Johnny Temple has thinning black hair, bushy eyebrows and a mean temper, so that most of the time he looks as cheerful as a dark cloud. Temple is known as one of baseball's angrier young men, a baseline fist fighter with a history of unscheduled one-rounders that include teammates, opponents and, once, a sportswriter.
"That was Temple," Temple himself will tell you in his carefully chosen prose. "But not any more. For the last two years, ever since my fight with Earl Lawson [the sports-writer], I've kept my temper under control. I'll admit it's been hard at times, but I've done it. The umpires know this, and Earl and I have remained good friends. But the reputation lingers on."
Last winter Temple was traded to the Cleveland Indians after eight years as an outstanding second baseman for Cincinnati. To him the change of leagues—from National to American—is a challenge, not so much as a player, for there is little doubt he will perform as brilliantly in one league as he did in the other, but as a personality. It is Temple's hope that in time he will be recognized as a leader, the type of player other players just naturally seek out for advice. Temple feels that this type of player is very important to a team.
"No one will ever know how much Pee Wee Reese meant to the Dodgers," Temple said one day this spring in Arizona. "He was the best leader I ever saw. He could walk into a bar at curfew time and tell a group of players it was time to turn in; and do it in such a way that no one felt as if he was being ordered around. On the field he was a steadying influence on all the players, especially the young ones. I wanted to be that in Cincinnati, but most of the guys had seen me blow up too often. I mean, a player who slugs a sports-writer can't very well command the respect of the other players."
April 18, 1960
Now, in a new league, Temple has a chance to start over again. He has joined a team that narrowly missed winning the championship last year, missed, for one reason, because of a poor infield. "Defense cost us the pennant," Joe Gordon told a group of sportswriters in Arizona. The manager then rolled off a list of felonies committed by the Indians, each of which had cost the team a game. When he mentioned second base he said: "There was no one play; it was just all season long. At least that's one problem we won't have this year, not with him around."
Him, of course, is Temple, short and wiry, capable of making all the plays a good second baseman should. He is equally good at the plate, a singles hitter, but a consistent one. He can bunt, hit-and-run, draw a walk, and he's regarded as a tough man in the clutch. With Temple around, the once-weak Cleveland infield has become strong, but to get him the Indians had to give up Cal McLish, their best pitcher.
"That puts the pressure on me," said Temple. "You know, I've received more publicity from this trade than for anything I did during my years with Cincinnati. That's O.K., of course. A good press helps any player, makes money for him. But it also makes it tough. Now everybody up in Cleveland is going to show up at the ball park saying, 'Well, let's see how good this guy is.' I know one thing. I'm not going to be able to make up the 19 games that McLish won. I'm going to help this club, but I won't be able to point to 19 games and say, 'I won these.' "
Sensitive about being a replacement for the team's best pitcher and aware of his reputation as a hothead, Temple began his career with the Indians cautiously. When he reported to the clubhouse in Tucson on the first day of spring training, he went directly to his locker, instead of circulating around the room like a visiting statesman. One by one the Cleveland players came up and introduced themselves.
"It was several days before any of them included me in on the clubhouse kidding," he said. "They probably thought I'd take a swing at them. But we ballplayers are a breed. It didn't take too long before I became one of the group."
Still, Temple does not feel he has reached the stage of acceptance on the team where he can take charge.
"I saw an outfielder overthrow a cut-off man the other day. Now that's a cardinal sin. Somebody should tell him about it, but it shouldn't be me."
"All I've done so far is try to help out some of the younger players. Take Woodie Held, our shortstop. Now a player with as much experience as I've had just has to pass it along to a young player like Woodie. I owe that to the team. I'd never seen Woodie play before this spring. All I knew about him was that he was a converted outfielder, and I'd seen that type before. But Woodie surprised me. He's agile, and he has a great arm. He's going to be a very good shortstop.
"I noticed one little thing when we started working together. He liked to take the second baseman's throw on the double play from behind the bag. He'd catch it as he came across the. bag, turn and throw to first. I pointed out that if he hit the inside of the bag instead and took my toss backhanded, he could throw without turning. Just a little thing, but it should help."
Held has not resented such suggestions. "It should be great playing all year next to a guy like Johnny," he said. "A fellow with as little experience as I have has to benefit from it."
In one exhibition game this spring Mudcat Grant, a young Indian pitcher, had to face the Giants' dangerous Willie Kirkland, with men on base. Temple trotted in to the mound to advise Grant to keep the ball low. Grant replied that Kirkland was a low-ball hitter.
"That shows Mudcat was thinking out there," said Temple later. "But I told him that with those men on base he'd have to keep the ball low, and that he'd just have to prove that he was a better low-ball pitcher than Kirkland was a low-ball hitter. What happened? He struck him out on a high fast ball. Sometimes we're not as smart as we think.
"People have asked me how much I know about the hitters in the American League. Not much, believe me. Nevertheless, in baseball, some things apply, no matter what league you're in, even Little League. If a left-handed batter is up, with a man on second and no one out, I'm sure going to remind that pitcher to buzz the ball outside to keep the batter from pulling and moving the runner to third."
NICE BIG PARKS
"One nice thing about moving into the American League is that the parks are bigger. I'm a singles hitter, so the bigger the park, the more area I have for hits. And I've checked with the American League umpires—very nicely—about their strike zones. They really aren't any different from those in the National League. There are a couple of problems, however. It will take me a while to learn the motions of the pitchers. Until I do, every game will seem like the All-Star Game. It will also take a while to learn the hitters and where to play them. Until then I'll have to rely on the advice of others."
There is one other problem Johnny Temple will surely encounter—General Manager Frank Lane yelling at his players from the grandstand. ("Can you hear him in the dugout?" one Indian said in reply to a question. "You can hear him everywhere.")
"I'm ready for it," Temple said with a rare smile. "I'm not going to let him upset me. Once the game starts, he's just a fan. If he meant all the things he said, he wouldn't have you on the club."
If Temple is able to ignore the angry barbs of Frank Lane, it will be final proof that he has mastered his once-terrible temper and that he is ready to assume the responsibilities of a leader. If, on the other hand, the barbs become too much for Johnny Temple, Mr. Lane had better be prepared to duck.