Now, just what in the name of Leo Durocher is Eddie Stanky doing down there in Mobile among the azaleas and the dogwood at—now get this—the University of South Alabama?
Well, to begin with, as the baseball coach he says he is helping put the U. of S.A. "on the map," and in the bargain he says he is helping rid the U.S. of A. of "our national scourge"—drugs or whatever it is kids are taking these days instead of low outside pitches. This, anyway, is how Stanky sees his job. He will not even cut anybody off his squad, reckoning that the inept are better off booting grounders on the ball fields than ingesting hallucinogens off it. Stanky is carrying more than 50 boys on his roster, or about twice as many as can be found on an ordinary college baseball team. And God and the breaks of the game willing, he'll play them all. In a recent game with outmatched Gannon College of Erie, Pa. Stanky used 28 players in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the score down. USA won 25 to 2.
"There's no place like the athletic field for a young fellow," says Stanky, who grew to maturity at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. "It's one of the few places left where a boy can learn discipline. If I cut my squad, I leave 30 or 40 kids roaming around with nothing to do but get into trouble."
Admittedly, this sounds a bit more like Father Flanagan than the feisty little umpire-baiter once known as the Brat. But if Stanky is exercising some hitherto unrealized missionary zeal, South Alabama could not be happier. His team is ranked as one of the 20 best in the country—"not bad for what I call a Johnny-come-lately school," says Stanky. Gifted athletes whose normal response to invitations to visit the USA campus had been "Where?" are now asking "When?", Stanky being the magic word. And his contacts with major league scouts have brought ballplayers to the school who might now be doing time in the minors. Most prominent among these is a 210-pound catcher from Paterson, N.J. named Glenn Borgmann who was hitting .464 with 12 home runs after 32 games this season. His throwing arm is so mercilessly accurate that he tossed out the first 17 runners who attempted to steal on him this year.
South Alabama did not have far to look for Stanky; he and his wife Dickie have been living in Mobile for the past 29 years. So when the White Sox replaced him as their manager 79 games into the 1968 season, the Stankys headed south to wait for the offers to roll in. They did not, at least not in the profusion he had hoped for. One of the first that did arrive, surprisingly, came from Florida State University, a major baseball school. Stanky, whose education stopped short of the college level, rejected it, but he was sorely tempted. If big-leaguers like Enos Slaughter and Bobby Richardson could coach college teams, maybe he should, too. Even as a manager at Chicago and, before that, St. Louis, Stanky had exhibited symptoms of latent pedantry. Besides, he'd read what was happening on campuses these days, and he was eager to save a few souls. When USA's eager young athletic director, Dr. Mel Lucas, called him some five days after the Florida State offer, Stanky was ready to talk.
"They asked me what it would take to build one of the best baseball programs in the country, and I told them. They were very receptive."
Lucas, who had been reluctantly coaching the team himself, was more than receptive; he was ecstatic. "Put on your television blue." he advised USA President Frederick P. Whiddon, "we've just hired Eddie Stanky."
The publicity value of employing a major league manager to coach his baseball team was not lost on the hustling Whiddon, a former American Junior Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Young Man. A fast-growing college can always use a celebrity, even if he's only on the ball field. Not that USA had not done well without Stanky. When the school opened in 1964 there were 900 students attending classes in a single building. Under Whiddon's stewardship enrollment has climbed to 5,200, and there are at least seven major academic buildings on 1,200 acres of bud-strewn campus. And Whiddon has just got himself a medical school. Can a football team be far off?
Stanky does not enjoy professorial status, naturally, but he does appear regularly as a guest lecturer in Lucas' course on The Theory of Baseball. The Stanky classroom manner is distinguished by overwhelming sincerity and he occasionally breaks new academic ground, as in a recent lecture when he uncovered a novel scientific application for the common pajama.
"I know a lot of you boys are in the habit of sleeping in your underwear," he said. "My own sons do it, but let me tell you, an athlete should keep his body warm while sleeping. My parents taught me to sleep in pajamas, and they were right. The thing to do is exercise just before going to bed, say your prayers and sleep in your pajamas."
There is a firm base of practical knowledge supporting Stanky's theories. He is convinced that the arm and wrist exercises—one involves twisting a doorknob—he prescribed for his hitters is a prime reason why most of them are batting around .350. "Strong arms mean a quick bat," he says.
But Eddie Stanky, the savant, can still give way to Eddie the Brat when he slips into uniform. He generously concedes that umpires who work college games are not up to major league standards and so refuses, he says, to "debate" with them over trifles. But old habits die hard. In a game against Tulane last year he elected to question a call he considered to be, at best, outrageous. It was obvious to him that a Tulane base runner had interfered with one of his infielders. What followed was scarcely a debate. Arguing the negative, the Brat abused the hapless umpire with time-honored big league expletives, kicked sand and, in a final expression of pique, hurled a ball against the backstop. He was ejected.
But such episodes are increasingly rare, particularly when compared with his major league past. Stanky misses his old pals and the competition, but he doubts that he wants to rejoin them. "Look," he says, "I'm still in baseball, I'm close to my family and I think I'm helping my college, my city, my state and my country. If I can take these kids to a regional tournament, I'll be just as thrilled as I was by my first Series."
He has turned down at least one offer to manage again and at 54 considers himself settled in Mobile. "I suppose nobody, not even my wife, believes that, but they'll have to some day.
"The truth is, I really like all this rah, rah stuff."