Charley Dressen received a blaze of headlines two autumns ago when he was dropped as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers after winning two consecutive pennants, but since then he has, for the most part, been buried deep in paragraph 12, column 7, page 34—which is about where you would expect to find news of the manager, last year, of the minor league Oakland Oaks and the manager, this year, of the somewhat minor league Washington Senators.
Lately, though, Charley Dressen has been stirring things up a little, what with his seventh-place Senators being a prime cause of the mumble, stumble and trip gait of the American League pennant race. Two weeks ago, for instance, the day after the Cleveland Indians had won a stirring series from the New York Yankees to move into a tie for first place, the Senators moved into Cleveland and walloped the Indians in both ends of a double-header. This has been going on all year. The lowly Senators have defeated the Indians 12 times while losing only seven to them. More than that, the Senators have recently visited similar distress on the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, whom they have defeated in games the Yankees and the White Sox dearly wanted to win.
All in all, Charley is having as pleasant a year and as sunny a September as a seventh-place manager has a right to experience—except that the headlines have been few and far between.
Last week, however, a small bouquet finally came Charley's way and from a most unexpected source. Billy Martin, the "fresh kid" of Casey Stengel's dreams, came out of the Army on furlough to rejoin the Yankees and lead them, if he follows the script, to victory in the American League pennant race. Casey Stengel at once proclaimed with Stengelian extravagance: "Martin will play shortstop [though Martin is a second baseman by trade] for the rest of the season and right through the World Series!"
September 11, 1955
Martin, who at times has indulged in extravagant speech himself, was quiet and appreciative of the chance to play. He smote a double and a single in his very first game and looked, that day at least, like the hitting shortstop the Yankees have needed all season long. After the game, in a TV interview with Red Barber, he said modestly, "I've been lucky to have played for the two best managers in baseball: Casey Stengel and Chuck Dressen."
Everyone knows about the perfect love that exists between craggy old Stengel and brash young Martin. But Martin and Dressen?
"Sure," Charley Dressen said in Yankee Stadium before last Saturday's game between his Senators and the Yankees. "I had Billy at Oakland in 1949. He wanted to hit homers all the time. But he learned to hit the way he should hit. Cookie Lavagetto and I worked with him a lot. Hit grounders to him for hours. Came out before batting practice with him. He wanted to learn. And he learned."
Dressen's face crinkled in a smile.
"But, gee, he was a fresh kid," he said. "He was a good ballplayer, a real good ballplayer. But he was fresh, always scrapping.
"This big Dropo was in the Coast League then. They was a lot of good ballplayers there then. That was a good league then. This Dropo was playing first and Billy was on first and I give him a little sign to go down if he could. They wasn't looking at him and I thought maybe he could steal. But they was on to it and they tried to pick him off, and this big Dropo came in with his arms wide like this and Billy couldn't get away from him."
Dressen laughed out loud.
"You know how big that Dropo is. Billy come up at him swinging; he wanted to kill him. Well, the next inning—the last inning—we had them one out and Dropo was on first. A guy hit a double-play ball to the shortstop. He flipped it to Billy for one and Billy pivoted to throw to first for the double play. But he didn't throw it to first. He tried to hit Dropo with it."
Charley shook his head in amusement.
"We got out of it okay, and in the clubhouse I walked over to Billy and I said to him, I don't want you to think I'm getting on you, I said, but that's not a good thing to do. He turned on me and he says, you blap son of a so-and-so, you blump blump this and that, and he stomped off to the shower, still mad as hell.
"Well, I went into the shower after him. He was undressed, you know, taking a shower, and I had my uniform on but I followed him into the shower. I said to him, you know what you called me? Damn, he was still mad. Yes, I know what I called you, he says, you blump blump so-and-so, he says, you can this and that. I wasn't sore, but hell, a man can't call his manager names like that. I said, I think you ought to apologize."
Dressen grinned in sheer delight.
"Apologize? he says. You can go to hell, you bampety, bamp blump, blump! I said, if you don't apologize, it's gonna cost you $200. He says, you can take your $200 and oh he was mad.
"I went up to Brick Laws, the president of the Oakland Club and I told him I wanted him to take two hundred out of Billy's paycheck. Brick's a nice, easygoing guy. He's got a big heart. I said, I mean it. This kid's a good ballplayer but he needs a lesson. I want you to take that money out. And Brick says, okay."
"Next day Brick's door opens and in comes Billy, very quiet. He takes out a roll and peels off ten $20 bills. Brick says, what's that for? Charley fined me, Billy says in this little voice. Brick says, put it back in your pocket. But he fined me, Billy says. I know it, Brick says. We're going to take it out of your paycheck. So Billy puts his money back in his pocket.
"That day we're having a meeting and Billy's sitting there, just as quiet. Then he says, can I say something? I said, sure. And he apologized. I'm sorry, he says. And I said, that's okay, Billy. You just saved yourself $200."
Dressen chuckled to himself.
"A hell of a ballplayer. I tried to sell him. I tried to sell him to Detroit. I tried to sell him to the Giants. The Giants said they had $180,000 tied up in second basemen, they couldn't afford no more. Nobody would look at him. I tried to sell him to this club [Washington]. I wished they bought him. He's a hell of a ballplayer. I sure could use him now."
Now that Martin was back, Charley was asked, who did he think would win the pennant?
Charley thought for a long time, squinting as he looked out of the dugout at the sun-lighted dust floating around the batting-practice cage at Yankee Stadium.
"The Yankees," he said finally. "They got the balance. They got great fielding. They got speed. They got power. The White Sox been playing good ball. They got the best bunting I ever seen. Bunt, bunt, bunt. That Nelson Fox. One of the best ballplayers in the league. He can field, he can hit, he can bunt, he can do things. But the White Sox, they got to get three bunts to score a run. The Yankees sit on their hands for awhile and then, pop, one hit and they got a run, just like that. The Yankees got strong guys. They got a bunch of big, hairy guys that can put the ball in the seats. Pop, pop. They beat you to death."
Charley was asked about the Indians. His face lit up in a gleeful smile.
"They die when they play us," he grinned. "I don't know why we beat them so easy. We just hit against them. That's all."
Charley was asked if he got a bigger kick out of beating first division clubs than he did second division teams.
"Well, you like to beat everybody," he said. But his grinning face revealed his delight at knocking over pennant contenders with a team only five games or so out of last place.
Thirty-one years ago this week against Brooklyn, Sunny Jim Bottomley of the St. Louis Cardinals batted in 12 runs, still the top major league mark for a single game. The most red-faced Robin (Dodger) of all was Manager Wilbert Robinson, who had established the former record of 11 RBIs with the Baltimore Orioles in 1892. The Cardinal first baseman hammered out six hits, including a pair of homers, scored three runs in team's 17-3 victory.