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Original Issue

A Chance to Stay in a Young Man's Game

"He didn't like guys of Dunne's stamp," went a story in the Oct. 25, 1934 Street & Smith's. "Red was a blank, blankety blank grouch, and fourteen kinds of sorehead."

It is possible that Frank Crosetti's thoughts about Jim Bouton ran along the same lines—or Bouton's about Crosetti. In Ball Four Bouton tells of a shouting match he had with Crosetti when both were still with the Yankees, Cro as a coach and Bouton as a pitcher. The trouble began after Crosetti told on Bouton for a minor irregularity, and it ended with Crosetti starting to throw punches. "Now there's a dilemma," wrote Bouton. "I don't want to get hit, even by skinny old Cro. At the same time I don't want to hit Frank Crosetti, for crissakes."

Among today's coaches, Crosetti is a legend. He retired himself from the Yankees, then had a change of heart and came back with Seattle and the Twins. According to somebody's calculation he has waved home 16,000 runners in 25 years in the third-base coaching box. He is also said to have become wealthy from 23 World Series purses gathered as player and coach.

The quintessential coach, however, still takes the form of the Angels' Rocky Bridges, who says that today's ballplayers "are better educated. Baseball isn't their life's end. They're different, like everything else. Even ice cubes are taking different forms today."

But not coaches. Bridges chews, he has spread in the waist, he looks only slightly less seasoned this year after having been hit in the face by a tree trunk in a logging accident over the winter, and he says he doesn't worry about other teams stealing his signs: "We have enough people missing signs that if the enemy is catching them, it will mess the enemy up."

George Myatt of the Phillies is another highly recognizable coach. He has a foghorn voice, and he gives a runner the signal to slide into third by sliding into it himself. "I picked that up when I managed at Chattanooga with a Class D team in a Double A league," he explains. "I guess I had 17 Cubans on the club, and since my Spanish was horrible the base running got horrible, too." Myatt likes to tickle people's ears with a straw, and he hollers "Hey yah" when someone walks by—and then looks at his shoes as though he had never said a word. When he became interim manager of the Phillies in 1969 Myatt said, "I don't think God Almighty could completely handle Richie Allen, so all I can do is try."

Another craggy coach is George Susce of the Senators, who is more limber than most. He leads the team in calisthenics, and he can touch the ground with his elbows, or even his nose, without bending his knees. He is 62 years old and his fingers are picturesquely bent from years of minor league catching. He guards the bag of baseballs zealously from players trying to snitch one for a friend; it is easier to get a raise and buy a ball, the Senators say, than to get one away from Susce.

Roger Craig of San Diego received a Mother's Day card from his pitchers. George Staller, who was fired by Baltimore in 1962, went back to scouting and was rehired when Earl Weaver became manager in 1968. He once had a steady off-season job as a prison guard.

Most coaches' careers are checkered. Usually they are fired when the manager who hired them is fired, and some of them go from team to team with one manager. Joe Pignatano, a coach under Gil Hodges with the Senators and now with the Mets, stepped into the middle of a fight between newspaper and TV people in the Mets' dressing room during the playoffs in 1969 and bellowed, "Don't touch the boss!" Hodges had had a heart attack the year before.

Since ballplayers spend less time in the minor leagues these days, coaches are more important as teachers than they were years ago. Still it is the rare one who makes a name for himself as an imparter of techniques. Johnny Sain, whom pitchers swear by, is one of these; but he has been fired often by major league teams, usually because players were siding against the manager in allegiance to him. Some coaches, like Bridges, attain a certain comical fame, but it is a sidekick's role that they are expected to play. The money—$15,000 to $20,000 average—isn't bad, and the chance of managing always exists, but the profession's main attraction must be that it enables an aging man to stay around a young man's game. Come out to watch the Angels early sometime, before any of the players have made their way to the field, and see Rocky Bridges and the bat boy playing a sort of tennis. Bridges hits the ball up onto the screen behind home plate, the bat boy waits for it to roll down, and hits it back onto the screen. Then Bridges waits, bat cocked, for it to roll down again.

In 1933, Yankee Coach Art Fletcher told Street & Smith's, "Don't let anybody tell you that the game of baseball has changed a whole lot. It really hasn't."

Well, at least the coaches haven't.