At SPORTS ILLUSTRATED we have watched your career with great interest. Sometimes we have criticized you; sometimes we have laughed at you; sometimes we have patted you on the back and laughed with you. But we have almost always been 100% on your side.
We think you are good for baseball. You have a love for the game which is infectious. You have tremendous energy and enthusiasm and you have channeled these into your job—which, to you, has always been a bit more than that.
Still, it has been a job, and this is good, too. You have not been a wealthy, pampered man riding a hobby. You have had to work hard to succeed, and success has not sapped your incentive, rising prosperity has not thinned your desire. You still work as hard as ever, and your pride is in the product. You are, in short, a real pro. Time after time you have accepted a challenge—in fact, usually you have gone out to seek it—and the results speak for themselves. Everywhere you go—Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland—your team improves its position in the standings.
March 30, 1959
The public knows you primarily as a wild trader. Maybe you are. Some of your deals—and there have been hundreds of them—are successful, some not. The point today is that you have always made an effort to improve the team.
Your ideas on interleague trading and unrestricted draft may have flaws, but at least they are ideas. You are not afraid to think for yourself—nor to say what you think.
Maybe you talk too much—although we do not subscribe to this at all. Certainly there is room in baseball for a general manager who is also a good promotion man. When you talk about your team, other people talk about it, too, and once started talking, it follows that they will come to the park to see. The old carnivals did all right with their barkers, didn't they, and what is major league baseball but a great big show?
We admire the way you have battled the Yankees, and although you have not caught them, it is not for lack of trying. George Weiss shudders when he hears you coming, and you are the only man in history to send the talkative Casey Stengel scurrying from his own practice diamond to the security of the clubhouse, leaving you alone and unchallenged to cast your spell over the field.
We like Joe Cronin all right, but we would have been happy, when Will Harridge retired, if you had become the league president instead. You see, we feel that you would have injected some life and excitement into the old bones—and we seriously doubt that you would have made a travesty of the game. You would just have made it seem more like a game.
In short, without you, the American League would be a dull place in which to work and in which to play.
You have been pulling the wool over someone's eyes, certainly the public's and maybe your own. Perhaps it is your enthusiasm and your optimism and your showmanship which are to blame, but everywhere we look we see where the experts, whatever that means, are picking the Indians to give the Yankees a real battle this year. The most improved team in the league, the stories say. A sure thing to finish second, according to the polls. Lane's trades patch up Tribe problems, the headlines blare. Well, we have seen your ball club this spring and we are not impressed. In fact, we think you are deluding the public and we consider it our duty to set the record straight. The Indians are not going to bother the Yankees one bit; they are not going to finish second and probably not even third; they are, in fact, going to have to hump to finish in the first division.
While extolling the virtues of your great outfield and glorying in the acquisition of Billy Martin at second base and praising the development of that fine young catching corps, you have mesmerized the audience into overlooking the entire team. When we finally manage to plug up our ears and open our eyes, the plain truth of the matter is that it doesn't look so hot, Frank.
They say, in baseball, that anyone can play first base—but you discovered that Larry Doby couldn't. So now it looks like you'll have to move Vic Power, a very good first baseman, over from third. Otherwise there is only Mickey Vernon, and he will be 41 in three weeks. He can still hit, but not often.
Martin is an overrated ballplayer. Even his friends have been saying this for years, and in the past few seasons Billy seems to have proved it all by himself. His spirit and hustle could help a team like the Yankees, who could afford him. But what Kansas City and Detroit needed—and what Cleveland needs now—are hitting and fielding, not fire. Certainly he is better than you had, but Martin was not worth two pitchers like Narleski and Mossi. You don't look too good at second base, either.
Your shortstop situation is hopeless. Woodie Held can't do the job in the field and Billy Moran, who can, can't do it with a bat. Held is no ball of fire at the plate, either. You may have to play George Strickland at shortstop, and please, Frank, don't give us any soft soap about that.
With Vic Power no longer at third, which is a good thing since he couldn't do the job there anyway, you'll have to make do with Randy Jackson or Held, assuming Held isn't at short. In either case, it's just a fill-in. In fact, this is just a filled-in infield.
O.K., we like your outfield, too—with reservations. Minnie Minoso is a wonderful ballplayer—he can hit like the dickens and run and is always out there to beat you—but there are better defensive fielders around.
Piersall, on the other hand, can probably still outfield anyone in either league and this could be a very good trade—if Piersall hits. But last year he was .237 and the year before .261. Can you really afford a weak stick like that?
Colavito runs like a truck sometimes and he has been known to drop fly balls, but we are not going to say anything unkind about this young man. Right now he looks as if he is going to be one of the finest hitters in all baseball, with great power and fierce determination, and a wonderful, youthful exuberance that makes you smile just to see him walk by. Baseball could use more Rocky Colavitos, just like it could use more Frank Lanes. And, boy, what an arm.
Russ Nixon may never hit under .300 again—he has us convinced—but he hasn't knocked down many fences, and when is he going to learn to catch? You know that isn't Feller and Lemon and Wynn out there throwing the ball any more; someone has to tell those kids what to pitch and, so far, Nixon hasn't shown that he's any Jim Hegan behind the bat. Dick Brown has more power but his average is way down and he's pretty young himself.
When you traded off Narleski and Mossi, you said pitching was the least of your worries and all winter you stoutly defended the deal. Yet now perhaps you are beginning to worry, too.
We hear that you have been talking to the Senators about Pedro Ramos and Camilo Pascual and Dick Hyde. We don't blame you a bit.
Cal McLish, your big winner last year (16 and 8) is 33 years old and who is to say that he can repeat? Never did he win that many games before. Gary Bell is a precocious youngster and some day you may have to pay him $40,000 a year, Frank, which will make you very happy. But is he that good yet? Mudcat Grant seems to be a steady pitcher but it is not steady 10-game winners you need; you want a couple of guys who can win 15 to 20 games. Mike Garcia? Well, it's true that he won 20 games several times. He also won one last year and now has a long way to come back. Al Cicotte? Don Ferrarese? Hal Woodeschick? Dick Brodowski? We are not impressed.
Herb Score? Like you, Frank, we'll just have to wait and see. It is much easier to do this from where we sit although we're certainly pulling hard for Herbie, too.
We have been talking about Cleveland but perhaps we should also mention some other teams, for the success or failure of a season depends upon the strength and weakness of one's opposition, too. There are the Yankees, for example, and the very mention should be enough. And the White Sox, they still have Al Lopez, and you have always been a Lopez man, Frank, and they have those pitchers—Pierce and Donovan and Wynn—and that wonderful, tight defense and that great speed. Maybe they won't scare you with their power, but you have to beat them—they don't beat themselves—and they have a couple of good-looking rookies. It has become a habit in baseball to say, well, I guess the White Sox are about through, but each year they are as good as the year before and they seem pretty tough to dislodge from second place.
We don't have to tell you about the Red Sox, for you have been seeing a lot of them this spring. Their defense isn't strong, but there are those five big hitters—Williams, Malzone, Jensen, Runnels and Wertz—and a pitching staff which looks sharper and sharper every day. How would you like to have Delock and Brewer and Sullivan and that good-looking kid Bowsfield and those two good relief pitchers, Kiely and Wall, on your side?
We don't know about the Tigers. Their pitching looks awfully good and the infield somewhat better, but it's hard to figure the Tigers. We do know, though, that the Orioles are a respectable team which loses by only a run or two, and Kansas City seems to be going in the right direction. The Indians may have quite a bit of trouble, Frank.
You may make a trade tomorrow that will straighten out that infield—maybe you had better make two—and perhaps you can pick up another good pitcher as well. We hope you do. Your manager, Joe Gordon, is a nice guy who also works hard and you deserve a pennant. But it's getting late, Frank. Soon the season will start and then people will forget what you have been telling them all winter. Then they can look at the standings and see for themselves.
They may have to look down quite a ways to find the Indians. It's tough, Frank, and we're sorry, but that's the way things are.