Sensing, perhaps, that he would never play his way out of his famous father's shadow, Dick became more the organization man—modest, dependable and loyal. "My first love was always the Cardinals," he says. " Branch Rickey signed me, and when I was traded away from the Cardinals. I was a sorry so-and-so. I had my greatest success with the Phillies, but my heart was always with the Cardinals."
Sisler hit .276 over eight major league seasons, and he managed Frank Robinson and the Cincinnati Reds in '64 and '65. But when he refers to his "greatest success," he means the 1950 pennant race, when he delivered key hit after key hit for the Philadelphia Whiz Kids. On the last day of the season, Sisler jolted Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe with a 10th-inning, three-run homer at Ebbets Field, giving the Phillies the pennant. (Sisler was so excited by his historic clout that manager Eddie Sawyer yanked him for the last half-inning in favor of a calmer outfielder.) For years afterward fans would mention that home run whenever Sisler signed autographs or made personal appearances. "It's a good thing I hit that one," he says with a chuckle, "or maybe I wouldn't be remembered at all."
There he is wrong; for Sisler, in a small way, is a literary immortal. If this article were a movie, the camera would now follow the twists of smoke rising from his cigarette...the frame would brighten into a searing tropical sun: HAVANA, CUBA. DECEMBER 1945.
As Sisler tells the story, he was 25 years old and just out of the Navy when he reported to play winter ball for the Havana Reds of the Cuban league. This was the Cuba of resort hotels and glittering gambling casinos. In his first game, Sisler hit two home runs, and the Havana fans roared. In another game he blasted three homers off New York Giants pitcher Sal Maglie, to become an instant national hero. Gifts poured in. When one of Sisler's shots cleared the Tropical Stadium walls and landed on the grounds of a brewery, the brewery owner rewarded him with a gold watch. Sisler says, "I became sort of an idol down there."
Idols get special invitations, and one night Sisler was guest of honor at a party on the outskirts of Havana. The host? Ernest Hemingway.
"He was a rough and tough guy," Sisler says, smiling at the memory. "He stopped whatever he was doing and came over to talk to me. He was half loaded, and he said. 'You're a big ballplayer, how about trading punches with me? You hit me first, and then I hit you.'
"I said, ' Mr. Hemingway. I can't take a chance that I would hurt my hand and not be able to play baseball.' He said he understood."
Sisler left Cuba that spring and never returned. But in 1952 Scribners published a new Hemingway novel called The Old Man and the Sea. The book contained this passage:
"Tell me about the baseball," the boy asked him.
"In the American League it is the Yankees as I said," the old man said happily.