Midsummer in Cincinnati. A hot, hot Tuesday in July. The temperature at 6 in the evening is 95°. The pennant race has changed from a fight to a chase, with seven closely bunched clubs watching the taillight of the Los Angeles Dodgers disappear into the distance.
A month ago this three-game meeting between the Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals shaped up as one of the crises of the year in the National League. Now it is just another series between fitful, slumping clubs. The mood is quiet, resigned, conversational. It is too hot to move around much. People sit—people talk.
Johnny Keane, the St. Louis manager, sought the twilight shade of the dugout and watched batting practice. Someone asked him about Alvin Dark's charge that pitchers around the league were deliberately throwing at Dark's San Francisco Giants. Keane did not agree with Dark. He talked about a pitcher's use of the brushback pitch and what a knockdown pitch is. "It's a question of terminology," he said. "A pitcher may throw a brush and get it closer than he intended, but I don't believe a pitcher ever throws deliberately at a batter's head."
Keane paused for a moment and then he said, "When I was in the minors I was hit in the head, twice. The second time was deliberate. The pitcher tried to hit me and he did. He fractured my skull. But he was a drunkard; he was no good. He was angry because I hit a homer off him. It was a base hit and it took a bad hop over the outfielder's shoulder and rolled to the fence. As I was going around the bases he said, 'I'll get you for that.' The next day he pitched in relief and he got me. He hit me right above the temple. I was unconscious for a week.
"I saw a man killed by a pitch in the minors, a fellow named Jake Batterton. He was the second baseman and I was the shortstop. The ball hit him over the ear. It didn't even knock him out, and for a minute the manager was going to let him stay in the game. But he had a big lump on the side of his head. So a fan drove him to the hospital—there weren't any ambulances around in those days. He lost consciousness in the hospital and that night he was dead.
"I was managing Columbus when one of our pitchers hit Don Zimmer. I went down to see him in the hospital. Don's wife was there and I asked her if I could go in and talk to Don. She said, 'You can talk to him but he won't know you.' He didn't know anybody."
Keane shook his head slowly.
"I just can't believe a pitcher would deliberately try to hit a man."
In the air-conditioned home-team dugout, Cincinnati Coach Jim Turner also denied that pitchers throw at a batter's head. "They throw inside to break a pattern, mostly. For instance, young pitchers get two strikes on a man and they think they have to throw outside, away from him. It doesn't take the batter long to find this out, and he's leaning in waiting for that outside pitch. A young pitcher must learn to throw inside to be effective. And he must throw high and inside. But he's not trying to hit the batter. The only place you could hit a man on purpose would be in the ribs. But not often. Most batters you couldn't hit with a sackful of shot. They're very agile."
The scoreboard showed that the Mets had beaten the Colts in New York. One man said to another, "Did you hear how the Mets won that game? Woodeshick tried to pick a man off first in the ninth and Staub didn't see the throw."
The second man was incredulous.
"Again?" he said.
"The runner went to third, there was a base hit and he scored the winning run."
The second man laughed. The play that Rusty Staub of Houston had made—or missed—against the Reds at Houston early in July was retold. With the score tied 1-1 in the sixth and Pete Rose of the Reds on first base, Hal Woodeshick, Houston's fine relief pitcher, made a splendid move to first, throwing to Staub to pick off Rose.
"It went right past his ear," said Fred Hutchinson. "Staub never saw the ball. He was looking in at the plate. He knew Woodeshick had thrown the ball and he saw Rose break for second, so he was waiting for the catcher to throw to second to get him. And there was the ball, bouncing around over by the fence. Rose went all the way around to score, and we won 2-1."
"And he did the same thing today?" asked the second man.
"Just about," said the first. "He charged in looking for a bunt just as Woodeshick threw to first. The ball went into right field."
Everyone laughed. But Hutchinson spoke again, warningly. "I'll tell you," he said. "They won't be laughing at that kid two or three years from now. There aren't too many laughing at him right now when he's up at that dishrag. He turns them around. He killed us in both ends of a doubleheader the day after that play. He's all right."
Jack Herman of the St. Louis Globe Democrat said, "We were having breakfast with Al Barlick, the umpire, the other morning and a man came over to the table to speak to him. He put his hands on Al's shoulders and I guess he thought he was being funny, but he said, 'Hey, Al. I was at the ball game Sunday and I saw you blow that one in the first game.' Well, you know Barlick. He doesn't have much of a sense of humor where umpiring is concerned. He shoved the guy's hands off his shoulders and he waved his arm and he yelled, 'Get out of here!' And the guy went. It was the first time an umpire ever ejected a customer from a coffee shop."