Guest Columnist Young, who lives with the Dodgers, hears a candid clubhouse conversation on the theme WE'LL HIT BETTER

July 01, 1956

In the cubicle adjoining the manager's office at Ebbets Field there is room only for three lockers, the stools in front of them, a small couch and considerable cogitation. The three lockers belong to the three coaches, the couch to whoever happens to be sitting there at the moment.

This time it belonged to Walt Alston. He sat there studiously, in full Dodger uniform, looking for the answer on the sheet of paper that rested on his knees. Each day before the game, Alston is handed such a sheet. It contained the Dodgers in mimeographed form, individually and collectively.

The newspapermen who cover the club get copies. They read certain things into the many-columned table of statistics. Alston might read others.

"Here's something that's changed," said the manager, looking up from his lap. "Our pitchers have hit eight men. We've only been hit twice."

"Do you think we're ducking better than we used to?" suggested Jake Pitler.

"No," said Billy Herman. "Why should they bother to throw at us? We're not hitting enough to waste pitches on that way. They don't have to throw at us."

"That's right," said Joe Becker. "They threw at us last year when we were hitting home runs. Now we're not hitting them. Now we're not hitting anything, so they're not bothering to hit us."

Alston's face crinkled in a smile. "Our pitchers have given up 69 home runs," he said, referring to the sheet. "We've hit 58."

"That's another thing that has changed," said Herman with a trace of disgust.

"I've got to believe we're going to hit," said Alston earnestly. "These guys have been good hitters all their lives. They can't all stop hitting at once. You just don't forget how to hit overnight."

A year ago at this stage the Dodgers had been hitting a whomping .277 as a team. Now the sheet showed the aggregate to be .249. Other essentials, such as homers, RBIs, runs, had slumped accordingly.

Alston looked hard at his coaches as though he suspected what they dared not say. So he said it. "And I can't go along with the idea that they're old. They're a year older, but not that old. A man doesn't stop hitting because he's a year older; not all at once.

"I say a man finds his level over a season. A .330 hitter will hit around .330, a .300 hitter around .300 and a .260 hitter around .260. A .300 hitter who is hitting .260 now has a lot of hits coming before the season ends. That's how I feel about our team."

"Furillo looks like he's snapping out of it," said Becker.

"When he's going good," said Alston, "he looks like the best hitter in the world. When he's going lousy he looks like the worst."

"I don't know what to think about Campanella," said Herman.

"He's the one who could hurt us if he doesn't start soon," said Alston. "I keep thinking, before every game, this might be the day he'll bust out of it."

Roy Campanella was thinking the same thing. Out in the next room, the large room with lockers lining the walls and a few situated in the center of the floor, most of the players were peeling off their sweat-soaked undershirts used in the workouts and pulling on dry ones for the game. The center lockers are prestige lockers. Half a dozen or so, they belong to the stars. Duke Snider has one. Carl Erskine has one. Campanella, the star who was batting .206, which is hardly his weight, has one.

"You fellows just keep carrying me," Campy shouted for the entire clubhouse to hear. "You carry old Roy for just a little while longer and I'll get all those hits I owe you."

Most of them laughed. Some of them yelled substantiations which were garbled in the overlapping. "We're winning now," Pee Wee Reese said to him. "You'll get the hits later, when we need them."

"To tell you the truth," said Campy with a chuckle, "I need them right now. I need them bad, awful bad."

Campanella was in the midst of the worst slump of his life. He had been dropped from the cleanup spot to sixth, to seventh and now to eighth. Last season, when Alston had slotted Campy No. 8 in the batting order, the catcher's damaged pride provoked a public pop-off.

"I'm no eighth-place hitter," he had said.

This time Campanella said, "The way I'm going, I can't blame him for batting me eighth. I wouldn't blame him for putting me under the pitcher."

"Roomie," said Don Newcombe, the hitting pitcher, "when I'm pitching, you should be batting on the bottom."

"Sheeeman," slurred Campanella. "You ain't zackly knocking down any fences this season yourself."

"Why don't you try—" Newcombe began.

"Now don't you go giving me batting lessons, too," said Campanella with a pained look. "I've got more advice now than I can use."

That's the way it is with most hitters in a slump. Everyone seems to know precisely what's wrong, and usually everyone has a different cure-all to suggest: "You're overstriding...you're understriding...you're taking too many pitches...you're swinging at too many bad balls...."

Campanella had been listening to them all, as a desperately sick man will listen to any quack remedy, for a slugger grows desperate and sick from worry when his batting average loses weight. And then one day the sick ballplayer stops listening to others and tries talking it out with himself.

"I know what's wrong with me," said Campanella. "I'm pressing. I'm swinging at bad pitches. My head is flying out, and my butt is flying out, and I don't even see the ball I'm swinging at half the time."

Why swing at bad pitches? he was asked. Why not just take a walk?

"I'm no walking man," said Roy, as though it was a fantastic suggestion. "I'm a hitting man. I just hate to walk."

He seemed to realize that sounded vain and foolish. He knew, especially as a catcher would know, that as long as he continued to chase bad pitches he would get bad pitches, because pitchers around the league know when a man is chasing.

"I know I've got to take those bad ones," he said. He winked his pudgy face into a knot and added comfortingly: "Don't you worry about daddy. He's far from finished."

Campanella was aware of the whispered word. People in baseball are quick to seize upon the sliding batting average of a man past 30 as an indication he's on the way out. Campanula's age is recorded as 34 and he is constantly kidded about giving himself a couple of years the best of it. Last year when he was MVP, and two years before that and two before that when he was MVP, he would laugh off snide references to a rigged birth certificate by saying: "It's not how old you are that counts; it's how you hit that little ball."

Now all he could do was ask you to take his word for it. "I'm not washed up."

Four long strides from Capanella's locker, diagonally across an aisle, sat Gil Hodges, too much occupied with his own batting slump to worry about someone else's. Gil is 32. Deep lines in his expressive face confirm it. The trim-ness of his muscled torso denies it. A year ago at this time he was batting .301. Now the figure was .232.

"I'll come out of it," Hodges said. "I always have." He laughed aloud as he said: "It's just taking me a lot longer this time."

He grew serious again. His difficulty has been the opposite of Campanula's. Gil, when he is slumping, doesn't swing at bad pitches. He doesn't even swing at good pitches. He takes strikes as though paralyzed. The outside portion of the plate looks a mile away to him.

"I go through this same thing every year," he reminded them. "I don't know why; I just do."

Isn't it logical for a man who is having trouble with the outside pitch to try standing closer to the plate?

"I tried it a while back," he said. "Just for one time at bat. I didn't feel comfortable, so I moved back again. Maybe I'll try it again. I don't know."

Ed Roebuck, the pitcher who had served the record-distance homer to Joe Adcock a few days before, said to nobody in particular: "Hey, did you see where Mickey Mantle hit one that made Adcock's look like a pop fly? You think that ball ain't livelier?"

TWO FOR CAMPY

"I don't know what they do with those lively balls when I come up," giggled Campanella. "They must be throwing me those nickel rockets."

Billy Herman stuck his head out of the little room, looked at the large clock on the wall above the scales and said: "It's getting about that time. Let's get out there."

The Dodgers shoved their shirts into their trousers, pulled on their caps and headed for the door. In the small room Walt Alston arose from the couch, climbed the two steps that led to his office and tossed the mimeographed statistics sheet onto his desk. He picked up a newspaper folded to the baseball standings and shook his head as he studied it.

A year ago the standings showed Brooklyn out in front by 10 games. Now you could spit at first place and wet five teams—Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

"I've thought right along that Milwaukee is the team to worry about, and I still do," Alston said. "That's if Conley comes around. If not, I think Cincinnati will give us the most trouble. They make the runs. Everybody says they don't have the pitching, but whenever I look up at the scoreboard, I see a lot of zeros, so somebody must be doing the pitching for them."

Alston opened the private door that leads from his office to the passageway beneath the stands. "There's one thing that makes me feel pretty good," he said over his shoulder. "We haven't been hitting a thing, and here we are right up with the rest of them. That makes me believe that when we do start hitting, we oughta do all right."

As the week wore on there was partial justification for Alston's optimism over his failing hitters. Campanella, notably, hit two 3-run homers against the Cardinals and two days later smacked another against the Redlegs. As a reward, he was moved slightly back up in the batting order but by the end of the week was relapsing. Yet, feeling his long batting slump was at last over, Campanella explained, "I guess I just ran out of outs."

Campy's second homer against St. Louis was especially valuable. It came as a climax to an almost unbelievable game, when Brooklyn was in the storybook position of being 3 behind and 2 out in the bottom half of the ninth. Roy's hit tied up the game, which Brooklyn went on to win.

Although showing brief flashes of their 1955 power, the Dodgers still found they could do little with their new nemesis, the Cincinnati Redlegs. Walter Alston again desperately shuffled his lineup (28 times in 59 games), but the Redlegs won three out of four in Brooklyn.

FOUR PHOTOSMARK KAUFFMANHands on hips, clapping hands, touching cap or nose are all parts of standard repertoire of coaches like Phils Manager Mayo Smith, may be actual signals to batter or fakes to decoy opponents ILLUSTRATION"Separate decks."

SIGNALS AND SPIES

Will Harridge, the pleasant, gray-haired baseball fan who earns his living as president of the American League, struck a blow for fun and color the other day when he turned down Baltimore Manager Paul Richards' protest that the Chicago White Sox had stashed a binocular-bearing spy in the center field scoreboard to steal the Baltimore catcher's signals. Similar charges over the years have usually foundered on a lack of evidence. But this time Harridge, in effect, said skip the evidence, there has been no crime. There is no rule, he flatly informed Richards, against stealing signals, even if they are stolen by a man in a long black beard carrying a brass telescope. It was a blow to Richards but not to the fan who revels in these odd marginal disputes and who may, next time he sees a ball game, try to steal some signals himself. It's still a lot easier said than done, however, as the fan may agree after watching Philadelphia Manager Mayo Smith (opposite page) coaching at third. Is Mayo actually scratching his nose, adjusting his cap, clapping encouragement, resting his arms? Or is he sending terse, telegraphic messages into home plate to his alert batter to hit this pitch, take that one, bunt?

HIGHLIGHT:
CHICAGO 1 1 1
BALTIMORE 0 1 1

Strong currents prevailed in the pennant races. Milwaukee went on a smothering winning streak under new Manager Fred Haney, and the Cinderella Pirates turned back into pumpkins. The Yankees had been intimidating their American League rivals; but then last weekend the Chicago White Sox, who had lost seven of eight games to New York, refused to believe the Yanks were as good as all that and beat them four straight times to inject a fine fresh flavor of competition into the American League race.

All week before the Yankees came to town the White Sox fought hard just to stay within hailing distance, fought hard to win every game. It wasn't easy. Against Baltimore on Thursday they made just one hit, yet won. In a rugged week, it was a game to remember:

In the first inning, Baltimore Pitcher Connie Johnson walked Chicago's leadoff batter, Jim Rivera, who then stole second base. Nelson Fox hit a long double to right center to score Rivera. It was the first inning and no one was out, but that was the last hit and the last run Chicago made all day.

"I guess it was the best game I ever pitched in the majors," Johnson said of his brilliant failure. For if he was superb, Chicago's Jack Harshman was better. He had men on base (via four walks and an error) in the second, fifth and sixth, but each time he pitched out of trouble. Harshman was pitching a no-hitter against Johnson's one-hitter, and he knew it. The one hit and one run Chicago had on the scoreboard grew bigger and bigger.

But in the seventh Gus Triandos spoiled the no-hitter with a double down the left field line. "I was disappointed," the articulate Harshman said. "But my prime concern was to protect the one-run lead and not get teed off about the hit. The very next play was the key to the game, so far as I'm concerned."

Hal Smith attempted to sacrifice Triandos to third, but Harshman fielded the bunt and threw hard to third base just in time for the out. He had no further trouble. As he walked off the mound his wife, sitting behind the Chicago dugout, held up one finger, sorrowfully indicating the hit, and then crossed her fingers in hope that the one would be all. It was. Jack retired the last six Orioles to match Johnson's one-hitter. Only twice before in the nearly 70,000 major league games played since 1900 had rival teams been held to one hit apiece.

Harshman, who celebrated that night with a broiled chicken dinner and a couple of bottles of beer, expressed sympathy for Johnson, who left for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning: "It must have been very disheartening for Connie to walk to the clubhouse behind 1-0 in a one-hitter. It must have been a long walk for him."

It was indeed, but for the White Sox, with their eyes on the Yankees, it was a beautiful day all the way.

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)