Happiness is a four-and-a-half-game lead. Happiness is having Willie Mays on your side. Happiness is the San Francisco Giants, who are about to hoist a bartered pennant into the winds of Candlestick Park because they made two pointless trades early in the season.
Well, not completely pointless. While the only good reason for making a trade is to get something better than you had, professional baseball more often trades for two not-so-good reasons: l) the team is looking so bad—as the Giants were last May—that any exchange of personnel may placate the restless natives by persuading them that the management is trying, and 2) even a bad trade can be good if it unloads a player with an undesirably high salary. You can tell when an executive knows he has made a bad trade, because he calls it a "change."
The "change" the Giants made with the Chicago Cubs last May would have been justifiable on the balance sheet simply because it sent away Harvey Kuenn and Ed Bailey, both of whom had enough time in grade to command impressive salaries and neither of whom was much help. The change was especially desirable to a management which was facing the fact that it was about to pay the postoperative Orlando Cepeda around $50,000 for not playing.
In exchange, the Giants took Dick Bertell, because catchers nowadays are hard to find, and Len Gabrielson, a serious young man who had not been taken seriously as a hitter either in Milwaukee or in Chicago. They did not make the change to get Gabrielson, who, since joining the Giants, has hit just 10 points less than Mays.
September 26, 1965
Similarly, the cosmos was unshaken when the Giants gave up on Jose Pagan and sent him to Pittsburgh for Dick Schofield, a lifetime .239 hitter who never inspired a sonnet to his glove work at shortstop. "He won't embarrass you," the man from San Francisco was saying in Milwaukee last Saturday afternoon. "He doesn't have much range to his right, or his left either. But he doesn't miss the ball straight at him." The praise, so faint as to be almost inaudible, had hardly blended with the quiet of County Stadium when the Braves' Frank Thomas hit a ground ball through the left side of the infield, past the third baseman. When it got to the grass Schofield was there, backhanding it. The ball threatened to run up his wrist, but he somehow got it to his bare hand and flipped it, like a scrambling quarterback. The throw got to first base on a feeble hop. But it got there before Thomas.
Thus happiness was Ron Herbel, a well-established six-inning pitcher, throwing seven all-but-perfect innings past the Braves' karate attack, leaving the Giants in a situation where .500 baseball on their part would oblige either the Dodgers or the Reds to play at a near .800 pace to catch them.
Happiness also was Herbel, a 1-for-43 hitter, somehow batting in two runs. And Rookie Frank Linzy coming to the aid of Herbel last Saturday with his necessarily low sinker pitch, throwing it disastrously high and having Pinch Hitter Mack Jones line it into an inning-ending double play.
But mostly happiness was Giant Manager Herman Franks, touring the dressing room in his customary postgame uniform (cap on, pants off), acting like the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang and making everybody love him. So laugh, but if baseball players ever loved a manager the Giants love Herman Franks.
"I used to hit them," Franks said, interrupting Tom Haller's press conference, "the way McCovey hits them." Haller's home run had dropped into the second row in right, Willie McCovey's cleared the bleachers (Franks hit three home runs in 403 big-league at-bats).
"You," Franks said to Cepeda, "are halfway up my hate list. You're in trouble." Cepeda crooked his finger and led the manager to the scale. "Two thirty-five," Franks said. Two twenty-five, the scale said. "You'd look good at 195," Franks said. Cepeda walked away with a smile.
"You can communicate with him," McCovey said.
"There's no nonsense from him," said Schofield. "He plays you as long as he can, and then he just tells you you're not playing. He's not a con man."
"He has faith in the players' ability," said Warren Spahn, the venerable pitcher who was picked up by the Giants in still another what-can-we-lose transaction. "He runs a happy house here. What can I tell you? Maybe that other stuff is overrated."
That other stuff is the public-relations aspect of managing a big-league team. Generally a manager paid $40,000 a year is paid $30,000 for managing and $10,000 for answering reporters' questions and furnishing them with angles for their stories. All managers make some conscious effort to "get along" with the press, and the less secure of them go to some lengths to curry favor, the better to look good when the team looks bad. The New York Mets are looking for a new manager to succeed Casey Stengel, whose principal talent was the employment of "my writers" as an instrument of his art. Interim manager Wes West-rum, a pro who has quickly demonstrated his acumen as a strategist, has little chance for the job, because the front office is seeking not a person, but a personality—a "color" man who can make a bad team seem interesting to the press, as well as to the undiscriminating "new breed" fans.
Franks, possibly because his business interests in and around Salt Lake City make him financially independent, does not electioneer. Indeed, most of his colloquy with reporters this year has seemed like a study in ways to lose friends and alienate people.
"Who are you going to pitch tomorrow, Herman?"
"Now, what the hell would you want to ask a goddam question like that for?"
End of interview.
"I know it's part of my job to talk to you guys," Franks says, "but I don't feel that I have to kiss your feet. With the number of people I have to deal with, I don't have the time to get to know each of them individually. It's up to them to get to know me. All I know is that the people who take the time to get to know me like me."
Franks doesn't use the Stengelian expression "my writers," but he admits to being parochial in his dealings with the press. "My responsibility is to the San Francisco people," he says. "I make sure they know everything they need to know." He made sure before he began managing. During the winter he would call San Francisco newspapermen for briefings or bull sessions. They like him.
Much more important, so do the players. "You have to remember," says Schofield, "that he took over a situation. I wasn't here, so I don't know how bad it really was. All I know is that I haven't noticed any cliques since I've been here. I go out to eat with my roomies. I don't go with Mays, but not because I don't like him. I figure he's got things he wants to do."
It wasn't really that bad. Much of the alleged factionalism on the Giants was a reflection of the presumptions of Alvin Dark, who attended Louisiana State University and believes that Negroes are superior athletes because "they have different muscles."
Dark did Franks a favor last year when he made Mays, whose muscles are different from everybody else's, the captain of the team. This mature, 34-year-old Willie is helping to run the team in more ways than Franks knows or Mays will admit. Willie likes Franks as a manager and, despite the necessary distractions of greatness, he is as happy as any member of the happy house. But Herman could walk across Salt Lake and still not replace Leo Durocher, the first manager Willie ever had and the only one who ever gave him what he needed—at the only time he ever needed anything. This is a far different kind of Willie—and he keeps emphasizing that fact—from the kid who came to the Polo Grounds in 1951 without a care in the world.
"I was only 20," Mays says now. "They didn't understand me."
Everybody matures, more or less, but the maturation of Mays in the past few years is striking. He was asked if he knew in what period it occurred. He didn't. "But you could ask Leo," he said. "He would know."
There is one clue. When Mays came into Shea Stadium in New York for the first time on May 29, 1964, he came as the captain.
"Because he's the team's leader," Dark explained that night. "I wanted to make him the captain in 1962." But he didn't. "I didn't think he was ready," Dark said, "or that baseball was ready." The national pastime, in other words, was not prepared for a Negro captain? "You can interpret that any way you want to," Dark said.
Now Mays is ready for almost anything. There is a saying in baseball that you never fully appreciate a man's merits, or demerits, until you play on the same team with him, day after day. Spahn is currently finding a new appreciation of Willie Mays. He has known him since he served him his first home run—and first big-league hit—in May 1951.
"He's always been great," Spahn said, "but what he did in Houston really impressed me." The Giants were losing 5-3, when Mays came to bat with two out and a runner at first in the ninth. With right-hander Claude Raymond pitching, the count went to 3 and 2 and Willie fouled off four pitches. "He got a little piece of each one," Spahn said, "and then he creamed one."
It was a home run, and the Giants won in the 10th 7-5. "What impressed me," Spahn said, "was the way he went for the home run each time. A guy might settle for a base hit, but he was trying to tie it up. One of the fouls was a foul home run, a real screamer. The way he did it makes me wonder how good he could be if every time was a crisis. He might hit .400."
Willie Mays is thinking lately about situations. In the first 13 games of the streak he hit .315, which is a bit below his average, and slugged .722, which is a bit above everybody's average. He hit seven home runs and batted in 16 runs. And he stole two bases, one in the first game of the streak and one in the 13th, the last he played before taking a day off.
The situation was the thing. The first time he stole, he was the runner at first with two out, the classic steal situation. The second time, he was at first with one out, but the Giants led Houston only 1-0 in the fourth and Robin Roberts looked as if he would not give many more runs. That was steal No. 6 this year for a man who had once stolen 40 bases in a season.
"I couldn't steal that many now," Mays said. "I don't think I've slowed up that much, but we have a different kind of ball club. With the Dodgers I might have to run, but with this team I have guys behind me who can hit it out of the park. There's no need to run.
"Besides," Mays added, "that wears you out. I want to play five or six more years."
Mays also does not shag balls in the outfield during batting practice or pick up balls at shortstop the way he used to. "I do when I feel like it," he said. Was this, like his new nonrunning policy, a program for the conservation of Willie Mays? "I didn't say that," he said. "You guys ask one question and you want three answers, and whatever I say it comes out some other way. I understand. If you wrote just what I said, it would be dull."
Mays's press relations were at their best in 1957, his last year in New York. But the going-over he got the first few years in San Francisco from reporters and fans for failing to produce daily miracles gave him a new wariness that may endure the rest of his playing days.
And then? Somebody, presumably, has to be the first Negro manager. "Not for me," Willie said. "That's too tough a job. No, I wouldn't want to be a coach either. Coaches have no security."
And Willie Mays has no area of achievement outside baseball. "I want to stay in baseball," he said. "There's a lot of things I can do in baseball." Like what? "Well, what's Musial doing?" Musial is a vice-president of the Cardinals. "O.K.," Willie Mays said.
He is not yet vice-president of the Giants, but Captain Mays is doing much more than carrying the lineup card up to home plate, and much more than playing the best game of baseball that has been played since—and maybe including—DiMaggio.
"Durocher," Willie was saying, "could do a great thing. He could give confidence to young players, and that's the best thing you can do. That's the onliest thing they need."
And now Willie Mays, who studied under Durocher, is imparting confidence to the younger players. "I ain't telling you," Mays said. "Sure, I do a lot of things for these guys. A lot of things. But they ain't going to come and talk to me if they think I'm going to brag about it. We got a lot of things going for us here, but I can't talk about them. It's a team game, and the thing is to win. No, nobody taught me that. I just always knew it."
Winning is good, even if it's tiddledy-winks against your mother, but isn't there a certain satisfaction in just being Willie Mays?
"It's two ways," Mays said. "Sure, there's a lot of guys who would like to play the game the way I'm able to play it. But it's a lonely life, too. Sometimes, especially when you lose, you'd just like to be left alone, but you can't be."
You can't be, because you're Willie Mays, who, since his return from the Army in 1954, has missed as many as five games in a season, scored as few as 101 runs, made as few as 171 hits (twice), hit as few as 29 home runs (twice), batted in only 84 runs and hit as low as .296 (twice). Lows for Willie, such statistics would increase the increment and cheer the heart of almost any baseball player.
His manager knows that. When an alien reporter asked about much-publicized reports that Willie was a de facto assistant manager, Herman characteristically answered with a question: "Why don't you guys read all those stories you've been writing about him? They're all true."