The following report on baseball's first week of spring training assembles the on-the-spot journal entries and personal impressions of Sports Illustrated's baseball staff at the various training camps. Robert Creamer, Roy Terrell and Walter Bingham report from Florida, Les Woodcock from Arizona.
For most major league baseball teams, the early days of spring training belong to the rookies, while their elders frolic in gradual preparation for the long, strenuous season. Some, like the Redlegs and White Sox and Pirates, call all their players together at once, but others, like the Yankees and Phils and Cards and Braves, bring the youngsters down early. The managers and coaches and scouts work them hard, look them over and then work them some more.
Alvin Dark drops in at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg to look around, then goes off to find a house for his family. The Cardinal rookies keep on working. Harvey Kuenn drives up in a light green Cadillac to Tigertown in Lakeland, kids around with old friends among the writers and drives off to the beach. The Tiger rookies keep on working. Mickey Mantle dons a uniform for a TV show at Miller Huggins Field in St. Petersburg, then goes off to play golf. The Yankee rookies keep on working. Lew Burdette, remembering a good season, goes to Bradenton to argue contract with the Milwaukee front office, then drives the 10 miles to his home in Sarasota. The Braves rookies keep on working. Don Larsen drops in to see George Weiss about more money, and when he leaves nobody knows where he goes. But the Yankee rookies just keep on working.
Standing just outside the gate and watching the Yankees at their chores, a fan shouted excitedly, "There's Mickey Mantle."
March 11, 1957
Young Jay Ward, wearing the famous No. 7 on his back and looking not completely unlike Mantle, blushed slightly as he heard the voice. "Of all the numbers, I get 7."
Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankee rookie school was bubbling. All over Miller Huggins Field young men in gray uniforms sweated under the blazing Florida sun in an effort to win a word of praise and, perhaps, someday, a job on the most successful club in baseball, the New York Yankees.
On the pitcher's mound, a youth began his wind-up under the microscopic inspection of Coach Jim Turner. As he released the ball, Turner, never taking his eyes off him, yelled, "Curve ball!" And then, "What was it?"
"A curve," said the rookie sheepishly. Four more times the pitcher threw, and each time Turner correctly called the pitch.
"You see," said Turner, throwing a fatherly arm around the boy's shoulder, "you're telegraphing every pitch. The way you're doing it now, even the fans in left field will know what you're about to throw. Now what you want to do is...."
Over at the sliding pit, Johnny Neun, who once played baseball with Ty Cobb, watched as a dozen eager rookies demonstrated their sliding prowess.
"Use the slide you know best," ordered Neun. "No fancy stuff, just your best slide."
A lanky kid came loping down the runway, then leaped at the bag as if a bottomless pit lay between. He landed on his stomach in the sawdust.
"Your best slide! Your best slide!" screamed Neun.
The kid reddened. "That was my best, sir."
When it rains in Florida it falls in big globs, spanking the streets and sidewalks as it lands. It falls on children going to school and old men playing shurffleboard, but worst of all it falls on ball fields. And when it does, there isn't much a ballplayer can do but go inside and wait for it to stop.
At Vero Beach, the Dodgers waited in the lobby of the old Navy barracks they call home during the training season. The lobby is large. In one corner is a pool table, in another a few chess sets and checkerboards, and in a third some bridge tables. Scattered about are easy chairs and sofas and a few potted palms. On the walls are large pictures of the Dodgers' pennant-winning teams and in between them are smaller pictures of the men who won those pennants.
Roy Campanella, looking trimmer than he did a year ago, sat on a sofa with a newspaperman, smoking a cigar and discussing his battered right hand, the Dodgers' prospects for the coming season and his heir apparent, young John Rosboro.
Manager Walt Alston passed through the lobby to mail some letters. He stopped at a window and gazed out at the gray sky. "Still raining," he said to no one in particular. "I doubt if we'll get in a workout today."
Don Drysdale and Roger Craig began a game of pool. Johnny Podres wrote letters. Occasionally he rose to peek out the window.
"What do you see, John?" someone asked.
On the porch just off the lobby a few rookies were gathered around a bowling machine. They played automatically and without enthusiasm. And soon they quit. At a corner table playing bridge sat Don Zimmer, Ed Roebuck, Coach Jake Pitler and a rookie. The rookie was confused.
"Lead where it'll hurt them, kid," said Pitler. "Lead that big suit."
"Hey, Jake," complained Zimmer, "why not write him a letter?"
"Shut up and check the weather," answered Pitler. Zimmer went to the door and looked out.
"It's still raining—harder than it was an hour ago," he said. "Damn rain."
Run, Ron, run
Ron Jackson, the 6-foot 7-inch first baseman of the Chicago White Sox, worked out on Al Lopez Field in Tampa for several days before the first official day of training for the Sox. That day Coach Tony Cuccinello took the entire squad, including Jackson, into left field and had them run, run, run for more than 20 minutes, back and forth across the outfield under a blazing sun.
Afterward, Jackson went into Trainer Eddie Froelich's quarters, climbed on a scale and weighed himself. Proudly he announced, "I finally did it. I lost seven pounds."
Froelich grinned malevolently.
"You weren't working out on your own today, were you, big fella? Man with the whip was out there today."
Run, Tiger, run
At exactly 10 o'clock each morning at Lakeland a voice booms out over a loudspeaker. "Good morning, everybody. Play day begins at Tigertown." With that, the players, who have gathered in battle dress on the clubhouse porch, go charging out toward the baseball fields 400 yards away. And woe unto him who slows to a walk, lest the mysterious voice bellow again for all Polk County to hear, "Come on there, No. 12, did you have a bad night?"
Casey in the rain
Spectators arriving at Miller Huggins Field in midmorning one day last week were surprised to see the Yankees halfway through their workout.
"Why did you get them out so early, Casey?" asked a New York writer.
"Well, I'll tell you," said Stengel. "I want to get through here before it begins to rain. No sense standing out here in the rain, is there?"
"Where did you hear it was going to rain, Case?" another man asked. "I heard on the radio a few minutes ago it would be clear today."
"Hmph," snorted Stengel. "It looked just like this yesterday and a little after 11 it was raining. I don't care what they say, it's going to rain."
At a little after 11 it began to rain. The writers on the bench just looked at each other and shrugged. "What can you do?" one said and got up to follow Casey's No. 37 into the clubhouse. The rest sat there for a minute and then they went along, too. What could you do?
The P.A. announcer of an intrasquad game at the Indians' spring training camp in Tucson departed suddenly from his lineup announcements. "The Tigers' training camp in Florida has been beset by rain. The Dodgers' workouts have been cut short by rain in Florida." He paused and went on. "There are absolutely no prospects of rain in Tucson."
It was the same at the other three spring training camps in Arizona. The mid-winter temperature was always in the 70s, and the clear, sun-filled sky had a bearing on everything that was done.
After three or four hours under the sun during their workouts, nearly all of the ballplayers spent their afternoons back outside again. Some went swimming or horseback riding or headed for the race track, but most of them played golf. Oriole Manager Paul Richards, the best golfer among the managers in Arizona, unwound enough from his baseball worries one afternoon to beat Giant Manager Bill Rigney by six strokes, 76 to 82.
Besides warming winter bones, the sun played strange tricks during games at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson. Because the park was built so that the sun comes into home plate from center field in the afternoon, the catcher's shadow is cast behind him. Whenever he squatted to give a sign to the pitcher, the shadow of his fingers signaling the pitch was visible to everyone in the stands.
If the afternoons during the first few weeks of spring training were like an idyllic vacation in the sun for the ballplayers, the mornings were far from it. Then the players worked hard at what really brought them to Arizona in the first place—getting into condition to play a grueling season of major league baseball.
Spring training warmup varied little from camp to camp as everyone went through a mild bout of calisthenics, plenty of pepper games, some running and throwing, a lot of bunting and batting practice and, finally, intrasquad games. All camps worked the pitchers hardest of all. They had to do an endless drill in which each pitcher broke fast from the mound and either fielded a ball and threw quickly to third or ran to first for a lob from the first baseman. "You have to give the pitchers plenty to do before the exhibition games start," Chicago Manager Bob Scheffing summed up. "The other players can play themselves into shape, but the pitchers don't get that much work during games."
In Phoenix, Willie Mays, among other things the most exciting pepper-game player in baseball, added a colorful spark to a not-too-cheerful Giant camp as he worked hard with a joy for playing ball that highlighted everything he did.
The booming voices of Cub Manager Bob Scheffing and Coach George Myatt resounded over Rendezvous Park in Mesa, as Scheffing, the most relaxed manager in Arizona, and his aide gave advice to the younger players or kidded with the veterans. Kerby Farrell, the new Indian manager, fidgeted from one end of the field in Tucson to the other, while in the locker room before practice, bald-headed Vic Wertz got all the laughs he could from a comic fur toupee stuck jauntily on his head.
In Scottsdale, the lean figure of Manager Paul Richards dominated the field as he ambled everywhere, one or both hands stuck tightly in his pockets, directing all activity with meticulous care. Toward the end of a practice one day, he sat with his knees tucked under his chin on the grass of a practice field behind the park. A group of young pitchers sprawled in a semicircle in front of him. Richards talked softly, almost inaudibly. "You'll be scared and nervous for a while. That's only natural. But as you throw more and get the ball where you want it, you'll develop confidence in yourself. And when you have that confidence, you're a ballplayer."
There are certain times of the year when Frank Lane is quiet for minutes on end. Spring training is not one of those times. Sitting in the sun at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg one day last week the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals simplified the 1957 National League pennant race.
"Brooklyn," he said, "is still the team to beat. They have problems: Campanella has to play for them to win, Robinson is gone, who can tell about their pitching? But they know how to win and that's important.
"Milwaukee has the best personnel in the league. Look at that pitching. But they need a second baseman and they don't seem to want to give up anybody to get him. They also need to get a little fight.
"Cincinnati," he said, "has the fight. That McMillan and Temple around second base have enough spirit for two teams. There's no doubt that with Kluszewski and Post and Bell and Bailey and Robinson and Crowe they have the power. And Tebbetts is a good manager. He's full of bull, but he has those kids believing it and he's a good manager. But what are they going to do for pitching? And don't forget that the Reds had a handful of guys having the best year they ever had last year—and they still just finished third.
"Us? Well, I said last year that if we didn't finish fourth I should quit. This year I'll say that we should win at least 10 or 11 more ball games and the same thing holds true: if we don't, I should quit. We can start out knowing Moon is an outfielder and not a first baseman, that Musial is going to be the first baseman, that Blasingame belongs on second and not at shortstop, and our pitching is going to be better. But, of course," adds Frank Lane, really a practical man after all, "we could win 10 or 11 more games and still finish fourth."
Optimism in Orlando
All the Senators were not yet in camp, but somehow it was different from St. Petersburg, where the absence of a Mantle or a Berra made the Yankee camp seem empty, or even like Clearwater where the Phillies still awaited Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn. With the Senators, the sad truth is you don't miss their good players because you don't really expect to see any good players, although Washington has some, like Roy Sievers and Eddie Yost and Jim Lemon and Chuck Stobbs.
At the Senators' camp you find yourself looking instead at the ripening young players who, the Washington front office assures you, have plenty of potential but who, unhappily, always seem to be that frustrating "year away." One such is a big, strong Swede from California named Karl Arthur Olson. Olson will be 27 in July. Six years ago he batted .320 in the high minor leagues and was promoted to the majors with a small fanfare of trumpets. Since then he has performed with consistent and disappointing mediocrity.
In Orlando, on his first day in camp, Olson walked around the batting cage, wearing a dark blue warmup jacket and a cheerful grin. Charley Dressen, Washington's cocky manager, greeted him.
"Hello, Charley," Olson replied warmly. They shook hands, and then Olson went on to the edge of the cage, waiting his turn to bat.
Dressen gazed after him.
"Hey, come here," he called out suddenly. Olson turned, and Dressen led him to one side, away from the cage. "Get started right this year. Let me see how you stand."
Olson assumed his batting stance. Dressen moved the player's left foot back away from a mythical home plate. "Now bring your right foot up. Move it. More. More. Go on."
Olson, amiable as ever, complied. Dressen, enthusiastic as ever with an experiment, explained.
"Last year you stood in like this," he said, shoving his own left foot close to the plate so that a line drawn through his toes would angle toward right field. "You're all locked up. You couldn't pull."
"Doesn't Hodges stand that way?" Olson demurred gently. "The pull."
"Yeah, but Hodges doesn't stick his butt out the way you do," Dressen countered. "You get all locked up and you can't swing. Now stand the way I showed you. How does that feel?"
Olson swung the bat once or twice.
"Pretty good, Charley. Yeah, that feels comfortable."
When it came his turn to bat, Olson jumped into the cage and Dressen moved quickly behind it to watch. Olson carefully set his feet the way Dressen had shown him. He hit the ball consistently hard and long down the left-field line, and after his last swing and the traditional jog around the bases he came back to Dressen.
"That felt good, Charley. That felt pretty natural."
"Now you got to smooth out your swing," he counseled. Olson nodded and Charley grinned at him. Dressen, of course, is too much of a realist to feel that he had suddenly created a major league star on the first day of spring training, but, watching him as he grinned up at the broad-shouldered Olson, you could feel the optimism three feet away.
Old man at the gate
From their clubhouse at Miller Hug-gins Field the New York Yankees have to pass through an aisle of fans to reach the playing field. An old man stood near the gate as they passed.
"Hi, Frankie," he said as Frank Crosetti ran by. Crosetti smiled hello. "That was Frankie Crosetti," beamed the old man to a friend. The friend nodded.
"Hello, Bill," he called as Bill Dickey stepped through the gate. Dickey waved. "Bill Dickey, great catcher," he informed his friend proudly. The friend nodded.
"Hi, Al," he said as Ed Lopat came along. Lopat, who is spending his autumn years of baseball as a minor league manager in the Yankee farm system, merely glanced at him. The old man caught himself, embarrassed. "Not Al. That was Ed Lopat." Chagrined, he added, "Gee, I called him Al." The friend nodded.
End of a career
Like nearly every baseball player in existence, Bill Sarni looked forward to spring training. He was only 29 years old, yet had been going to spring training camps since he was 16. This year, though, he was counted on to be the No. 1 catcher for the New York Giants. Bill left his new home in St. Louis 10 days early and along with 15 other Giant players got in some valuable conditioning at Buckhorn Spa in Arizona.
When everyone reported to Municipal Field in Phoenix for the first official Giant workout last week, Sarni had to rest after 45 minutes.
"I feel as if I have something caught in my chest," he told Trainer Frank Bowman.
At the hospital later, a doctor told Bill Sarni: "Bill, that was a heart attack." He paused. "There are three types, Bill—mild, moderate and severe. Yours was a moderate one, something like President Eisenhower's. What it all means is that you're going to have to live a moderate life from here on in."
Sarni said quietly: "What will be, will be." The Giants, as stunned as Bill Sarni, told him to get well. No catching now but, if all goes well, a job as a Giant coach.