It was the precise moment last Saturday afternoon when Ron Turcotte was trying to urge Tom Rolfe past the pack at the eighth pole at Pimlico. In Municipal Stadium in Phoenix, Ariz., a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher from the University of Arizona named Gary Deak was trying to throw a baseball past a 19-year-old left-handed batter from Arizona State named Rick Monday. Tom Rolfe made it.
Monday adjusted his Duke Snider swing for the outside pitch and hit a 400-foot line drive up the left-center alley—a hit that would have been a home run in all but a couple of big league parks but was only a triple in the miniature airport the city of Phoenix built a few years ago to make sure the San Francisco Giants continued to take their spring exercises in the Valley of the Sun.
"The pheenom is rippin'," said Catcher Tony Alesci, the most audible member of the raucous group-admiration society that is the Arizona State bench.
And the Sun Devils—Phoenicians actually call them that—were ripping the University of Arizona in their showdown series for the baseball championship of the southern division of the Western Athletic Conference. Such Sun Devilment could well lead them to the NCAA's college world series at Omaha next month, which Phoenicians would applaud, but there is a deeper, more parochial significance to any ASU victory over the U. of A. Arizona State has come so far onward and upward since the days when it was Tempe Normal that its playing-field status is second to very few institutions of higher learning. Yet years of clobbering by U. of A. teams from downstate Tucson imposed a sort of provincial inferiority complex on Phoenicians that is still felt in the valley, even unto the highest echelons of ASU. "We're like Avis," Arizona State Athletic Director Clyde Smith said the other day, in the course of explaining his school's athletic ascendancy over the past decade. "We try harder."
With an enrollment of 17,000, plus the climate and the scholarships to attract muscles from coast to coast, Arizona State is equipped to play any game with almost any school. The development has been too rapid—too much, too soon—for the valley folk to really believe it, but they savor any evidence that it is true. For example, sounds of pride will echo from Camelback Mountain to Superstition Mountain next month when it is announced that Rick Monday has signed to play with the Kansas City Athletics, for a bonus of at least $100,000. "Well, I hope it's that much," Monday said after living up to his nickname, The Hatchet, in Arizona State's 6-0, 13-5 rippings of Arizona in the first two games of the climactic series that rounded out 50-game seasons in the sun for both schools.
A peanut tossed at random into the grandstand would have hit a big league scout watching The Hatchet last weekend, but only the solicitor from Kansas City appeared confident. In baseball's new free-agent draft the worst team has the first pick, and they don't come any worse than Kansas City. That's all right with Rick Monday. Kansas City's $100,000 looks as good as anybody else's to Rick. He is only a sophomore, only 19, only 6 feet 3, only 195 pounds and only a .396 hitter in his first—and last—varsity season.
Even though he turns professional, he would like to complete his work toward a physical education degree so that later—much later—he can "work with kids," as he was worked with in Little League, Pony League and high school in Santa Monica, Calif. He would, "I think," go back to the books between baseball seasons.
Suppose, he was asked, Kansas City claimed him but offered a paltry $50,000 or so. "I'd be reluctant to sign," he said. So he'd stay in school? "Well, my name would go in the pool draft six months later." It was remotely possible that Kansas City would find a player they prefer and leave Monday to the Mets. "That would be all right with me," Rick said. "I want to play professional baseball. I guess you could say I first thought about it when I was 9, in Little League. I thought about it a long time, but I don't think I really believed I could make it until the scouts started talking to me this year. About 10 of them, so far. No, they're not allowed to talk about money until after the draft."
Monday bats left with power. In the first game of the showdown series against Arizona's John Fouse, college baseball's winningest pitcher (12-2), every pitch to him was outside but the last one. After singling and tripling outside pitches to left, he pulled the inside pitch to right for his third hit, a single. This evident ability to go with a pitch would seem to make him adaptable to any stadium. Monday is also that relative rarity, a low-ball hitter, and a temporary problem with high pitches seems to have been resolved by the counsel of the Red Sox' Bobby Doerr during a nonpro season in Alaska last summer. His ultrawide stance, resulting in what would be an overstride for an ordinary hitter, disturbs neither the scouts nor his coach, Bobby Winkles. "Somebody will try to change him," Winkles said, "but not me. He's not an ordinary hitter."
Monday runs with less than the rhythmic grace of ASU's Olympic champion, Henry Carr, but he moves in great strides that get him there very quickly. This compensates for the fact that his hands as a center fielder are not the surest, particularly on ground balls. He also throws, left-handed, with a power and accuracy that minimize liberties by opposing base runners.
All the scouts give Monday a plus for attitude; there is an amenability about him that they describe as professional. "He knows we're all here looking at him," one talent hunter said, "but I don't believe he thinks about it when he goes on the field. He came up with two on, and he might have thought that was a great time to jerk one out of here and make a big impression, but instead he tried to advance the runners."
Rick Monday is worth $100,000, if any 19-year-old college baseball player is, but tangibly or intangibly he is just the whipped cream on top of Arizona State's baseball cake. The cake was baked by the 35-year-old Winkles, who says he teaches because he couldn't do. Winkles has been coach at Arizona State since 1959, the year ASU baseball began to go as big time as college baseball can go.
"They kept me at the White Sox camp in 1954 until the last day," he said, "and I learned a lot from Paul Richards. I got up as far as Triple-A at Indianapolis in 1958, but I was a 28-year-old infielder and they had two guys named Fox and Aparicio ahead of me. I figured I had to do something else for a living."
Even in his best year, 1957, when he hit .279 in the Texas League, Winkles was figuring on something else, working toward his master's degree at the University of Colorado. "One day after the '58 season I got a call from Clyde Smith here, and in 20 minutes I had the job," he said. "Athletic directors exchange information, and they knew I was available. That's all there was to it."
Not quite, there was a little more. "Yes, his professional baseball career interested us," Smith said last week. "But we were particularly interested because he hadn't had too much experience—that meant he wouldn't be too professional. It's true that our baseball program gives us a national identity, and we're proud of that, but we didn't expand baseball for that reason. We consider it part of the overall educational program. With the climate here we can give the students a full season of baseball, and that enriches the program.
"In line with that thinking," Smith said, "there was an important factor that made us decide in favor of Bob Winkles. While he was taking his master's at Colorado, he coached an American Legion team, and I received a letter from a parent whose son played for him. He told of the guidance Bob had given his son in many areas, not just in how to play baseball. We thought he was the kind of coach we wanted, and we were right. He's quite a man."
"He knows exactly when to be stern," said Bob Piel, campus disc jockey and undergraduate manager of the baseball team. "If two guys on the team have a beef, he'll make them take laps around the field together, but then he'll tell them it's all over. He never holds anybody's mistakes against him." For instance, the coach reacted lightly to Piel's outstanding boo-boo of the season, when he called at Coach's house and mistook his wife for the baby-sitter. "She looked so young and pretty," Piel explained, "and I'm the kind of guy who will take a look at a girl."
Coach needled Piel a bit, requesting that he dedicate a record to him on the air. Piel gave him something called Teach Me Tonight, Tiger, and now Coach has a nickname, too. Almost everybody does. There is The Robot—Pitcher John Pavlik, who pitched 15 minutes of batting practice on Thursday when he knew he was opening the critical series Friday night. He couldn't be found in the clubhouse after he'd thrown a one-hit shutout against Arizona, and everybody assumed he'd gone to the bullpen to throw a few. Pavlik couldn't remember who got the one hit and was told it was Grant Hawgood. "Oh, that's O.K.," he said. "He's from Shaker Heights, and we played on the same team back in Cleveland."
Jim Armstrong, the shortstop, is Huck because he is red-haired and freckled enough to look at home in bare feet and a frayed straw hat. Jim Merrick, the little southpaw pitcher, is Hamster, for some reason. Luis Lagunas, the second baseman who might be the No. 1 draft choice if he could run fast, is The Mexican. "I have to take Spanish," he explained, "because Mexican is a bunch of slang. Actually my major is education." ASU may be a football factory, but the baseball players, even though most of them are sent along for seasoning by big league scouts and given scholarships, do not major in penmanship or basket weaving. Of the 20 players on the roster, only four are phys ed majors. "And they're not on pure scholarships, because all of them work," Winkles said. "For one thing, they maintain the playing field."
The team has fun, but it plays serious baseball, even in practice. Because he was the kind of player who had to make it with his glove and his wits, Winkles is a fundamentalist. And because he was the kind of player who couldn't afford to make mistakes, he can't stand mistakes. But he tolerates them. "To coach college baseball," he said, "you have to be patient, because you're going to see six things happen every game that could drive you nuts. But you have to keep on your players, keep reminding them all the time."
Winkles keeps on them. An outfielder who "nonchalants" a fly ball or an infielder who fails to charge a ground ball during batting practice is reminded of his nonfeasance in terms that would be clearly understood in any barracks room. And he teaches fundamentals. "I let them have a lot of batting practice," he said, "because they like it, but I don't think it helps much after the first few practices. I'd rather work on cutoff plays and other things that can save a run here and there."
Ron Lea, who pitched the 6-2 victory that swept the series and won ASU the division title, is allowed to throw sliders because he can. But the others are limited to fast balls, curves and changeups, with de-emphasis on changeups. The signs are simple and few. "I don't have a take sign," Winkles said, "except on a 3-0 count and that's automatic. If you're going to build confidence in these kids you can't tell them not to swing the bat."
The fundamental approach paid off in the Arizona series, which gave ASU a 43-7 season record (Arizona was 37-13). Winkles' team made fewer mistakes and took advantage of the opponents. Their strong hitting and pitching might have carried them through, but opportunistic base running rattled Arizona into disorganization. One ASU player felt Winkles' tongue-lash for running recklessly, but two or three heard about extra-base opportunities they hadn't recognized. "You've got to be loose," Winkles said in his salty pre-series address, "and you've got to be aggressive at the same time. I realize that's a big order, but you're going to get the hell kicked out of you if you aren't."
The Sun Devils had the hell kicked out of them by Arizona in an earlier series at Tucson, losing two of three games. This time, as Athletic Director Smith might say, ASU tried harder. Still, they didn't try any harder than Arizona's Eddie Southard, a 19-year-old outfielder from Cincinnati. In the first inning of the first game, sliding into second to break up a double play, Southard ripped the flesh off the first knuckle of his left hand, peeling it back to bare the tendon.
Unstitched, Southard finished the first game and went hitless. In the next two games, with his hand and bat padded to ease the pain, he got three hits in four official at bats, walked four times, stole a base, scored twice and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. He also made all the plays in the field, including robbery of what might have been a triple by ASU's Jim Gretta. In the ninth inning of the third game they asked if there was a doctor in the house. Southard had finally given up.