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Original Issue

Boot a few, bat a million

Just as the White Sox said, the key player in last winter's biggest trade has turned out to be a chunky, restless rookie named Pete Ward

"Things seem to happen to Pete Ward. As of July 1 he had made 18 errors at third base for the Chicago White Sox (the team as a whole had made only 53) but two days later he played third base, shortstop and second base in the same inning—which simply has to be a record. If baseball can find time to observe a record for most games won, one club, two bespectacled pitchers (NL—41—Pittsburgh, 1927), it can afford to list one for most positions played, one inning, by error-making, left-handed-hitting rookies born in Montreal, Canada whose fathers played in the National Hockey League.

Ward's father is Jimmy Ward, who played wing on the old Montreal Maroons for a decade back in the '20s and '30s. Young Pete was born in Montreal, but he grew up in Portland, Ore., where his father moved the family in 1945. Since there is no excess of ice in Portland, Pete became a baseball player. At Lewis and Clark College his baseball coach advised him to keep his hands slightly spread on the bat for better control of his swing. Pete liked the idea so much that he spread his hands farther and farther until they were about eight inches apart. He used this unorthodox grip for three seasons in the minor leagues (SI, Dec. 5, 1960) and picked up loads of attention and quite a few base hits (he had batting averages like .321, .345 and .307) but then decided that he was not getting enough power. Last year, even though he was moving up to Class AAA, he abruptly abandoned his strange style and brought his fists together. As a result, he batted .328, hit 22 home runs and became the key man an the biggest and most talked-about trade of the off season, the thing between Chicago and Baltimore that sent Luis Aparicio and Al Smith to the Orioles in exchange for Ron Hansen, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave Nicholson and Ward. Since Aparicio and Smith were established stars, full-fledged regulars, whereas Hansen was a part-time shortstop, Wilhelm a 39-year-old relief pitcher, Nicholson a chronic failure as a hitter and Ward an untested rookie, everyone sneered and said that Chicago had been taken. But the White Sox screamed, no, no, the man they had been after was Ward and there would not have been a trade at all if Ward had not been included.

Now, with the season half gone, the White Sox office is wallowing in self-satisfaction. Hansen has been a fine shortstop, Wilhelm has relieved beautifully, Nicholson has hit more than a dozen home runs. And there is still Pete Ward.

The White Sox do not mind Ward's errors. Most have come on throws or easy chances and are what Ward himself calls silly errors. He does make the hard play, the difficult one, and that gives Chicago hope for the future. Ward's hitting, on the other hand, is a present delight. Until the Yankees cooled him last week (Pete went 17 for 0 in a four-game series) he had been the most consistent hitter on the team. He had played in every game, he was batting over .300, he was leading the team in batting, in hits, in doubles and in total bases, he was tied for first in runs scored, and he was second in triples, in home runs and in runs batted in. He looked like a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year in the American League.

For all his ability, Ward is the antithesis of the graceful young ballplayer. He is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, but his thick torso and heavy legs make him seem short and stocky. His boyish face (he will be 25 this month, but he looks 19) seems out of place on such a muscular body. Big thighs bulge out his uniform trousers, and he has a bowlegged walk. He wears his outer uniform stockings low, à la Casey Stengel, so that the white understockings are barely visible. All this combines to give him an unkempt, rumpled appearance, reminiscent of the Gashouse Gang.

On the field he is restless, constantly moving. At third base he walks around in circles between pitches, taking 10, 15, even 20 steps before settling back into position. After an inning or so, when the rest of the infield skin is still relatively smooth, third base is a rat's nest of churned-up dirt from Ward's wandering spikes. Waiting to bat, he does not kneel in the batter's circle. He stands instead and moves about swinging a bat, whipping it in circles over his head, twisting it back and forth, loosening his muscles. At the plate he never seems to be set. Even as the pitcher starts to deliver the ball Ward will suddenly shove his hands forward toward the mound and swing the bat in a couple of furious little circles. He will shift his front foot once, twice, sometimes three times, as though feeling for something on the ground that he cannot see. Jim Brosnan, the Samuel Pepys of the bullpen, says, "It doesn't seem possible that Pete will be ready for a pitch when it comes, but he always is. His reactions are very fast."

A money-losing proposition

Ward's ungraceful style cost him money at the beginning of his career. "Any club with $10,000 could have signed me," he said last week, "but I got a lot less than that. So far I haven't made much money out of baseball. I was paid $400 a month my first year in the minors for a season that ran four or five months, and I got $600 a month the next season. Then I went up to $950 a month the third year, and I made the same last year. Add up the salaries and put in the bonus and it comes to about $20,000 for four years. Last winter the Orioles sent me a contract for $6,000 for this season—the major league minimum is $7,000, but that's only if you stick with the club after June 15. I wouldn't sign. After the trade the White Sox sent me a contract for $8,000, and I signed that. But now I'm looking forward to making some real money. I need it. I don't expect to be a 20-year man in the majors—and I'm getting married in December."

If Ward hits through the second half of the season as he did in the first half, the White Sox will have some interesting discussions of a financial nature with the young man next winter. But if he hits that well, the White Sox will not mind a bit.