HOW DO THE YANKEES GET THE BEST BALLPLAYERS?
They find them. They raise them. If necessary, they talk other people out of them. But first, they must find them.
Scouts win pennants, and the Yankees have won 15 in the last 21 years. So Yankee scouts should be the best in all baseball. They are. They also wear out more shoe leather than any other scouting staff in baseball, which is one of the reasons they are the best. The other reason is that if they weren't the best they would no longer be Yankee scouts. It is almost that simple.
"Everything," says General Manager George Weiss, "starts with the scouts. Ours are constantly being evaluated. When they lose a prospect, we want to know why. Didn't we like the boy? Was there a good reason we didn't sign him? Or," with a rather grim little smile, "did someone slip up?"
July 21, 1957
The Yankees, after missing out on a youngster they wanted very much to sign, have been known to fire the scout who failed. They have also been known to spirit right off the payroll of another big league team the man who out-talked him. In the baseball jungle, such tactics can't miss. After a while you have most of the good ones on your side.
The Yankee scouting system in its basic structure is like that of 15 other major league teams: a chief scout to head up the full-time, 12-months-a-year staff of 20, and almost 100 bird dogs, who work on a commission or retainer basis and beat the bushes for talent in spare time away from their regular jobs as high school coaches, sportswriters and window washers for the local department store.
The Yankees hold tryouts at the Stadium itself three times a year and in these sessions they may look at as many as 900 players. Of that number, they might find 25 worth a second look. They usually end up by signing about a dozen. Meanwhile, out across the nation, the rest of the scouting staff is looking at thousands more. From these come another 35 or 40. If 50 young players a year seems a modest number with which to shore up such a dynasty, it must be pointed out that these are highly unusual boys. Very few are less than good; most have the potential for greatness.
"Some clubs sign everyone within distance, thinking that they won't miss anybody that way," Paul Krichell, the late famed Yankee chief scout, would say. "A club could go broke under that system. A scout has to look for real ability in a player: has he got a good arm, does he have speed, does he take a good cut at the ball? Temperament counts a lot but you can't look inside a young player, can you? So, how well does he like to play ball? Does he really love the game?
"Sometimes you can have a ballplayer who will do well in the majors with one fault. Earl Combs couldn't throw. But he made up for that in many other ways. But if a kid has two faults, he doesn't have a chance."
At least not with the Yankees.
The scouts know by heart the two compelling arguments for and against their organization. With the histrionics of a star salesman—or a Joseph Paul Goebbels—they unfold before the fascinated eyes of talented young men all the massive advantages of becoming a Yankee: fame, fortune and fat shares of a World Series pot. On the other hand they try to minimize the bugaboo of too much Yankee talent already on hand. To this favorite thesis of rival scouts, Krichell always had the simplest and most effective answer.
"No club," he would say, "ever has enough really good ballplayers."
Once the Yankees have found a boy, nothing is spared to see that he receives a first-class baseball education. The compact farm system is made up of 10 minor league teams, two in triple-A, one in double-A, one in Class A and six in the lower minors; experience has dictated that this is the most efficient number to handle the players the Yankees have under contract. Once they had 22 farm teams, which turned out to be too many.
To these farm clubs, as managers, Weiss assigns men who are teachers first and managers second. Typical of those who work for the Yankees is Ralph Houk at Denver. Never much more than a third-string catcher in the big leagues, from the very first Houk displayed evidence of patience and judgment and exceptional teaching ability. Typical, too, is Eddie Lopat at Richmond, a great major league pitcher but one whose head was always more famous than his arm.
In 1950 Weiss and Stengel dreamed up the idea of the instructional school, a prespring-training gathering together of promising Yankee farm hands under the omniscient eye of Casey himself and his high-priced coaching specialists, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti and Jim Turner.
Its purpose was threefold: to give the youngsters advanced schooling in fundamentals at the knee of the master; to give Stengel and his staff a chance to assess the boys personally instead of depending entirely on cold statistics and the even colder pages of the scouting report; and to give the farm team managers, who were also asked to attend, a thorough indoctrination in the Yankee system.
"These advance camps," said Stengel, "give the entire organization one pattern, one system, one way of doing things. And that's my way."
The program has been so successful that it is now copied by most other clubs in both the American and National leagues.
Scouting, signing, teaching. Together they pay off for the Yankees in that endless stream of young talent pouring into the vast ball park in the Bronx. Every year there are kids coming up who can help. In his first year, 1949, Stengel played rookies Coleman and Bauer. In 1950 he had Jensen and Ford and Collins. In 1951 there were McDougald, Martin, Morgan—and a boy named Mantle. And since then the steady procession has included Carey, Grim, Skowron, Kucks, Howard, Sturdivant, Richardson and Kubek.
They find them. They raise them. If necessary, they talk other people out of them.
IS THERE REALLY MAGIC IN THE YANKEE UNIFORM?
Should you ask this question of Enos Slaughter, who wears one, he will look at you for a moment and shrug his shoulders. For Slaughter who has been in the game a long time and has worn a lot of different uniforms, there is only one way to play baseball, whether for the Yankees or Keokuk, and that is twice as hard as you are able. To do anything less would be cheating someone: Abner Doubleday or your mother or the man who pays your salary or the fans or yourself.
Should you ask the question of Nellie Fox, who doesn't even like the sight of a Yankee uniform, you had better be ready to duck fast. For Nellie, equipped by nature with enough spirit of his own to supply half a dozen much larger men, can afford to scorn and even defy such an obviously false superstition. And since he chews the biggest plug of tobacco in baseball, he might just spit in your eye.
But not every ballplayer, perhaps unfortunately, is a Slaughter or a Fox, and this aura of omnipotence which surrounds the Yankees is, in the day-to-day life of the American League, a very real thing indeed. Few of the Yankees feel like old Enos. To them, the famous pin-stripe flannels are a symbol of something very big and very important, something far deeper than batting averages and pitching records and games won and lost. To the rest of the league—omitting those who truly feel like Nellie Fox but including those who just say that they do—the Yankee uniform means something, too, and it visibly affects their play.
Opposing ballplayers react to the Yankees, of course, in vastly different ways. Some of them, and this includes a large segment of the youngsters each year, have been raised on tales of Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio, and it is hardly surprising that when they trot onto the field at Yankee Stadium and look up at the towering tiers of the famous park they do so with a feeling akin to awe. Zack Taylor, who used to manage the old St. Louis Browns, glanced up from his seat on the bench during batting practice one day to discover half his ball club over in the Yankee dugout. "They were just standing there, looking at the Yankees," he snorted, "and a couple of them were even asking for autographs. Damnedest thing I ever saw."
It would be absurd to suggest that the real pros react in the same way; in fact, they sometimes lean so far in the other direction that they eventually arrive at a position from which it is hard to distinguish them from the awestruck kids. This is because they want to beat the Yankees so much—because of pride, because of hate, because of plain old dollars and cents—that it hurts their performance, too.
"When you're on another ball club," admitted Harry Simpson right after he was obtained in a trade with Kansas City last month, "you know the Yankees are the best, all right. But it's not a matter of being afraid of them. You just want to beat them-so bad, to prove that you can be just as good, that you tighten up. You try too hard. And then you know that the first time you make a mistake, you're dead. So you try just a little bit harder to keep from making that mistake and you press a little more and you get a little tighter and then bang. They beat you.
"It's a wonderful feeling," he said softly, "to be playing for this team instead of against it."
What Simpson is just beginning to feel and what Slaughter may never feel wraps itself completely around those on the club who have been Yankees or in the Yankee organization for years. It is not a thing they like to talk about, since it belongs only to them, and it is not something to be produced for all the world to see. But the Yankees know it is there and that it contributes materially toward making them better ballplayers, both as individuals and as a team. On the 1957 ball club, perhaps the one who can explain the feeling best is Jerry Coleman, who is not only sincere and articulate but has been a part of the Yankee organization for more than 15 years. He says: "Maybe the phrase is used too much, but there really is an esprit de corps. I was a marine and it was there and you knew it. Well, it's here on the Yankees, too.
"It's not just that business of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and the old Yankee teams, either, although that is a part of it and it helps. It's also the fellows playing alongside you today, right now. And it's that old guy over there," with a nod toward Stengel. "He doesn't need the money. He doesn't have to keep on managing. He's a wealthy man. But he needs to win.
"They teach you from the first in the Yankee organization that you are expected to win. And you do. When you lose, you keep asking yourself, 'What in the world are we doing losing to those guys? They're not supposed to beat us.' We have the best ball club in the world and we all know it. The other teams know it, too."
DO THEY HAVE A MAJOR LEAGUE FARM CLUB IN KANSAS CITY?
Major League Rule No. 20 states that no club, owner, stockholder, officer, employee, manager or player shall "directly or indirectly...have any financial interest in any other club in the league."
It is because of this rule that the relationship between the Yankees and Athletics has piqued the interest of a congressional subcommittee and several million baseball fans across the country as well.
In 1945, Del Webb, a wealthy building contractor from Phoenix, Arizona, Dan Topping, a wealthy husband of Sonja Henie, and Larry McPhail, an old friend of Leo Durocher, bought the New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, the land on which it was built and all the spare adhesive tape lying around the locker room for something like $4 million.
In 1947 Webb and Topping bought out McPhail. Six years later, to get out of the real estate business, they sold the Stadium and land, while retaining the players and tape, for $6.5 million to a man who did like the real estate business: Arnold Johnson of Chicago, a wealthy friend and sometime business associate of Mr. Webb's. Mr. Johnson then turned around and sold the land to the Knights of Columbus for $2.5 million, promptly leased it back for a 28-year period for $4.8 million and in the same motion sub-leased it to Webb and Topping for $11.5 million. This may sound confusing to you, but it wasn't to Mr. Johnson; his profit on the deal was a nice, jingly-sounding $6.65 million. Which may help explain why he likes the real estate business.
Anyway, it had no effect on the pennant race.
But one of the properties Arnold Johnson acquired in the transaction was the Kansas City ball park which housed a farm club of the Yankees. When it became evident that the Athletics were anxious to leave Philadelphia before they starved to death, Johnson had the happy thought of transplanting them to Kansas City. So he did. Of course this brought up Rule No. 20, and in 1955 Johnson had to sell Yankee Stadium. He sold it to a corporation headed by John W. Cox of Chicago. Mr. Cox and Mr. Johnson had owned and raced boats and airplanes together and are close friends. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Webb are business associates and close friends. Pretty cozy.
All of which fails to prove a thing. After due investigation, the whole business seemed to satisfy Mr. William Harridge, who is president of the American League, and it also satisfied the commissioner of baseball, Mr. Ford Frick, and he so testified before the congressional committee. Whether the committee was satisfied, no one is exactly sure. After listening to Mr. Frick's testimony, they just looked blank.
The fans, though, murmured when Messrs. Johnson, Webb and Cox began trading insignificantly in 1955. In 1956 the murmurs grew when New York picked up Enos Slaughter from Kansas City on waivers (and by reportedly paying far more than the $10,000 waiver price). The howls really began this year when the two teams simply went off in a corner and began to swap. (The fact that the Yankees continued to beat the Athletics with monotonous regularity—13 straight before finally losing one—did nothing to appease those howls.) Out of two big deals the Yankees got a pair of very good pitchers, Bobby Shantz and Art Ditmar, whom they needed, and a left-hand hitting outfielder, Harry Simpson, whom they could certainly use.
Now the Yankee-Athletic axis had finally begun to affect the pennant race. The Yankees, some people charged, are running a farm club at Kansas City; they are sending down spare and worthless players in return for real big leaguers. When they need a player badly, others pointed out, it seems they have only to beckon and presto! one appears—straight from Kansas City. Unethical, they said. Collusion, it was whispered.
Baseball men say no.
The Yankees got Slaughter because George Weiss is smart and because the Yankees were willing and able to pay a lot of money for—and also a lot of money in salary to—an aging ballplayer who just might give them a very brief and specialized lift. In the two big deals of 1957, it appeared from the very first that Kansas City came out ahead in value received, and subsequent events have only heightened the impression. For Ditmar and Shantz, the Athletics received Tom Morgan, Irv Noren, Mickey McDermott, Milt Graff and Billy Hunter. Simpson—and two other players whom the Yankees promptly sent to the minors—were only pawns in the deal which enabled Weiss to get rid of the controversial but highly skilled Martin. Had the Copacabana incident never occurred, it is unlikely that the Yankees would have made a trade which took not only Martin but the promising youngsters Ralph Terry, Woody Held and Bob Martyn as well.
"There is nothing illegal or unethical about the trading between the Yankees and Athletics," says John McHale, the capable young general manager of the Detroit Tigers. "Arnold Johnson is doing a fine job for Kansas City. He took a ball club that had nothing and made it into a ball club that is tough to beat. Arnold and I were on the phone at least 25 times since the opening of the season. We just couldn't trade because we didn't have the extra ballplayers to offer. We don't have depth and that's no secret."
Says Baltimore's Paul Richards: "In Arnold Johnson's position, you have to get ballplayers. The most logical source is the team that has the most, and that is the Yankees. Kansas City would be trading with, say, Chicago if the White Sox were the team overloaded with talent. In Johnson's position he can't afford not to make a deal for players who might help him. I don't buy those stories about collusion at all."
WHO REALLY RUNS THE YANKEES?
Major league club owners, casting about for fresh ammunition in their running battle with congressional committees on this matter of whether professional baseball is or is not a business, may be overlooking a most convincing argument: of all profit-seeking ventures known to man, none is controlled by so many knowing so little about so much. If this in itself is unusual, even more so is the fact that some of the club owners actually admit it. The Yankees' Del Webb and Dan Topping are among these. Perhaps that is why they are the most successful of all.
Webb, wealthy and wise, is a man whose first business is building, not baseball, and although in constant touch with the Yankee front office, he is seldom in New York. Considered by some the strong man of the organization, he knows enough about baseball to know that he doesn't know everything about it and is smart enough to hire someone who does. Topping, who once owned a professional football team, now considers baseball his primary interest. He lives in New York and seldom allows a day to pass in which he does not spend some time actively in his Yankee Stadium , office. But Topping, too, is wise enough to realize that he is just learning what makes a ball club tick. The man that Webb and Topping have hired to see that it does tick is George Martin Weiss. Not Casey Stengel. As long as the team wins, Weiss will be the boss. Should it fail, Weiss will undoubtedly go, but only after Casey has preceded him through the door.
Weiss, a portly, moon-faced man who seldom raises his voice, always has a haircut and doesn't look like a genius at all, has long been considered one of baseball's best brains, the individual most responsible for seeing that pennants—and the good ballplayers who bring them—keep flowing into Yankee Stadium in a never-ending stream. He doesn't look so tough, either, which just shows you how easy it is to be fooled. The thought of second place is so repugnant to George Weiss that he probably doesn't even know where it is.
He remains, however, a quiet, lonely man who abhors publicity and because of this the average fan, when thinking of the Yankees, thinks first of Stengel, the most colorful, most famous manager in baseball. Weiss is just a name; Stengel a living, snorting flesh-and-blood being. So it was only natural, when stories of trouble and even a feud between the two arose following the Copacabana incident and the Martin trade, that many persons began to wonder which of the two strong men was the stronger.
The answer is that Weiss hired Casey in the first place. He can also fire him. The rest of the answer is that he won't because (a) they are old friends; (b) on the job there is mutual trust and respect—and dependence—between them; and (c) they have had differences of opinion about ballplayers before.
"I've known Casey since 1919," says Weiss, and the record books show that they even operated in the same league as long ago as 1925. In the old Eastern League that year, Weiss owned the New Haven team, and Stengel was president, manager and center fielder for Worcester.
Weiss would rather not talk about the unpleasant affair which sent Bucky Harris packing in 1948 (Weiss fired him when Bucky finished third after winning a pennant the year before), but he will admit that the Yankee organization, meaning Weiss, had been eying Stengel as future managerial material for a long time.
"You always do that," says Weiss. "I'm doing it right now—just in case something should happen to Casey, of course. Anyway, we liked the way he operated when he was managing on the Coast, at Oakland. So when we needed a manager, we hired him."
No cat-and-dog relationship could have produced the record hung up by the partnership: seven pennants and six world championships in eight years. In fact, if there is a word to explain this rather fabulous feat—and Weiss will supply it—that word is "cooperation."
"They meet every day," said an official of the Yankees, "and they talk over everything. They are both strong men, of course, and they have their differences. Casey may be overruled sometimes—Mr. Weiss is the general manager—but he is always consulted and it doesn't happen very often. Casey runs the ball club on the field; Weiss gets him the players he needs and looks after everything else."
The Martin deal, in which Weiss saw that the aggressive and night-life-loving Yankee second baseman was traded to Kansas City, undoubtedly irritated Stengel, for Martin was one of his favorites. But Weiss—and Stengel, too—had to be convinced that Bobby Richardson was a major league second baseman all the way before they would have traded Martin even in the face of half a dozen Copacabana things. More than he dislikes adverse publicity, Weiss wants to win pennants. So does Stengel.
There were other times when they didn't see eye-to-eye. When Weiss traded Tommy Byrne to St. Louis in 1951, Stengel was furious. And, although Casey eventually got "him back, it was three years later and only after the veteran pitcher had proved to Weiss that he could be a winner once again.
There is a classic story told by one of the veteran Yankee writers concerning just such a deal which helps explain why the idea sometimes arises that Weiss and Stengel are on the verge of armed combat. In the spring of 1951 the Yankees were trying out a second baseman named Gene Markland, who, although never really a big leaguer, had been around and was, in some ways, Stengel's type of player—experienced, a hustler and a guy who knew his way around a baseball diamond despite a lack of sensational ability. Weiss released him over Casey's protest.
"Casey left the park," the narrator says, "and the first bar he came to, he went in. It was dark and gloomy and when Casey began to rant and rave against Weiss and the whole blasted organization he didn't know who was listening to him. Maybe he didn't care.
"Anyway, three of the guys in the bar were printers for a New Jersey newspaper. They called their sports editor and told him all about it. So the sports editor had a reporter call up Weiss. 'Is it true?' the reporter asked, 'that you and Casey are having trouble? Is there a feud?'
" 'Why no, why?' Weiss asked.
" 'Well,' the reporter said, 'we have a report that he's in some bar claiming that the front office is trying to run his ball club.'
" 'Oh,' said Weiss with evident relief. 'He's always doing that. Doesn't mean a thing.' "
WILL THEY GO ON FOREVER?
Baseball, a game played with a round ball on a flat field, comes up with very few funny bounces. The best team usually wins. In the American League the Yankees have had the best team for a long time—so long, in fact, that it is extremely difficult to imagine the day when they will not.
They have the best ballplayers in the league today, and, what is almost as important, since it tempers the danger always present because of injury, they have more really good ones than anyone else available on the bench. They have the best manager, or at least that is what the records show. And they have an organization, headed by Weiss, which seems intent on producing good young players for the years to come. Last season seven Denver farm hands hit over .300, and one who didn't slugged 35 home runs.
Assuming that the Yankees continue to be just as good in the future as they have been in the past—and there is little or no reason to believe that they won't—there is only one way to beat them, the way Cleveland did it in 1954. The only trouble with this is that to pull the trick the Indians had to win 111 games, which no one had ever done before, and even then it wasn't a breeze. The Yankees won 103.
At the moment no one appears equipped, at least in the foreseeable future, to do it again. Cleveland's once-great pitching staff is growing old. Chicago, which acted for over two months like a team which might well win 111 games this very year, now looks like a team which will have to hurry to win 100. The White Sox are just too thin, and they are also aging fast. Detroit has good young players but not enough of them and certainly not as many as New York; the Tigers are so far behind in the business of turning them out that it is going to be doubly tough to catch up. And so it goes throughout the league. If the Yankees lose, it will probably have to come from a major upheaval within—and there is no guarantee that this will happen or that it will be effective even if it does.
Stengel is 66 and must retire some day, but the longer he goes on the less those close to him believe that it will be any time soon. He may not need his baseball salary to live on, but he needs baseball to live. And even if something should happen to Casey, the Yankees, as Weiss says, probably have his replacement already in mind. How less effective would the ball club be should the new manager be, say, a man like Birdie Tebbetts? Or Paul Richards? Or a few other guys?
Weiss is 63 and, as he goes about his job, he shows very little strain. He has a capable young assistant, Lee McPhail, who now has Weiss's old job of director of player personnel and could probably carry on the organization almost as efficiently if something should happen to the boss.
As for the players, it was commonly accepted before this season that the two Achilles' heels of the Yankees, if such existed, were Mantle and Berra. Yet with Berra slumping badly, the Yankees still win. Where would you find another Mantle? Well, for one thing, he is only 25. For another, what is it they used to say? Where would you find another DiMaggio?
And then there is the tradition: the uniform and Gehrig and Ruth and the esprit de corps.
And if all this weren't enough, the Yankees just don't believe in getting beat. In 1948 they finished third. The next year not only the manager was missing but over half of the ballplayers as well. If they had failed again in '49, the rest would probably have been sold or traded, too—and so would George Weiss.
"Maybe we are cold," says a Yankee official in trying to explain the Yankee philosophy of victory at all costs. "But we don't think of it that way. It's just that we have to win; if not have to win, at least need to win. It is," he adds simply, "expected of us."
Will they ever beat themselves? This year they have played 11 extra-inning contests. They have won ten. This is not the mark of a team which beats itself.
Overconfidence? "The whole secret of Stengel's success," says Tebbetts, who does a lot of thinking about that sort of thing, "is that he never lets a ball club become complacent or self-satisfied."
Bad luck? On June 30, Ralph Terry of the Athletics pitched a two-hitter against his former teammates and lost 2-1. Another ex-Yankee, Irv Noren, could only shake his head. "There's no justice," Noren said, "if he can lose a game like that. Somebody up there must like them."