Mr. James Joseph Dykes, age 64, has not won a pennant in his 20 years as a major league manager, but the Cleveland Indians intend to do something about it this season. The Indians, with Jimmie Dykes in charge, have been playing at a furious pace during the last month—24 victories in 30 games—and they have risen from fifth place into a three-way battle with the Tigers and the Yankees for the American League lead.
Dykes, however, has been around baseball too long to get excited just yet. "Winning makes me irritable," he says in his gravel voice; and then, "Yes, they have been playing well," carefully avoiding the use of the first person. Dykes refuses to take any credit for the team's fine performance, but others are prepared to give it. Jimmy Piersall, the volatile center fielder, sings love songs about him, and it is significant that he refers to him as Mr. Dykes. Dykes's paternal influence has done much to keep the temperamental Piersall under control. In a recent game against Detroit, Piersall came charging in from center field to rage at the second-base umpire. But even as he reached him, Dykes's stumpy little figure appeared at the top steps of the Cleveland dugout. He waved to attract Piersall's attention, then pointed to center field. Piersall, like a well-trained spaniel, heeled and returned to his position.
Sometimes Dykes is gentle with Piersall, sometimes gruff. When Piersall complained too loudly recently about the poor seats some of his friends had received, he drew a low "easy now" from Dykes. But when Piersall blew up at Detroit sportswriters because a Detroit fan in center field had thrown a hammer at him, Dykes roared, "Shut up and drink your ginger ale." Then he told the writers, "Don't mind him. He'll probably drive me crazy before the season is over, but he sure is playing ball."
Piersall is having a marvelous season, hitting over .350 and leading the league in hits. He had a good season last year, but his frequent antics—the bug bombs, hiding behind flagpoles and throwing water buckets on the field—wore at the heart of the team. This year, with Dykes around to maintain at least fair control of him, Piersall has been a strong asset to the Indians.
The most valuable player on the team, however, has been John Romano, the catcher. Romano has also been hitting well above .300 and his defensive play has improved since last season. "Jimmie told me this spring that I was in charge of the game," says Romano. "It gave me a lot of confidence." Romano has a tendency to gain weight. "He was a lard last year," says Dykes. "He wouldn't back up first base. I told him in spring training that I was going to make him the best catcher in the league or kill him." Dykes made Romano run until it almost did kill him, but Romano got into splendid shape. Now no one on the team hustles more than he does.
In the Detroit series last week Romano made a fine defensive play to end a game (left). Cleveland led by a run, but Detroit had a man on first with one out. Steve Boros lifted a high foul near the box seats behind the plate. As Romano leaned into the stands the runner on first tagged up. Romano caught the ball and balanced himself on the railing for a second. Then Bubba Phillips, the third baseman, pulled him upright and Romano threw to second just in time for the final out. "He wouldn't even have caught that ball last year," said a Cleveland man.
Much more than Romano is different from last year. In 1960 nothing went right for the Indians. Johnny Temple, who joined Cleveland after eight good seasons at Cincinnati, had a poor year. It was obvious that he had slowed down around second base and there were rumors that he was through. But Temple is a proud man, and only after the season did many people learn that he had a fractured bone in his ankle. "No one will ever know what I went through last year," he now says.
Bubba Phillips joined the team from the White Sox and hit a dreary .207. Late in the season a group of visiting sportswriters asked Frank Lane, then Cleveland's general manager, what had gone wrong with Phillips. "I don't know," said Lane. "He's just in a slump and when you have a .260 hitter in a slump, you've really got something." Gary Bell had won 16 games for Cleveland in 1959, but last year he developed an inflamed tendon in his pitching shoulder. By August it was so painful that he was sent home for the remainder of the season.
But even with these misfortunes, the Indians were just two and a half games out of first place on July 14. That day Woodie Held, the home-run-hitting shortstop, broke his wrist. He was out of the lineup for six weeks, and after his injury the Indians lost and lost, finally finishing a very poor fourth.
Pitching now strong