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On St. Valentine's Day morning under drear Rhode Island skies, Arthur Lincoln Quirk Jr. loaded into his Buick station wagon a wife and son, a take-apart crib and a set of Melmac dishes, and turned south onto U.S. 1. He was bound for Florida and he was looking for work.
Art Quirk's line is pitching a baseball for pay, something he has done with fair success for the past 2� summers in the minor leagues. His stature is short and compact, and he is a well-spoken, good-looking, reserved young man just turned 24. For his age and occupation, his temperament is poised and serene, his language tidy and unbaseball-like, his ambition gravely earnest. Self-assurance—most of the time—is his in abundance, and although he is modest he sometimes can be encouraged into talking about the fame, the success and the money to which, he believes, he will one of these days be entitled. Because his outlook is practical, he is not overly troubled that today Art Quirk is widely unknown, can show a record that is something less than sensational and has experienced the financial inconvenience of making payments on his $13,000 home in Warwick, R.I. and otherwise supporting his family on an income of around $7,500 a year. He is, after all, only now at the threshold of what he aspires to: a career, long and prosperous, in the major leagues.
It was the beginning of that career which he sought as he and his family drove south last February. His destination was the spring training camp of the Baltimore Orioles in Miami, and his future was whatever he could make of it in the seven weeks before the baseball season opened. In baseball there is a word for Art Quirk and his kind, and the word is "rookie."
Altogether this spring some 400 boys and men reported as rookies to the 20 major league camps, either in Florida, the historical site of these institutions, or in Arizona and California, on baseball's new frontier. Every rookie, in this particular or that, was different from the others, yet all of them were more or less the same. All were bound together by their low estate, their facades of confidence and their private doubts; all shared a basic but subtle resentment toward one another. A few of the rookies, called spring phenoms, were easier in mind and spirit than most; they knew they would make the team. Others, too young or inexperienced for the majors (as even they themselves knew), were in camp to shake hands with the manager and shag flies in batting practice. Like our society, the rest and the bulk fell into a vast, relatively nameless middle class, and to predict what might happen to them was as risky as forecasting a team's end-of-the-season standing. Better than many, not as good as some, was Art Quirk.
Quirk is a left-handed pitcher with a good changeup, a medium fast ball and a sharply breaking curve. Since June of 1959 he has been a field hand in the Orioles' farm system, first playing for Amarillo and Little Rock, unglamorous double-A clubs, and last year in the triple-A International League for Rochester. Against that league's better hitters, his record was his best: he won 10 games, lost 8, pitched four shutouts and one no-hitter, and scored enough strikeouts to average better than one every inning—a rarely achieved pitcher's goal. His earned-run average, the essential measure of a pitcher, was a respectable 3.58. Taken together, his credentials were good—but not overwhelming—for this, his third spring at the Orioles' training camp.
Like a promising racehorse, Quirk seems to have been bred to pitch baseball. "My grandfather was an industrial-league pitcher in the early 1900s," he says, "and as old as he is now, one reason he hangs on from year to year, I think, is for the love of the game." Quirk's father pitched, too, at Providence College. He turned down an offer from the Boston Red Sox, before Art was born, to get a Ph.D. in physics, and later coached baseball at his college for three years. "So I am a pitcher," says Quirk, "because it must be in my bones. I have wanted to pitch in the major leagues, in fact, since I was 6 years old, which is as far back as I can remember. Who knows? Maybe I wanted to pitch when I was 4. I don't mean that one day I'd want to be a pitcher but then want to be a policeman or a fireman the next day, like some kids. I mean I've never wanted to do anything else. I guess that sounds made up, but it's so."
Reared under modest but intellectually stimulating circumstances in Narragansett (Quirk Sr., a college professor, is head of the physics department at Rhode Island University as well as chairman of something called the Rhode Island Atomic Energy Commission), Art Quirk showed an early aptness for his chosen life's work. In the fifth grade he alone, he remembers, could throw a corner-cutting strike with consistency, and in the seventh grade the Quirk curve ball "was bigger than it is today. It was a real roundhouse; I wish you could have seen it." By the time he had finished as a sophomore in high school, Quirk was named to Rhode Island's all-state team, and in his junior year in 1954 the all-state team listed only eight names: on it twice—once for his pitching and once for his batting average and center-fielding—was Art Quirk Jr.
When Quirk enrolled at Dartmouth College—where his high school grades were not the only records considered before the school gave him a $6,000 academic scholarship—he sublimated his interest in baseball enough to sustain a high B average in Far Eastern and Russian history and government. Spring afternoons he applied himself—although without much hope—to sustaining a Dartmouth baseball team whose batting average was in the neighborhood of .190. But even with a defenseless offense, Quirk looked so good that in 1958, his junior year, he got a job offer from the Chicago Cubs, whose lure was a bonus of $30,000. He turned it down to get his degree, a decision no doubt prudent but decidedly costly. By the following spring his arm was so limp from the constant pressure put on him by his hapless teammates that the Cubs had trimmed their bonus offer to $5,000. The Cub scout's explanation, says Quirk, was that since he now had finished college he could no longer be hungry enough to play good competitive baseball.
What the Cubs failed to take into account was that Art Quirk valued his education more for its own sake than as a steppingstone into a profession and that he was still as hungry as the next would-be major leaguer. He was even hungrier after he had accepted a $15,000 bonus from Baltimore and, not much later, had pitched his first game for the Amarillo Gold Sox. Counting Quirk, the Gold Sox had only seven pitchers and found themselves at midseason scheduled to play four doubleheaders in four days. Quirk was to pitch one of them, and there could be no relief from the bullpen.
"So, a month out of college, I'm a professional making my start against the Corpus Christi Giants," says Quirk. "Almost before I knew it was happening, the Giants had got 14 hits and three home runs off me. And I was throwing the best stuff I knew how. I felt like Charlie Brown in Peanuts. We lost 11-12, which wasn't so bad, I guess, considering my pitching—and theirs—but I got a good idea right then that it wasn't going to be easy for me to hop up to the majors."