Normally at this time of year all that is required of a speaker is that he stand on a rostrum in front of the American flag and quote Casey at the Bat without mentioning that the out pitch was a spitter. Something is also supposed to be said about how the charm of the grand old pastime is that it never changes; that, unlike other sports, baseball is the only game to have withstood the tyranny of time.
Sorry about that, sports fans. Please turn back for just a moment and look at the cover again. When Maury Wills, that pirate, becomes a real Pirate, that's change. Now go forward and look at the folio of color pictures that follows and you will notice that Roger Maris is now a St. Louis Cardinal, that Jimmy Hall and Don Mincher are Angels and that the halo no longer hovers over Dean Chance's head. How pleasantly strange. How splendidly changed. Little Floyd Robinson, formerly of the White Sox, is wearing a new uniform too—new for Robby and new for the Reds, because the team's new owners are changing lots of things in an effort to erase some of the discouraging memories of the recent past. Cletis Boyer has moved his fine glove to Atlanta; so he and the Braves are changed. Somehow Tommy Davis is a Met this year and Ron Hunt a Dodger; Dick Ellsworth is a Phillie and Ray Culp a Cubbie. The old pastime never changes, eh? It has never changed more.
For the first time the All-Star Game is going to be played at night so that the nation can watch it on television; even when it was played on a weekday afternoon in July enough people snuck away from work to make it one of the biggest TV attractions of any year.
Perhaps you remember that old service expression that went, "If it moves, salute it. If it doesn't move, pick it up. And if you can't pick it up, paint it." Yankee Stadium has been painted—white. It looks good, too, which is important since those marvelous Mets have a radio-television sponsor who has a new advertising campaign that goes, "You have to be good to make it in New York."
Mike Shannon of the Cards is playing third, and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees is playing first. Dick McAuliffe, Detroit's All-Star shortstop of 1966, is sliding over to second base, and Pete Rose of the Reds is moving from second to left field where, he says, "It sometimes gets very lonely." Eddie Mathews, who has played more games at third base than any man in the history of the National League, is moving across the infield to try things at first base for the Houston Astros.
There are more changes. Stan Musial, for instance, is now the general manager of the Cards because Bob Howsam became general manager of the Reds, while Bing Devine became the new president of the Mets because Bob Howsam went to St. Louis in the first place three years ago. Joe Adcock, all 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds of him, is going to manage the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers have a new brain trust, the Kansas City A's some hope and the Los Angeles Dodgers a Star of David hanging limply in the window now that Sandy Koufax has retired to become an announcer for NBC's Game of the Week. You have to wonder how good he will be starting with six days rest. And has any pennant winner ever changed as much from the end of one season to the start of the next as those Dodgers? With Koufax gone and Wills and Tommy Davis, too, how many people can the Dodgers draw? In the last five seasons Los Angeles pulled 21,500,000 spectators at home and on the road. Should the Dodgers not be a contender this season, the entire economy of the National League may change more than a little.
Undoubtedly you have been aware of the sounds of spring coming from the training camps, fine sounds that echo the hopes and frustrations of the game and of those who play it. Mayo Smith, the new manager of the Tigers, says, "I'll take 95 wins, and the boys can come at me." Dave Bristol, the entertaining 33-year-old manager of the Reds, is not kidding when he says, "We hope to have the attitude of the Green Berets: seek out and destroy." From Willie Mays, "We need more double plays to take us out of innings. I hope Tito Fuentes, our shortstop, uses the big glove I bought him instead of that little Mickey Mouse one he used last year that sometimes let the balls go by." Bob Gibson, the excellent pitcher for St. Louis, says, "Maybe this season Curt Flood and I will finally catch up with The Other Guy. We been after him a long time. He's the one they talk about when you walk into a restaurant and they say, 'Mr. Gibson, Mr. Flood, it would be perfectly all right with me if you ate in this restaurant, but I don't make the rules, The Other Guy does.' "
It looks, too, like Boston might have an entertaining manager in Dick Williams, who watched his team rally for 10 runs in the ninth inning one day this spring and beat the New York Mets 23-18. When Williams was asked if he had ever seen a game to compare with that one, he thought a moment and said, "Certainly not in the major leagues. Not in the minor leagues, either. In fact, not even at American Legion Post 601 in Pasadena." Eddie Stanky, the manager of the White Sox, had some acid words to offer one day at Sarasota: "It's different this year. Last spring we had all the television cameramen and all the tape recorders and all the magazine photographers with their color film, but for some reason we haven't seen too much of all that this spring. It couldn't be because we finished fourth, could it? But look out for this little team lying in the weeds."
Al Lopez spoke with the pride of an old baseball man when he said, "I'm certainly no expert on football or supergames, but if the World Series played to only two-thirds of capacity after the greatest free advertising campaign in the history of sports there would probably be a congressional investigation." And maybe a woman in a large blue hat said it all about this strange new season as she looked out at the field from her box seat at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg. "Somehow," she said, "Yogi Berra doesn't look like himself this year."
Thus the 1,620-game marathon begins, and the World Series will still be played in the towns the winning teams represent. But which towns and which teams? The American League, its often-shattered prestige somewhat restored by last season's Baltimore's sweep of the Dodgers, is generally considered to be in for a three-club race, with the Orioles, Tigers and Twins fighting it out. Few expect the Orioles, as good as they are, to trot home as comfortably as they did in 1966. And remember Eddie Stanky's words about that little team in the weeds, because the Sox appear to have more pitching and speed than even they have had in a long time.
The National League, as always, is a puzzle, particularly if you recall that it took the Dodgers until 7:10 p.m. on the final day of the season to win the 1966 pennant. How much has Paul Richards been able to accomplish with Atlanta's shaky pitching and defense? If he has done what he has often done in the past, the Braves, now settled in Atlanta, could improve 10 games very easily. The St. Louis Cardinals look like a solid club, too. One of the lesser publicized changes, San Francisco's acquisition of Pitcher Mike McCormick, could make the Giants very strong again. With Larry Jackson and Dick Ellsworth and Chris Short and Jim Bunning, the Phillies have the top starting four—two left, two right—in the league.
But, despite all this, one team has become a heavy favorite to win in the National League. It's the Pittsburgh Pirates, the most changed of all the clubs save the Dodgers. There are quite a few people who believe that Pittsburgh has the potential to run away with the National League Championship. But potential is a huge word in baseball.
It was Joe Brown, the 48-year-old general manager of the Pirates, who started the rash of trades. On November 28 at the baseball meetings in Columbus, Ohio, Brown bought Juan Pizarro, a 19-game winner for the White Sox in 1964, from Chicago. In the next month or so, more than 40 players had been traded, among them many of the game's best-known names. Brown himself pulled off one of the biggest and most discussed of the trades when he got Maury Wills from Los Angeles. Joe had read the stories about Dodger Owner Walter O'Malley being angry at Wills because Maury had jumped the Los Angeles team during its tour of Japan following the World Series. "The more stories I read," Brown says, "the more I began to believe them. But I also thought that [General Manager] Buzzie Bavasi would not want to trade him within the National League, and especially not to a contender like us. I kind of gave up on any initial steps. Then I saw Buzzie at lunch one day and asked him if he would be interested in Bob Bailey, because I remembered that the Dodgers were very interested in Bailey when we signed him six years ago. Bavasi said 'yes' but he added that he had to get a shortstop back if Wills were traded. I suggested Gene Michael to him, and he said, 'Bailey and Michael for Wills? That's worth talking some more about.' Later that afternoon at a meeting of officials he slid a note over the table to me that read, 'Who is that SS again?' I sent a note back that said, 'Gene Michael, the International League's All-Star SS last year. You ought to know him, he played against the Dodgers late in the season.' Bavasi winked and indicated that we would talk more, and at a United Airlines cocktail party that evening we did. People kept coming around us, and I asked them to please go away because we had something cooking. Buzzie left the room, and I think he went to talk to the Yankees, who were also interested in getting Maury. About 25 minutes later Red Patterson, Buzzie's assistant, came into the room and said, 'How about making the announcement at 7 o'clock?' And that's how we got Maury Wills.
"We actually signed him in Spokane, his home town, because we thought it best. The two of us talked for two and a half hours in Los Angeles the day before the signing, but we didn't talk contract much. I like to get close to the players and get to know them. Maury and I flew to Spokane, and he drove me all around the city. He introduced me to many of his friends, and I appreciated that very much. Maury Wills has an impact on a club with all his color and drive and excitement. [Manager] Harry Walker has always been a great admirer of Maury's. Walker has always tried to teach our players that one of the greatest satisfactions that comes from offensive baseball is base running. Wills is the master of that. Even during the early days of spring training you could tell that the entire team had become more aggressive minded, and much of this has to do with Maury Wills."
Brown also traded Don Cardwell and Don Bosch to the Mets for Dennis Ribant, a right-handed pitcher with a record of 11-9 and 10 complete games. It is significant that Pittsburgh got two starting pitchers and a team leader at the expense of only one part-time regular, Bailey. Although Brown was severely criticized when he sent Dick Groat to the Cardinals in 1963, he is generally a shrewd trader. He made an excellent deal last season that got little attention. He traded Joe Gibbon and Ozzie Virgil to the Giants for Matty Alou, and Alou hit .342 to lead the league and give the Pirates their fifth batting championship in seven years.
The deals for Wills, Ribant and Pizarro have stimulated Pittsburgh ticket sales to the point where they are now higher than they were in 1961, the year after the "Beat 'Em Bucs" won the pennant and beat the Yankees in the World Series.
The Pirates were a strong team two seasons ago, but they had trouble adapting to Walker, who was having trouble himself trying to get his starting lineup all on the field at the same time. Not until the next-to-last week in May was the team physically sound, and by then nine other clubs were piled on top of it. From that point on, Pittsburgh played .628 baseball and finished in third place, seven games out of first. Trying to eliminate even the possibility of another such slow start last year, Brown spent $10,000 to bring the entire team to Pittsburgh in December of 1965 for a few days of meetings to establish a good frame of mind before spring training began. To some of baseball's thicker heads the idea seemed absurd, but the Pirates completely reversed their previous spring form. They got away fast, led for a while and from late May until the end of the season never dropped below third in the standings. Indeed, into September they looked like possible winners, but their pitching failed and then they ran into the Dodgers and sagged. They didn't have enough, and they finished third.
Which is why Joe Brown went after Pizarro and Ribant and, most of all, Maury Wills.
Pittsburgh fans already know Maury Wills very well. Until last year he had stolen more bases against the Pirates than against any other team, and he had built a lifetime average of .350 vs. Pirate pitching. In one game against Pittsburgh last year he singled, stole second and third and trotted home with the winning run. The next night he bunted for a single, went to second on a pitcher's error, wiggled himself to third by forcing a balk and scored. In the ninth inning he tripled home another run as Los Angeles won 3-1. A few days later he singled in the 12th inning to beat the Pirates again, 5-4. That's three games that Wills beat the Pirates. The Pirates lost the pennant by three games. No wonder Pirate fans remember him.
Wherever Wills goes, whatever he does and however he does it, he generates news. There is a dramatic sense within him that aches for recognition. He can anger his enemies to such a degree that he whips them psychologically. Equally important, he can chide his own team with stinging, sarcastic remarks that somehow force total effort and better play. One evening this spring Maury sat on the dugout steps before a game with the Baltimore Orioles in Miami and talked of this quality of his and how it affects a team.
"When you have 25 men on a team you have 25 different personalities," he said. "It would be abnormal not to have conflicts. When you find a club that is totally happy and without conflicts you also find a club that is not going to win. The years when the Dodgers lost, they were also the happiest. You don't know what a man is made of until you have had a little go-around with him. He's probably trying to win just as hard—maybe harder—than you are, but until each of you gets it out of your system you don't know. This brings you closer together for the overall good of the team. Before you have your squabble with the guy you wouldn't holler across the street to say hello to him, but after the thing is over you find yourself walking across the street to shake his hand every time you see him. There were times when Walter Alston made me mad, and I'd hate to have to count the times I made him mad. But I had only the greatest respect for him, and I think he respected me, too, because we were both dedicated to winning for the Dodgers.
"I have a salary and a status that calls for certain results. I must deliver, whether it is in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh or Kokomo. Pressure? That's a word that is used too much in sports. Pressure, to me, is when you have a feeling that you can not produce. I try to practice at everything and find things out so that I can handle any situation that might come up on the field.
"Once I said that third base was 'the old-folks' home' and now I want to take that back. I have played there before [50 games in 1963 was the longest period], but I must learn to play it better. At shortstop you had time to adjust to plays but at third the ball comes off the bat differently."
After he had finished talking Maury walked over to the Baltimore dugout and asked Brooks Robinson some questions about playing third base. Robinson and Wills talked, the two of them standing in the Miami twilight swinging their gloves this way and that as if practicing for a water ballet. When Wills left to go back to the Pirate dugout Hank Bauer, the Oriole manager, rose to shake hands with him and then watched him walk away. "He knows how to win," Bauer said. "He'll do anything to win. Look at his shoes. Track shoes! What's the rule on that?"
Wills stole three bases that night to beat the Orioles 1-0, and last week Warren Giles ruled that Maury could not wear his track shoes this year. Ah, the dramatic and constant search for the little extra edges that go toward winning what the players sometimes call "the peanut."
As a Pirate, Wills will bat second in a lineup stocked with good hitters, and Walker wants Maury to play as he played in his seven and one-half years as a Dodger. "I want him to try to steal even if we have a big lead and to try the hit-and-run in the late innings. I want him to try the things he has perfected. There will be days when we'll need that late-inning stolen base to help win a ball game, and if he hasn't been stealing bases to begin with then he is going to be hesitant to run when we need it. He plays hard, and that's the way I want him to play. Maury Wills can mean more to us than a stolen base, a bunt, a good play, a hit-and-run. He can mean a winner."
Back in February, on the very first day of spring training at Fort Myers, Maury Wills had said, "I have always been public enemy No. 1 to the Pirates, and the feeling was mutual." Like everything else in this promising season that, too has changed.
Dapper Joe Brown of Pittsburgh sits by the menacing bats that have made his Pirates National League favorites.