It was two hours after Richard Anthony Allen (see cover) had completed his first official day's work in the employ of the St. Louis National Baseball Club, Inc. Baseball's wandering man stood in the middle of the team's spring training clubhouse at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. with a benign smile on his face. "This is exactly what I wanted," he said. "To be here and be a part bf this team. I just want to play the game of baseball here as it is supposed to be played. If I were still with Philadelphia and training up the road in Clearwater I wouldn't be hanging around any clubhouse two hours after my work was done. As soon as I could get the uniform off my back up there I would be long gone and goodby. But I'm gonna like this. Um-huh!"
Is he? Will Richie Allen disappear in May or fail to catch the team plane in June? Will he be given a month's suspension in July for insubordination and cause his manager to be known throughout the sports world as Gray Schoendienst?
With the opening of the baseball season still three weeks away, there is already $1,830,000 worth of advance ticket money stashed away in a bank in St. Louis. Much of that was put there by people who want to know the answers to these and many other questions about Allen and the impact he will have on the already vastly changed (and changing every day) Cardinals of 1970.
No major league trade of recent years has caused as much speculation as the one that brings Allen to St. Louis after six controversial years with the Phillies. He is known as a man who hits a baseball even harder than he hits the bottle, and Allen shakes the game's Establishment and stirs up its followers as no other player can. Although his career has been interrupted by injuries and indiscretions on several occasions, in the four years he has managed to play most of the schedule Allen has averaged .301, with 31 homers a year, 94 runs batted in and 146 strikeouts. Not only does he hit tremendous home runs, he is one of the fastest runners in baseball. His power and speed are supposed to lift the Cards back to something more respectable than their shabby fourth-place finish in 1969.
March 23, 1970
But Allen is only one change the Cardinals have made. By the end of the first full week of exhibition games last Saturday some other innovations were beginning to look excellent. Carl Taylor, the hottest man between Florida and Arizona, was hitting .700 and raising eyebrows all over St. Petersburg as he shone at three different positions. Like Allen, Taylor was brought to St. Louis to help lift a team batting attack that produced only 595 runs in 1969. He hit .348 at Pittsburgh last season, impressive even though he appeared in just half the team's games.
Jose Cardenal, the man St. Louis hopes will be able to replace Curt Flood in center field, was playing well, stealing bases and, like Allen, maintaining that he was now ready to forget his temperamental past at California and Cleveland. George Culver, a pitcher picked up from Cincinnati, of all places, was throwing the ball hard and getting the hitters out. At one point late last week the Cards had gone through 18 innings of exhibition games without giving up an earned run. Repeatedly, they had generated early lightning by scoring in the first inning. They seldom did that last year.
From the moment St. Louis reported this spring, tension enveloped the team. For one thing, the Cards were bothered by the world-champion New York Mets, who had become the darlings of St. Petersburg following their remarkable upset of the National League and the Baltimore Orioles. The Cardinals had grown used to winning the publicity war in town, and nothing gets to a ballplayer like not being able to read about himself. Three times league champions in the past six years, the Cardinals smarted, particularly at a title on the Times that read THE METSVILLE TIMES.
But the most disturbed man in St. Pete all spring was Card Owner August A. (Gussie) Busch Jr. With spring training two weeks gone and contracts with Allen and Pitcher Steve Carlton still unsigned, Busch got hopping mad. He stood in front of the red door of the team's offices at Al Lang Field one morning and talked to General Manager Bing Devine while hitting his left hand with his right in chopping strokes. "I'm going into a meeting right now about that," he said in answer to a reporter's question about Allen. "We ain't going to give in. He is going to play at our figure or he's not going to play for the Cardinals."
Allen had a strange deal in Philadelphia that included a large payment to his mother. Devine, his assistant Jim Toomey and Busch had decided that Allen would receive no such benefit with St. Louis, where no other player had a similar deal. Allen's failures to return phone calls or answer letters and wires caused St. Louis to invoke paragraph 10 of the uniform player agreement (reserve clause) that states that a baseball team can force a player to report to the club at any salary it wants to write into the contract so long as that figure is not less than 80% of the previous season's contract. A letter was sent to Allen advising him of the action. Outrageously—or so it seemed in retrospect—an identical letter was sent to Carlton, who had been holding out for considerably less than Allen. Carlton came over to St. Pete from Miami almost immediately and got caught in the middle of Busch's wrath.
Originally, Carlton, who set a major league record last season by striking out 19 Mets in a game, asked for a raise from $26,000 to $50,000, but almost immediately he was trapped in the Allen brouhaha. Busch declared that he was disgusted with a lot of the problems now bothering baseball. "We have had the highest-priced team ever to be fielded," he said. "Last year our salaries came to slightly over a million and we are close to that now [$890,000]. I just can't see paying Allen a salary that's the same as some of my stars. I would then have to raise their salaries out of conscience."
Busch explained that he felt he had always treated his players fairly. "I'm not mad, I'm disappointed. Instead of being a sport it has become a headache. I can't understand Curt Flood [the former Cardinal now fighting baseball's reserve clause through the courts] or the Allen case. Some of us have to take a stand for the good of baseball one way or the other. I hate to be the sucker who does it, but I am perfectly willing to do it. I think we can still work this thing out, but we are going through a hell of a turmoil right now."
Allen announced not long after Busch's somewhat rambling statement that he had agreed to terms and would report to St. Pete. Carlton, however, angered Busch again when he tried to get his salary raised from the $31,000 the Cardinals had written into his unsigned contract.
"I'm fed up and I think the fans are, too," Busch said the next day. "The players have a great pension plan and we've been pretty fair with salaries. Now they talk strike. They must think we are a bunch of softheads. I hope to God this is not a majority view. I can't understand what's happening here or on our campuses or in our great country."
What was happening to Carlton was hard to understand, too. "I didn't use a lawyer," he said, "because this club always has wanted to deal on a personal level. I believe in that, too."
Although Busch said that he will not change his mind about Carlton's salary for 1970, it should be remembered that he is not merely an owner; as a Cardinal fan, he often reacts to the thinking of other Cardinal fans. He fired De-vine and then brought him back in one of the better pride-swallowing displays of recent times. His attitude toward Carlton could change.
Anyone silly enough to judge Rich Allen on his past performances is silly, indeed. Allen is convinced he will live down the reputation that caused Dodger Vice-President Al Campanis to say recently: "When the Phillies made him available, we thought twice. We wanted his bat, but not his personality. We would have been making a travesty of everything that Dodger spirit represents."
Cardinal spirit is just as good as Dodger spirit. Twice in the last few years the Cardinals picked up players who were thought to be problems and two of them—Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris—helped win pennants. The Cardinals, known as great "rippers," treat each other as equals. Allen got his first taste of this the day he reported to St. Petersburg. As he watched his friend, Joe Torre, walking from the shower he said, "What a body. Joe, you look like you are in great shape. Man, you must have lost quite a bit of weight."
"Thirteen pounds," said Torre.
"How?" asked Allen.
"Waiting for you to show up," said Torre, and Allen laughed.
"I'm not the big man here," said Allen. "I'm just a part of this team and I feel welcome already. Everything here won't center around me like it did in Philadelphia. I'd forgotten how to win there and I know they won't let me forget that here. I want to get that winning feeling again."
Allen joins a lot of stars in St. Louis, including Lou Brock, Julian Javier, Torre and Bob Gibson, an excellent man at getting a team loose. This spring Gibson spent the early days in camp thinking of ways to lift the club's morale. Always a big man with scissors, signs and tape, he busied himself searching out literary zingers to be mounted above his and his teammates' lockers. First up was a magazine article headlined BASEBALL'S FIVE MOST OVERRATED PLAYERS. The five were Sam McDowell, Joe Pepitone, Ken Harrelson, Richie Allen and Joe Torre. Gibson wrote in the margin, "Two out of five ain't bad."
He also wrote out a set of instructions for Carl Taylor's workday. It read, "Pitch first three innings, catch second four, left field eighth inning, third ninth." Over Torre's locker Gibson taped a box from a Peanuts cartoon strip in which Charlie Brown says, "Last year Joe batted .143 and made some spectacular catches of routine fly balls. He also threw out a runner who had fallen down between first and second." The most significant of the signs, however, went up over Gibson's own locker. It read: "Another happy family sold."
The Cardinals had been a happy family. In recent seasons they had grown accustomed to a style of living and traveling unheard of in major league baseball. They traveled by chartered jets and last year were all treated to accommodations generally reserved for managers and club vice-presidents: individual hotel rooms on the road. It meant something to be a Cardinal. The pay and other benefits were excellent, and all the Cardinals had to do was keep winning. Gussie Busch Jr. would provide for them amply.
But in 1969, after two consecutive National League championships, the Cards stopped winning. Their record of 87-75 was only the 11th best in baseball and they won exactly one more game than the Washington Senators. The team failed to drive in important runs and was shabby on defense. Normally a calm man, Devine sat and watched game after game and got madder and madder. The Cards threw to the wrong bases on defense and sometimes did not throw at all. Opposing runners stole with impunity and the St. Louis bullpen collapsed almost completely. Even so, there was so much talent on the club that no one could believe that the team would not rebound late in the season and somehow win the pennant.
"I would pick up the paper every day," says Maris, who retired at the end of the 1968 season to take over a Budweiser distributorship in Gainesville, Fla., "and look for some signs that the team was coming on and I kept telling people, 'Just wait!' I still can't believe what happened to them."
"Our guys," said Stan Musial the other day, "weren't even thinking baseball. They couldn't concentrate. Maybe you can say that they weren't fat cats, but it certainly looked that way."
Because they had appeared on NBC-TV's Game of the Week so often and in the World Series, the Cardinal lineup, almost never platooned during the last three years, became the best known in baseball. The team attracted 5,784,000 customers from 1967 to 1969, most of them happy customers until last season. What especially rankled was the fact that two young Cardinal players, Bob Tolan and Wayne Granger, who had been traded to Cincinnati, were having fine years in the very departments in which St. Louis was weak, driving in runs and in the bullpen. Tolan hit .305 and Granger came on in relief a record 90 times.
The valor of Gibson was never more evident than in 1969. Despite having few runs to work with, he started 35 games and completed 28 of them. He had to go to the 12th inning of the final game of the season to win his 20th, and the pattern of that struggle is almost typical of what he endured all year. He gave up no earned runs at all and the winning run was scored for him on a bases-loaded walk.
Gibson's qualities of leadership were probably best expressed last week by Culver, the man now often regarded as the "most mod" dresser in baseball. "I have never seen a pitcher more dedicated to baseball than Bob Gibson. We stood in the outfield together the other day and he talked about how his arm hurt him. He said it always hurt him but that he wasn't going to stop. He couldn't understand why so many pitchers refuse to pitch because their arms hurt. I learned something from him that day and a little bit each day after. The Cardinals are a first-class organization, and I should know because I came here from a second-rate organization, Cincinnati. Management makes things so tough over there that everyone ends up griping. That hurts the ball club. I never heard of the same thing happening to the St. Louis Cardinals."
One of the important men in the St. Louis attempt at a comeback is Torre. He hit a strong .289 last year, driving home 101 runs. He will switch from first base to catcher, where he replaces Tim McCarver, now with the Phils. "I'm working harder this spring than I ever have before," he said the other day. "Last year was my first with this organization, and McCarver was the team leader. Tim-my is a remarkable guy and a great agitator. Every club needs a guy like that. You can say that some of the things that inspire and lift ballplayers are strictly high-school. So what? I've always felt that the catcher is the man who should lead the team, because everyone is looking in at him all the time. Gibson and I haven't sat down and talked about leadership, but each of us knows what must be done.
"I've read most of the things about Richie Allen. I have known and liked Rich for a long time, and just wait and see what he will do over here. He will have some kind of a year!"
As the Cardinals approach the end of spring training they are still an enigma to some. The Cardinals are a running team with power, and there have not been many of those around in recent seasons. But they are also a drastically changed club that will be playing its home games on a changed field. Busch Stadium will be AstroTurfed by the time the season opens.
"AstroTurf," said Brock, "will change the style of baseball eventually, but I'm not sure it will until it is in all the ball parks. Anyway, I am not going to change my style of play because of Astro Turf. The advantage to it from a hitter's point of view is that ground balls get through the infielders and outfielders fast. The disadvantage is that it is also very difficult lo bunt on AstroTurf because the ball gets to the fielder quickly. The best way to beat that is with a slap bunt that will go by the infielders. I have always worked on that.
"Look," he continued, "we had a bad year last year. We seemed to be in every game we played until the eighth or ninth inning and then we would lose. That puts the pressure on you because you take the games home with you and worry about them. Players say they don't do that but they certainly do. It's a lot better to be beaten 10-2 than 2-1 because you have the feeling you will bounce back after a 10-2 loss, but those close games you lose keep getting to you. That's what happened to us in 1969. We will hit more this year."
With their hive of explosive and temperamental personalities and with so many perilous obstacles ahead, the Cards obviously will be an interesting team to watch early in the season. Allen can make or break them in 1970, and it has been suggested that getting into a Cardinal uniform after his difficult years in Philadelphia will bring out the best in him, just as a potion transformed the discouraging Mr. Hyde. If it does, and the team catches fire, there could be a world of difference in Gussie Busch's state of mind. He might even learn to love Steve Carlton again.