When Manager Johnny Keane of the St. Louis Cardinals benches a player, he does it with a touch so gentle as to leave the poor fellow with a feeling that he is being rewarded for industrious effort. Contrast this with the manager in Ring Lardner's short story, "Hurry Kane," who says to a pitcher: "You so-and-so so-and-so! You're going to stay right in there and pitch till this game is over! And if you don't pitch like you can pitch, I'll shoot you dead tonight just as sure as you're a yellow, quitting——!"
The difference between the two approaches is as much a commentary on baseball as it is on Johnny Keane. It was the fashion until not so long ago for managers to call ballplayers so-and-so's and——s and even harsher epithets lifted out of context from the Holy Bible and the Paradise Pool Parlor. Such expressions are not unknown to Johnny Keane, but they do not come naturally to him. He has been an approving observer of the grand metamorphosis, still in process, which has seen the major league ballplayer rise out of the muck. Once the typical pro was a social slob, unaccepted by polite society, oriented to the barnyard, devoted to cheap whisky and given to such scintillating bon mots as "We'reagonna make 'em shell the corn!"
The new ballplayer, epitomized by such gentlemen as Sandy Koufax and Bobby Richardson and Dick Groat and dozens of others, has been to college, or acts as though he has. He dresses in quiet good taste, he drinks in moderation, if at all, and he has a profound sense of his own human dignity. As Keane says, "You used to be able to treat a player like dirt, and I guess it worked because that's the way we expected to be handled, but that's not the way they expect to be handled now. These fellows are well paid. They live on a high level, and they try to meet their responsibilities in the public eye. They're not going to be treated like animals."
This new kind of ballplayer calls for a new kind of manager. Johnny Keane is the new kind of manager.
It would be pleasant to report that the St. Louis ownership carefully groomed Keane for his job and moved him into the breach at precisely the right moment of history in a master stroke of administrative judgment. It would also be untrue. Since S. M. Graffen became the first manager in 1876, the front office has made 53 changes, a league record. For the better part of two decades Johnny Keane toiled away unsung on the Cardinals" farms while the panjandrums in St. Louis tried on this manager and that manager for size. None of them fit, and Keane finally got the job almost by default in the middle of the 1961 season. During his three-month tenure that year, the Cardinals racked up the best record (47-33) of any National League team. In 1962, a rebuilding year, the team slipped, but last year the Cards finished second after throwing a genuine Bela Lugosi scare into the Los Angeles Dodgers in the closing weeks of the season. The attack on the Dodgers included a 19-out-of-20-game winning streak and moved San Francisco Giant Manager Alvin Dark to wire Keane at the end of the season: IN MY OPINION YOU DID A MASTERFUL JOB. THANKS FOR KEEPING THE NATIONAL LEAGUE PENNANT RACE ON A HIGH LEVEL.
While Keane was carefully explaining to all who would listen that he himself did not get a base hit or even a fielding chance during the streak, that the games were won by the likes of Curt Flood and Ernie Broglio and Bill White and Stan Musial, others were more inclined to accept Dark's diagnosis and credit Keane with the onslaught. These others included the baseball writers who voted him National League Manager of the Year by an embarrassingly wide margin over another typical representative of the new breed of manager, Walter Alston of the Dodgers.
Keane came out of south St. Louis, which means that he says "fark" for fork, "shart" for short and occasionally indulges himself in a patented Missouri regionalism that might be described as a double indicative parallelism. It is exemplified by Keane's statement: "That Curt Flood is a terrific center fielder is what he is." Johnny Keane himself is a little guy is what he is: he stands five feet eight and weighs 160 pounds, or 10 pounds over his playing weight; he speaks in a low, resonant voice that sound like Everett Dirksen's without the sugar content; he has clear blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair which he wears in a crew cut to obscure the fact that it is no longer luxuriant; his face is seamy and lined and leathery from the accumulated traumas of 25 years in the bushes. He doesn't drink ("unless I can't get out of it, and then I just sip a little to be polite") but, as though to balance the scales for his lack of visible sins, he smokes with wild abandon, disposing of 15 small cigars a day, and inhaling them at that.
For six years Keane studied for the priesthood, and the story has been circulated that the big, bad, secular Cardinals lured him away from this noble calling with the promise of a professional baseball contract. "That's not really true," says the candid Keane. "What happened is that I just discovered that I didn't have a true vocation for the priesthood." The fact is that he was a hotshot athlete, pursued by packs of sporting entrepreneurs who wanted him on their side. On Saturday afternoons, when fellow seminarians studied until 3, Keane cut classes to play first-string quarterback for a big high school under an assumed name. He sneaked off to play baseball in the fast St. Louis semipro leagues, mostly with former professionals. And during his years at Kenrick Seminary he was often forced to vanish from the classroom to play inside right for a semipro soccer team.
When the Cardinal organization discovered him Keane was on the verge of signing a professional soccer contract. Instead, he went out to Sportsmen's Park for a tryout, and there one of those events occurred that shape the future. As Keane puts it: "I went into the clubhouse scared and confused. The players hadn't come in yet, and the equipment man, Butch Yatkeman, gave me an old dirty uniform and a cap that didn't fit. I dressed and sat down to wait. The players started to come in and I got more nervous, and then Andy High—he was the regular third baseman then—Andy came up and said, 'Son, what are you doing here?' and I said, 'I'm gonna work out with the Cardinals.' He said, 'Come here a minute,' and he took a spotless uniform out of his locker and handed it to me and said. 'Take that thing off and put this on.' I'll never forget his kindness. Andy's a scout for the Dodgers now. but he's had an effect on the Cardinals. Whenever any boy comes out for a trial, he gets a clean uniform and a new cap." (And he gets it from an older, and presumably wiser, Butch Yatkeman.)
The Cards signed the half-pint shortstop off his workout that day and sent him to Waynesboro, Pa. in the old Blue Ridge League. Soon Keane had worked himself up to the Springfield, Mo. team, then managed by Eddie Dyer. One day a sportswriter said to Dyer. "Eddie, why do you keep that little shrimp? You know he's too small to make it in the majors." Said Dyer: "That little shrimp is a student of baseball. He'll be with the Cardinal organization a long time."