In addition to following his father's principles, Sisler subscribes to the Ted Williams school of hitting, particularly to the idea that a slight upper-cut is preferable to a downward attack on the ball. ("Can you imagine me telling Babe Ruth or Roger Maris to swing down on the ball?") But he is quick to add that first-year pros need patient coaching more than they need complicated theories. 'The most common fault of young hitters is over-anxiousness," he says. "They don't think the bat is as fast as it is, so they commit themselves too quick."
Sisler officially retired in 1970, after five years as a St. Louis coach under Red Schoendienst. He tried the stay-at-home routine in Nashville with his wife, Dot, but it didn't take. For a while he managed a team called the Nashville Pickers, which featured country-music stars Charlie McCoy, Jerry Reed and Charlie Pride. Games lasted five innings and were followed by a concert. ("Hell, we packed 'em in. Didn't make a lot of money, but we had a good time.") When that ended, Sisler found himself dropping by high school fields—"to help out"—and volunteering as a hitting coach at a local college. "You can talk about retiring, but it's tough," he says. "Baseball gets in your blood."
Two years ago, he swallowed his pride and contacted Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill, a former hitting pupil. "Why should I be sitting here with all the knowledge I have on hitting?" Sisler asked. "Why shouldn't I help people out?"
Maxvill could think of no reason, so he found a place for Sisler in the College of Cardinals. "I started with the Cardinals," Sisler says proudly, "and I hope to finish with the Cardinals."
The kids he teaches probably don't understand the depth of Sisler's loyalty, and his lecture on the subject must sound like a management line. But most of these students have read enough to understand this: It took a pretty big man to impress Ernest Hemingway.
There is, of course, disagreement in baseball circles over the best way to teach young ballplayers. Some argue that the game has changed—new equipment, new techniques, new pitches—and that young coaches are more open to new ideas. Some say young coaches are able to communicate better with young players. And there is always technology to consider: computers, videotapes, other training devices. The old-timers, critics say, tend to distrust these worthy new tools.
For these reasons, there was cause for worry last summer at the College when the longtime director of player development, Lee Thomas, quit the Cardinals to become general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. It was Thomas, more than anyone, who saw the value of having old-timers teach the fundamentals to young prospects. It was he who gave the old men their authority. Sisler says, "Lee told me, 'You are over the manager. If you want to make changes in a hitter, you do it.' "
Without Thomas, would the College close its doors? Would Kittle, Kissell and Sisler be turned out like so many Mr. Chipses, to be replaced by younger men with their trendy theories and flat bellies?
Jim Riggleman, Thomas's successor, quickly cleared the air: The College of Cardinals would remain in session. "Those guys are doing a great job," Riggleman says, "and we're thrilled to have them. They haven't lost a thing in their teaching ability, and I don't know who we'd find to replace them. Nothing's going to change for those guys as far as I foresee."
And so Hub Kittle is still out there shouting profane encouragement to his pitchers, forcing mothers in the stands to cover their children's ears. George Kissell continues to slip unannounced into small-town ballparks on summer nights, checking on the progress of players and managers. And Dick Sisler still stands behind the cage in the afternoon sun, saying, "Stay back...watch his arm...stay back...."