Lane came out of the minor leagues nine years ago this month to become General Manager of the Chicago White Sox, a last-place team with the worst season's attendance in the majors that year, excepting only for the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics. Lane tore the team apart, trading players with what seemed a wild abandon (he made 242 trades in all in the seven years he spent in Chicago), but in three seasons the White Sox climbed into the first division for the first time since 1943, and their attendance went over one million for the first time in their history. Moreover, they have stayed there, in the first division and over one million, ever since. And where are the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics?
Lane left the White Sox in the autumn of 1955 to take a similar job with Gussie Busch's St. Louis Cardinals. The problem was similar. The Cardinals had fallen that season from a sad sixth to an even sadder seventh, and attendance was steadily declining. Lane took several months to get started, but once he diagnosed the team's ailments to his own satisfaction he administered strong medicine: one sensational trade after another, topped by the one that sent away Red Schoendienst, 12 years a Cardinal and everybody's favorite. Tradition-bound St. Louis was furious at Lane and refused to take kindly to him. Even now, diehard critics deny him credit for helping the Cardinals. But the team rose from seventh to fourth to second in Lane's two years. And attendance rose, too, to over a million both seasons.
But fetters hamper Frank Lane. He left Chicago because young Chuck Comiskey tried to control him. In St. Louis, Gussie Busch is said to have told Lane after the Schoendienst trade: make any deal you want, but get my O.K. first. Frank Lane insists on a free hand. Frank Lane left.
Now, in Cleveland, he comes to a team that stumbled down to sixth' place last season and whose attendance (which in 1948, under the colorful Bill Veeck, was 2,620,627, still the major league record despite five years of Milwaukee enthusiasm) had dropped precipitously: to 722,256 in 1957, worst in the majors except for the New York Giants (who later died) and the Washington Senators.
Lane has to get the Indians back into pennant contention and the fans back into the ball park. No one doubts that Old Doc Lane will call for strong medicine again. "We'll trade anybody," he said on taking the job, "except Herb Score." He talked to New York, Baltimore, Detroit and Kansas City, then flew down to Havana to talk things over with his new manager, Bobby Bragan. He was off and running. Maybe this time his medicine won't work and he'll be, at long last, dubbed a failure. But don't, as they say, bet on it. And relish the thought that the Cleveland Indians, in recent years as dull as ashes, have automatically turned into one of the most interesting clubs in baseball. All because of Frank Lane.
TAXI ON A STRING
An elegant Mercedes-Benz sedan, its seats upholstered in good leather, its chromium and window-glass quietly shining, is serving the public of New York City these days as a taxicab. It lacks the carnival paint job of the ordinary taxi, being a sedate and seemly gray. It is owned and driven by Louis Schweitzer, but the Louis Schweitzer who owns it and the Louis Schweitzer who drives it are two different men. It is soon to be equipped with a radio which will receive only one station, and a mobile telephone with an unlisted number.
Of the two Louis Schweitzers, one is a chemical engineer. His wife is Lucille Lortel, who owns the Theatre de Lys and produces off-Broadway shows. Like any New Yorker, Miss Lortel often has trouble finding a cab when she wants one, and she complained of this difficulty one day to her husband. His solution was to have her Mercedes-Benz converted into a taxicab, complete with meter, medallion and a lighted sign on the roof. (A medallion is a metal plate which is affixed to the body of a vehicle and authorizes its use as a cab. Originally medallions cost just a few dollars. The traffic problem being what it is now, they are not being issued any more, and the holders of the old medallions can sell them for fancy prices to people who want to operate taxis. Mr. Schweitzer paid $17,000 for his.)
The next step was to find a driver. Schweitzer, recalling that an acquaintance had once taken a cab whose driver was named Louis Schweitzer, asked the Hack Bureau to help him find this man. On their first meeting, the two Mr. Schweitzers came to an agreement: one would supply and maintain the Mercedes, the other would operate it as a taxi, and they would split the take 50-50. And whenever Miss Lortel needed a cab, she could let Driver Schweitzer know and he would come running, passing up all other opportunities for business.
The arrangement is working very well. Right now, of course, Miss Lortel has to tell Mr. Schweitzer at the end of one day when she will want him the next; but as soon as the telephone is installed in the Mercedes she will be able to summon him on short notice.