If the San
Francisco Giants manage to win the National League pennant this year (not a
remote possibility), it will be due for the most part to the presence of a
teetotaling, nonsmoking, non-cursing, tithe-paying churchgoer. It will be due
to a lesser degree to a tobacco-chewing gentleman with a penchant for
four-letter words, earthy humor and locker-room high jinks.
The teetotaler is
Alvin Ralph Dark, the Giants rookie manager; the other man is Harvey Kuenn, a
spray-hitting third-baseman-outfielder who usually hits over .300. So far this
season he has not done so, but he has helped the Giants in other, perhaps more
To wit: the other
day in the Giant dressing room at Candlestick Park Kuenn sat hunched peacefully
on a stool in his dressing stall, his cheek, with its customary load of chewing
tobacco, plumped out like a chipmunk's. He was carrying on a desultory
conversation with a sportswriter, but his attention was on Willie Mays's
dressing stall next to his. When Mays finally came in, Kuenn watched him
closely out of the corner of his eye. Willie looked in surprise at an
elaborately wrapped candy box on his stool. A note on the top read "From an
admirer." Willie unwrapped the box, unfolded the paper covering the
contents and suddenly broke up in happy, boisterous laughter.
'at?" he hollered. "Looky here! Who done 'at?"
He held out the
box as most of the Giant players gathered (except for Kuenn, who was laughing
helplessly around the chew of tobacco). The box contained neatly wrapped
spheres of horse manure, and the Giant players whooped with glee. "You done
it," Willie said to Kuenn. "Ah know you done it." Then he chuckled
and began dressing. Most ballplayers find this kind of humor irresistible, and
Harvey Kuenn is a tireless purveyor of it. His great contribution to the Giants
has been to entertain them, and thus relax them, and thus, finally, to help
reasons Kuenn's efficacious treatment could not have been applied last year,
when the Giants were a disgruntled, unhappy baseball team. First, Kuenn was not
with the club, and if he had been his locker would not have been next to
Willie's. The first thing Dark, a southerner from Louisiana, did when he took
over as manager was to rearrange the dressing cubicles. All of the Negroes on
the team had dressed in one row of cubicles; Dark split them up so that now
Mays is next to Kuenn, Willie McCovey's neighbor is Tom Haller, Sam Jones is
sandwiched between Charlie Hiller and Jim Duffalo. "We'll all get to know
each other better this way," Dark said.
This ploy seems
to have worked; the Giants are no longer a conglomerate of stars, divided
roughly along color lines, with no sense of being a team. Mays, who went his
own way last year, disliking Bill Rigney until Rigney was fired and disliking
Tom Sheehan even more, has a warm regard for Dark, carried over from Willie's
rookie year when Dark was the Giant team captain. Dark and Eddie Stanky kidded
Willie, kept him happy; years later Willie still mourned their loss.
Dark has handled
Mays much as Leo Durocher did—with unstinting, continuous praise. When he took
over the Giants he said, " Mays's job is the only one that is certain."
Mays, who blossoms under praise and is apt to sulk under criticism, is
hustling, and his example has inspired some of the other Giants.
One criticism of
the team last year was that it lacked a leader on the field. It still does.
Mays has never assumed that role; Kuenn may eventually, but he hasn't yet.
"A field leader in baseball is not important," says Dark, who was
Durocher's team captain and one of the best field leaders in baseball.
"It's not like football, where the quarterback has to be the inspiration of
the team, too. Here everything is a matter of individual effort, and if you can
get leadership from the dugout, it's just as effective."
this leadership in good measure. He is a quiet-spoken man, with mild brown eyes
and a deep southern accent. He was an All-America halfback at LSU, good enough
to move Steve Van Buren to blocking back. He is probably the best golfer in
baseball circles, with the possible exception of another manager, Baltimore's
Paul Richards. (Asked if he ever regretted passing up pro football for
baseball, he said, "No, but if I had it to do over, I might have taken up