In the five months since he induced Al Smith to hit a fly ball into Wally Moon's glove for the last out of the 1959 World Series, Larry Sherry has eaten his way through 15,000 banquet miles, doubled his salary, gained 15 pounds and become a starting pitcher. Walt Alston, who manages the Dodgers, isn't so sure about that last item.
"If the rest of our relief pitching comes around all right," said Alston last week, as he watched the rain and an occasional hailstone bounce off the windows of the Dodger clubhouse in Vero Beach, Fla., "then Sherry will get a chance to start. But the whole thing is complicated. In the first place, how do I know whether he'll be as good starting as he was relieving? I don't see how he can be. It's a cinch he won't be any better.
"But say that he does all right. I've already got six starting pitchers: Drysdale, Craig, Podres, Koufax, Williams, McDevitt. If Sherry starts, one of them has to go to the bullpen. And that guy probably won't be as good a relief pitcher as he is a starter. I know he won't be as good a relief pitcher as Sherry is. But Larry wants to be a starter, so I'll give him a chance. Beyond that, we'll just have to wait and see."
"It's not the dough," says Sherry, who knows that relief pitchers who win pennants and World Series and make guys like Walter O'Malley a pot of money do not have to go around in secondhand suits. "It's the arm. I figure a starter, working in regular rotation, sticking to a schedule, can last an extra five years. In relief you're jumping up and down all the time; you pitch two innings one day, six the next, you're off a couple of days, you pitch eight innings, you pitch one out. And the better you pitch, the more they use you. That can wear a man out. If I was 30 I wouldn't care. But I'm only 24 and I'd like to stick around up here for a long time. My arm didn't bother me any last year, but you never know. Remember, I was a relief pitcher for only about two months. Until last August, I hadn't relieved half a dozen times in my entire life."
For a beginner, Sherry did all right. Called up to the Dodgers on the Fourth of July ("I was only 6 and 7 at St. Paul, but I lost a couple of close games and I was leading the association in strikeouts, so I guess they figured I was pitching pretty good"), he started twice, right off the bat, and lost both games—2-1 to the Cubs, both runs unearned, and 4-3 to the Reds. After that, Sherry didn't lose another game. He won seven, saved three others. His last start was against the Pirates in Los Angeles on September 11, a six-hit shutout in which he struck out 11 and walked only one. All the others were in relief.
Once he came in to bail out Johnny Podres with one out in the first inning at St. Louis, the Cardinals leading 3-0. Sherry gave up seven hits, no runs, hit a home run and two singles, drove in three runs and the Dodgers won 4-3. "I was real proud of that one," he says. "Usually I don't hit that well." He pitched 7[2/3] scoreless innings to beat the Braves in the first playoff game, and of course he finished every game that the Dodgers won in the Series, winning two himself, saving two others. Through those two remarkable months of relief pitching, Sherry's earned run average read as though it had come out of a broken adding machine: 0.73. The Dodgers, who paid him only the major league minimum of $7,500 when they called him up from St. Paul, rewarded him with a $15,000 contract this spring.
Sherry, therefore, does not go around sneering at relief pitching. It is just that he wants to start. "If I can't I'll pitch wherever Walt needs me. But at least I want the chance. I think a pitcher gets more satisfaction out of starting a game and finishing what he started than he does by finishing up somebody else's job. Thrills? No, I don't guess I could have any more thrills. I don't see how anything could be more exciting than last year."
A PITCH, A PENNANT
Actually, for excitement, the World Series was not in the same class with the regular season for Sherry. "The Series," he says, "was kind of anti-climactic. When I came up last summer, it seemed like every pitch meant a ball game, maybe the pennant. I was awfully tense. I was wondering if I was going to be able to get anybody out. But then I got a few guys on bad pitches and I told myself, 'Hey, this isn't so bad.' So then I got a few out on good pitches and after that I was all right. I could quit shaking and start to think about pitching. Still, it was pretty tough. I remember two days in a row, in the Coliseum, I had to go into the game with the bases loaded and Henry Aaron at bat. You can't get into a tougher situation than that.
"So when we got in the Series and had seven whole games to fool around with, it seemed like a picnic. Oh, I guess there was plenty of excitement, but maybe a lot of it was over my head. I didn't really realize what was going on like some of the older guys who have been around. It just seemed like a lot of fun to me. Of course, I had a lot of luck. Lollar being thrown out at the plate in that second game and that double-play ball in the third; it was really hit. If I had it all to do over again, I'd probably be scared."
Sherry's big pitch was the slider. "I had a pretty good fast ball and a big overhand curve, but I had trouble with my control. So in the winter of '58, down in Venezuela, I went to work on the slider. Nobody taught me. My brother Norm was catching me and he worked with me, but nobody really showed me how to throw it. I just learned by myself. I throw it real hard, just like I was throwing a fast ball. I can throw it right at the batter and it will break over the outside corner. It doesn't drop, it just breaks across. The main thing is, I can always get it over the plate."
This spring, if Sherry has had any trouble, it is because of his weight. "They've been giving me a rough time," he grinned, "but I think I'm all right. I went up to about 210—well, really it was closer to 215—during the winter. It wasn't the mashed potatoes so much; I made a lot of radio and TV appearances but only about 20 banquets, and I remembered what happened to Turley last year, so I didn't eat much. Actually, I didn't have much time to eat; I was too nervous worrying about having to make a speech. Eventually, after I got to where I could hang on to a mike for five minutes and tell a few jokes, it wasn't so bad and then maybe I did eat. Anyway, I worked out in L.A. three weeks before coming down here and I got down to 208. Now I'm at 200, and I think that's all right."
"You know, the real trouble is that this is the first year I've had my family down for spring training. Before, I was always trying so hard to make the ball club, I didn't have time for that. But this year I'll lose four or five pounds during a workout, then go home and Sally has fixed a big dinner and the five pounds are back on again.
"If anybody thinks I'm overconfident, though, that I'll let myself get too heavy and lose what I've got, they're crazy. Being up here is too important. Last June I was living in a little rented house in St. Paul. Today I'm about to buy a nice home in L.A. A real fine company, Eagle Clothes in Brooklyn, gave me a good off-season job and I went all over the country, making speeches for them and modeling. They gave me a complete wardrobe.
"People know me now. Back home in L.A., when I take my family out for dinner, people come up to me in the restaurant and ask how I'm doing and what about the Dodgers. And listen. I got into a cab in New York and the cabbie looked at me and said, 'Hey, ain't you that kid that was in the Series?' That's pretty good, having someone recognize you in New York."