It was just one ball game, played on an ordinary sunny September afternoon before a crowd of 28,635 in San Francisco last Saturday. But when it was over it may have cost the Los Angeles Dodgers a pennant and rendered useless an entire season of the most complete statistical study, strategy and platooning that baseball has ever known.
The Dodgers had arrived in San Francisco virtually tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the league lead. Actually they were in a better position than the Reds, for they had lost two less games. Besides they were hot, having won four straight from the Giants in Los Angeles. So when they lost Friday night in San Francisco while the Reds were beating the Cardinals, the Dodgers casually felt they had been due for a defeat. Now they were two games behind the Reds, but they had still lost one less game.
On the bus trip to Candlestick Park next day, the Dodgers were cheerful. Sitting in the front seat, Manager Alston discussed his team. This has not been an easy season for the Dodger manager. He has been under pressure to win the pennant with what most people consider the best team in the league. And he has been constantly criticized for his method of managing that team; his involved platooning system and his constant reference to the statistical findings of Allan Roth, the Dodger number man who keeps the most detailed performance records in the game.
The Alston method has led, for example, to this year's Dodgers having two players ( Tom Davis and Ron Fairly) who have played four positions, four outfielders who have each played left, center and right, and four men who have played first base.
"But it's the kind of team it is, not Alston, that has forced the platooning," says Roth. "People forget that when Walter managed Reese, Robinson, Campanela, Snider and Hodges, he didn't platoon."
Alston himself was well aware of the danger of platooning: that constant substitution and shifting of position erodes the confidence of players. With a team of much talent and no stars, he felt he had to take the risk—and Saturday showed how serious these risks can be.
"The Giants are throwing Marichal, a right-hander, so I'm going with my left-handed hitters," said Alston as the bus ride began. "That's Roseboro catching, Ron Fairly at first and Snider in center.
"There's only one real decision I had to make in picking today's lineup," he went on, "and that was third base. I could play Tommy Davis, but that hurts us on defense and Davis hasn't been hitting. I could play Charlie Neal at second and move Junior Gilliam to third, or I could play Daryl Spencer, though he has a bad leg. I've decided on Spencer because he's been hitting pretty good."
A half hour later the Dodgers were in the locker room dressing. Alston read the starting lineup aloud.
Afterward, young Tommy Davis, who had been out of the room when the lineup was read, approached Alston. "May I see the lineup card?" he asked softly.