THIS IS A MOTORCYCLE?
Ja, Kinder, das ist a motorcycle, a German motorcycle, called the 'flying deck chair,' and in it is a man, Herman Mueller of Ingolstadt, lying nearly flat on his back as compatriots give him a starting push for a world-record run (150 mph) at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. At last count, Mueller and partner Wilhelm Herz had set ten new records in this and similar machines ranging from 100 to 500 cc, registering speeds as high as 210 mph
CARDINAL FANS PUT LANE ON THE SPOT
On the left is the conclusion to an article on the St. Louis Cardinals in the May 28 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Since then, Frank Lane has maintained his not-altogether-enviable reputation as the biggest trader in the National League. Cardinal fans—only some of whom live in St. Louis—wept tears of blood when Red Schoendienst (now racing Hank Aaron and Stan Musial for the NL batting championship) was sold to New York. But as the Cardinals dropped out of the pennant race and built up a record not much superior to that of last season, when the club finished seventh, the only blood some Cardinal fans were crying for belonged to Frank Lane.
On behalf of untold thousands of disgruntled Cardinal fans, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sent a reporter to nail down Mr. Lane in his New York hotel suite for nearly three hours. The reporter was told to be as mean as any St. Louis fan he could imagine. As will be seen from the following, Trader Lane defended himself vigorously and adroitly:
August 12, 1956
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Les Woodcock, of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, representing the Cardinal fans.
Frank Lane, of Busch Stadium, St. Louis, representing Frank Lane.
LW: Every time you pick up the paper it seems as if Lane has traded away one of the Cardinals. The fans want to know just what Frank Lane is doing in St. Louis.
FL: Now wait a minute. The fans in St. Louis are behind me. The fans who are most critical are the people who never see any Cardinal games. I get letters from all over the country calling me all the names in the book. A guy from California just yesterday said, "How can anyone be so stupid!" In fact, 70% of the letters I receive are from out of town. But I'm not concerned with people in California or Red Eye, Minn. They are synthetic fans. It's the fans in St. Louis and the trade area surrounding it that are paying the freight, and they're the ones I'm concerned with. These people are great. They're coming out to see us. Why, our attendance is 65,000 ahead of what it was last year.
LW: That doesn't prove the fans are supporting you. This is a better balanced league this year, and you should be drawing more fans.
FL: I know the St. Louis fans. I see them at least four or five times a week at luncheons, speaking engagements and in the stands. Why, I'm out in the bleachers every Sunday, and there'll be a group of 20 or so fans around me asking all sorts of questions. We have regular debates going on. There'll be some on the perimeter of the crowd who can't hear what I'm saying, and they'll shout to me, "Hey Frank, what are you doing to the Cards?" I yell right back at them, "I'll be up to see you in a minute," and then I move on and talk to them.
The fans are tolerant of teams that might not be too artistic on the field if they feel you're trying to improve. But they're not damn fools. Don't try to cram a humpty dumpty down their throats. The fans around St. Louis tell me they were ready to draw and quarter me when I got rid of Schoendienst, but they've seen Dark play now and know we got a real pro. But those synthetic fans...
Why, I remember last week there was a desolate-looking gal in the stands a couple of rows behind me. She was saying things about me all through the first few innings. Then I heard her husband caution her, "Better be careful, he'll hear you." She snapped back, "But I want him to hear me." So I turned around and shouted to her, "You're coming through fine." Then I went up and talked to her. Oh, she was mad at me. She was from out of town and claimed to be a Cardinal rooter all her life. Another synthetic rooter. She kept saying, "But how could you trade Red away for Dark?" It's funny—in New York they couldn't understand how the Giants could trade Dark for Red.
LW: Well, what about that Dark-Schoendienst trade?
FL: If we didn't make the Dark deal, we're a last-place ball club. We knew Blasingame was Schoendienst's eventual successor at second base and the sooner we could get him there the better. If young Blasingame had been a shortstop, we would never have traded Schoendienst in a million years. But the kid couldn't play short.
Sure, the phones were loaded with outraged protest, but the fans saw Dark play at short and Blasingame look great at second. The thing that turns the tide is winning. In addition to his abilities, Dark gives you great intangibles. We have been playing two second basemen, but now we have a proved shortstop. Red is a helluva ballplayer and a wonderful kid, but he wasn't the take-charge guy Dark is.
LW: But what about the rest of the players in the deal? Here you had a great young prospect in Jackie Brandt and traded him off.
FL: We didn't want to get rid of Brandt. But the Giants needed him in the deal. They were looking for a good hitting outfielder to bat behind Mays. They took Brandt in the hope of trading him to the Phils for Del Ennis. Brandt wasn't a necessity for the Cards. Sure, he might have helped eventually, and he might come back to haunt us. But we have awfully good-looking youngsters playing the outfield in the minors, and they'll be up.
LW: And Virdon?
FL: I would say that that could be the one deal that might make us look bad at the end of the year. There's going to be a comparison of Del Greco and Virdon. It's not the old ballplayers that can make you look bad but the young ones who will be around for years to haunt you. The old ones may go away and have a big year but you know it won't last.
Virdon had not yet built up a following in one year. The fans saw him and questioned how good he was.
If Virdon hits .300 and Del Greco .230, we'll hear about it at the end of the year. But there are still 60 games to go. I needed a right-hand-hitting center fielder, and we felt that Del Greco had a better future than Virdon.
LW: Everyone knows the big weakness of the Cardinals is pitching, yet you traded away Lawrence who has won 15 games and Haddix who has won nine. Wouldn't you be in great shape with them on the team?
FL: Well, if I had known Lawrence would win 15 games for us, I would never have traded him. You charge me with getting rid of a 15-game-winning pitcher. Well, Lawrence wasn't a 15-game winner for the Cards last year. Our club physician was very concerned over Lawrence's bleeding ulcers. Now we wonder if all our pitchers shouldn't have bleeding ulcers. I still question whether he would have won 15 games pitching for this St. Louis Club.
LW: Well, anyway, your pitching is still terrible.
FL: Look, I haven't improved the pitching to the extent I'd hoped to. In fact, some people question whether it's improved at all. But at least we knew we had to try. In spring training, we were getting good pitching. But Haddix was no good at all. I had been told by people in the organization as far back as October not to count on Haddix. I never second-guess myself on deals. If you do, you never make other deals. I'm not concerned with the guys I got rid of. Just the ones I've got.
LW: Last spring you gave out glowing accounts of the Cardinals' finishing third this year, and you sounded as if you really expected them to win the pennant.
FL: Like I said, the pitching looked good in spring training. But that's deceptive.
LW: Why all those old pitchers like Dickson, Kinder and Wehmeier that you have picked up?
FL: We wanted to improve this club's pitching immediately. We have some good young pitchers in the farm system, but they are a few years away. Sometimes you trade for pitchers to fill an immediate need. They can give you a breather while the kids develop. I got Dickson for his pitching maturity, and Wehmeier may yet reach the maturity expected of him ever since he broke in. I signed Kinder for a definite purpose; I was hopeful he would get us off the ground at the beginning of the season. The Cardinals had a lot of good young players in spring training, but it wasn't a team. You just can't win with nothing but kids. I was trying to supplement the kids with veterans to get us over the hump. If our pitching jelled, we had a chance for the pennant. But it didn't. We still need pitching, pitching, pitching.
LW: What about another oldtimer like Walker Cooper?
FL: Don't forget, Hutch and I were coming into the organization from another league. I bought Cooper because he knew the National League. We did everything we possibly could to get people with a knowledge of the league.
LW: What about the spirit of your Cardinal club when it knows there is a lot of trading going on? Doesn't that affect the team play?
FL: Definitely not. Ballplayers are professionals. They're sitting on top of the world and know it. If they don't play here, they know they'll be playing somewhere else. Their salary is affected by the team's play and their own individual effort. If we are trying to make a better team, they have no complaints. We could have been hurt if Blasingame didn't measure up to Schoendienst on the field. Then the pitchers might feel that the trade had hurt them, and there you might have affected the team's spirit. It's really only the fringe player who is affected by trades. He doesn't know whether to send his laundry out or where to send it.
LW: Some of the fans say that they would rather see the traditional Cardinals finish in seventh place than see a patchwork team of cast-offs win the pennant.
FL: It's the synthetic fan from California that says that. Tradition is fine, but you have to win. You can't keep telling the fans to come back next year because we're going to develop our kids this year. Pretty soon they'll say—"O.K., we'll be back in 1957"—and not come out this year. Mr. Rickey has forgotten more baseball than I'll ever know, but it wasn't fair to the Pittsburgh fans to give them those five poor years while he was building. I believe the fans are entitled to see good baseball even while you're building.
LW: You talk as if you have been vindicated by a winning ball club. But the Cards aren't winning much more than they were this time last year.
FL: Who the hell has a right to expect too much of this ball club? They were seventh—a poor seventh—last year. Hutch has gotten everything out of this club anyone could. Sure I'm disappointed anytime we lose. But you've got to be realistic. You compare our personnel with Brooklyn's for instance. This is a tough league this year. It's a much tougher league than I thought it was. Don't forget, the season isn't over yet. If we win 10 more games than the Cardinals of 1955, we have made definite improvements despite what the synthetic fans might think.
LW: You're gambling with trades on improving the Cardinals. Now, the big gambler at Monte Carlo blows his brains out if he loses everything. What does Frank Lane do if his gambles don't pay off?
FL: First of all, there's some question about whether I have brains. Look, I could have sat back this year and said I was getting acquainted, and protected my position here. But I would consider myself a definite failure if I did that and, without doing something about it, made excuses about the performance of the ballplayers I had. I have to try to do my job and improve the ball club. And naturally I have to produce or, when my contract is out, Mr. Busch will get someone else. And I wouldn't blame him.
LW: Some people say that if you talk to Frank Lane long enough, he'll trade you half his ball club. Are you a compulsive trader?
FL: Wrong. When you're down, you have to gamble. It would be wonderful to be in a position where you never had to make a trade. But I'm not a compulsive trader....
(Hereabouts, the phone rang. Lane seized it, plunged into staccato conversation with a certain "Buzzy": "Hi Buzzy...yeah...Rocky...yeah, yeah...O.K." Twenty-four hours later it was announced Lane had bought First Baseman Rocky Nelson for $10,000 from Buzzy Bavasi, vice-president of the Dodgers, and sold Cardinal Infielder Grady Hatton to Baltimore for the same price.)