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Tale of the derailed Metro


For a while there, the forces of repression in baseball were perking right along. For instance, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had called Author-Reliever Jim Bouton on the carpet for writing a book that made ballplayers seem un-heroic and told him he dassn't do that again. The ballplayers Bouton had made to seem unheroic—and even those who felt that in the future Bouton might make them seem unheroic—tended to agree with Kuhn. But since Jim Brosnan, Bouton's predecessor in the authoring-relieving game, had just testified in the reserve-clause hearings that he had been muffled similarly in his active playing days, Kuhn's action reflected a certain Avery Brundage-like resolve.

Last week, however, the trend shifted to liberation. Steve Hovley up and refused to pay a fine, and Charlie Metro got fired. Hovley, a promising, .281-hitting young outfielder then of the Milwaukee Brewers, was assessed his fine for being 20 minutes late to the ball park. He had been late, he explained, because his alarm clock had failed to go off. Hovley said he wouldn't pay. "I don't believe in fines anyway," he said, "but especially not in the case of something unintentional." So he was traded to Oakland—the big leagues at last.

Meanwhile, over in Kansas City, authoritarian Charlie Metro got the hook because he made his players unhappy. Metro's managerial virtues were many: intense devotion to the game, special dedication to what are known as "the basic fundamentals," great energy, long years of experience and widely acknowledged knowledgeability. He also proved to be the most fertile innovator to come along in years, introducing mass pregame calisthenics for general loosening, a batting cage in the bullpen for pinch hitters to warm up in, true-and-false tests for checking out his players' thinking and—to prevent any kind of satisfaction after a loss—a ban on the traditional post-game cold cuts and pretzels.

Metro worked hard as a boy in the Pennsylvania mines and believes that hard work is the key to success. Perhaps Metro was strict and stern along the lines of John J. McGraw—who was a Hall of Fame manager—but whether because today's ballplayers will not suffer the kind of stuff the ballplayers of the '20s put up with or because today's Kansas City Royals do not have the kind of stuff to put out that the New York Giants of the '20s did, the promising Royals began to lose heavily and to complain about conditions.

Pro football players see nothing wrong in doing side-straddle hops in unison before a game, but the Royals said they liked to loosen up individually, the way the Lord meant baseball players to. Metro's players also claimed he demanded perfection and was stingy with praise. "Every pitcher hangs a slider every now and then," said Dick Drago after the firing, "but to Metro it was inexcusable. 'Unacceptable' was his word for it." Metro, say his players, tended to jerk people out of a game for making a mistake—and sometimes it was the wrong player. For instance, during spring training a ball fell between Jackie Hernandez, Amos Otis and Lou Piniella in left center. Otis had called for the ball, but Metro pulled Piniella because he was down on Piniella at the time.

Metro was also criticized for the way in which veteran Second Baseman Jerry Adair was released in early May. Adair had missed much of spring training and part of the early season because of his 6-year-old daughter's illness and then death of cancer. Metro chose to inform Adair of his release, after he had gone to bat only 27 times, in the Kansas City airport, where the team had assembled to fly to Baltimore. Adair's wife had put him out at the airport and gone home. "I asked him," Adair told a reporter, "why he waited until now to tell me, and he said, 'Because I wanted to tell you man to man.' I said, 'You call this man to man. I don't. In fact I don't think you're a man.' "

But the gravest charge against Metro was down in black and white in the standings. The Royals had been expected to do more than edge out Milwaukee. So Metro was fired last week, and low-keyed Bob Lemon became the Royals' third manager in one-and-a-third years.

"I hate to sec a man lose his job," said Bob Oliver. "If Metro gave us exercises I did them. Baseball is a good job. It beats getting up early every morning and carrying a lunch pail." But Drago, after beating Washington in his first start under Lemon, said, "It was super to be out there and not have to worry about what I was doing wrong. Lemon loosens you up and encourages you." Pat Kelly made a great running catch against the Yankees, and when a teammate asked him if he could have made such a play under Metro, he said, "Don't think so." Lemon junked the calisthenics and restored the postgame delicatessen. "Everything's straight now," cried Kelly. "We've got our pretzels back. We're gonna go!"