The faceless gentlemen shown just above have two guilty secrets in common. The first is that each of them within the past week has been manager of the almost toothless Detroit Tigers. To many this might seem the major crime of the gentlemen in question, but the American baseball fan, like most other Americans, can forgive misfortune and even a certain amount of incompetence. The unforgivable crime is obscurity. How can you cheer or hiss a guy when you don't even know what he looks like? The trouble with the faceless Tiger managers is that nobody, or practically nobody, knows them.
The history of big league baseball shimmers with the memory of managers whose vibrant personalities dominated ball parks like the crackle of peanut shells and the scent of hot franks: the imposing figure of the Giants' great John J. McGraw, the Yankees' wiry and mercurial Miller Huggins, contentious and cantankerous Lippy Leo Durocher, who made the rhubarbs glow like rubies at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. The present manager of the New York Yankees has achieved a position of eminence beyond all his colleagues, not so much by fielding a hopelessly perfect team—many a fan has become almost bored by that feat—as by talking a language that only he can understand. Everybody knows Casey Stengel. But who is Jack Tighe? And who is Bill Norman?
Jack Tighe is an amiable, hardworking "nice guy," whose two terms as manager of the Detroit Tigers have left his team in the doldrums and his face a blank in the minds of most fans. Bill Norman was the man appointed to take his place when Tighe was fired with regrets (they always regret the hell out of their decisions) by his boss John McHale last week. The response in the press was instantaneous. "Who's Norman?" everybody asked everybody else. It was a sharp reminder of the great days of yore when big league managers had to be somebody before they got the front-office nod. The answer was simple enough. Towering Willis Patrick Norman is known to an enormously small circle of fans as the manager of a Tiger farm team—the Charleston, W. Va. Senators—who had brought his lagging team up to third place in the American Association. McHale's reason for upping him: "He has experience as a manager."
In today's baseball, as in other great industries, this is the age of the organization man. Bill Norman is obviously a capable, dedicated organization man. Maybe he will do for the Tigers what he did for the Charleston Senators. We hope so. If he doesn't, we know that the Detroit front office already has another meritorious branch manager in mind to succeed him. We hope, though, that Newman—oops, Norman—will restore some lost color to a national game whose major asset is its spectacular flavor. The fans in West Virginia think he will. Down there they know and admire him as a baseball nut who talks a language of his own that is almost as weird as Casey Stengel's.
June 22, 1958
He calls baseballs "seeds," pitchers' mounds "anthills," himself "Willie Card"—after a youthful admiration for the St. Louis Cardinals—and everyone else "Murph." "If the guys on the anthill hum that seed and the blacksmiths mash that hide, the Tigers will strike up the band in Detroit," say the West Virginians, following Norman's own lingo. And by Sunday, after the Tigers had taken two out of three from Boston and four straight from the Yankees, fife and drum notes were welling up from Grosse Pointe to River Rouge.