leg at a time same as you do. So just go out there and meet that ball. Tucker, I don't want you trying for homers. Get me a single, that's all I ask. Whatever you do, fellas, don't tighten up. Play your regular game and I know you can do it. Raz, you'll pitch; West will catch. All right, le's hustle every single minute, le's hustle out there on that field...."
His final words were lost in a burst of noise. Chairs scraped on the floor, benches were shoved back. Spikes clattered. They didn't need to be urged. They were glad at last to be in it, to be moving. To be doing something, to have the blessed relief of action. As a unit they swarmed toward the door; clatter-clatter, clackety-clack, clackety-clack their spikes sounded on the concrete runway outside.
Dave Leonard rose from his chair, pulling at the sleeves of two men. The gang rushed through the door but they lingered with him. He put his arm round their shoulders. "Fat Stuff, I want you and Rats should watch these kids, the three of 'em—these rookies, Tucker and Street and Hank West. They're all as tight as drums and they're all in important spots. I dunno am I right in playing that boy West behind the plate; but with Babe's split thumb and my joints creaking there doesn't seem anything else to do. See if you can't loosen 'em up. If they come through, we'll win. We gotta take the pressure off or they'll play a bad Series. If Tucker could only get himself a hit this afternoon it would do him lots of good. You boys can pull them out of it maybe; if you see any way to loosen the tension, why ..."
The two older men nodded. "Yep, we'll keep an eye on the kids, Dave."
"One thing more. Tucker had that bad accident against the fence in the Polo Grounds last week. Gave him a good shaking up. I'm scared he might be a little wee bit wall-shy in this first game. Fat Stuff, you go out there and hit some fungoes that'll back him clean up against that wall this morning. And, Rats, you sort of amble out into the field and watch him on the fence, will ya? See he don't get too close." The good-natured face of the old relief pitcher sobered up. He still recalled his first Series.
A Western Union messenger boy entered the big room, empty now save for the three men and Chiselbeak, the locker man, picking up discarded equipment and straightening out their clothes. The boy had a fistful of telegrams.
"Leonard ... Case ... Tucker ... Dave Leonard ... Stansworth ... Roy Tucker ... Leonard ... Dave Leonard ... Swanson ..."
Clack, clack, clackety-clack, clackety-clack, clack-clack. Their spikes sounded the old familiar tune on the concrete walk leading to the field. But this was different.
Everything was different. Even the familiar diamond, shrouded in the strange light of early morning, was different. Usually they came out for practice about two in the afternoon; but the Series games started at one-thirty so now it was just after eleven. The field, as a rule so empty, was crowded, dotted with strange figures. There seemed to be hundreds of sportswriters, photographers, and men standing with their hands in their pockets talking to each other. Or just standing.
He walked to the dugout for his bat.
"Hey.... there's the Kid ..."
"Hullo, Roy old boy ..."
"Hi, Tuck, how are you feeling?"
"Hullo, Rex. 'Lo there, Sandy. I'm okay, thanks." Rex King of the Times, Sandy Martin of the Post, and several reporters who followed the team during the season crowded round. Was he over the effects of that crash into the Polo Ground walls? Any bones broken?
The Kid started to swing the two bats in his hand and looked around just in time to save a couple of curious onlookers from being beaned. "Naw, only a shaking-up, that's all. I'm fine."
"How's Stansworth?" asked a stranger, peering into the circle. The men he knew the Kid liked. But these others, the Cleveland writers and the rest he didn't know, were what made it all so different.
"Dunno. Better ask Leonard. The Babe's in uniform."
Then over their heads he saw the Indians slowly filing onto the field from the visitors' entrance. Instantly the circle about him dissolved. The Cleveland team seemed to him like mastodons. He thought he'd never seen such big men in monkey suits. The biggest of all was a young chap with enormous shoulders and long arms who was instantly surrounded by newspapermen.
That must be Miller, the guy they had to beat. Big, all right. Lots of power in those shoulders. He seemed loose and relaxed, laughing and joking with the Cleveland writers in the crowd.
Someone touched him on the arm. It was Jim Casey, the columnist. "Roy, I want you to meet Grantland Rice." A pleasant-faced, white-haired man was at his side.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Rice." He looked at him curiously. The great Grantland Rice.
"How 'do, Tucker. How you feeling after that shake-up the other day? You sure took an awful tumble into that fence." His voice was soft and agreeable.
"Oh, I'm okay, thank you, Mr. Rice. I'll be in there playing ball this afternoon; leastways I hope so."
"Good enough. I bet Dave Leonard wishes the rest of the boys were like you...hey, Jim? Who's going to catch?"
"Dunno, sir. Guess Hank'll catch. Dave caught the most of that last game against the Giants, but he said like he ached for two days afterward. Say ... that man Miller, he's sure got power in those shoulders."
The others laughed. "Yep, he's a big chap, all right." The bell rang. Clang-clang, clang- clang. The Kid left them and went toward the batting cage, but before he got there someone stopped him.
"Mr. Tucker?" He held out a card.
"I'm from the J. W. Frost Agency in Detroit; largest agency west of the Hudson. You musta heard of us. We're anxious to get your endorsement on our new Colonel cigarette—maybe you've seen 'em advertised—the new ten cent brand."
The Kid turned the card over in his hand. "Uhuh." As a matter of fact he'd never heard of the agency and didn't know what kind of an agency it was, nor the cigarettes either. But it didn't seem polite to the stranger to say so. (Continues...)
Excerpted from World Series by John R. Tunis. Copyright © 1969 Lucy R. Tunis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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