The news last Tuesday—the surgery on Kansas City Royals manager Dick Howser had revealed the tumor on his brain to be malignant—reached the Royals in the visiting clubhouse at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Interim manager Mike Ferraro, one of Howser's closest friends, wiped away his tears with a locker room towel. Players talked to each other in whispers. A monsignor led the team in prayer.
"Things that you thought were important really aren't that important anymore," said Royals third baseman George Brett. "I didn't play for two weeks with a bad shoulder and I thought the whole world was coming down on George Brett's back. Now, I look back and I feel ashamed."
Some of the Royals were reluctant to take the field against the Orioles; others could not wait. Not that they had a choice. "This game doesn't allow you to stop," observed second baseman Frank White. Baltimore won, 5-4, when centerfielder Fred Lynn saved the game in the eighth inning with an impossible diving catch of Jorge Orta's bases-loaded liner. Lights out.
By week's end the Royals were in another city, Detroit. The World Series champions were in another place emotionally, too. The fact that early this week Howser was to begin a five-week, five-days-a-week program of radiation therapy in Kansas City provided the basis for hope. "Dick never gives up," Ferraro said. "You look at his history."
Ferraro's friendship with Howser dates to 1968, when they were both in-fielders with the Yankees. When Howser managed the Yankees to 103 wins in 1980, Ferraro was his third base coach. When Ferraro was fired in 1983 after 100 games as manager of the Cleveland Indians, Howser hired him to coach third for the Royals. Both men live in Florida and visit each other in the off-season.
Ferraro was among the first to notice changes in Howser's mood, his sudden inability to put names and faces together. In recent weeks, the Royals manager had complained of headaches and neck pain and was quieter than normal. Ferraro accompanied Howser to the All-Star Game in Houston and returned extremely worried about his friend's deteriorating condition. Still, he wasn't prepared for the thunderclap announcement that Howser had a brain tumor. When Royals G.M. John Schuerholz named him interim manager on July 18, Ferraro met the players and the press wearing sunglasses to conceal his tears.
Then came Tuesday and the second wave of bad news. "My emotions got away with me over in Baltimore," Ferraro said Friday afternoon in Detroit. "I was breaking down twice a day with the media and with my friends." Ironically, cancer had disrupted Ferraro's own brief managing career. In February 1983, surgeons removed one of Ferraro's kidneys in a three-hour operation after finding a malignant tumor. "I've gone through it," Ferraro says. "I know what it's like to lie there and think about life and death."
The Royals interim manager did not step easily into his new role. In Kansas City he dressed at his usual clubhouse stall with the other coaches, using the manager's office only for postgame interviews. In the dugout, Ferraro pulled the managerial strings much as Howser would. "He feels that Dick is still the manager here," says shortstop Buddy Biancalana, "so he probably doesn't want to change things too much."
One change is inevitable. The affable and popular Ferraro will have to pull back a bit in his relationship with the players. "That's one of the mistakes I made in Cleveland," he says. "I tried to make everybody happy." Says Brett, "Everyone respects Mike as a friend and as a manager. I don't think anyone's going to try to take advantage of him."
Ferraro, in turn, is determined not to exploit Hoswer by flogging the Royals with "win one for Dick" speeches. "If we can play real well the rest of the year, I know Dick will be proud of us. But his battle is more important than whether or not we can catch the Angels."