The American League Manager of the Year killed the Cape buffalo in an open place while the sun was high, so that the man and the beast had ample opportunity to form an opinion of each other. When first spotted, the herd was far off, the bull escorting at the fringe, its horns making it a certain candidate for eventual, if not immediate, perforation.
But the ground between them offered little cover: a few patches of mapone scrub and thornbush, a swelling here and there of dried grass that would, in the rainy season already generating in the highlands, reach to the Zambezi River in such deep anarchy that even the willful Land Rover could not get through. Getting closer would be an undertaking. So the professional at the manager's side, an old lion hunter named Johnny Uys, who used to exterminate man-eaters for the game department when Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia, suggested that Ted Williams risk a shot from where they were.
The bull had now turned, presenting the midships of his massive blue-black body. But the dot in Williams' scope pendulated on and off the beast's shoulder.
"What about all those 60-yard shots I've been hearing about?" Williams said through his teeth.
January 26, 1970
"Right," said Uys. "We'll try to improve our chances."
To move closer, however, they now had to travel by belly, wriggling across the open ground, in and out of the rutted spoor of elephants that had passed through during the last rainy season and left ruptured earth to harden into craters under the sun. Williams' belly had not had that kind of attention in years. He pulled his 230 pounds along with his left elbow, trailing the .458 in his right hand. "They kept hissing at me to keep my butt down," he said later, presenting his triumph without embarrassment. "Geez, I was dragging. My elbows and knees were grinding into the elephant tracks. The gun was making it tougher. I was thinking maybe we had made a bad decision."
They were still more than 100 yards away when it was decided they could get no closer. The herd, edgy now and alert to the delegation of killers, huddled in the crust and grass, then for a heart-jerking moment—in a way typical of Cape buffalo—made a tentative charge, only to pull up as abruptly as it started. A wounded buffalo is as brutal an adversary as there is, but when in good health and sound mind ii is more bluff than menace. The next move would more than likely be a thundering exit.
"Now," said Uys.
The bull was turned slightly, lifting its nose to find the scent, so that the broad view was shortened, but enough of the shoulder was available. Williams got into a sitting position with the .458, pressing his elbows inside his knees for stability, not sure, he said, that he could control his breathing after his 150-yard commando maneuver. Consistent with his history, however, the last of the .400 hitters, the land-'em-in-flames jet pilot, etc., etc., rose to the occasion. The first shot slammed into the shoulder of the animal. The buffalo, dead already but remonstrating against death, hunched up and spun groggily in a tight arc seeking the source of its torment, and Williams put a second bullet through its septum. The third shot was as redundant as the second.
Ted Williams had already hunted for almost two weeks by the Kafue River in the Mumbwa district, but most of his time there had been taken up with the production surrounding a sable antelope he had shot for the American Sportsman television series, on whose behalf he had come to Africa in the first place.
He had shot well—reedbuck, warlhog, the sable—but the filigree that is necessary to make the Sportsman show-complete and as good as it is consumed most of the time, and he had become anxious that he would not get his buffalo and had gone on ahead to the next camp on the Zambezi, where he would find buffalo and kudu.
Now it was noon and he had driven into camp with Rolf Rohwer, an American on the professional staff of Zambia Safaris, Inc., and the mood of urgency had left him. His clothes were dirt-crusted and his beard was patchy with dust, and he was altogether a happy man. He moaned over the aches he had accumulated crawling through the grass. He massaged his left shoulder and complained how exhausted he was and how indecent it was that young Rolf Rohwer, whom he called Ralph, did not suffer equally. "Dammit, Ralph," he said, "you got to hurt somewhere." And then he smiled. "Boy, I wanta tell you," he said. "That buffalo hunting is the fun."
He was talking about trying for a bigger horn when he retired to his tent that afternoon, and he was still in there through tea and later when the hunters went out again.
"He is pleased, but he will not dream of the buffalo," said the Rhodesian professional, Mike Cameron, as Williams slept and the hunters waited for the sun to loosen its hold on the land. "He will relax with the problems of adding 50 percentage points to Mr. Casanova's batting figure—is that right, Casanova?"
"Yes. Paul Casanova, a catcher," he was told.
"Or how to make Mr. Coleman a better pitcher."
"How do you know all that?" Cameron was asked. (Only a few days before Williams had said: "I close my eyes and I lie there thinking, 'How am I going to get to Coleman? How am I going to get to this guy? What can I say without discouraging him?' He could be so much better. It's going to be my No. 1 project this spring.")
"Because," said Cameron, "he is a magnificent fraud, your Ted. He is genuinely enthusiastic about everything. He argues about the strength of fishing line and about ballistics, and he is very positive with his arguments, but I suspect he has only one true love, and he denies her.
"I asked him about managing," Cameron said, "about getting back into baseball after all those years—we have baseball in Rhodesia, you know, so I know a little about it—and he said he would not be back at all if he had enough money and if he had a big boat like Zane Grey had and could sail the world. He could see himself saying, 'Boy, see you later.' I suspect that is a front."
It is true that the mythical Ted Williams hates the limelight and said for years he would not manage anything but his tackle box. He said it was a loser's job and he would not want that aggravation for anything. Then the factual Williams signed a big contract to manage the worst team in baseball. The mythical Ted said it was "m-o-n-e-y"—he spelled it out—that got him back, but anyone who knows him has seen him leap out of his chair to make some minor point about baseball or dangerously rock a boat standing up to demonstrate a swing. "He did play the game until he was 42, and that is a pretty strong grip," Cameron was told.
"That is my point," said the Rhodesian. "I have seen it here, listening to him. No dead animal or fish can light him like his true love."
Ted Williams had never, from the time he left New York, really escaped, as one would expect to escape when he has traveled 8,000 miles to an out-of-the-way place. An American boy holding a camera with both hands shadowed him through the Tower of London and waited 40 minutes outside Coldharbour Gate as Williams inspected 17th-century glaives and wheel-lock pistols and browsed through the tilt armor. "Now, Mr. Williams?" he said when Ted emerged, and was granted a friendly pose. In Nairobi an old man in canvas shoes and a soiled shamba hat stepped in front of him and said, "Hey, you're Ted Williams!"
"A lot of people make that mistake. I think Williams is actually an older man."
"Aw, c'mon, I saw you play, Ted. You know. In Boston. Oh, how I'd love to be in Boston."
"People I know want to come over here."
"Ted, you gotta tell me. Did the Mets really win the Series? You know"—he looked around—"you can't believe everything you read out here."
"Yeah, the Mets won, all right. Four games to one."
"Mmm, mmm. Please. Tell me about it." The man was starved for information, and Williams, in an obliging mood, rendered a five-minute report, expressing his personal surprise that the Orioles had packed in so easily.
At a five and dime, the great discovery was made by an Episcopal missionary in from Tanzania. The missionary introduced his son, whom he acquainted with Williams' achievements, and the man and the boy were immensely pleased to have him drop in on their continent.
"How did Frank Howard do this year?" the missionary wanted to know. "Is he still swinging at bad pitches? I saw him when I was home on leave a few years ago. Swung from his heels at everything."
"No," Williams assured him, "Howard doesn't do that as much anymore."
Between soup and salad that night at the New Stanley Hotel, Williams talked more about the Series. "I'll tell you what disappointed me," he said. "What I think was the key to the Series. Second game, 1-1 tie, ninth inning, Charles up for the Mets. Two out. McNally pitching. And he busted off two sharp curves, two hellacious curves, both for strikes. 'Boy,' I said to myself, 'come right back with it. Come right back with that curve.' But geez, he frogged around and frogged around and the count went to 2-2 and 3-2 and then he threw Charles a high fastball. Bow! Line drive, base hit. Then the next guy gets a blunk hit, and then Weis wins the game with a single off another high fastball. And in the last game Weis homered off the same pitch. I have to say I was disappointed the way they pitched to the Mets."
"Do you suppose," Williams was asked, "that the Episcopalians have been spreading the word about Frank Howard's bad habits?"
The Manager of the Year shook his head. "That ought to tell you how obvious it was. It was obvious the first time I saw him playing years ago with the Dodgers in a World Series. I knew then, and I knew when I took this job, exactly what I was going to say to him. The value of knowing the strike zone. The value of proper thinking at the plate. The importance of getting a good ball to hit. Of knowing when not to be too big with his swing.
"We talked whenever we had a chance, and I want to tell you Frank Howard is a wonderful guy. A great guy. We analyzed his bases on balls—only 54 last year, and 12 of those were intentional. Well, for crying out loud, the leadoff man should get 35 walks. Howard didn't know the strike zone. It was as simple as that."
"So how many times did he walk this year?"
"One hundred and two. And he cut his strikeouts by one-third, and his average was as high as ever, and he still hit more home runs, some of them out of sight. I mean he crushed the ball. I think without question the biggest, strongest guy who ever played this game."
His voice had been rising and the people at the next table, who had been folded over their meals, were now listening in and whispering behind their hands. One of them finally leaned over and offered Williams a menu.
"Would you sign this, Mr. Williams?" he said. "Never thought I'd run into you way out here. Uh, just make it out to, uh, Theodore Samuel."
"Great name," said Williams, taking the menu.
The man laughed self-consciously. "Yes. It's for my nephew. My brother named him after you. My brother is a real nut."
"Gee, thanks a lot," said Williams. "Thanks a lot."
On a flight out of Nairobi the discoverer was the man in the seat ahead of Williams. He rose up on his knees to face around and offered himself for conversation. Eventually he asked Williams what made a good manager.
"To have enthusiasm," Williams said, "to show enthusiasm, not just in a game but from spring training on. To be on top of it every minute. Then, then, to know enough to have guys around you who can help a guy—who can teach a guy. That's a key. There's very little really good teaching done in baseball today. I'm convinced of that.
"So, if you have that, and if you have that little extra that Casey Stengel could get out of a team, and you've got good pitching—well, there's where it pays off. You talk about the great teams and they always had good pitching. The Yankees. Cleveland. The pitching kept them in the close games. Then in the late innings, boom, something happened, and they won."
"And a manager makes this happen?"
"He can. He can. But in a variety of ways. I'm keyed up all the time, trying to keep guys alert, asking questions, trying to get them to think. It's my nature. But I watched Hodges in the Series, sitting in the dugout, arms crossed. Never changed position. But he had enthusiastic coaches and a young club full of life, and—and—he had a businesslike attitude, and a team has to have that, too. The kind of attitude Joe McCarthy always instilled in a team. McCarthy never made a big scene.
"The Mets had another thing important to an organization. They had people who were willing to spend money. Mrs. Payson went out and bought what was necessary, and guys were getting paid and that makes for a good atmosphere. And I'll tell you something else. I wouldn't be surprised if the Mets kept winning for a long time."
At midnight Bob Addie of The Washington Post, having persevered through the labyrinth of intercontinental overseas telephone, reached Williams, back on the ground, to tell him he had been named Manager of the Year in the American League.
"Boy, just like the Russian secret police," Williams shouted. "Are you sure? Well, yes, I'm flabbergasted, Bob. But I'll tell you something. It was just another example of the writers being wrong again. Weaver and Martin deserved it more. I'm happy for myself, but I feel bad for them."
"I honestly feel that way," he said when he had hung up. "I'm a Johnny-come-lately in this business, and those guys won their divisions, and Weaver won the pennant in a breeze. I voted for Weaver. If you win like he did and don't get it, well...."
By themselves, the statistics of Ted Williams' first year of managing do not give it the dimension it deserves or the emotions it stirred. The Washington team had its best won-lost record in 24 years. It won 10 more games than it lost, a 21-game improvement over the previous year; it rose in the standings from its home in the cellar to within a single game of the first division. It was fourth in batting, fifth in pitching. Individual improvements were practically unanimous. Batting averages soared; pitchers discovered they could throw strikes. Dick Bosnian had the lowest earned run average in the league. Attendance almost doubled. Revenue almost tripled.
Success has a hundred fathers, it has been said, and failure is an orphan, but the fatherhood of this altogether prodigious child was never credited to anyone except Ted Williams. He examined the phenomenon for a long time late one night as he lay in his tent by the Kafue River. It was in the bedlam hours before sleep, when toe frogs and night birds go into hysterics and are joined by the occasional high whooping of a passing hyena.
The subject, as it inevitably did, had come up earlier in the evening around the fire. The hunters asked Williams how it was that a man could pick up where he left off so effectively after all those years, and Ted had said the truth was that things happened so fast he did not realize how little prepared he really was.
"I'm signing, then I'm packing and going to camp, and I don't know who's on the team or anything. I remember talking to one of the Washington writers, trying to get some information, and he mentions Hondo, and I said, 'Gee, tell me about that Hondo. How good is he?' Well, Hondo is Frank Howard, but I didn't know that."
So there in the tent, in a halo of light from a ridiculously full moon, Williams went on with his summation of the season he had promised would never happen.
"Did you enjoy it?"
"I enjoyed being on the field," he said, and yawned such a loud, sustained yawn it seemed sure that he would not last the sentence through. "I enjoyed being with the players, helping the kids, working with them. You feel good when things are perking. There is no greater satisfaction I know of than when things are going well. When things aren't going well...."
And he began to talk about a player who had not responded to stimulus, who had told him that all he really cared about doing was lying out on the beach in the sun, and in his mind's eye he was seeing the young Ted Williams, practicing until his hands bled and loving it, and he said, "This guy hasn't got the drive. He just hasn't got the drive. He hasn't been out for extra hitting practice four times all year. That's what I mind.... Well, he ain't going to be on our club, I don't believe, and still I don't know how we're going to get rid of him, we don't have anyone any better, and that's the thing that bothers you on a club like this. Where do you go from here? It's going to be a struggle to improve." He paused, and his breathing could be heard over the crooning frogs.
"You see," he said, "this is the thing. If I was smart, if I was really smart, I'd say forget about it, see you later. I can see this is the kind of job you suffer with, you get a lousy ulcer, you get buried in it. Boy, if I had it made, if I had all the money I wanted...."
The mood passed as quickly as it came. Williams was awake now, putting his thoughts together. The exercise of meaningful conversation has always stimulated him.
"The fun," he said, "was seeing them improve and realize they could win, and that's a satisfaction to me."
"But early on when you said that you had so much to learn, that you didn't even know how to make out a lineup card, what about then?"
"That's why I said Vince Lombardi showed me something. Here I'm starting out, not knowing what's going on, whether I can do it, who the coaches are, who the players are, what I'm getting into. And I look over there and I see where Lombardi has hired head coaches as his assistants and, boy, that woke me up. The smartest coach in football has head coaches as his assistants. He surrounds himself with good guys. By the time spring training started I had made up my mind to do the same thing. I was going to get all the help I could get.
"The big thing for me was the infield. Nobody had to tell me anything about hitting, nobody had to tell me anything about pitching. I don't mean you don't get good ideas from people, but that part of the game I knew.
"Now it's probably true that a good infielder can help another infielder better than a batter can help another batter because there's certain set ways to do things in the infield—how to cheat on a bunt, things I never knew because I was an outfielder.
"Like what? Bunting situations. For example, man on first, maybe hit-and-run or bunt. The guy turns around to bunt and decides to hit. Now,"—he was up on the edge of the cot, framed by the moonlight against the mosquito-netting window—"your head's home plate. I'm the second baseman. There's first. On a bunt, I'm supposed to cover first. Fast. Break to first on the bunt. Well, the correct way to do it—and I never knew this—is for me, the second baseman, to come in toward you so that if the batter straightens up and tries to ram it through I'm still in position to make the play. Then if the guy bunts, the second baseman is already moving and he can go to first. Start in, then go to first. I didn't know that."
"So that's why you tried to hire Johnny Pesky?"
"Well, I had Foxie [Nellie Fox] all set as one of my coaches, but he couldn't do it all. I asked Pesky if he wanted to come, but he was tied up with television in Boston, and he said no, and it was just as well. I had Pat Mullin, but he was an outfielder. And I had Trahilliger."
"Wayne Terwilliger. You pronounced it wrong in the spring, and you're still pronouncing it wrong. It's a wonder he stuck with you."
"Ter-will-i-ger." He sounded it out. "You're a wise guy, you know that? All right, just keep quiet and listen and maybe you'll learn something.
"Ter-will-i-ger was supposed to be the Buffalo manager. He had played in the other league, so I didn't know much about him. But when I got to know him at Pompano—a real pepper pot, always on top of things, always watching the guys—I said to myself, 'Boy, I want this guy.'
"Trahilliger had managed. And as we went along I said, 'Twig, you just run the game from third base, and if there's anything you want from the bench we'll let you know.' Now let me tell you something. If I'm right, that's the way Hodges does it. I watched him in the Series. He didn't call a play from the bench that I could see. He didn't move. Yost called the game. Except in a real tough situation, where they had to decide on a bunt or let a guy hit, Hodges just sat there.
"So. These things can work out when you've got a guy who can do the job, whether he's coaching first—Foxie could do it—or third base or in the bullpen. When he can do it, boom, let him do it. From a manager's viewpoint, it's the only smart way. A manager's got nine million lousy little things to do, things on his mind, people to see, lists to check, the press to fool with after the game, the press to fool with before the game, a million things."
"Were you worried about handling the press?"
"Hell, no. I couldn't have worried less. The only trouble I had was over the 15-minute rule: nobody allowed in the dressing room for 15 minutes after the game. I wanted to give the players a chance to be alone a little bit, and I got a few yowls over it. After about a month I got a little soft and said, well, I'll make it 10 minutes, trying to cooperate, and one of them kept bitching and bitching, so I said, 'It's going back to 15 minutes,' and the United States Congress ain't going to make me change.
"There are good guys in the Washington press, and we got along all right. I didn't get real chummy with any of them, but it's better not to get too close. They knew they could come to me and get some dope now and then, and when I thought they were off base I told them so.
"The thing that bothered me a little was they were the last to believe in us. After a month and a half they were still writing, 'Gee, when are the Senators going to collapse?' So I had a little session with them one day, and I said, 'Look, everybody in this town thinks we're going to do it except you guys. You are the least impressed of anybody with this club. The least enthusiastic. For God sakes, wake up.' I'd give 'em that treatment whenever I could. Especially when I knew I was right." He laughed and flopped back down on the cot.
"But I'm away from my point, which is this: the smartest thing I did this year, the smartest thing without question, was selecting a good coaching staff. And two of them, Trahilliger and Fox, were right there, just a matter of making sure they stayed. I added Joe Comacho, who had been at my baseball camp and was teaching school and had never played in the majors but is a smart guy, baseballically, a hustler, eager, great to have on the bench beside me. I didn't know how Sid Hudson was going to work out as a pitching coach, but I couldn't get anybody else at that point, so it didn't matter. But after a while I began to realize, gee, Hudson understands me, and I understand him, and we worked together good.
"And the only other guy I added was George Susce—60 years old, been around for years, terrific worker, always in better shape than anybody. And here's the funny thing about old George Susce. He gave me more good ideas, things I should have known but didn't, and he'd put them in a concrete way. I'd say, 'Hey, that's right, that's the way.' For example, when two men get on base before the fifth inning you should think about getting somebody up in the bullpen. Ideally, two men, a lefthander and a righthander, so you're ready for anything.
"After the fifth inning, if one man gets on in a close game, you get somebody up. Maybe your pitcher is throwing high, or he isn't getting the ball over, or he's slow covering first—those are good indications he's getting tired. Well, old George Susce put it to me—'Ted, whenever you get two men on before the fifth inning, give me the sign.' I'd never had to worry about that kind of thing. And Susce gave me the key, nobody else. He's been seeing the game from the bullpen all his life, and he knows."
There was a long pause. Williams might have drifted off, but then he was back from wherever he had been.
"The one big impression I got this year," he said, "is that the game hasn't changed. It's the same as it was when I played. I see the same type pitchers, the same type hitters. I am a little more convinced than ever that there aren't as many good hitters in the game, guys who can whack the ball around when it's over the plate, like an Aaron or a Clemente. There are plenty of guys with power, guys who hit the ball a long way, but I see so many who lack finesse, who should hit for average but don't."
As a player, Williams had been a notoriously soft touch for batters begging knowledge, so intrigued was he by the techniques of good hitting. The Colavitos and Kalines and Skowrons of opposing teams flocked around. He slipped and did it again this year, he said, when he could not resist a flaw in Ken Harrelson of the Indians. He saw that Harrelson was cocking his hips prematurely, restricting the pendulum action of his swing. Williams passed the word along through a mutual friend and right after that the Indians came to Washington, and Harrelson, minus flaw, beat him with a home run. Williams said after that he would be more careful who got his prescriptions.
The Senators, of course, were the immediate beneficiaries. With the mark of Williams on them, banjo hitters delivered smoking line drives; once-emaciated averages took on flesh. As a team, the Senators batted 30 points higher than they had the year before. Eddie Brinkman ballooned from .187 to .266, Del Unser from .230 to .286, Hank Allen from .218 to .279. Frank Howard hit .296 and 48 home runs and Mike Epstein .278 and 30 home runs, and neither ever had a season like it.
"In my heart," Williams said, "I think I helped everybody on that club by just talking baseball, by giving them the viewpoint of an old hitter who knew the game between the pitcher and the hitters as well or better than anybody who ever played it.
"As time went on they knew we were giving them the word. McMullen is an example. I didn't change Ken McMullen. He did everything himself. All I said was, 'Look, Mac, you're swinging down on the ball too much.'
"The ideal swing is a slight upswing. I compared the line of his swing to Mike Epstein's. It's true that Epstein swings up a little too much, but there was too much difference between his and McMullen's swing, and Mac saw it, too. He was hitting about .248 at the All-Star break. He was slicing the ball, what do you call it?"
"No-no, ah, whatever it is, but the other way you get that good hard overspin on a ground ball, and when it goes through the infield it has something on it, and if you hit it solid, boy, it goes. Anyway, he started hitting, and he hit the longest ball he ever hit at the stadium, way up in the upper deck. And I'll tell you, I wouldn't be surprised if he was even better this year.
"After a while, you could see them all coming around, getting the message, thinking about what they were doing. Some of them started squeezing rubber balls and lifting heavy weights, doing things to improve their strength.
"Listen, did you zip up your side of the tent?" Williams asked. "I don't want any snakes in here. When it comes to snakes I am no hero." Before it was the bugs that worried him. He would put up such a fog of bug spray that it would settle wet on one's forehead for hours.
"What about Brinkman? Surely you worked a miracle there."
"I didn't tell Brinkman a lot. When I first saw him in the batting cage all eager and alive, I said if he was a .180 hitter I'd eat an alligator. It didn't take a genius to see that. He had already picked out the bottle bat. He'd already choked up on it in the spring, and they were things I was given credit for and deserved absolutely none. He did ask me what I thought, and I said, 'Well, it's all right,' but I thought to myself as far up as he was choking that bat I hope to God he wouldn't hit himself in the belly with it." He laughed, imagining such a thing.
"The only thing I tried to impress on Brinkman was to be quicker with the bat, especially when he was hitting to the opposite field."
"To hit with authority to right field?"
"Why authority? His best shot isn't going out, so why with authority? The tendency to the opposite field is to be late, and when you're late you're under it and you pop up. It didn't do Brinkman any good to hit the ball in the air. It was important for him to hit the ball on the ground. Hit a ball on the ground and it's a tougher play, things can happen. Brinkman worked at it and, I wanta tell you, that little guy got big hits all year for us. Sonofagun.
"He had National Guard duty most of the time. Had to be there at 6 in the morning, be there all day, get to the park at 4:30, eyes all bloodshot, and he'd nap for two hours. Then we'd wake him up—'C'mon Eddie, game's starting'—and he wouldn't even get hitting practice. He played even when he was hurt. Some guy slid into him, really ripped him, and he had a wrenched knee, all swollen up. I'd say, 'Eddie, why don't you just take a day or two and rest, pick yourself up a little.' 'Naw, I wanna play!'
"And let me tell you, they all wanted to play. Didn't care about injuries or anything, they all wanted to play. And, gee, what a satisfying thing that was."
"What about the pitching? In the spring you were insisting on everybody having a third pitch, and only a couple of them really had a major league curve."
"Bertaina and Pascual, and neither lasted the season."
"Guys you never heard of were your best pitchers."
"I've said this before. If I knew that little game between the pitcher and the batter as well as anybody, then I ought to know enough to help the pitcher. And the pitchers on our club listened.
"Now with a guy like Darold Knowles I didn't have to say much—lot of talent, smart and just chesty enough to think he can beat the world. He's not quite that good, but he's good. Bosman developed into about as good a pitcher as there is in the league, and he very well might wind up winning as many as anybody.
"Then you get a guy like Cox. A nonathlete, like a lot of pitchers. But a good arm and he wanted to pitch. Something happened to Cox this year that was the turning point for him: we put him into more tough situations than he had ever been in, and he got out of them.
"Coleman? He doesn't get the ball over the plate. His control is no better than it was two years ago. His record is no better. His curve hasn't improved. He's got a fork ball and he wants to go with it all the time, and he's got to find something different. And he's got to hump up and throw the damn ball. He can't lollipop it up there. Listen—there ain't anybody that throws hard throwing easy. The only way you can throw hard is to throw hard. Get up there and grunt a little. That McDowell has a fastball and I can hear him grunting all the way to the bench. He's putting something on it. That's why it's a good fastball.
"Coleman's got talent, all right. He's got as much talent as anybody. The thing is to get it out of him...."
The hunting dried up after the buffalo kill. Williams lingered at the Zambezi, but it was too late in the season, and the hunting was going bad. If he was really desperate for action, Mike Cameron said, he could fire a few rounds across the Rhodesian border and then duck into the reeds and watch the Rhodesian army helicopters fly over. Cameron said the African terrorists who had tried to cause a stir in Rhodesia had a life expectancy of just under 72 hours once they crossed that border.
Williams scoured the hills up from the river with Rolf Rohwer, who was a tireless, meticulous hunter. Williams especially liked him, so he thought nothing of engaging him in the merciless kidding that he confers on his friends.
One afternoon Williams was told, "Listen, you've got to start calling people by their right names. You called Terwilliger 'Trahilliger' all season."
"No, I didn't. I called him Twig most of the time."
"And it's not Ralph, it's Rolf."
"What? Well, you can say it the way you want. I believe in pronouncing the a's."
"There ain't no a's in it, it's R-o-l-f," said Rohwer.
Williams looked at him. "German, huh?"
"Now you're getting it."
"Lousy Hun," said Williams.
"How did a nice guy like you ever get along with 25 sensitive ballplayers?" Rolf said.
"I gave 'em the treatment when I thought I had to," Williams said. "You know, kidding them but digging them, too. 'Dammit, Joe, Babe Ruth couldn't have hit that pitch. C'mon, swing at strikes.' "
"Did you ever blow your stack? Really let go?"
"Only once. Everybody in the lineup, seemed like, was striking out on high fastballs, and one day when our pitching was bad I was up to here. Casanova or somebody struck out on a high fastball—the kind of pitch you ought to really cream—and I just saw red. I had this bat I always carry on the bench, something to hold on to, and I swung it hard and, kerpow! I hit the bat rack. Broke two bats. I'll tell you, that shook 'em up a little bit."
Whatever Williams did with his bat there was no team in the league more spirited than his, and those who predicted perfectionist Williams would come unhinged when forced to endure all that imperfection were mistaken. Williams and his Senators were the love story of the year.
"That first day at Pompano Beach," he said, "I told them, 'I know you've heard a lot about what an impatient guy I'm supposed to be, but I think you'll find I'll have patience. The only thing I will absolutely insist on is that you hustle. I played this game 25 years, and it was always fun for me, fun to practice, to take extra hitting, even after a game, and that's the way I want it to be for you. So I expect you to hustle. I'll insist on that.'
"And they did, they hustled all year. And I wish you could have had a tape recorder on that bench, all the noise, all the clanging and banging.
"The dugout in baseball has always been a place where guys went to sleep. The very fact they're not playing works against them, so you try to keep them in the game. 'What pitch was that? What's the count?' I'd see a guy check the scoreboard. 'What are you looking there for? You oughta know without looking. Get in the game. Two-zero pitch. What's he going to do.' Next time the guy'll notice."
"Is that why you did so much platooning, to keep everybody sharp?"
"Well, sure, that's part of it, but platooning is really the only way to do it anymore, unless you've got a standout player who's strong enough to play all the time. Otherwise, there are 40 different reasons to platoon any player. If you play eight guys all year and there are seven on the bench twiddling their thumbs, when you need 'em they can't do it because they haven't played.
"We had Eddie Stroud pinch-hitting, but I was always thinking of ways to get him into the game. One pinch hit every other day isn't enough to keep you sharp, 100 pinch hits a year aren't enough, but if you can play twice a week, or once a week, and pinch-hit a couple times in between, then it's not completely foreign to you when you're sent in there. You're playing, you feel good, you win a game once in a while with an important hit, gives you a little incentive, makes you want to practice more. But if you just sit a guy on the bench and leave him there, sooner or later he says, 'Well, nuts,' and you can't blame him.
"Listen. A .260 hitter doesn't hit .320. But if you can get that .260 hitter to hit .320 for a while, then you see him fade a bit and get him out of there, then back in against certain pitchers, give him an opportunity in the right situation, boom, he comes through, builds his confidence and before you know it he isn't a .260 hitter, he's a .275 or a .280 hitter."
"Were there times when you felt like you really didn't know what you were doing, when you felt inadequate, when you second-guessed yourself?"
"No, I never felt inadequate. I never felt lost or anything. I didn't second-guess myself very often because you can usually think up good enough reasons to justify any move. Sometimes you wonder, of course. I know we lost a game in New York when the situation cried for a squeeze bunt and I didn't call for it, and I was wrong, as I told the writers right off when they came in afterward.
"We lost another game, to Detroit, when the percentages called for a bunt and the guy hit one over the left-fielder's head for two runs, so you never know. I found out later that Detroit didn't bunt hardly at all the year they won the pennant, and they still won 40 games from the seventh inning on."
When losses piled up, Williams did not throw tantrums, as his critics predicted he would, nor did he quit, as they thought he might. Instead, he said, he always made it a point at those times to pay the club owner, Bob Short, a visit. It was the persuasive Short who drew Williams kicking and screaming out of exile on the Florida Keys.
"When we'd lost five or six in a row, and I wasn't using the right pitchers, and everybody was bitching, I always took the time to look him up and say, 'Gee, what a wonderful opportunity you've given me.'
"But I want to tell you, my admiration for Bob Short never wavered, and if he fired me tomorrow I'd still say he was the smartest man I ever met. Bob Short in three years will know this game as well as anyone. Already he's one step ahead of everybody else, and he's just a spectator, really, just learning the game, but he's got that something that knows what's good and what's bad.
"The happiest thing I can think of right now is—two things. One, that I'm going to make a lot of money out of all this aggravation and, two, that Bob Short will realize a championship before he's through, because he will positively go bananas."
For Williams the safari was as good as over. He finally packed his gear and headed down to Kariba Lake to go after tigerfish, which he had heard much about and which he handled with consummate ease. But if the hunting closed on an anticlimax, it had been good, and already Williams was making plans for going back next year.
"You will have to come earlier," said Rohwer, "when the season is right—August or in September."
"No good," he was told. "That's the middle of the baseball season."
"Well, I'll tell you," said the American League Manager of the Year. "If I get a lot of aggravation, as I am sure to get, and if we're not doing well, which is a distinct possibility, I'll just quit and catch the first plane out. I'd rather hunt than fool around with baseball anyway."
But he smiled when he said it.