The one thing I have wanted to do in baseball, my last ambition, so to speak, is to start from scratch with a young team and take it to a championship. I can't imagine anything more rewarding for a manager. In San Francisco we won a pennant but I was working with a mostly veteran team. In Cleveland we traded away most of the veterans and replaced them with young players who might have had a chance, but the prospects were doubtful because the Cleveland farm system was weak. In Kansas City, when I took the job managing Charlie Finley's Athletics in 1965, there was no doubt in my mind we could do it. Finley had them on their way. The fact that I wasn't around when they did win in 1972 and 1973 obviously didn't slow them up much. Most managers only win pennants in their dreams.
This season has brought me new respect for the A's. It has taken awhile to learn the players again—they're older, I'm older. But I've never been with a harder-working bunch of guys, world champions or not. Up to now we've been struggling to stay near the lead in the Western Division. Reggie Jackson is even greater than I had heard. He was instrumental in seven of our first eight victories, and is as close to a Willie Mays as I've ever seen. I've made mistakes, as I expected to; there is an adjustment period when you have been out of baseball two full seasons.
Finley has been very active, which I also expected. We talk every day, and the talks sometimes get very animated. It's not hard to tell that he is proud of this club and what it has accomplished and is intent on winning again. Needless to say, I want to win just as badly.
It takes a man like Charlie Finley to get a club to the threshold as quickly as he did, because there is more to building an organization than paying a star like Jackson $150,000 a year. It takes somebody with guts and foresight and a willingness to put money into areas where the investment won't return much glory. That means in the farm system, in scouting. Show me a team that is a consistent loser and I'll show you a team that neglects its farm system and hires 70-year-old retired players on Social Security to do its scouting.
Finley is like Leo Durocher in that respect. He has guts coming out of his ears, and he doesn't care what anybody says or thinks, or that baseball resists making changes. If he thinks it is worth trying, he tries it. I didn't like the mule on the field either, or the softball uniforms, but for all his apparent fondness for theatrics you didn't have to be a detective to know that here was a man who was way ahead of everybody else. I said exactly that after he fired me in 1967, and I've said it since, and if he fires me tomorrow I'll still say it.
It has to be a tremendous satisfaction for Finley to realize that with few exceptions the guys who won world championships back to back were houseplants who came up through the A's system. Rudi, Bando, Campaneris, Green, Jackson, Fingers, Blue, Hunter, Odom—every one a player Finley went out and offered a bonus to and signed.
Baseball has never been able to hide the evidence of that kind of enlightenment. Baltimore has been picking up fine young players from the draft every year. The Orioles put their money in places where it will go to work for them. They hire good men to find good talent. The Yankees used to have four or five well-known, well-paid scouts who did a tremendous job. It was almost an honor to have one of them look at you.
Nowadays another club might make a big splash in the papers about signing its No. 1 pick, the first draft choice, but who doesn't know about that particular player? Every scout can predict who the top two or three draft choices will be. The good scout is the one who can spot the 18th and 19th rounder nobody else knew about, and then see him wind up playing regularly. Pay your scouting people chicken feed and you'll wind up with turkeys in your infield.
One thing I was sure about when I was fired by the Giants in 1964 was that there was a lot about managing I wasn't sure about. And that I certainly hadn't had my fill of it, despite the bitter circumstances of my firing. In 1965 John Holland, vice-president of the Cubs, asked me to coach under Bob Kennedy. Kennedy was a friend of mine, and I told Holland I'd coach but I'd never manage the Cubs. I would never want to coach for a manager if people thought I might someday replace him. In July, Kennedy was fired and Holland hired Lou Klein. A month before the season was over I won a little golf tournament among the Cubs in Chicago and the story was in the local papers. Charlie Finley has an office in Chicago. He read the article and, with the Cubs' permission, phoned me up.
"I didn't know you were coaching," he said. "You must have something better to do. How about coming with us?"
It's hard to tell Charlie Finley no. I became his "administrative assistant," and then in November he asked me to manage the club.
So Alvin R. Dark went to work for Charles O. Finley. You definitely work for Finley, and if you don't you might as well call your travel agent. My impression of Finley from then to now hasn't changed, except for a few modifications. I had read so much about him—you really couldn't keep from knowing him, the way he did things. We probably became closer after he fired me, but as time went on I came to enjoy him immensely. We had absolutely nothing in common, and yet we developed a strong relationship. I could laugh at his stories by the hour. I admired his dedication to work. He loves to work.
Baseball people, naturally, were dumbfounded by him. He had bought into the Athletics in 1960 and the shrapnel started flying almost immediately. He became famous overnight for firing people. He would ask any question that came to his mind. If it sounded like a dumb question he didn't care. He wanted to know.
I learned two other things over the years. One was that he has a hard time trusting anybody. He is skeptical about what he's told. I suppose it's because he has been burned so much. He'll get 20 different opinions on the same subject, then he'll go out and get one more. "What do you think? Yeah, well, let me check it out."
The second thing I learned was that Charlie was always willing to take a chance, and if the idea wasn't his own he'd run with it anyway. He told me he didn't think professional football ought to be the only sport that kept pace with the times. He did things that at first blush seemed ridiculous. The Softball uniforms, the white shoes, the mule, the rabbit popping out of the ground with fresh balls. The response was as predictable as it would have been if he'd walked into a library and yelled, "The drinks are on the house." The Establishment owners treated him as an outsider and then didn't give him credit for any of his ideas they copied.
They wound up imitating his uniforms and his shoes. They adopted his idea to play at least some World Series games at night, as well as the All-Star Game, so more people could see it. And we owe the existence of the designated hitter to Charlie, too. In the spring of 1970, when I was managing Cleveland, he and I agreed to play a game in which both teams used the designated hitter. The next spring we used a designated pinch runner as well. The runner was his idea. They'll adopt that one, too, one of these days. Who enjoys seeing a gimpy-legged guy trying to run bases? The designated hitter has been a success and the only reason National League teams don't use it is that their owners didn't think of it first.
Football changes every year. Baseball's a fantastic game, with all kinds of dramatic potential, but it chokes on the very mention of change. Most of baseball's so-called distractions could be solved so simply. They talk about speeding the game up. That's easy. Players can run on and off the field, which speeds things up, and we need a rule requiring the hitter to stay in the box. Batters kill more time than pitchers.
Football has what amounts to inter-league play, and it is inevitable in baseball. Charlie wants it, so, naturally, the owners keep resisting it. Football gives incentive bonuses to players and coaches. Baseball doesn't. Finley has advocated them for years and got fined trying to give one to Catfish Hunter in 1968. I tried to put a few performance clauses in Sam McDowell's Cleveland contract in 1971—$1,000 a victory, say, for each one over 20—but the commissioner found out about this and a couple of other such clauses, fined the club and made us rescind them. Over a 162-game season a player needs incentives, especially if he's on a sixth-place team.
I think, too, that baseball suffers from a lack of expertise. I've had a chance to watch some telecasts in the last few years, and the things that make baseball a great tactical adventure, a contest of wit and guile, are seldom if ever explained. Football has experts crawling all over one another in the television booths, giving you enough strategy to make your head swim, and then the baseball experts come on and tell you exactly what you see. Or don't even tell you that. Maury Wills and Joe Garagiola are exceptions.
Baseball is a team sport with individual plays. The action is isolated. A man can have a great year, and the team finish dead last. In football you can win without a great passing game. You can win without a great running game. Baseball is more lopsided—if you don't have good pitching, you don't win anything.
Every winning baseball team has good pitching. They used to write that when the Dodgers were winning pennants regularly, their weakness was their pitching. Their pitchers were named Roe, Erskine, Newcombe, Labine, Koufax and Drysdale. It looked like they didn't have good pitching because they were playing in that bandbox at Ebbets Field. It's tough to pitch with your shoulders to the wall. (I have to say, however, that I miss Ebbets Field. Parks like that had an intimacy the big sterile new superstadiums can't come close to duplicating, and I think that hurts baseball, too. Fans like to be close enough to see the fire in your eyes, or to breathe hot advice down your neck.)
A baseball manager doesn't control a game, doesn't control his fate the way a good football coach does. You don't see any 10-year contracts in professional baseball. The owners are never completely sure if a manager is any good, because the best sometimes finish last. Managers play musical chairs, going from failure to triumph and back again.
To satisfy the urge to build a champion from scratch a manager must have a young team that has the talent, desire and time to develop, and an ownership and constituency that isn't so jaded or impatient that it can't wait for nature to take its course. Admittedly, that kind of situation is hard to find. But that was what I found when I came to the Athletics in 1965.
My first year with the A's we finished seventh and won more games than Charlie had ever won. I was runner-up for Manager of the Year, and we polished off the season with a three-game sweep of the Tigers. Charlie was very happy. He expressed it in his own modest way. He gave me a Cadillac.
Then came 1967, and trouble, and if it hadn't happened to me I would be willing to see some humor in it. But it did, so I don't. At least not much. I have to say this for Finley: he never once interfered with my field managing. But off the field he was the boss, and when I had to go against him I knew I was doomed.
We weren't doing as well in 1967, and we were coming off a tiring road trip climaxed by a tough loss to Boston. On team plane rides I had made it a policy, win or lose, never to sit in the back, but to stay up front and not rubberneck. I didn't want to know what the players did because I didn't want to prejudice my viewpoint if their habits were different from mine. They knew how I felt about drinking, but I'm not about to tell a man he can't drink. He has to make that decision for himself.
The rule at the time was that each player got two or three cans of beer on the plane. But this particular trip some of them were passing around those little whiskey miniatures. That's all I knew. I got off the plane first, and left. I didn't hang around.
Two weeks later we were on another road trip, in Washington, and Charlie called. He said, "I want you to fine Lew Krausse and suspend him."
I said, "What? What for?"
"Because he was drunk getting off the plane after the last road trip and used bad language around a woman passenger."
Krausse hadn't been having a good year. In 1966 he had won 14 games, his alltime high, but in 1967 he was struggling. Airplane rides had nothing to do with it.
I said, "Charlie, I know nothing about this. Where'd you get it? If I suspend him without knowing why, he can sue me and you and everybody."
Someone traveling with the A's party had told Finley the story. Charlie was told that a woman with a child had been on the plane and that Krausse had used "deplorable language," and the woman had written him about it.
But what they had failed to take into consideration was that Lew Krausse had just lost his mother. You never know what's going on in a man's personal life when he's having trouble professionally.
Charlie was usually very good about things like that. If one of his boys was in trouble, he'd come to the rescue—with money, with some kind of help. But evidently the reports he had received were different from my impressions.
I said, "Charlie, you can't fine and suspend him, you just can't do it." I had talked with some of the players. They were just as likely to swear the other way. Ken Harrelson was always in the middle of that kind of thing and he said it didn't happen. "Skip," he told me, "Lew didn't do anything." So I told Charlie I couldn't go along with him.
"I'm coming to town," he said.
Lew had been left back in Kansas City, so rumors were flying. That morning at the park in Washington the players learned of Charlie's intentions. After the game Jack Aker, the player representative, and Harrelson and a couple others came into my room. Harrelson said they were going to put out a statement against Finley.
I said, "All right, but it might get you in trouble. Before you do let me see what you write." Jack Aker was writing it on a little piece of paper. They were all anxious to defend Krausse, and in one sense this was good. They were a united bunch of guys. They were mostly kids, 19 and 22 and 25 years old, and they knew someday they were going to be champions. It was great for a manager to see.
About 7 p.m., three hours after his call, Charlie was in Washington. We talked about the situation some more, and he said, "Alvin, I'm going to have to let you go. I want my manager to back me on this, and you're not doing it."
"Charlie, you can get sued. I don't have any proof, you don't have proof. But it's your club."
I was fired, and still we just sat there, talking.
And we talked and talked. And talked some more. And I found myself telling him what a terrific bunch of boys he had, that with them and the ones he had coming up—Reggie Jackson was just a year away, Sal Bando was coming up—he would win a pennant for sure, and it wouldn't take long. And we kept talking. And finally he said, "How'd you like to manage two more years?"
I said, "Fine, Charlie, but you just fired me. You going to hire me back?"
"How about two more years?"
I said, "Fine."
I should have left right then. Ten minutes later a reporter called and said that a statement was out, by the ballplayers, ripping Finley about the Lew Krausse case. Charlie hung up the phone and looked at me. "Did you know about this?
I said I knew they were planning a statement, but I hadn't read it.
Charlie said, "Get Jack Aker."
Aker was in Baltimore, visiting a friend of the family. We waited. By the time he got back and up to Charlie's room it was 2 a.m.
He told Charlie the players didn't think Krausse was getting a fair deal. Finley said, "Did Alvin know about this?"
"What's that, Jack?" I said.
And Aker pulled out that little piece of paper. I hadn't read it, but I couldn't deny I was aware of it.
"You knew they were working on this?" Finley said.
"Yes I did."
So he fired me again. He felt I'd lied to him. I didn't argue. I wouldn't under any circumstances. But it hit me hard. I had a great affection for that team. In many ways they made those the happiest two years—well, year and three-quarters—of my managing career. They were like sons to me. I love to teach, and they were teachable. And they were on their way to the top.
It rained the next day, and in the clubhouse I tried to tell them I was leaving. Ordinarily I can handle something like that. With Horace Stoneham of the Giants, I just shook his hand and left. But this time it got to me, and I broke down.
The players were almost as emotional as I was. That night they started speaking up, threatening to strike. Harrelson said he wasn't going to play, period. Charlie responded by giving him his unconditional release, making him possibly the first player in baseball history to be fired. I'm not sure the Hawk enjoyed the distinction, but momentarily it was a bonanza. He got a $75,000 bonus for signing with the Red Sox a few days later.
That night the papers were filled with the players' intentions. They were going to strike. I saw the headlines as I was going into a restaurant for dinner. I went right to a pay phone and called Harrelson.
"What's the idea?" I said. "You trying to beat me to the golf course?"
He said the players were going to strike.
I said, "Ken, there are two sides to every story."
As it turned out they didn't strike and I was just as glad, because it would have solved nothing. It certainly wouldn't have changed Charlie Finley's mind.
Now came the time in my life that I am least proud of. Or most ashamed of, take your pick. There is a story in the Old Testament, in the second book of Chronicles, about a king named Uzziah who got too big for his britches. He had done everything, had everything, and then he had begun to act like he knew everything, and because he turned away from God he wound up a leper. Alvin Dark's King Uzziah period was 1968 to 1971.
I had taken the Cleveland job in the fall of 1967, still saddened by the Kansas City episode but itching to make a team in my image, the way Leo Durocher did with the Giants in 1951. I had wondered if the way to do it was to be both the manager and general manager. That way I would not only control play on the field but the moves in the front office as well—the trades and the draft picks and the contract negotiations.
It makes sense. With that kind of power you could do most anything with a ball club. In football it is not unusual—Bear Bryant is head coach and athletic director at Alabama; Vince Lombardi was head coach and general manager of the Packers. But there have been very few who ever tried it in baseball. And now I can say with complete candor that I would never try it again. And wouldn't recommend it. I don't think it can be done.
Here's the rub: when you're the general manager, and you're arguing salary with a young man, and he tells you he wants $80,000 and you say, "Son, you're not worth that much," and then you have to go out and coach him and manage him on the field...well, the symptoms alone are enough to kill the patient. Every move is interpreted—"You don't like me, you don't want to give me any money, you don't like the way I play...."
The most sorrowful, most tragic thing that happened to me in 28 years of professional baseball occurred during that time, with me trying to work both ends against the middle. In 1969 Tony Horton had all the earmarks of becoming a great ballplayer. He was a superb athlete, 6'3", 210 pounds. He drove in 93 runs and hit 27 homers, and he was still only 24 years old. His salary was approximately $30,000.
That winter he asked for $100,000.
If we had won the pennant, or made a lot of money at the gate, it still would not have been a reasonable request, but under the circumstances it was impossible. I said, "Tony, you can't get that much, not for just one good year."
And it started. We'd talk, and he'd go down a little—to $90,000, to $85,000. And we'd talk some more. "Tony, if we'd won the pennant—" O.K., $75,000.
The newspapers got into it, implying that Horton was acting like a prima donna, and when the season started the fans got on him unmercifully. It affected his play. He got off to a bad start. After a long, long hassle, he settled for a $15,000 raise. And in 1970 he wound up having a nervous breakdown.
Tony Horton hasn't played an inning since. I don't necessarily believe it was my fault, but I was the general manager and I had had to see the situation from both sides. Here was a fine young man in his prime, with everything ahead of him. A wonderful kid with wonderful parents. I can't help but take it personally. It was the saddest thing that ever happened to me in baseball.
As things developed I doubt if I could have created more resentment in Cleveland if I had hired a crew to help me. By the time I got through alienating everybody I was hard put to find support. A manager's job is to keep the morale and the contributing level of the players at their peaks. That's the tough part. Handling the pitching staff is the top single tactical item. Statistics and knowing when to rest players are not such a big deal. Handling the press shouldn't be difficult, but you can't fight the press day after day and do a good job. I tried it in Cleveland and I know it can't be done.
In 1968, my first year, the Indians won 86 games and finished third in the American League East, their highest finish in nine years. I was named Good Guy of the Year by one Cleveland poll. By 1970 I couldn't have gotten a vote for Good Guy of the Minute. What happened was that in the middle of the '69 season, when Vernon Stouffer, the chairman, offered me the chance to be both manager and general manager, I accepted eagerly.
Gabe Paul, who had been general manager, was kicked upstairs to "president." He got word of the change in advance, and more or less asked me not to take the GM job, and when my acceptance was imminent he sent messages to my room in New York where we were on a road trip. I didn't answer them. I knew Mr. Stouffer was going to announce the change that week and I didn't want to lie to Gabe.
So from the beginning Gabe was resentful and bitter, and I don't blame him. He'd hired me, and I'd wound up with his job. And I very seldom went around to his office to chat. I could have learned a lot from Gabe Paul. He's a smart man, and the Yankees are lucky to have him.
Every day in The Plain Dealer there was something new to get me aggravated. I thought in 1970, after we had slumped in 1969, that the Indians were coming back, but I was so much at war with the Cleveland press that I was always distracted. We fought tooth and nail over every issue, and if we couldn't find one we went looking.
The Indians then were not the young team building that I dreamed of. The money wasn't available to spend, and while there were some promising young players, this was not enough. It was not a healthy situation. When you are a general manager-manager, with so much power, you are bound to be resented, so you better win quick. And this we couldn't do.
Part of the problem in that kind of situation today is that athletes and management are continually at odds. Neither side trusts the other. It seems a foregone conclusion that management will offer a pro athlete as little as possible, and the athlete will want more than he's worth. Contention is inevitable. The player is worrying about his limited career; management is worrying about inflated costs. The general manager is right in the middle, which is a place a field manager should not be. A field manager needs to be thought of as a link between management and player, not a co-conspirator.
I liked and admired Mr. Stouffer. He couldn't have been nicer to my wife Jackie and me, and all he really wanted when he got into the ownership of the Indians was to keep the club in Cleveland. But he wasn't realistic about baseball. He thought we could talk players into hitting .300. No such luck. The team was struggling, the gate was bad, and money problems pressed in on him. It didn't help any that I was at odds with everybody.
When it got too bad, in late July, he called me into his office one morning and said the only thing he could think of to do was to try another manager. It is not an unusual solution in baseball. The press had been hard on him, too. The columnists made so much fun of him that his wife quit reading the papers.
I said, "Mr. Stouffer, thank you. It's your club. I'm sorry I failed you." And that was that.
The team passed into the hands of Johnny Upon, one of my coaches, and poor Johnny really had a handful. The Indians won only 10 of their last 45 games, and he was fired, too. The next spring Mr. Stouffer sold the club.
I don't think I was necessarily a bad manager in Cleveland, though I admit to not having the taste for managing that I had in Kansas City, but my press relations were abominable. And my human relations weren't much better. Uzziah Dark had had his comeuppance.
The leprosy was hard to live with for a while. I had 2½ years on my contract, which kept us in groceries. But the chance to vindicate myself, to manage again, didn't come. Wishing for it didn't help a bit. The telephone never rang. And I have to think there were more than a couple general managers around who were tickled pink I had failed.
I was bitter for a long while, but then I came to realize that it was me who had been at fault. There was no one else to blame. I had been on an ego trip. I had punched my own ticket, and I had reached the end of the line. As a Christian I had been about as un-Christlike as I could have been. And when I came to that realization it all fell into place. The rest, if painful, was easy.
I wrote letters to every man I thought I had offended with my actions in Cleveland, including Gabe Paul and the writers. I did it for no other reason than to apologize, as a Christian should. In retrospect, I think those two years-plus were as important to the spiritual education of Alvin Dark as any 10 years of my life. More important.
The second year, in fact, Jackie and I were never happier, never more content. I wanted to manage again, certainly, but if it didn't happen I was sure my life was on a better course. I wouldn't have liked being an amateur golfer the rest of my life, but I was prepared for it.
I had to be realistic. I hadn't made a lot of friends in baseball. I couldn't expect a rush on my services. But I should know by now you don't count Charlie Finley among the ordinary. Since I had left Finley's employ, we had become phone pals. I don't know how many times we talked long distance when I was in Cleveland, and when I was out of baseball there was always some problem or ballplayer or baseball tactic to discuss. When Dick Williams announced he would not return as manager last October, I called Charlie and applied for the job.
Finally, in February, he asked me, "What if I made you the manager and on the first day of spring training Dick Williams shows up and says, 'I'm the manager, here's my contract'?" At that time their contract differences hadn't been resolved.
I said, "If that happened, Charlie, all it would cost you is a round-trip ticket."
To say that I am glad to be back would be an understatement. To say that managing a two-time world champion ball club is not a little frightening would be a lie. I am impressed by the players' talent, just as I am pleased that I had a small part in getting them started so many years ago. At least it seems long ago when I realize how much they've grown.
To say that I won't, at some hectic time or another, revert to form and flip over a buffet or two, or throw some furniture around after a loss would be asking for a miracle. Though as a Christian I certainly believe in miracles.
Not all of it has been roses in my path, of course. One of the first columns I read about the "new" Alvin Dark dredged up all the old Alvin Dark stories, and once again raised the specter of "racism." I expected that. But it was a minority report, and I haven't let it spoil my home-coming, because God is in charge. A man doesn't get cured of leprosy every day.