THE TEAM THAT EATS MANAGERS

Baseball's highest-paid player, Carl Yastrzemski, has been the hope—and sometimes the despair—of four Boston managers. So far silent Eddie Kasko, the latest Red Sox pilot appears to have Yaz' O.K.
March 16, 1970

Here is a list of the items included in the survival kit recommended for Eddie Kasko, who this season will be the fifth new manager the Boston Red Sox have auditioned in the last 10 years as they search for the reincarnation of Casey Connie McGraw: one bottle of cola, to be given to his players when they want a drink after hours. One red tranquilizer pill to enable him to act bored in the dugout. One green pep pill to make him seem vigorous, same locale. One mental-telepathy machine, with which to maintain communications with his players at all times. Finally, one "Yaz Sir, That's My Baby" button to let everyone know that he is friendly with Carl Yastrzemski.

If managing the Red Sox sounds like a complicated project, it is. The reigning manager not only must be perceptive enough to recognize the frequent changes in front-office operational policy and adjust himself accordingly, he also must demonstrate that he is as bedazzled by the team's most luminous personality as his superiors seem to be. Managers who cannot handle this double dilemma do not survive long in Boston.

So far, the 30-year-old Yastrzemski, who will be baseball's highest-paid player ($140,000) when he starts his 10th season next month, has outlasted four managers—Mike Higgins, Johnny Pesky, Billy Herman and Dick Williams. And as Yaz said last week during spring training at Winter Haven, Fla., "Every time the Red Sox changed managers, I got most of the blame for it."

It is easy to see why Yastrzemski has been the perfect target. He replaced Ted Williams in the Red Sox lineup, and that meant he also inherited Williams' critics. Like Williams, he could hit .321, win the batting championship and then listen to the boos as his detractors argued that he drove in only 68 runs and left the winning run at third base something like 16 times. Like Williams, Yaz has been the favorite player of Owner Tom Yawkey, who always has been starstruck. And, despite his claims to the contrary, Yastrzemski has displayed tendencies to loaf when the cause is lost.

Frequently Yastrzemski's lapses led to verbal skirmishes with his managers, but except in the case of Pesky these were never directly responsible, as some have supposed, for the dismissal of his managers. Indeed, during Yastrzemski's nine years at Boston, management simply has not been able to define exactly what it expected from its leader down there on the field. So the managers played it by ear—and lost.

Yastrzemski's relationship with his older managers, Higgins and Herman, was more amicable than it was with the younger ones, Pesky and Dick Williams. Higgins, who tried to manage a drinking club rather than a baseball team and thought that curfew meant getting back to the hotel before dawn, coddled Yaz during his first two seasons in the major leagues. There was no pressure on Yastrzemski then—only the pressure he wanted to place on himself. Herman, a passive man with little imagination, played bridge with his young star on every Red Sox road trip.

A pair of young activists, Pesky and Dick Williams demanded more from Yastrzemski, and at times they got more. In 1963, Pesky's first year as manager, Yaz won his first batting championship. However, in 1964 he reported for spring training 25 pounds overweight and never trimmed down to proper size. He argued with Pesky all season over his apparent indifference to his job and in the end Pesky was fired.

The Pesky-Yastrzemski days, however, were positively placid compared with the abrasiveness that punctuated the Dick Williams-Yaz era. "We were teammates in 1964," Yastrzemski said, "and I didn't like Williams then. He was sarcastic, too sarcastic, and full of innuendo. I remember going places around the city and having people tell me that Williams said I'd be a helluva player if I wanted to be."

Despite his apparent dislike for Williams, Yastrzemski played spectacularly for him in 1967 and carried the 100-to-1 shot Red Sox to the pennant. Along with the rest of the Red Sox, he slumped in 1968 but did win the batting championship again with .301. Last year Yastrzemski hit for power at the expense of his average but the Red Sox and Williams were out of their pennant race by late June. Still, if a manager's job was to attract large attendances (5.5 million in three years) and win more games than he lost, then Dick Williams was a success, Yaz' fortunes aside.

But suddenly the Red Sox fired him. Tom Yawkey attributed the release to a "lack of communication" between the manager and his players. In every baseball province this was taken to mean that Williams and Yastrzemski did not get along and in the end Yaz won out. In most regards that is true. But Williams had communications complications with many players on the team.

"He never sent me a card or a letter or even visited me when I was in the hospital after getting hit by that pitch in 1967," said Outfielder Tony Conigliaro. The next year Conigliaro attempted a comeback but shortly before the start of the season he returned home, complaining that he could not see out of his left eye. "When I got home," he said, "one newspaper headline read WILLIAMS DOUBTS TONY'S TALE. I didn't know he was an eye doctor, too."

Williams, always acerb, used the press to get messages to his players. For instance, speaking to a group of writers one day, he said, "Talking to George Scott is like talking to a cement wall." Scott read this the next day and seethed. Yastrzemski did, too. "When George's friends read that remark," he said, "they must've thought he was a real stupid player. If Williams had done that to me I would have punched him in the mouth—or got whipped trying to."

During Williams' tenure his teams always played exciting baseball. Now some of the players say that the Red Sox had the talent all along, that they won the 1967 pennant because they wanted to win it for themselves, but it is an indisputable fact that the same talent lay dormant until Williams forced it to the surface. That did not save his job.

And so Eddie Kasko, like Williams only an average major league player at best, was hired as the new manager. Quiet and studious, Kasko looks more like the village librarian than a major league manager. His approach to problems is more tactful than Williams'. For instance, when Kasko spoke to Jim Lonborg not long ago about the length of the pitcher's hair he did not say, "Cut it off." Instead he discussed Lonborg's career with him, mentioned that 1970 would be the most important year of his baseball life and that he should not leave himself open for discussion about subjects other than his pitching. Lonborg promptly had a hair or two cut off.

"Kasko," Yastrzemski says, "is a square guy. I remember him from 1966, when he was one of our utility infielders. He didn't go around buttering up any of the stars. He was strictly baseball. He never tried to make any extra money playing cards—or anything like that. He was all business."

Yastrzemski has been all business this spring, too. Each day after the regular workout he goes to the batting cage and takes 200 swings with a heavy, leaded bat. "I think that swinging the leaded bat is right," he said, "but maybe I'm wearing myself out. I won't really know until August. If I'm weak, then it was wrong."

After a half-hour session in the batting cage one day Yaz stopped to assess his career. "I think people have expected too much from me," he said. "I can't hit like Ted Williams, but the people in Boston are used to that magic .335 or .340 every year—and they want me to give it to them just like Williams always did. I can't, but I stop more runners from scoring than Williams ever did."

Yastrzemski has matured in the last year or so. "He still is impatient at times," says Reggie Smith, the Red Sox centerfielder, "but we've learned how to handle him. Some people think he comes across as, you know, 'What can you do for Carl Yastrzemski?' He'll be sitting at his locker and he'll say, 'Let me have that towel.' Well, the damn towel is right there at his feet. So you tell him, 'Get it yourself.' And he'll reach down and get it. Yeah, he's different now than he used to be."

Smith went out to play in an intrasquad game. Someone hit a routine fly to right center field. He and Tony Conigliaro converged under the ball.

"I've got it," Smith yelled.

"I've got it," Conigliaro yelled.

"Tony, I've got it," yelled Smith.

"Reggie, take it," Conigliaro yelled.

Smith caught the ball.

"There'll be no lack of communication around here this year," Conigliaro said.

Front office willing, of course.

PHOTOConvinced that conflicts are a thing of the past, Yaz concentrates on his own job—hitting. PHOTONewest man Kasko is quiet and easygoing. PHOTODeposed Williams was tight-lipped driver.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)