KEYSTONE CRISIS

In baseball's training camps, opportunity is calling. If you're a second baseman, you might help resolve a KEYSTONE CRISIS
March 26, 1956

If you can play second base and hit .260, grab your glove and head south. Opportunity is unlimited. For instance Charley Grimm, manager of the Milwaukee Braves, is worried. One of his second-base candidates is Danny O'Connell, a third baseman who is a second baseman only because Milwaukee already has a third baseman with whom they are, quite justifiably, well satisfied, since the third baseman, a young man named Ed Mathews, hit 41 home runs last year compared to O'Connell's six. Another candidate is .125 hitter named Jack Dittmer, who is said to be mad at the Braves and in a mood to be traded. If you can play second, check Charley Grimm.

Or get in touch with Mike Higgins, manager of the Boston Red Sox. Mike is a little unhappy, too, though his two prime second-base possibilities are Billy Goodman, whose lifetime batting average is a splendid .308, and Billy Klaus, who was the sensation of the American League last year at shortstop. But Higgins, an ambitious man as well as a patient one, is not satisfied. He has several thousand glittering young infielders in camp, each of whom seems to have received $600,000 in bonuses to sign with the Red Sox plus a large portion of the state of Texas, and any one of them could suddenly burst into full-fledged stardom. Unhappily for Mike, they all seem to prefer third or short to second. Thus, while Mike sticks with the veteran Goodman and experiments with the remarkable Klaus, he is looking around. If you can play second, you could make things very rosy for Mike Higgins. Head south.

Or go to see Mayo Smith, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Mayo has the framework of a pretty good team, but the gap at second base tends to let the rain in. Mayo looks at Bobby Morgan, originally a shortstop, now at second base for while, and then thinks of using Granny Hamner, also a shortstop. But if Mayo uses Hamner there, he can't use Hamner at short and Hamner (if his shoulder is really okay again) is a manager's dream at shortstop. So Mayo experiments at second with Ted Kazanski, still another shortstop, and Ben Tompkins, a .250 minor league hitter. Mayo is not happy about second base. As long as you're down there, check Mayo Smith too.

But best of all, drop in on Bucky Harris, manager of the Detroit Tigers. Bucky has several extremely proficient baseball players operating under his direction, but the chances of the Tigers roaring into contention in the American League depends to an inordinate degree on who plays second base. And who does Bucky have at second? Fred Hatfield, who at 31 is possibly past the prime of a career that crested with a lifetime batting average of .241; Harry Malmberg, who got his chance in the majors last year after eight long years in the minors and promptly blew it by hitting a feeble .216; and Buddy Hicks, a onetime Brooklyn Dodger farm hand who went underground at Vero Beach some years ago, burrowed his way across Florida and this spring popped up in the infield at Tigertown in Lakeland. Hicks is the leading candidate for the job. Needless to say, if you can play second base get in touch fast with Bucky Harris.

The same uncertainty prevails around second base in a majority of this spring's training camps. Offhand, only the Chicago Cubs (Gene Baker), the Cleveland Indians (Bobby Avila), the Chicago White Sox (Nelson Fox) and the Cincinnati Redlegs (Johnny Temple') can say flatly: this is our second baseman. Several others are pretty sure, like the St. Louis Cardinals (Veteran Red Schoendienst over Rookie Don Blasingame) and the Kansas City Athletics (Jim Finigan over Spook Jacobs), but there is always that doubt, that uncertainty. True, in some camps—like that of the New York Yankees—the uncertainty is a luxury. The Yanks have Billy Martin, Gil McDougald, Jerry Coleman and Bobby Richardson—a wealth of untouchable talent that makes Bucky Harris feel like a child looking into a candy store window. If he could only have just one....

The Chicago White Sox are hankering, too, but more patiently. They don't have a particular weakness, like the Tigers, but they do want reserve strength. They look toward the Red Sox and all the bright young men. The feeling is that sooner or later the Red Sox will simply have to unload some of their excess talent. When they do, Chicago will be only too happy to snap up any supporting strength that happens to be let loose.

Trades and sales and player exchanges designed to help strengthen ball clubs are desirable, of course, but unfortunately they are really few and far between. It's a shame, in a way, because the stronger each team is, the better the league is, the more fun to watch. And, of course, the more fun baseball is to watch, the greater the attendance and the higher the profits. But this is long-range thinking and planning, something baseball executives assiduously try to avoid.

Trading is ideal, naturally, when you trade from your strength to bolster your weakness. Teams like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves tend to stay near the top because the welling up of good minor league players from their farm systems enable them to trade off good players without seriously weakening themselves in any position. But even so, after a while intraleague trading dies off, partly because the opportunities for mutually useful trades are exhausted, and partly because a team hates to strengthen a rival. This latter deterrent would not be a factor in trades between teams in the two different leagues, but such trades are not allowed except via a complex and highly technical process involving "waivers."

Frank Lane, general manager of the Cardinals and a man who dearly loves to trade players, has suggested that these restrictions be lifted for a brief time each winter, so that clubs from the American League could trade freely with clubs from the National. Last week in Sarasota a man told George (Birdie) Tebbetts about Lane's suggestion. Tebbetts is the amiable conversationalist who manages the Cincinnati Redlegs, and he was in Sarasota to send his team against the Red Sox in a spring training game.

"Might not be a bad idea," Birdie said. He thought of the powerful hitting his National League Redlegs boasted, and the woeful pitching that kept them in the second division last year. He went over in his mind all the strong young pitchers the American League Red Sox had over there on the other side of the field. He remembered the short left-field wall at Fenway Park in Boston that favors powerful right-handed hitters, and he recalled that the Sox had at the moment only one powerful right-handed hitter. He thought of Wally Post, the brilliant young outfielder who bashed 40 home runs for the Reds last year, and who happened to hit right-handed. His round, red face beamed.

"How many pitchers," he said, "do you suppose the Red Sox would give me for Wally Post?"

ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)