The competition between Howard Rodney (Doc) Edwards, 32, of Philadelphia and noted humorist George Thomas, 32, of Boston for Player-Coach of the Year probably came to an end last week, as Thomas sat out a couple of games and Edwards began to give way in the late innings to the Phillies' recuperating third-string catcher. But it was fun while it lasted.
Both Edwards, who admits that he has been called "the All-America Out," and Thomas, of whom Dick Williams once said, "George, you're just as funny on the field as you are off it," were activated out of bullpen coaching duties earlier this month—Edwards to catch, Thomas to fill in at third and elsewhere—when injuries and the military exhausted their teams' more conventional resources. Each of the veteran journeymen got several quick hits before the pitchers caught up, and each gave off a rich mellow glow in the brief limelight.
Not that all was rosy. It was Edwards' throwing error that enabled Tony Perez to score after Johnny Bench struck out on a bad pitch. "I didn't see Bench throw the bat at the ball," Edwards explained, "so when the ball rolled away from me the first thing I did was look at Perez on third. Then I said, 'Where the hell did Bench go?' I saw him digging for first and I just threw it away."
But it was also Edwards who caught all 13 innings of a 2-1 victory over Houston and drove in the winning run, and who, in a 2-1 defeat of the Braves, drove in both Phillie runs and snuffed out a ninth-inning Atlanta rally by picking pinch-runner Sonny Jackson off first. "A blind squirrel," winked the native of Red Jacket, W. Va., "gets an acorn from time to time."
Edwards is a country-music fan who sings things on the team bus like "I got the hungries for your love," and who once qualified to ride Charlie Finley's mule in Kansas City. "He didn't have a blanket," said Edwards of the mule. "All he had on him was a satin cloth. And that wasn't cinched down. Well, a mule has no gait. The satin cloth started slipping so I grabbed him around the neck. I slipped off and his forelegs nearly beat me to death. I got a standing ovation. That made two standing ovations in my career. The other was when I fell down going to the plate with my gear in Minnesota. I believe when you leave the dugout you ought to leave it running and hustling. Well, I tripped and fell across home plate."
Thomas, a former bonus baby, has played every position except pitcher in 14 years with eight clubs in the majors and minors, but he was as surprised as Edwards at being inserted into the regular lineup. "I didn't think I'd be activated," he said. "I sort of thought I'd be released." He wasn't, and when the call came he was ready. For his first start—in Minnesota, his home state, where a couple of years ago he fell down and dislocated a finger while trying to catch a routine fly ball—Thomas had 14 of his family and friends on hand to see him collect three hits.
And his activation prompted a review of his career in comic relief. "When I played in Birmingham," Thomas recalled, "I used to be tight as a drum. Finally my manager told me that if I didn't relax I'd probably have a nervous breakdown. I gave that some serious thought. It was then that I started the wisecracks." Once in Louisville, when he broke an 0-for-20 slump, he stopped the game and demanded to be presented with the ball. When he roomed with the smallish Dick (Ducky) Schofield last year, he would call to the team's traveling secretary on the road, "Hey, did you tell the room clerk to make up the crib for Ducky?" Once, in the spring, when former teammate Joe Foy prepared to round third base against the Sox, Foy discovered that Thomas had removed it. Now Thomas sits in the back of the Red Sox bus and conducts a make-believe news broadcast in the manner of Walter Winchell. "Da-da-da-da," he goes in imitation of a telegraph, "Rome. Rico Petrocelli, the famous baseball player, arrived here today to date Gina Lollobrigida." Thomas is so adept at keeping the suffering Bostons loose that Sox Owner Tom Yawkey, it is said, will always have a job for him.
Edwards, too, would seem to be of lasting value beyond his playing skills. Teammate Dick Selma pays tribute to Edwards' ability to work with young pitchers: "Hell, in Buffalo he made a pitcher out of me." Doc has varicose veins, fallen arches and disfigured knuckles to show for his 13 professional years behind the plate, but he says, "If I wasn't playing ball somewhere, I'd be behind a mule. Or maybe in the mines. All my ancestors worked in the mines. Go four or five miles under the earth, a 6'2" man lurching over in four feet of coal. Worry about the black lung or walking hunchbacked. It is not a real rewarding life at all."
Certainly there are not many sudden moments of glory down there.