After the Flood, Noah still had two of everything. After the emigration of Curt Flood and even after the trading away last week of longtime enigma Mike Epstein, Manager Ted Williams of the Washington Senators still has one of nearly everything. In the way of rare names he has a Grzenda, a Susce, a Harrah, a Riddleberger, a Terwilliger, a Casanova and a Don (Bird Thou Never) Wert. In the way of out-of-the-way personalities he has a Denny McLain, a Joe Foy, and of course a Bob Short, the team's owner, who collects unusual ballplayers the way rich men used to assemble private menageries and who pulled off another of his patently curious trades last Friday. He sent the young left-handed power hitting First Baseman Epstein and ace left-handed Reliever Darold Knowles to Oakland for the aging left-handed power-hitting First Baseman Don Mincher, unheralded left-handed Reliever Paul Lindblad, reserve Catcher Frank Fernandez and "more than $75,000."
About the only thing Williams did not have last week, as his new book The Science of Hitting began to make its way into bookstores, was somebody who could hit. In the depths of its slump, Washington had seven nonpitchers batting no better than .200. In home runs the team was struggling to keep up with Willie Stargell and Hank Aaron. When traded, Epstein had one homer and 31 strikeouts. Cleanup man Frank Howard had only three homers. During the period from April 26 to May 5 the Senators went nine games without getting more than six hits in any one of them. That string, along with a six-game losing streak, came to an end last Friday night when the Senators rallied for four runs with two out in the ninth against the Twins and won 6-5. It was hardly a textbook offensive. It included a dropped fly ball, two hits that should have been outs, two walks and two wild pitches.
Williams was not available for comment after this display of fireworks, having departed under cover of his standing 15-minute postgame ban on writers in the clubhouse—during which time Short and Williams yelled at each other but not, both said later, over the question of the just-consummated trade with Oakland. Williams has never liked Epstein's attitude, he wanted a third catcher, Short needed the money, perhaps to pay the bill for the red-white-and-blue shoes he bought the team this spring (which they have not been wearing in games because, says Williams, about half of them don't fit), and the Senators had concluded that Knowles had lost something on his fastball and was rapidly declining in value.
At any rate trades—even Short's trades, which are always assumed peculiar by observers until proven otherwise—are not Williams' favorite topic of conversation. Before the game Friday the subject Williams warmed to most was the one that might have seemed the most sensitive: what was wrong with the Senators' hitting.
May 16, 1971
"It's the cold spring," said Williams, who is sounding more like John Wayne every day. "Cold weather is bad for hitters. And they're not digging in. They're not thinking about what the pitcher's going to throw—a guy gets you out on a curve in the third, a curve in the sixth, a curve again in the ninth. Look there in the cage—look at his front hip! In my book it says what you do with your hips is important. Here, look at my front hip. Here's what I do. I cock it. See? I tell 'em and I tell 'em. Cock it. But you can't grab 'em and move 'em through it and say 'Do this, do this, do this.' "
Nor can one be heavy-handed with "problem" players. Flood's movements since he headed for Spain have been reported only by Columnist Leonard Lyons, who divulged that Yul Brynner had called Flood in Madrid to offer him a role in a Spanish Western. Williams says equably, "Nobody knows where Flood is." McLain and Williams seem to get along in a man-to-man way. Last Friday when Williams held a 10:45 a.m. batting workout, McLain was reportedly instrumental in a mild players' protest—they all made their own ways to the park, and the team bus contained only coaches. Williams and Minnesota's Rich Reese were comparing notes behind the batting cage that night, and McLain walked by and waved his finger at Williams. "We're just talking about pitchers, not hitting," said Williams a little guiltily. "But you're right, Denny, I shouldn't help this guy." Joe Foy came by. Last year as a Met, Foy left Gil Hodges fit to be tied. Foy kidded Williams that if he didn't get to play the next day, "I'll go to Spain."
"I'll go with you," shouted Williams. "We'll watch the bullfights."