Jim Turner is a large, solid, gray-haired citizen in his mid-50s who tiptoes about doing one of baseball's most important jobs with the air of a man in constant fear that someone will show up at the park some day and ask to see his pass. If this should ever happen, the immediate—and automatic—response of the Yankee pitching coach would undoubtedly be: "You better go talk to Casey."
That one of baseball's most respected figures should remain virtually unknown outside the game is just fine with Jim Turner. Baseball is his life, and in his pleasant Tennessee way he has only a fine contempt for anything else. It is said that he was once misquoted by a newsman—perhaps in his rookie year with the Boston Braves, when he won 20 games—and has never really completely recovered from this traumatic experience in the more than two decades since. In any event, he refuses to take much credit for the success of his pitching staff ("I haven't won a game all year") with a modesty that borders on self-effacement.
But if anonymity is what he seeks, Jim Turner came to the wrong place. In a year during which the Yankee pitchers are threatening to make a farce out of the American League race the man almost 100% in charge of this branch of the corporation is Turner. The things which Bob Turley and Don Larsen and Whitey Ford and all the rest—Shantz, Duren, Sturdivant, Kucks, Maglie, Ditmar and Grim—can do, they must do with their own minds and muscles, it is true. But it is Jim Turner who has trained them and taught them and spent long hours sharpening their skills and correcting their mistakes. And it is Jim Turner who can best explain exactly why they are so unbeatable today.
"Whoa," he says, after discovering that you are not going to talk to Casey after all. "Don't use that word unbeatable. A lot of things can happen in this game.
"Sure, our pitching has been going pretty good. But I'll tell you in August—or better yet, on September 28—how good it really is. That's what counts. You take a pitcher that's hot. He's like a batter that gets hot. He can cool off just as fast. So I say the pitching is good only if it continues to be good right through June and July and August to the end of the season.
"I will say it's been pretty phenomenal up to now, there's no denying that. But you know it's not going to last. An earned run average of 2.02! No team ever had pitching like that over a full season. And you have to remember that there are some other good pitchers in this league, too, and they're not going to keep on losing forever. We've been catching some of these teams when they were playing their worst of the season.
"But I'll tell you one thing that everybody has got all wrong. They keep saying what a great pitching staff this has suddenly become this year. Silliest thing I ever heard. This was a good pitching staff last year. They had a 3.00 ERA, an even 3.00, and you don't find many like that. These are good pitchers and they've been good pitchers. If they're any better now, it's because they have learned a little more. They've worked hard and it's beginning to show up. None of them has any new pitches—that's foolish—and they don't have any more stuff than they had before. It's just that they are learning how to use it.
"Now, you take Turley. He has always had tremendous stuff, more than most pitchers. He just had to learn to control it, to gain confidence. Don't let anybody tell you he just learned to throw that curve; he just finally learned how to use it about a year ago, that's all. Since June of last year he has been a tremendous pitcher. Now, of course, he's off to a great start. Whether he can keep it up or not, I don't know. He's big and strong and has the pitches. He's smart and he's got guts. In a pitcher, that's the most important thing.
"Now Larsen, he has pitched well, too, but we have had to rest him. His shoulder is a little tender. He always has that trouble in cold weather.
"He wasn't much of a pitcher when he came to us. He lost a lot of games at Baltimore and even before that. He didn't know anything about pitching. But he has been working hard out there for three years and now he's a pitcher. He's got lots of stuff, too. On a given day he can throw as hard as Turley. Not every time but sometimes. And he's got a real good slider and good control.
"Now Ford is a different case altogether. He had the stuff when he came up and the ability to use it. You never saw such confidence; he always had the guts of a burglar. Sometimes you can get too confident—but he was all right. And he never quit learning and working. He has speed and the curve and the changeup and control, too.
"Shantz can throw a little bit of everything—fast ball, curve, change-up, slider, sinker. He had trouble with his arm there for a few years, but we took a chance on him and last year he showed us he was ready to pitch again. If you remember, he started off just like this a year ago, won nine games, I think it was, and lost only one. Did he get tired? Yes, he did, but the reason was because Ford got hurt and we had to use Shantz maybe a little too often to plug the gap. I don't think that will happen this year.
"I don't know too much about Maglie, but he's done a real good job for us and he knows what he's doing out there. Of course, he's older and getting along toward the end of his career and what I say about continuing improvement may not apply to him. Anyway, he's a good man to have around.
"Duren, now, he throws the ball about as hard as anybody I know. Harder than Larsen, harder even than Turley. I haven't seen Score yet this year but I don't think even Score is any faster than this boy. And what nobody seems to realize is that he has a terrific slider, too. The hitters can tell you all about it. And he has a changeup, and now he also has control. That's because he has worked so hard on it.
"Now you take Sturdivant and Kucks. Those two boys are just liable to be the pitchers that win a pennant in July and August. Sturdivant's arm has been a little sore and now he has to pitch his way back into a job. But when he got his big chance last year with Ford out and some of the others missing a turn or two, he really came through. Led the team in innings pitched and won 16 games. He has a good fast ball and a change. Kucks is a few years younger than the others—except for Maglie, who is over 40, and Shantz, who is about 32, they're all 27 or 28 or 29—but he's already a real good pitcher. Depends on breaking stuff, and last year he was up here too much, wasn't keeping his stuff down. You can't hang those curves up there and get away with it very long. But he looks all right now.
"Grim? Well, he won 20 games one year, didn't he? And Ditmar. He won 12 games with an eighth-place team at Kansas City. They're both good pitchers. The only trouble is we haven't had much opportunity to use them. On a staff like this it's tough to break in when everybody is going so well. But sooner or later they'll get their chance—and they'll be ready.
"That's the secret. This is not one or two men, it's a pitching staff. Every year they say our pitching is weak because we don't have a bunch of 20-game winners. Well, we don't have many 20-game winners because we can't afford to keep a pitcher in there for his regular turn when he's not sharp. We're always fighting for a pennant, and if one pitcher can't do the job, there's always someone else who can. Or at least someone who deserves the chance to try. So we have a lot of pitchers with 13-5 and 12-4 and 16-6 records and that's better than a few 20-game winners and not much else.
"I guess this may be the best pitching staff the Yankees have had. Now we have 10 good pitchers right down the line. There's no reason why they can't keep on winning. But you come around on September 28 and ask me and I'll tell you for sure.
"Anyway, you don't want to talk to me about pitching. You better go talk to Casey."
Said Casey: "You might say the pitching looks pretty good. Which don't make me a bit mad."
THE TURNOVER OF MR. TURLEY
Should a pleasant, round-faced young man named Bob Turley, after teetering precariously for years on the verge of fame, finally become a 20-game winner this season, it will be largely because he has learned a rather useful lesson: glamour, in baseball as elsewhere, is a perishable commodity.
For Bob Turley, you see, has always been a strikeout pitcher, and the strikeout pitcher has long been one of the glamorous figures of the game. Part of this, like the excitement which surrounds a home run, is due to the strikeout's sudden, shocking finality. But even more it is because the great strikeout pitchers—Waddell, Johnson, Mathewson, Alexander, Grove, Feller, Score—have possessed that delicate blend of sharp skill and sheer, raw power which makes any athlete exciting. And so it is that the strikeout, if employed frequently enough, can bring a man fame and fortune and a garage full of Cadillacs.
It can also bring him a lot of headaches, says the sensible Mr. Turley, who already owns a Cadillac but takes no great pride in this particular fact since it is more or less part of the uniform of the team for which he pitches. Strikeouts and bases on balls frequently go hand in hand—Turley once managed to lead the league in both at the same time—and he has decided that, if by forgoing the one he can rid himself of the other, he is perfectly willing to be less glamorous. So this year, by the simple process of eschewing strikeouts in favor of pop flies and dinky little grounders, Bob Turley managed to win seven straight games in the first six weeks of the season, pitch four shutouts and generally resemble nothing so much as the best pitcher in all baseball.
"It hit me all at once about a year ago," he says. "I thought I had discovered the secret back in the '56 World Series but then I found myself falling more and more back into my old style of pitching. I was trying to get everyone out with my fast ball—and I couldn't even get it over the plate.
"So one day I just stopped and thought it all out. I realized then I was going to have to do something drastic. And suddenly there it was. For years I had been working and studying and all I had to do was quit trying to throw the ball past the batter on every pitch and place some confidence in all the other things I had learned.
"I suppose you might say I had to change over from depending entirely on this," and he patted his big right arm, ".... to this." And he tapped his head.
"The day was June 15, 1957, and it was the key point in my career," says Bob, who went on to win 12 games the rest of the season. "My fast ball is as good as it ever was, and I still strike out quite a few. I just don't depend on it so much, that's all.
"I used to throw 90% fast balls. Now I'm down to about 60%, with the rest breaking stuff. I'm trying to out-think the batter, to make him hit the pitch I want him to and hit it where I want him to. A strikeout can take four or five or six pitches; if the batter fouls off a few, it can take even more. On the other hand, one pitch is all you need if he pops it up or hits it into the dirt. One pitch and you have an out.
"The real tipoff is the number of pitches I throw in a game this year. I'm averaging about 110, and my highest has been 154. In the past that would have been a minimum. I can remember throwing 180 or 200 a lot of times.
"It is really much easier this way," says Bob Turley. "And it works."
1958 YANKEE PITCHING RECORD
*Ford and Duren share shutout.
BEST ERAS SINCE WAR
White Sox (1946)
*Failed to win pennant.