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THE SPRINGTIME TRIALS OF A ROOKIE

April 16, 1962
April 16, 1962

Table of Contents
April 16, 1962

Point Of Fact
Postal Chess
The Masters
Eddie Arcaro
Donna De Varona
Rookie
Boating
Hunting
Bridge
Boxing
  • The protracted, even ridiculous, series of fights between Paul Pender and England's Terry Downes came to a gratifying conclusion in Boston last weekend when Pender regained, as expected, his middleweight title

Acknowledgments
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

THE SPRINGTIME TRIALS OF A ROOKIE

For seven weeks a young ballplayer lives with the doubts of his future as he tries to make one of the major league teams

On St. Valentine's Day morning under drear Rhode Island skies, Arthur Lincoln Quirk Jr. loaded into his Buick station wagon a wife and son, a take-apart crib and a set of Melmac dishes, and turned south onto U.S. 1. He was bound for Florida and he was looking for work.

This is an article from the April 16, 1962 issue Original Layout

Art Quirk's line is pitching a baseball for pay, something he has done with fair success for the past 2½ summers in the minor leagues. His stature is short and compact, and he is a well-spoken, good-looking, reserved young man just turned 24. For his age and occupation, his temperament is poised and serene, his language tidy and unbaseball-like, his ambition gravely earnest. Self-assurance—most of the time—is his in abundance, and although he is modest he sometimes can be encouraged into talking about the fame, the success and the money to which, he believes, he will one of these days be entitled. Because his outlook is practical, he is not overly troubled that today Art Quirk is widely unknown, can show a record that is something less than sensational and has experienced the financial inconvenience of making payments on his $13,000 home in Warwick, R.I. and otherwise supporting his family on an income of around $7,500 a year. He is, after all, only now at the threshold of what he aspires to: a career, long and prosperous, in the major leagues.

It was the beginning of that career which he sought as he and his family drove south last February. His destination was the spring training camp of the Baltimore Orioles in Miami, and his future was whatever he could make of it in the seven weeks before the baseball season opened. In baseball there is a word for Art Quirk and his kind, and the word is "rookie."

Altogether this spring some 400 boys and men reported as rookies to the 20 major league camps, either in Florida, the historical site of these institutions, or in Arizona and California, on baseball's new frontier. Every rookie, in this particular or that, was different from the others, yet all of them were more or less the same. All were bound together by their low estate, their facades of confidence and their private doubts; all shared a basic but subtle resentment toward one another. A few of the rookies, called spring phenoms, were easier in mind and spirit than most; they knew they would make the team. Others, too young or inexperienced for the majors (as even they themselves knew), were in camp to shake hands with the manager and shag flies in batting practice. Like our society, the rest and the bulk fell into a vast, relatively nameless middle class, and to predict what might happen to them was as risky as forecasting a team's end-of-the-season standing. Better than many, not as good as some, was Art Quirk.

Quirk is a left-handed pitcher with a good changeup, a medium fast ball and a sharply breaking curve. Since June of 1959 he has been a field hand in the Orioles' farm system, first playing for Amarillo and Little Rock, unglamorous double-A clubs, and last year in the triple-A International League for Rochester. Against that league's better hitters, his record was his best: he won 10 games, lost 8, pitched four shutouts and one no-hitter, and scored enough strikeouts to average better than one every inning—a rarely achieved pitcher's goal. His earned-run average, the essential measure of a pitcher, was a respectable 3.58. Taken together, his credentials were good—but not overwhelming—for this, his third spring at the Orioles' training camp.

Like a promising racehorse, Quirk seems to have been bred to pitch baseball. "My grandfather was an industrial-league pitcher in the early 1900s," he says, "and as old as he is now, one reason he hangs on from year to year, I think, is for the love of the game." Quirk's father pitched, too, at Providence College. He turned down an offer from the Boston Red Sox, before Art was born, to get a Ph.D. in physics, and later coached baseball at his college for three years. "So I am a pitcher," says Quirk, "because it must be in my bones. I have wanted to pitch in the major leagues, in fact, since I was 6 years old, which is as far back as I can remember. Who knows? Maybe I wanted to pitch when I was 4. I don't mean that one day I'd want to be a pitcher but then want to be a policeman or a fireman the next day, like some kids. I mean I've never wanted to do anything else. I guess that sounds made up, but it's so."

Reared under modest but intellectually stimulating circumstances in Narragansett (Quirk Sr., a college professor, is head of the physics department at Rhode Island University as well as chairman of something called the Rhode Island Atomic Energy Commission), Art Quirk showed an early aptness for his chosen life's work. In the fifth grade he alone, he remembers, could throw a corner-cutting strike with consistency, and in the seventh grade the Quirk curve ball "was bigger than it is today. It was a real roundhouse; I wish you could have seen it." By the time he had finished as a sophomore in high school, Quirk was named to Rhode Island's all-state team, and in his junior year in 1954 the all-state team listed only eight names: on it twice—once for his pitching and once for his batting average and center-fielding—was Art Quirk Jr.

When Quirk enrolled at Dartmouth College—where his high school grades were not the only records considered before the school gave him a $6,000 academic scholarship—he sublimated his interest in baseball enough to sustain a high B average in Far Eastern and Russian history and government. Spring afternoons he applied himself—although without much hope—to sustaining a Dartmouth baseball team whose batting average was in the neighborhood of .190. But even with a defenseless offense, Quirk looked so good that in 1958, his junior year, he got a job offer from the Chicago Cubs, whose lure was a bonus of $30,000. He turned it down to get his degree, a decision no doubt prudent but decidedly costly. By the following spring his arm was so limp from the constant pressure put on him by his hapless teammates that the Cubs had trimmed their bonus offer to $5,000. The Cub scout's explanation, says Quirk, was that since he now had finished college he could no longer be hungry enough to play good competitive baseball.

What the Cubs failed to take into account was that Art Quirk valued his education more for its own sake than as a steppingstone into a profession and that he was still as hungry as the next would-be major leaguer. He was even hungrier after he had accepted a $15,000 bonus from Baltimore and, not much later, had pitched his first game for the Amarillo Gold Sox. Counting Quirk, the Gold Sox had only seven pitchers and found themselves at midseason scheduled to play four doubleheaders in four days. Quirk was to pitch one of them, and there could be no relief from the bullpen.

"So, a month out of college, I'm a professional making my start against the Corpus Christi Giants," says Quirk. "Almost before I knew it was happening, the Giants had got 14 hits and three home runs off me. And I was throwing the best stuff I knew how. I felt like Charlie Brown in Peanuts. We lost 11-12, which wasn't so bad, I guess, considering my pitching—and theirs—but I got a good idea right then that it wasn't going to be easy for me to hop up to the majors."

Although Quirk had intended to work that winter on a master's degree at the University of Rhode Island, he changed his plans when he was invited by the Orioles to play winter ball in Florida. With no more assurance than that of his baseball future, he persuaded a pretty Providence girl named Kathleen Harkins, then 19, to give up college after two years at Newport's Salve Regina and marry him that October. And with Art assigned to an Orioles' winter league team, the newlyweds went directly to Clearwater. "If anybody in school had ever suggested I'd spend my honeymoon watching baseball games, I'd have laughed out loud," says Kitty Quirk. The truth is, whether in Florida, Little Rock or Rochester, baseball has never really let up on Kitty Quirk since her marriage. The couple's son, Kent Joseph, was born on the day that the Southern Association played its 1960 all-star game. That was Art Quirk's first day off that summer. Subsequently, Kitty lost two other children by miscarriage. Part of the cause, her doctors say, was the sometimes hectic, always unsettled life of a minor league ballplayer and his family, and Art Quirk is frankly disturbed by the hardships his profession has so far imposed on his wife. "The house I bought in Warwick after Kent was born was an extravagance we couldn't afford," he said not long ago. "We've only spent about six months in it since the winter of 1960, but I wanted to provide something for Kitty to fall back on once the seasons were over. It would all be different if we could just get settled in Baltimore."

Even though Quirk is intensely devoted to the idea of a major league career—if not with Baltimore, somewhere else—he is also aware that he has twice failed to make the Orioles and that, for a young man with more assets than a strong left arm, time is passing by. A man must do what is best for himself and his family, he believes, and by his reckoning 1962 is Year Three in his three-year make-it-or-forget-it plan. Life in the minors, as he had expected beforehand and has since found out in practice, is an exhausting, penurious, distractingly iffy life. And love baseball though he may, time spent in the minors is time spent well only if it points with some certainty to the majors. If he fails to get there soon, he said last month, he will probably go into another business altogether, having equipped himself, it would seem, for almost any eventuality.

A man of protean talents, Quirk has at one time or another dehydrated fish in California, built houses on Cape Cod, covered the courthouse beat for the Providence Journal and mollified citizens ruffled by Rhode Island's Department of Public Works. But all that mattered in the early days of this spring was making himself indispensable to the Oriole pitching staff. With the strong conviction that he could, Art and Kitty stayed in a motel just south of Baltimore their first day out from Warwick, and they talked late into the night about the odds on returning there in April.

A spring training rule of the Orioles requires players unmarried or reporting without their wives to stay together, one happy family, at the McAllister hotel in downtown Miami. Players with families in tow may live where they please—the club pays them $112 a week expense money—and after a two-day search Art Quirk found for rent a one-bedroom flamingo-pink stucco duplex in South Miami. The asking price was $200 a month, steep for what it was; the landlady was reluctant to rent it for such a short time, and the man on the other side of the duplex's thin dividing wall fancied himself a drummer. But with desperation on his side Quirk was able to break down the landlady's unwillingness (and her terms, to $150 a month). Moving in, Kitty didn't have the telephone connected ("It would cost $40, and who do we know that well?"), Art subscribed to the Miami Herald and the Miami News ("to keep up with the ball-park gossip"), Kent found a friend down the block and the Quirks adjusted themselves to the everyday motions of light housekeeping: counting pennies, cooking in the 2-by-4 kitchen and trying very hard to ignore the rap-tap-a-tapping of the man next door.

One consideration that led Art Quirk to sign with the Orioles in the first place was Baltimore's short supply of proved young pitchers in the late '50s. To his grief, his arm twice gave him some early-season trouble. The Orioles meanwhile had developed a number of young pitchers, and the good chances Quirk once had to make the team were never realized. This year, mainly because the Orioles' formidable left-hander, Steve Barber, was in the Army, available only on weekends, Quirk's chances were on the rise again. Eager to improve them, he worked out twice a week in Rhode Island last winter and showed up at Miami Stadium three days before he was due to report. So did two other left-handers out to get Barber's job. The conversation exchanged by the three pitchers was sparse.

To prevent a recurrence of his spring time arm ache (brought on before, he suspects now, by his too zealous attempts at dazzling the Oriole brass), Quirk set a rigid discipline for himself this year. By custom pitchers in spring training alternate four-hour days with two-hour days, the longer days usually including 20 minutes or so of pitching batting practice. Rather than make any effort to overpower the Oriole batters with speed and deception, Quirk threw moderately hard strike-zone pitches that the hitter, according to his pleasure, could hit as long and far as he chose. To circulate the wintertime sap in his body, Quirk took to the tedious business of conditioning exercise with brow-knitting industry, whether it was picking up balls rolled to him by a teammate standing two yards away or chasing thrown flies across the width of the outfield. It was dull and repetitious, seven days a week, but Quirk came early and stayed late, and except for daily chats with his Rochester manager, Clyde King, and the Oriole pitching coach, Harry Brecheen, and a couple of night meetings at the McAllister for pitchers and catchers, he got little in the way of formal instruction. What he was told, for the most part, was that he was doing fine. But whether that would be fine enough they would all know once the exhibition games had commenced the second week of March.

Quirk gave probably the best description of his own case to a television reporter from Baltimore. Wasn't it a thrill, the reporter wanted to know, for him to be in spring training with the Birds? When you've been here twice already, Quirk said a little dryly, the thrill's not quite so strong. Well, but then, the reporter said, maybe Art could tell all the fans back in Baltimore how the Oriole coaches were helping his pitching. Smoothing out his wind-up, maybe, or helping his aim someway. Said Quirk, if you don't know pretty much how to do those things when you get this far, there's not much anyone can do in spring training to teach you.

For a man already on a major league squad, especially a man whose position is not in jeopardy, the early days of spring training are a warm-climate vacation and a duty to work out a few hours each day and give the papers a few quotes. For a rookie, the worry and tension he brings with him remain a constant thing. His recreation is less relaxation than a conscious attempt at diversion. Art Quirk's pleasures, for example, were typical and undistinguished. In the afternoons after practice his schedule was seldom more arresting than a trip for groceries with Kitty and Kent or, once in a while, a drive to Miami's zoo or its International Airport to watch absently as the jets came and went. Occasionally the Quirks would visit, or be visited by, Marv and Gigi Breeding, friends since Quirk's first spring, when Breeding made the team, or Ron and Joyce Kabbes, a shortstop and his wife the Quirks had known in Rochester. Swimming, for fear of sunburn and softening his hands, was out. Nights for the Quirks weren't much livelier. Art might read, play cribbage with Kitty, watch television or stare bemused at his folded fingers, his shoe tips or the opposite wall. Because they were reluctant to hire an unknown baby-sitter, an evening out was simply dinner with Kent at Toby's Cafeteria or maybe a drive-in movie with Kent asleep in the back. Always the thought of baseball—and April—was just under the surface, and one evening, while Art read an article in The Saturday Evening Post by Whitey Ford, baseball's best left-hander, Kitty wrote letters to both their parents. The letters were confined to Art's pitching and Kent's cute sayings, the only news, she said, they cared a thing about in Rhode Island. It wasn't the home life they rave about in the women's magazines, but at least it wasn't the life of the bachelor rookies, for whom, as likely as not, a movie ticket stub, a wet toothpick and a warm cushion in a McAllister lobby chair were the only signs of another night's lost time.

There is a certain amount of sanguinity around most spring training camps—there will be plenty of time later for fault-finding and blame-fixing—and the Orioles' new manager, Billy Hitchcock, said in February that he wanted Baltimore's camp to ring with good cheer. "We want to have fun here," he told The Sporting News. "For instance, a pitcher might have doubts that he'll make the club and, when he gets on the mound, he can't do a good job because he's worried." Maybe to keep him from worrying was why nearly everyone had a good word for Quirk. Coach Brecheen told reporters the boy's progress was most satisfactory and his chances to stick were pretty good. Clyde King, the Rochester manager, said about the same thing. Manager Hitchcock went so far as to tell the Miami News on March 3 that Quirk had "the best chance at the moment among the rookies of taking Barber's place." Only President and General Manager Lee MacPhail, though not a gloomy man, cast a damper on the tidings reaching Quirk. "Sometimes a boy is more valuable in the minor leagues, where he's given plenty of work and is ready to be called up at any time," MacPhail said one day, not naming names. "That would be better, perhaps, than carrying him as the ninth or 10th pitcher on the major league team and having him idle in the bullpen."

Art and Kitty, more sophisticated than they had been during previous springs, took each report for what it was: an uncertain judgment made without the confirmation the exhibition games would give. "All I know is, if they gave me the chance I would prove that I deserve to be on the team," said Quirk. "All I know," said Kitty, "is we've made plans on how I'd get to Baltimore twice before—and I haven't gotten there yet. This year Kent and I will work out our travel arrangements when we know our destination."

On Sunday, March 11, the New York Yankees played the Orioles in an exhibition game at Miami Stadium, the second game of the year for both teams. On the Saturday before, Quirk was told by Hitchcock that he would probably pitch sometime during the game. It would be only the second time in his career that he would face major league hitters. Art Quirk described that Sunday in a letter to a friend:

"I began thinking about the game the night before when my next-door neighbor, a Yankee fan, began kidding me. He said that rather than go to the game he thought he'd just sit in his backyard and catch the home run balls hit off inc. It wasn't a sleepless night, but I woke up four times, worrying about my curve.

"We got up Sunday morning about 7:30. I ate a good breakfast but already I was thinking only about the game, and the butterflies were already fluttering. We went to 10 o'clock Mass, and an hour later Kitty let me off at the ball park. I went into the clubhouse, changed, and drifted out to the dugout. It was then that my nervousness reached its highest point. I almost considered putting my street clothes back on and going home.

"But as I watched the Yanks take batting practice, I was relieved it was just like hundreds of others I've seen. They hit grounders, pop flies, fouls, line drives and home runs. They certainly looked human, and I thought about that thing, 'They pull their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else.'

"Billy Hitchcock came over to me and asked if I were nervous. I said sure, but it was nothing new for me. He said nervousness was a good sign, and told me a story about a track coach he knew who could pretty well predict the success of his sprinters by the nervousness they showed before a race. He told me not to worry about it and just go out there and be myself.

"I watched Whitey Ford warm up and smiled when a fight broke out in the stands and he stopped his warm-up and climbed on a rail to watch. I wondered if he were nervous too.

"Milt Pappas, our starting pitcher, ran into a little trouble in the first and gave up a run, but then he breezed through the next two innings. Ford seemed to be missing with his curve, and wasn't throwing too hard, but he gave up only four hits and one run. I started loosening up in the bottom of the second. My arm felt pretty good and a slight twinge in the shoulder worked itself out. The butterflies were gone and I felt better walking out to the mound on the top of the fourth. The score was tied 1-1.

"I figured I'd be facing the tail end of the Yankee lineup. I must say I was a little surprised to see Mickey Mantle moving into the batter's box. Usually I concentrate only on the catcher's signs, the target area and the position of the hitter's feet. But in this case I took a few extra moments to size up Mantle a little more carefully. You could see the confidence on his face, and there was a trace of amusement, it seemed to me, at the corners of his mouth. Even so, he didn't look particularly menacing up there. He wasn't as big as I had expected him to be. Then I looked at Gus Triandos, my catcher, for the sign, and I made the Mantle image disappear from my mind. He was just another hitter, I told myself. I hoped so, anyway."

The first two pitches to Mantle were high fast balls, both out of the strike zone. I thought Mantle would be looking for another fast ball, and when Gus called for a curve I threw it and it was over for a strike. The next pitch, a changeup, fooled Mantle completely and he swung and missed even before the ball was in the strike zone. That makes a pitcher feel great. With the count now 2 and 2, Mantle fouled off a low curve that went high behind home plate, and I figured: that's that, easy out. But the ball got caught in some tricky air currents and bounced off the tip of Triandos' glove. On the next pitch, another curve, Mantle hit a towering fly to left which I thought John Powell, a very promising rookie outfielder, had easily. But the ball hit the base of the wall and bounced away from Powell for a triple. So here was Mantle on third after I figured I had gotten him out twice.

"After that, Yogi Berra got a double and scored Mantle [since Triandos was charged with an error, Mantle's run was scored as unearned], and in that inning and the next I faced seven more batters, walking none, striking out one and giving three hits, one an infield hit that I should have had. After I had pitched my second inning, Billy Hitchcock said, 'Nice going,' and then told me he was sending in a pinch hitter for me. I was disappointed because I had hoped to go three innings.

"Before the game I had tried to caution myself against becoming too elated if I did well or too discouraged if I didn't. As it turned out there wasn't any reason to feel either way. It wasn't great, but it was a respectable beginning, and it helped increase my self-confidence. But of course I know there are still a lot of innings to be pitched before it's decided whether or not I'll be with the Orioles in April."

There were, to be precise, 18‚Öì more innings for Quirk to pitch before the Orioles were able to decide about him. Some of those innings were very good ones—as on the day he pitched five against the Chicago White Sox and gave up only one hit and one run. Some were very bad ones—as on the day he worked six innings against the Washington Senators, everybody's patsy, and gave up nine hits, four walks and, in one inning, five runs. Nevertheless he wound up the exhibition season late last week with two wins and no losses and an ERA of 3.99. On the basis of that he also wound up, early this week, in Baltimore.

After Quirk got the word, he treated Kitty and Kent to one last meal at Toby's—a kind of qualified victory celebration. It's true that he now will get a little more money and, once he and Kitty have found another apartment, they can kick off their shoes. But just being in Baltimore is only the first hurdle and Quirk is not kidding himself that the time of jubilation is at hand; that will come only if he survives the cutoff a month from now when the Orioles, under major league rules, will have to trim the squad of its most expendable members.

Billy Hitchcock says, "Art has looked real good at times, and I give him a chance to stick after the cutoff." Lee MacPhail, still the cautious one, says, "It hasn't hurt Quirk that two of our starting right-handers are temporarily lost to us—Jack Fisher with an ailing arm and Milt Pappas by an appendectomy." Both men are concerned with Quirk's inexperience and by what Hitchcock calls his "lack of poise" on the mound. "For instance," says Hitchcock, "Art lost his poise against the Senators that day he gave up those five runs. You just can't tell about a rookie like this until the bell rings."

That leaves a few ends loose, but then all the rookie says he wants is a chance to prove to Baltimore that he belongs on its team. And the Orioles, going along that far, are simply saying to Arthur Lincoln Quirk Jr.: "O.K. Prove it."

TWO PHOTOSHERB SCHARFMANSET FACES of Art Quirk (left) and his wife Kitty (with son Kent) reflect tensions of his first start in exhibition game with New York.