It was the first week of spring training in Florida. At Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg Solly Hemus, wearing the bright red warmup jacket of the St. Louis Cardinals, stood behind the batting cage, his quick, narrow eyes scanning the scene before him. Minutes ago he had been busy fulfilling his role as utility infielder, blocking ground balls at third base, playing pepper with the boys and taking his five swings with the bat, all the time kidding, yelling and needling in the way that is his. Now, watching the others, making notations on the clipboard he carried and glancing occasionally at a pocket watch, he was performing his major function, that of manager of the Cardinals. As such, he was the perfect gentleman. He accepted interruptions gracefully. He answered questions politely. It looked like the effort was killing him.
Hemus, as a player, is tough, even mean. He can't hit very well or field very well, so naturally he isn't a very good player, but he has managed to stick around the major leagues for 10 years. He is good at drawing walks and at getting the old right elbow in front of a pitch, an art he has practiced so successfully that twice he has led the league in being hit by pitched balls. He is also shrewd.
In 1956, when he was traded away from St. Louis to Philadelphia, Solly made a smart move. Spending only a few minutes and a 3¢ stamp, he wrote a letter to Cardinal Owner Gussie Busch, saying in effect that it had been swell working for such a fine organization and that if at any time in the future Busch should need a manager for the Cardinals, little Solly would love to give it a try.
Just two and a half years later, Busch needed a manager. Hemus was traded back to St. Louis, and now he has his chance.
Last year the Cardinals finished in a tie for fifth place, just three games from the bottom of the league. Has Solly inherited a dying club? No, he doesn't think so. In fact, the Cardinals have a chance to be a real good team. Why no, he wasn't just saying that. If he thought he had a lousy team, he'd say so. Now this team had some fine young players in Boyer, Green, Blasingame, Cunningham....
A young infielder named Lee Tate finished his turn in batting practice and then came around to stand beside the cage, watching.
"Excuse me," said Hemus. "Hey, Tate, every time you finish batting I want you to circle the bases."
Tate, embarrassed, gave him a sick smile. Hemus cooled off quickly. "I don't mean you have to do it now, Tate. Just in the future. By the way, I realize you came out early today. I mean, I know you've been working hard." Obviously feeling better, Tate trotted off.
"The hardest part of this job is player relations," Hemus continued. "It's hard to know how to treat the different guys. Some need encouragement, others need a kick in the pants. Excuse me. Hey, Green, after you finish over there I want you to run.
"Our trip to Japan last fall was helpful. I made some mistakes there, mostly field decisions. For instance, I'd call for a hit-and-run, and it would turn out that the man couldn't hit behind the runner. Now I know the limitations of my players. Excuse me. Hey, Kuhlmann and Staniland. I want both of you to take some extra hitting."
Hemus started pulling at the batting cage. A few others helped. The cage was rolled away.
"We have a camera set up behind third base," said Hemus softly. "We want to take movies of both these youngsters' swings. We don't want them to know about it. Now I've got to talk to them, if you'll excuse me." With that, Hemus, wearing No. 7 on his back for luck, departed.
The odds are against Solly. At 35, he is the youngest manager in the majors. He lacks experience. He is working for an organization that expects its managers to win. The list of ex-Cardinal managers is long: since 1950 six have run the team.
But if aggressiveness counts, Solly may survive. He does not lack confidence. If during the season there comes a moment when the Cardinals need a pinch hitter who can get on base, Manager Solly Hemus will not hesitate to call upon the man who can do the job best: Solly Hemus.
At Plant Field in Tampa was Terry Brennan, the former Notre Dame football coach, whom the Cincinnati Reds have hired to help work their baseball players into shape. The Reds would like you to believe they are
Brennan's role is discussed in the new Cincinnati Yearbook with such high-sounding phrases as "unprecedented move in major league baseball," "specialized instruction," "new phase of conditioning" and, lastly, "strenuous football conditioning processes."
At 10 a.m. the Reds came galloping onto the field and began circling it. When they reached the far side of the field, they stopped, produced gloves and balls and began playing catch.
"No, no," came a shout from the opposite side. "Over here." All action stopped as the group of players stared apprehensively in the direction of the shout. Slowly, reluctantly, the players trotted back. Waiting patiently was Terry Brennan, disguised in Cincinnati uniform No. 5.
The group formed four lines. "The first exercise," said Brennan, "will be side-straddle-hop."
Brennan gave a brief demonstration of it, and then the squad began. Hands slapped against thighs. After 30 seconds they stopped.
"The next exercise will be 15 sit-ups." The squad sank to the earth. Brennan began. Some tried to keep up with him, others just lay there. Next came a round of toe-touching. Suddenly, seven minutes after it began, the exercise period was over. The players, looking pleased, trotted off to play pepper. Brennan retreated somewhat self-consciously to the sidelines.
"This job with the Cincinnati organization," said spring's most famous calisthenics teacher, "is very pleasant. I am scheduled to begin work with Goldman, Sachs & Co. in Chicago in April. I had six weeks with nothing to do when this came along. The ball club is paying all expenses for me, my wife and the four kids."
It has been a difficult winter for Terry Brennan and his family, and the lure of six free weeks in Florida is obvious. If the strenuous football conditioning processes he knows so well have little value in honing the body for the game of baseball, Coach Brennan is reaping the early spring publicity the Reds hired him for. Emmett Kelly could do no better for the Dodgers.
The lobby of the Soreno Hotel, where the New York Yankees stay in St. Petersburg, specializes in silence. Since the hotel attracts an elderly crowd, the pace is slow, the talk whispered. Heavy Persian rugs muffle the sound of footsteps. Along one wall hangs heavy green drapery. Tall fishtail palms stand in large green pots, swaying slowly whenever a breeze drifts in from the open porch. There are wicker chairs all about, and in them sit the guests quietly. At the far end of the lobby is a calendar of coming events: the Garden Club presents a springtime fashion show; the Soreno invites you to Sunday evening concerts.
If there were a Soreno Hotel in every American League city, the night-clubbing Yankees might win the pennant by forty games.