"The most consistent thing about him," counters Royals general manager John Schuerholz, "is that he got fired all the time. His priorities in life were: one, shooting skeet; two, dogs; and then baseball. He's not so remarkable—just bizarre." Schuerholz shrugs. "He was a good baseball man, I'll give him that."
Branch B. Rickey, minor league director for the Pirates, says of Scripture, "There were people who would complain that he was tough to work with, but there was never any question about his competence as an instructor or manager. Almost everybody remembers him fondly. It's just that Bill's singularness of purpose sometimes clashed with the aims of individual minor league franchises. With Bill, there was not a lot of accommodation to the owner's needs."
Actually, the most consistent thing about Billy Scripture is this: Baseball people talk about him as if he were dead.
But he's not. Here he is now, in fact, working in a closet-sized room in the steel and cinderblock shellhouse at the Orange County Trap and Skeet Club in Orlando, Fla. Black cowboy hat, blue jeans, boots, a polo shirt stretched over massive shoulders and a no-longer-flat stomach. A 20-diamond gold bracelet engraved with his nickname, "Billy."
It is four in the afternoon, and the 45-year-old Scripture has been at it since before dawn, 12 hours straight, and he will continue till near midnight, keeping targets flying for prosperous snowbirds competing in a week-long trapshooting tournament, Orlando's link in the Florida Chain Shoot. Neither the muffled blasts of nearby shotguns nor the news that he is 400 boxes short of targets for the weekend shakes his calm. Unlike the old days, Scripture is not about to eat a baseball or climb a light tower.
"Hey, I'm sane and sober now," he says, striking a match to light a thin cigar. The tiny phosphorus flare illuminates the labels of cans on a shelf by his head: BALL POWDER...SMOKELESS POWDER...FLAMMABLE. He shakes out the match. "Someone's always runnin' in here sayin' there's a problem." He blows a cloud of smoke. "There's no problem. I haven't an idea where I'm gonna get 400 boxes of targets, but I'll get 'em. I'll get 'em if I have to effing invent 'em."
There's nothing in Scripture's manner to suggest he has been exiled, though you might expect it from a man who has been living in a hotel since May of '86, when he took over management of the gun club. "I didn't get tired of baseball," he says. "I wasn't burned out. I just wanted to shoot full-time." He nods toward the storeroom door, on which is written: THERE IS NO SECOND PLACE...EVER. "You have to have a hell of a lot of determination to win in this game, just like baseball. You line up toe-to-toe and put your money on the line."
Plus, there's something to be said for a life free from organizational inertia and red tape. "Sometimes I thought baseball was just an effing game of perpetual ignorance. You could come up with a better way to do something and they still wouldn't change their minds. 'Cause that's the way it had always been done. Baseball is full of people who manage scared, play scared and lose scared."
He pushes his hat back on his head. "I probably couldn't manage in baseball today, because I'm probably the most hard-nosed s.o.b. in the world. A lot of managers are basically excuse makers. That is an effing weakness. A character flaw. I love shooting, because this is a no-excuse environment. You either hit that sucker or you don't."
The door opens and Glenda Scripture, Earl's wife, steps in. She is down for the week from their home in Virginia Beach to serve as a tournament cashier, taking entry fees and paying out cash prizes to the daily winners. Behind her is a red-faced, beefy shooter with a complaint about a scorekeeper/puller. In the nearby clubhouse, cardplayers laugh raucously.