The only true beneficiaries of the Dodger epidemic have been the eager youths from Triple A ball who have climbed aboard the shuttle from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. Ten have made it so far (some have since returned), among them Craig Shipley, a 23-year-old infielder who became the first native Australian to appear in the big leagues since Sydney-born Joe Quinn played second base for the Washington Senators in 1901. Shipley lasted 12 games and 27 at bats (3 hits) before he was shipped back to New Mexico, but he was in L.A. long enough to make a little history.
Hamilton might last longer. "I know they wanted me to play a full year in Triple A," he says, "but when Dave [Anderson] went down, there was no one left in the infield. The problem now is not to try to do too much in a short time. I've got to play my game. I don't know what's going to happen in a few weeks when the regulars get back, but whatever it is, I'll take it all in stride."
What Lasorda thinks will happen in a few weeks is that he'll get his four disabled veterans back, plus Franklin Stubbs, a 25-year-old first baseman-outfielder who, despite a shaky start (12 strikeouts in his first 22 at bats), hit 15 homers before he crumpled with a strained right hamstring on July 6. The Dodgers see the All-Star break as a passage to the promised land. For all of their foul play—they lead the league with 101 errors—and cruel misfortune, they were still only eight games behind the first-place Giants at the break. They were in position, as Lasorda reminded them in an impassioned clubhouse oration before the 81st game, to emulate such fabled finishers as the Miracle Braves of 1914, World Series winners after being last as late as July 19, and the 1951 New York Giants, who trailed the Dodgers by 13½ games on Aug. 12 and then beat them for the pennant in the Bobby Thomson shot-heard-round-the-world playoff.
And lo, only a couple of days later, who should appear in Lasorda's office but the very manager of those '51 Giants, Leo Durocher. The Lip, at 80, looked trim and chic in a smart blue blazer and pearl gray slacks, and he was treated like royalty in an office, once a haven for celebrities, suddenly grown barren with the commissioner's ban against outsiders in the clubhouse. Durocher's appearance fell within the rules as a special circumstance, and Lasorda trooped his players in, one after another, to meet the great man. Finally, Durocher told him, "You know who I want to see is that shortstop of yours—Duncan. I hear that kid's been out 2½ weeks with a sore ankle. Sore ankle!" He spat out "sore ankle" as if it were an expression Ed Meese would find offensive.
Mariano Duncan was dutifully retrieved. He is a Dominican, only 23, and the dapper white-haired man with the loud voice was just another stranger to him. Durocher strode up to him and said, "What's wrong with your ankle?" Duncan shrugged. Durocher continued, "A young fella like you out 2½ weeks with a sore ankle. Let me tell you something. I was a shortstop, too, and I played every day whether my ankle was sore or not. Once I tore up my hand fielding a bad hop and hurt my ankle the same day. That was on a team called the Gas House Gang. Remember them?" Duncan shrugged and smiled. What was this old man going on about? "Well," Durocher went on, "our manager was a guy named Frankie Frisch. Tough son of a bitch. Well, he took one look at my bleeding hand and just spat tobacco juice into it. Then he had that ankle—swollen out to here—taped up and he told me to get the hell out there and play. Know what I mean?"
"He means," said Lasorda to the bewildered Duncan, "you gotta learn to play hurt in this game." That night Duncan did, and he made two plays that Durocher said afterward were among the best he'd seen.
Maybe, after all, that's what the Dodgers will need in the second half of the season—a little spit in the right places. And a lot of grit.