If the SanFrancisco Giants manage to win the National League pennant this year (not aremote possibility), it will be due for the most part to the presence of ateetotaling, nonsmoking, non-cursing, tithe-paying churchgoer. It will be dueto a lesser degree to a tobacco-chewing gentleman with a penchant forfour-letter words, earthy humor and locker-room high jinks.
The teetotaler isAlvin Ralph Dark, the Giants rookie manager; the other man is Harvey Kuenn, aspray-hitting third-baseman-outfielder who usually hits over .300. So far thisseason he has not done so, but he has helped the Giants in other, perhaps moreimportant, ways.
To wit: the otherday in the Giant dressing room at Candlestick Park Kuenn sat hunched peacefullyon a stool in his dressing stall, his cheek, with its customary load of chewingtobacco, plumped out like a chipmunk's. He was carrying on a desultoryconversation with a sportswriter, but his attention was on Willie Mays'sdressing stall next to his. When Mays finally came in, Kuenn watched himclosely out of the corner of his eye. Willie looked in surprise at anelaborately wrapped candy box on his stool. A note on the top read "From anadmirer." Willie unwrapped the box, unfolded the paper covering thecontents and suddenly broke up in happy, boisterous laughter.
"Who done'at?" he hollered. "Looky here! Who done 'at?"
May 21, 1961
He held out thebox as most of the Giant players gathered (except for Kuenn, who was laughinghelplessly around the chew of tobacco). The box contained neatly wrappedspheres of horse manure, and the Giant players whooped with glee. "You doneit," Willie said to Kuenn. "Ah know you done it." Then he chuckledand began dressing. Most ballplayers find this kind of humor irresistible, andHarvey Kuenn is a tireless purveyor of it. His great contribution to the Giantshas been to entertain them, and thus relax them, and thus, finally, to helpunite them.
For severalreasons Kuenn's efficacious treatment could not have been applied last year,when the Giants were a disgruntled, unhappy baseball team. First, Kuenn was notwith the club, and if he had been his locker would not have been next toWillie's. The first thing Dark, a southerner from Louisiana, did when he tookover as manager was to rearrange the dressing cubicles. All of the Negroes onthe team had dressed in one row of cubicles; Dark split them up so that nowMays is next to Kuenn, Willie McCovey's neighbor is Tom Haller, Sam Jones issandwiched between Charlie Hiller and Jim Duffalo. "We'll all get to knoweach other better this way," Dark said.
This ploy seemsto have worked; the Giants are no longer a conglomerate of stars, dividedroughly along color lines, with no sense of being a team. Mays, who went hisown way last year, disliking Bill Rigney until Rigney was fired and dislikingTom Sheehan even more, has a warm regard for Dark, carried over from Willie'srookie year when Dark was the Giant team captain. Dark and Eddie Stanky kiddedWillie, kept him happy; years later Willie still mourned their loss.
Dark has handledMays much as Leo Durocher did—with unstinting, continuous praise. When he tookover the Giants he said, "Mays's job is the only one that is certain."Mays, who blossoms under praise and is apt to sulk under criticism, ishustling, and his example has inspired some of the other Giants.
One criticism ofthe team last year was that it lacked a leader on the field. It still does.Mays has never assumed that role; Kuenn may eventually, but he hasn't yet."A field leader in baseball is not important," says Dark, who wasDurocher's team captain and one of the best field leaders in baseball."It's not like football, where the quarterback has to be the inspiration ofthe team, too. Here everything is a matter of individual effort, and if you canget leadership from the dugout, it's just as effective."
Dark providesthis leadership in good measure. He is a quiet-spoken man, with mild brown eyesand a deep southern accent. He was an All-America halfback at LSU, good enoughto move Steve Van Buren to blocking back. He is probably the best golfer inbaseball circles, with the possible exception of another manager, Baltimore'sPaul Richards. (Asked if he ever regretted passing up pro football forbaseball, he said, "No, but if I had it to do over, I might have taken upgolf.")
"He neverraises his voice," one Giant said the other day. "He talks very low, soyou got to listen hard when he says something, and everybody does. Because hejust says it once, and you better hear it and do it." He has absolutecontrol of the team on the field; the front office interference from HoraceStoneham, which marred the terms of Rigney and Sheehan, is finished.
"I don'texpect a free hand in running the whole organization," Dark said when hewas hired. "I don't think any manager should have a free hand, not if he'sa rookie or a manager for 25 years. Baseball is an organization game, and theGiants have a good organization. But any manager should have the right to puthis own 25 men in the lineup in any position he thinks is best."
This Dark hasdone. In their first dozen games the Giants had considerable difficultyscoring, principally because none of the big guns were hitting. "You haveto manage one way when you think you have a chance for a big inning now andthen, and another when you figure all you're going to get is a couple of runs agame," Dark says. In this early dry spell Dark had his players running,stealing, scratching for bases. In a late inning against the Pirates in SanFrancisco, with Willie Mays on first and Willie McCovey batting against apersonal nemesis, Harvey Haddix, Dark left McCovey in for one pitch, on whichMays stole second. "A catcher has more trouble trying to throw out a manstealing second base when a left-hander is at bat," Dark explained. Then hetook out McCovey, put in Joey Amalfitano, a right-handed hitter, and Amalfitanosingled Mays in.
Of course, notall the Giant success can be attributed to Dark's managerial sorcery. Kuenn'spresence adds to the Giant attack, and a trade for Cincinnati Catcher Ed Baileygives San Francisco a topflight receiver for the first time in several years.Dark also has installed Joe Pagan and Charlie Hiller at shortstop and secondbase, adding immeasurably to a defense which last year led the National Leaguein errors and was last in double plays. Jim Davenport, hampered by leg injuriesand ulcers in 1960, is well again and has been hitting steadily since hereplaced Kuenn at third when Kuenn wrenched his knee two weeks ago.
Dark hasrehabilitated Billy Loes, the sore-armed relief pitcher acquired from Baltimoretwo years ago. Loes, who had a ruptured shoulder muscle that kept him inconstant pain when he pitched, has recovered from the injury. During thespring, Dark left him in games for longer and longer periods until finallyBilly was going six and seven innings at a stretch. "He was getting peopleout," Dark says. "He needed confidence. He had figured himself as arelief pitcher, but I knew he could be a starter." As a starter, Loes lastweek had won three and lost one. Asked about his new role, after he had pitcheda long stint of batting practice, Loes said, "Don't ask me. Ask Dark. He isan intelligent man."
Dark's strongestpoints are his quick mind and his scholarly knowledge of baseball, much of itgained from Eddie Stanky, with whom he roomed for four years as a Giant player."We were milk-shake-and-movie-type players," Dark says. "We'd comeback to the room early, and then we'd talk baseball. We'd go over everythingDurocher did and second-guess him. I learned a lot from Stanky."
Dark has ameticulous book on nearly every player in the National League. He does notplatoon his players against right-or left-handed pitching; he may leave McCoveyin, for instance, against Warren Spahn, take him out against Harvey Haddix. Ina recent series against Pittsburgh, Dark stopped Roberto Clemente's hot hittingstreak by having his pitcher try something new for Clemente—giving him highfast balls over the center of the plate. No one had tried this before, and itstunned Clemente, who went hitless.
Although Dark isa mild, quiet man, he is capable of explosions of temper. Like most managers,he is no lover of umpires, and is quick to take issue with them. The othernight in Milwaukee he erupted from the Giant dugout when an umpire motioned toWillie McCovey, the Giant first baseman, to move out of the path of a runner onfirst base. "My first baseman can play wherever he wants," Dark saidangrily, then quoted the rule. Another umpire joined the argument, but Darkwon.
On anotheroccasion, a few minutes before a game with Milwaukee, Dark sent a bat boy backinto the dressing room to get a memorandum that had just been issued by theleague office. "Dressen is going to gripe about Marichal's stance on therubber," Dark said. "He won't say anything unless we go ahead, but ifwe do, he'll holler about it." Sure enough, Dressen did complain aboutMarichal. The Giant pitcher stands with his trailing foot wide of the rubber;the memorandum Dark was armed with said clearly that this was now legal, aslong as the toe of the trailing foot does not extend across the back edge ofthe rubber. Dark settled this beef quickly with his paper ammunition.
He backs hisplayers to the limit. He probably solidified his hold on this team in Arizonawhen he refused to fine three players—Kuenn, Davenport and Bob Schmidt—for abrawl with some teenagers in the early-morning hours. "Those punks werelooking for trouble," Dark said. "They got it. I'm not going to punishplayers for protecting themselves." Said Charley Dressen: "That mightbe the most helpful thing that happened to Alvin Dark all spring. Now theplayers realize Dark is with them. The incident looks bad in print, but itcould band San Francisco together as a team."
Certainly theGiants are a team now. They have even quit griping about their petbugaboo—windy Candlestick Park. This was one of Dark's first rules—nocomplaints about the weather. "In this invigorating climate a player shouldlast two or three years longer," Dark said. "I don't want to see anyquotes from players about Candlestick Park."
There have beennone. The Giants still kid about it, and the wind still blows so hard that aright-handed pitcher can lean on it while he waits for his sign, but the Giantsare learning to live with it.
"Eesdeeferent now," says Orlando Cepeda. "Ees hoppy ball club. Olvin eesthe grettest manager I ever play for. He know us. He make us work hard buthoppy. You onerstan'? Hard and hoppy. Thot ees the theen he does."