Frank Lane, the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, moves through the world with the quiet insistence of an ambulance in full flight. People turn away from store windows and stare and hold their children up to see when Frank Lane roars by.
Things had been hopping all week in Tucson. There had been a four-day rodeo (which, naturally enough, is called La Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Anglo-Saxon Tucson). A movie troupe, complete with glamour, was in town to make a cowboy movie, a "different" cowboy movie, they said, which, presumably, meant a good one. Herb Score and Mike Garcia, two of the Indians' best pitchers, had arrived early to get in a few extra days of work at the ball park, and Score had created a flurry of small headlines around the country by appearing to be completely recovered from his eye injury. Garcia later broke his finger to sort of keep things even. Field Manager Bobby Bragan flew in one morning and was followed around by a small crowd of curiosity seekers, who seemed to be waiting for Bobby to live up to his publicity and stand on his head, or at the very least to say something brash or bumptious. Later a big batch of Cleveland ballplayers came in and got promptly to work. For a few days the lobby of the Santa Rita Hotel was a glorious swirl of rodeo cowboys (most of whom looked lean and hard and healthy) and movie cowboys (most of whom needed haircuts) and ballplayers (who, mostly, just looked).
Then Frank Lane arrived, and suddenly everything that happened to titillate Tucson in the week past turned to a rather mild shade of gray.
First reports held that a Vanguard rocket had blazed to a spectacular landing in the desert south of town and that Frank had stepped out, carrying a second baseman and the conversation. He fed the rocket a cube of sugar and dismissed it to pasture, deposited the second baseman in Bobby Bragan's arms, gave the local press 14 fast stories and built a hotel. Or registered in one. He gave official approval to the glorious Arizona weather, said a few treasonable things about Florida (Frank's home is in St. Petersburg), analyzed the present skills and potential achievements of 47 ballplayers, smiled on the Cleveland newspapermen, who were shifting about uneasily because they had not had to ask any questions, and then subsided into a 27-second silence during which sparks crackled off his elbows and knees as he generated a fresh supply of energy.
March 17, 1958
Investigation revealed certain elements of exaggeration in these first reports. Frank actually flew from Florida in a Jupiter C rather than a Vanguard, and his landing was accomplished in the quiet of the night. The second baseman (Milt Boiling, whom he had conned out of the Washington Senators for a string of brightly colored beads and a minor league pitcher named Pete Mesa) was making his own way west and was with Frank only in spirit. The glorious Arizona weather that night was just plain cold, and Frank shivered publicly. The Cleveland writers did not shift about uneasily, because they are always able to think of questions. And Frank Lane did not, then or at any time, subside into a period of silence as long as 27 seconds.
When he came into the Santa Rita lobby just before midnight, carrying a briefcase, a sweater and a coat, he had been sleepless for about 16 hours, yet he stood there talking with officials and players and sportswriters and an occasional passer-by for nearly an hour, looking as bright and cheerful as a robin after the morning's first worm. The next day, after six hours of sleep, he caused a mild sensation by remarking, "I was pretty tired last night."
YOUNG IN SPIRIT
The popular cliché about Lane states that he's 60 years old but looks 40. Well, he is 60 (actually he is 62), and if he doesn't look quite as young as 40 he certainly looks years younger than he is. But the point to be remembered is not how old or young he looks, but how he acts. Fred Hutchinson, who is in his 30s and managed to carry the Cardinals around on his back last season, said once, "What an amazing guy Frank is. I hope I have his energy when I'm 60." Then, grinning in sudden realization, he added, "Hell, I wish I had his energy right now."
The Cleveland newspapermen, who have been starved these many years for colorful people to write about, find Lane both a delight and a caution. He was a delight because almost everything that he said or did made good copy. But he was a caution, too, because 1) it was hard to ask him as many as two questions in any one interview, since the first question usually set him off on an 85-yard conversational end run; and 2) he sometimes moved so fast that he ran out from under newspaper coverage. That is to say that before the sportswriters can get a story into print he has another version. After this had happened to one veteran Cleveland writer he shook his head sadly and commented, "You can't keep up with this man."
Lane's first stroll around the Indians' training base was graphic evidence of this. He made a complete tour with Bobby Bragan as his guide.
As they walked about, a knot of sportswriters and cameramen followed. Lane was nodding, agreeing, suggesting, approving, pausing to inspect this cage or that one, posing for the photographers, talking, listening, greeting people, telling stories.
Later, after practice, Lane stood outside the small stadium and talked about Bragan and the Indians. He said he expected to make more trades before the season began and that they could have considerable effect on the team's chances. But he said that while he'd be disappointed if the team, as it stood at the moment, did not finish in the first division, he did not think he could reasonably expect it to finish any higher than third.
A reporter asked him about the possibility of differences coming up between himself and Bragan. Lane did not hire Bragan.
"No," Frank said, "I didn't hire Bragan. Hank Greenberg did. But I would have if I'd come in when they were looking for a manager. No question about it, I would have hired Bobby. Hank asked me my opinion of him. I told Hank he couldn't go wrong hiring Bobby. A manager has to have class on the field and off. And Bobby has it.
"People are always asking Bobby what he's going to do if I start criticizing him publicly. Well, I resent them asking him that question. I don't think it's right. I'll criticize Bobby if I think he's wrong. A general manager is responsible for his manager. If he makes a mistake and I don't like it, I'm going to sound off. After all, he's my man. If he goes wrong, I go wrong. What should I do if he makes a mistake? Pretend that it's all right? The writers wouldn't believe me, and neither would the fans.
"As a general manager I'm doing everything I can to help the manager, because I'm selfish. I want him to win for my own sake. People don't understand that. There was a young lady who interviewed me on a broadcast right after I had left the Cardinals to come to the Indians. 'Mr. Lane,' she said, 'how can you be gung ho for the Cardinals on Saturday, and then turn around and be gung ho for the Indians on Monday?' I said, 'Because the Cardinals' seating capacity is 29,000 and the Indians' seating capacity is 80,000.' After the show she said to me, 'Mr. Lane, I don't think you understood what I meant.' I said, 'I understood what you meant. I don't think you understood what I meant. This is my business. I'm a professional.' "