Mr. James Joseph Dykes, age 64, has not won a pennant in his 20 years as a major league manager, but the Cleveland Indians intend to do something about it this season. The Indians, with Jimmie Dykes in charge, have been playing at a furious pace during the last month—24 victories in 30 games—and they have risen from fifth place into a three-way battle with the Tigers and the Yankees for the American League lead.
Dykes, however, has been around baseball too long to get excited just yet. "Winning makes me irritable," he says in his gravel voice; and then, "Yes, they have been playing well," carefully avoiding the use of the first person. Dykes refuses to take any credit for the team's fine performance, but others are prepared to give it. Jimmy Piersall, the volatile center fielder, sings love songs about him, and it is significant that he refers to him as Mr. Dykes. Dykes's paternal influence has done much to keep the temperamental Piersall under control. In a recent game against Detroit, Piersall came charging in from center field to rage at the second-base umpire. But even as he reached him, Dykes's stumpy little figure appeared at the top steps of the Cleveland dugout. He waved to attract Piersall's attention, then pointed to center field. Piersall, like a well-trained spaniel, heeled and returned to his position.
Sometimes Dykes is gentle with Piersall, sometimes gruff. When Piersall complained too loudly recently about the poor seats some of his friends had received, he drew a low "easy now" from Dykes. But when Piersall blew up at Detroit sportswriters because a Detroit fan in center field had thrown a hammer at him, Dykes roared, "Shut up and drink your ginger ale." Then he told the writers, "Don't mind him. He'll probably drive me crazy before the season is over, but he sure is playing ball."
Piersall is having a marvelous season, hitting over .350 and leading the league in hits. He had a good season last year, but his frequent antics—the bug bombs, hiding behind flagpoles and throwing water buckets on the field—wore at the heart of the team. This year, with Dykes around to maintain at least fair control of him, Piersall has been a strong asset to the Indians.
June 18, 1961
The most valuable player on the team, however, has been John Romano, the catcher. Romano has also been hitting well above .300 and his defensive play has improved since last season. "Jimmie told me this spring that I was in charge of the game," says Romano. "It gave me a lot of confidence." Romano has a tendency to gain weight. "He was a lard last year," says Dykes. "He wouldn't back up first base. I told him in spring training that I was going to make him the best catcher in the league or kill him." Dykes made Romano run until it almost did kill him, but Romano got into splendid shape. Now no one on the team hustles more than he does.
In the Detroit series last week Romano made a fine defensive play to end a game (left). Cleveland led by a run, but Detroit had a man on first with one out. Steve Boros lifted a high foul near the box seats behind the plate. As Romano leaned into the stands the runner on first tagged up. Romano caught the ball and balanced himself on the railing for a second. Then Bubba Phillips, the third baseman, pulled him upright and Romano threw to second just in time for the final out. "He wouldn't even have caught that ball last year," said a Cleveland man.
Much more than Romano is different from last year. In 1960 nothing went right for the Indians. Johnny Temple, who joined Cleveland after eight good seasons at Cincinnati, had a poor year. It was obvious that he had slowed down around second base and there were rumors that he was through. But Temple is a proud man, and only after the season did many people learn that he had a fractured bone in his ankle. "No one will ever know what I went through last year," he now says.
Bubba Phillips joined the team from the White Sox and hit a dreary .207. Late in the season a group of visiting sportswriters asked Frank Lane, then Cleveland's general manager, what had gone wrong with Phillips. "I don't know," said Lane. "He's just in a slump and when you have a .260 hitter in a slump, you've really got something." Gary Bell had won 16 games for Cleveland in 1959, but last year he developed an inflamed tendon in his pitching shoulder. By August it was so painful that he was sent home for the remainder of the season.
But even with these misfortunes, the Indians were just two and a half games out of first place on July 14. That day Woodie Held, the home-run-hitting shortstop, broke his wrist. He was out of the lineup for six weeks, and after his injury the Indians lost and lost, finally finishing a very poor fourth.
Pitching now strong
This season everything is as sunny as it was dark last year. Temple is hitting around .320 and is moving, if not as well as he once did, certainly better than last year. Phillips is back at his accustomed .260 and is driving home important runs. He beat Detroit last week with a ninth-inning home run. Held is back at short and showing no effects of the injury. Perhaps most important of all, Bell is throwing hard again and he is winning. "I worked with a steel ball this winter," he says. "My arm still pains me a little, but not like it did." Bell, along with Jim Perry, Mudcat Grant and Wynn Hawkins have been giving the Indians strong pitching. Perry, nominally the ace of the staff, started a little slowly, but the Indians almost rejoice in this since he is certain to pick up the slack as others drop off. A North Carolina boy, Perry has a brother named Gaylord in the Giants farm system who signed for a 560,000 bonus. "Gaylord got the money and I got the arm," Perry says. Grant has an outstanding 7-0 record. "You keep going like that and you're going to own this club," Piersall said to him the other day. The only disappointment has been Johnny Antonelli, the old Giant, who hasn't won a game. "He'll be all right," says Dykes. "It's tough crossing leagues. He'll help us out when the going gets tough late in the season."
If the Cleveland starters have been good, the reliefers have been nothing short of incredible. There are three of them—Frank Funk, Barry Latman and Bob Allen. All three throw hard and they have a combined record of 15 wins and only three losses. Funk is, of course, ribbed about his name. "It used to be Funkhauser a long time ago," he says. "I sometimes wonder why they didn't choose Hauser." A Cleveland columnist suggested that someone performing as gallantly as Funk should have a more romantic name—Frank Gallahad, for instance. A few days later the columnist got a letter from a lady pointing out that Funk was a word of Germanic origin meaning spark or power. The lady's name was Funk.
Funk, Latman and Allen make life exceedingly pleasant for the starting pitchers, who are never called upon to relieve. Nor have the relievers been asked to start any games. "Jimmie is handling the staff well," says a front office man. "Come September, our pitchers will be rested and ready."
Dykes also tries to rest a few of the regulars occasionally, mostly in the late innings when the Indians are comfortably ahead. One player he has never rested, however, is Vic Power, the fancy-fielding first baseman. "When I get time off?" Power asked recently. Dykes smiled. "I can't rest you, Vic," he said. "People pay money to watch you play."
Power is a treat to watch. He catches pop flies one-handed and often dips to his knees to receive throws from the infield. Waiting for a pitch, he waggles his bat carelessly in his left hand, taunting the pitcher. "It is to excite the crowd," he explains.
Power may be a showman, but he is also a solid player. He covers such a wide area around first base that Casey Stengel once advised some of his left-handed batters to hit the ball to the opposite field rather than pull it into Power's territory. No first baseman in the game is better at ducking in behind a runner and applying a quick tag. In a game against the Yankees last year he picked off Yogi Berra and Elston Howard in the same inning. Power's play this year has been normal—which is to say brilliant—and he is hitting his accustomed .290.
Dykes and the umpires
As well as Power, Romano, Piersall and the rest of the Indians have been playing, it is Jimmie Dykes who makes them a live team. In the dressing room he conducts a never-ending commentary on the world of baseball. In the dugout he crouches on his 64-year-old legs, yelling encouragement like a bullfrog. His sense of humor, when directed at his players, is gentle. When directed at his natural enemy, the umpire, it can hurt.
Last week Dykes drew blood. In a game at Detroit, Bob Hale of the Indians hit into a double play but was ruled safe at first on an atrocious call by Umpire Larry Napp. The Tigers stormed around Napp, and Detroit Manager Bob Scheffing hurried out across the diamond to join them. He had reached the pitcher's mound when Hale, deciding that no one was watching him, started for second. ("One key block was all I needed," he said later.) But Hale was spotted and tagged and the embarrassed Napp nearly broke his arm waving him out. Now Dykes stormed out of the dugout. He contended that with Scheffing already past the pitcher's mound, Detroit had 10 men on the field and play should have been stopped. Napp denied seeing Scheffing (who had hustled back to the dugout) and refused to ask the other three umpires if they had seen Scheffing. Dykes lodged a formal protest. "Now I've got to sit down and write one of those letters to [Joe] Cronin," he grumbled after the game.
The next night Dykes presented his lineup card to the umpires at home plate. Napp accepted it, looked at it and stuffed it in his pocket. "That lineup look O.K. to you?" asked Dykes. Napp nodded. "Then look again," Dykes snapped. "I got 10 men playing."
The Indians howled at the gag. Then they went out and beat the Tigers. Afterward, they howled some more. They were noisy and happy and winning. Jimmie Dykes may get his first pennant before he is 65.