His managerial record, measured in wins and losses, was similarly undistinguished. The sign on the door may say, "There is no second place...ever," but second place is the highest a Billy Scripture-led team ever finished.
"He was always into self-improvement techniques," says Rickey. "He jumped into psychocybernetics and then into visualization, and I can't remember what else." Rickey recalls a restaurant dinner with Scripture years ago.
While they talked, Scripture's eyes remained fixed on a candle in the middle of the table. "He would perform eye exercises like that—following the tip of the flame, trying to hold his concentration while talking normally."
Scripture trained and toughened his body, too, with weights and old-fashioned calisthenics—thousands and thousands of push-ups, sit-ups and knee bends. Like Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, who tested himself by holding his palm to a flame till the flesh was scorched, Scripture abused his body, saying, "If you're going to be a great athlete, you've got to withstand pain." He established a high standard of personal courage. Says the Royals' Cobb, "I never saw him duck away from a pitch. He would simply move his head out of the way as the pitch went by his nose." Others remember his killing the rattlesnake, not with a gun on the mound, but with a fungo bat at the warning track, or even with his bare hands by the locker room.
Scripture encouraged players to follow his example. He would pay the player who broke up a double play at second. He would put catchers in full gear and hit line drives at them from 40 feet. "He absolutely scared them to death at first," says Keller. "It was his way of getting their attention." Once he had their attention, it was a different story. "He had incredible patience and compassion," says Rickey. "You just didn't see him blow up with players, just as he didn't with his own children."
Rickey tells the story of Doug Frobel, a former Pirates outfielder who played for Scripture at Charleston, S.C., in 1978. Rickey had made a postgame dinner appointment with the manager, and he remembers watching as Charleston lost a heartbreaker in which Frobel failed at the plate and mishandled several balls in the outfield. Afterward, Rickey waited outside the locker room for 30 minutes before asking a departing player if Scripture was ready. "No, he's out on the field," he was told.
Outside, the stadium lights were still on—a costly indulgence for a minor league club—and Scripture, in uniform, was kneeling in front of home plate, soft-tossing baseballs to Frobel, who tried to drive them to the opposite field.
"I just sat and watched," Rickey says. "There were about a hundred balls in the bucket, and when they had exhausted it, they walked out and picked them all up, talking softly. Then they came back and started again. And over the next half hour, I watched them go through three buckets of baseballs.
"Now it gets to be about a quarter till 12, the lights are still on. Bill picks up his fungo bat, sends Frobel into the outfield and starts hitting high fly balls, as only Bill can hit them. Frobel missed a lot of them, and Bill walked out to talk some more. When he brought the bucket back and started to hit another hundred, I finally yelled, 'Bill, are we going to dinner?' Bill looked at me, and without a word he waved Frobel in and turned off the lights."
Ultimately, Frobel went on to accomplish what Scripture never did: He reached the majors. Rickey gives partial credit to the manager. "I never saw anybody with that kind of willingness to work with a struggling player. That he was missing dinner was of no concern to Bill; the cost of the lights was of no concern to him. Everybody talks about the crazy things, but what attracted me to Billy Scripture was the other stuff."