Suited up in white baseball flannels, his dark locks curling above his forehead, Alvin Dark looks like a centurion carrying the Roman standard into Gaul. In the dugout, his brown eyes piercing the field, he has the look of eagles (see cover). He is a clean-cut, church-going, nonswearing Baptist, and everything about him reflects the wholesome life.
As a college football player at LSU Dark was a good enough runner to move Steve Van Buren to blocking back. Later he was a Marine officer. For 14 years he played shortstop and third base for the Braves, Giants, Cards, Cubs and Phils. He was the captain of two pennant-winning Giant teams (1951 and 1954), and he had a lifetime batting average of .289. He always gave his all and then some. "Baseball is his life," says Lee Walls, the Dodger utility man, who roomed with Dark for two years on the Cubs. "He lives, breathes and talks baseball most of the time. Many times when he sets baseball aside, he reads the Bible."
Ordinarily, Alvin Dark would be the last sort of person to excite rumors, but he is the manager of the San Francisco Giants, a team that is, perhaps unfairly, expected to win the National League pennant every year, and ever since the Giants moved from New York they have been the subject of more "inside" stories, gossip and rumors than any other club in either league.
Part of the reason for the stories, most of which concern a "feud" between Dark and Horace Stoneham, the Giants' owner, is that San Francisco is built for gossip. Perched on a peninsula on the edge of the Pacific, the city is separated from the frantic East by 3,000 miles of mountains, rivers and cornfields, and life is so pleasant and hubbub so remote that the middle of the country becomes a sort of Atlantic Ocean and the East another Europe. San Franciscans understandably enjoy discussing the beauties of their city, but they also spend a lot of time talking about the Giants.
Then there is the Giant front office itself, whose operations are about as clear, to most fans, as the murky dealings of a Byzantine court. Not long after the Giants moved to San Francisco, Bill Rigney, a local boy, was suddenly fired as manager during the season, and Clancy Sheehan, a scout and crony of Stoneham's, took his place in a shift that struck some people as a palace plot. That happened four years ago, but it helped fix the image of the Giant front office in the popular mind.
Added to all this is the rugged competition between the two morning newspapers—Hearst's Examiner, the self-styled "Monarch of the Dailies," and the brash Chronicle, neither of which has been known to play down the sensational. The Giants have never enjoyed the rapport with San Francisco sports-writers that had become a journalistic tradition back in New York. The relationship between team and press is usually good, but every once in a while one of the papers will print a story which the players feel is unfair or untrue. Dark himself refuses to read anything but the box scores in local papers. The latest contretemps involves Bob Shaw, a charming and exuberant relief pitcher who also happens to be an avid Gold-water supporter. ("You liberals can't hit," he is likely to twit a fellow pitcher in batting practice.) A couple of weeks ago Harry Jupiter of the Examiner did a feature story on Shaw that ran on the front page. Shaw was not amused and he talked of suing for libel. "I do not talk to myself when I warm up," he said, ticking off his grievances. "I do not say, 'I am the greatest,' my name is not Cassius and"—here Shaw paused for breath—"I am not against NATO!"
The commonest rumor making the rounds now is that Dark and Stoneham are not speaking (one version has it that they have not talked to each other in a year and a half) and that Dark will leave the Giants before the season ends. Everyone involved denies all this strongly. "All those stories!" exclaims Chub Feeney, a vice-president of the club and Stoneham's nephew. "No matter what you say you're damned. Give a manager a vote of confidence and the papers will say that's the kiss of death. They [Dark and Stoneham] talk to one another all the time." Stoneham himself says the stories are "ridiculous." "We're on the phone all the time," he says. "I've never hung around the clubhouse or the bench, because I don't think that's part of the executive's role in baseball."
Another rumor, and this one appears to have some substance, has it that Dark, who is in the last year of a two-year contract, will manage Houston next season. It began when Dark announced last winter that he was selling his house in Atherton, south of San Francisco on the peninsula, and that his family was moving back to Lake Charles, La. to be near kin-folk. Besides adjoining Dark kinfolk, Lake Charles is also near Houston, and Paul Richards, the general manager of the Colts, has a high regard for Dark. In Houston, it is taken for granted that Harry Craft, the present manager, will not be back next year, barring a spectacular finish by the team. Stoneham says he thinks all this is "a rainy-day story the writers dreamed up. The Houston people are baseball people, and if they were going to get in touch with my manager, they'd ask me first." Dark simply says, "I haven't made any plans for 1965. My concern right now is trying to win the pennant here."
Dark constantly minimizes the importance of his role as manager. "I've never played for a club where the manager won the pennant," he says. "There is no possible way for a ball club to win unless the material is there. Look at the Yankees. They won with Bucky Harris, with Stengel and Houk. You get the good ballplayers and let them do the work."
To Dark, there are only two sins a ballplayer can commit: not taking care of himself and not hustling. "You can't put brains in a boy's head or give him base-running instinct," he says. Dark has a private system for rating each player's "intangibles." A player gets so many points, for instance, for a clutch hit or for advancing a runner (such as hitting to the right side of the infield instead of the left to let a runner move from second to third). Conversely, a player who misses a sign or who overruns a base loses points. On the one occasion that Dark made his figures public, Willie Mays and Jim Davenport were among the highest in "intangible" points (Orlando Cepeda, it was also discovered, had a remarkably low score, and the relationship between Dark and his big slugger has not been quite the same since). "There are," says Dark, "winning .275 hitters and losing .310 hitters." Thus, according to Dark, most batting averages are "phony." They do not necessarily indicate a player's true abilities or value, and Dark discourages the Giants from perusing the daily publicity release of averages. "I don't even let them bring that idiot sheet into our clubhouse," he says. "There should be only one thing on a player's mind, and that's winning."
Says Ken MacKenzie, a reliever who was once with the Mets, "On the Mets there was a lack of pressure. The toughest thing was trying to get up for a game. Here no one has to tell you that. On the Mets you played for the average. Here you sacrifice yourself for the play, for the game."
To the reporters regularly covering the Giants, Dark is known as "the Mad Genius" for his tactics on the field. "Dark is a 'book' manager to a certain extent," says Billy Hoeft, an ex-Giant now with the Braves. "But all of a sudden he'll go against the book and be successful." Dark says, "Baseball is a percentage game, but that doesn't mean each percentage is the same every day."
Perhaps the best example of Dark's unorthodoxy occurred this year in the final game of a three-game series against the Phillies. The Giants had won the first two games and needed a sweep to leave town in first place. To anyone receiving ticker reports on the change of pitchers, it looked as though the Giants were getting murdered right from the start. Dark used four pitchers in the first inning. At one point the Phillies had one run in, the bases loaded and nobody out. But Dark went from Bob Bolin, who had relieved Starter Bob Hendley, to Ken MacKenzie (called in only to face Pinch Hitter Wes Covington, who promptly popped to third), to Gaylord Perry, who got the next two outs. The Phillies scored only two runs, and the Giants were still in the game. In the 10th the Giants led 4-3. With two out and the tying run on third for the Phillies, Dark replaced Bob Shaw with Billy Pierce. Again he did the unorthodox. He had Pierce intentionally pass Richie Allen, putting the winning run on base, to get at John Herrnstein, a left-handed hitter. The only pinch hitters left on the Phillie bench were lefthanders, and Pierce got Herrnstein to ground out to end the game. For all of this maneuvering, Dark made one move counter to his usual tactics: the intentional walk to Allen. Ordinarily, Dark tells his pitchers not to make a walk look intentional; he feels that it might rile up the next hitter. As a case in point, Dark cites an experience involving Cepeda. In one series a couple of years ago, the Phillies purposely walked Mays three times to get at Cepeda. The next time the two teams played, Cepeda drove in nine runs.
Players have great respect for Dark. "He has a good idea of what he's doing all the time," says Felipe Alou, ex-Giant now with the Braves. "He can get sore like any human being, but he is a high-class man, and I can't say anything but good about him," Says Ed Bailey, another former Giant with the Braves, "I enjoyed playing for Dark. If you had a problem, he would listen. You wouldn't always get your way, but he'd be fair about it. He won't ever ask a guy to do something the guy can't do. In a case like mine, he wouldn't have me try to steal a base." To which Lee Walls adds, "Dark did something as a player that only one other man in baseball did to my knowledge. When a new man joined the club, Alvin would take him out to dinner. He wanted to know all about this man as a person and as a player. The only other man I know who did this was Branch Rickey."
Thus far this year, surprisingly, pitching has been the Giants' strong point. "The pitching has carried us," Dark says. "This is the best pitching we've had since I've been with the club." Juan Marichal, of course, is the leader. From him it is a quick drop to Jack Sanford (good for only six or seven innings) and Billy O'Dell (sore arm), but the relief pitching has been splendid. Shaw has been excellent and Perry brilliant. Perry was the winner of the 23-inning game against the Mets, and recently he had a streak of 23 scoreless innings. In 51 innings, he has walked only six. An $80,000 bonus player, Perry was something of a disappointment until this season, and he gives much of the credit for his improvement to Shaw. For one thing, Shaw told Perry to stand square to the hitter—face on—instead of at an angle. At an angle, Perry was throwing across his body instead of directly at the plate.
Except for Mays and Cepeda, the hitting has been nonexistent. Statistically, the Giants were the worst-hitting team in the league as of two weeks ago, and they were next to the worst in fielding. Willie McCovey was hitting .190, Tom Haller .210, Chuck Hiller .190 and Harvey Kuenn .220. Outfielder Matty Alou and Jose Pagan, the regular shortstop, also have been out with injuries, but even if the hitting does come around, the Giants will not be devastating, according to Dark. The Giants, he says, are not a power club even with Mays, Cepeda and McCovey in the lineup. They went from power to pitching when they traded Alou and Bailey for Shaw and Hendley. "We're a three-or four-run ball club, that's all," says Dark. "You can't go by the past. We gave up 30 home runs to get pitching. We don't have five guys in the lineup who are home run hitters. Twenty homers—that's a home run hitter."
Strangely, Dark adds, the Giants' chances for the pennant hinge on the hitting of two players, Jesus Alou, the outfielder, and Jim Ray Hart, the rookie third baseman. "They must play the way they did in the minors and hit passably. I don't ask for .300. Just around .275 or .280." Dark sees three other clubs contending for the pennant and, like the Giants, they all have ifs. "First, the Phillies," he says. "Good, sound, solid ball club, if their third baseman [Richie Allen] continues to hit the rest of the season the way he has the first third. The Dodgers, if Moeller and Ortega pitch good ball. The Cardinals, if Washburn can pitch the way he started last year. These are the best-balanced ball clubs in the league."
Win or lose, the Giants can be counted on to provide talk for San Francisco. As Stoneham himself says, "It might be that we're the biggest thing to hit this city in a number of years."