- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"Well, yes," said General Manager Ralph Houk, whose utterances for the record include almost as many implicit whereases as a Mel Allen opinion. "I told them you get a little more out of the game if you enjoy yourself. Of course, that can be taken two ways."
It can be, and it was. "Yeah, we're loose, I guess," one veteran said the other day. "But I don't see how we could be any looser than we were last year." (This is as close as the more candid of the Yankees come to admitting that they betrayed—the word is chosen carefully—Yogi last year. One or two of the most candid, however, believe it was the management that made him a human sacrifice, cynically setting him up as a sort of visual aid in the cold war against that superannuated Presence who was now plying his trade—and getting what he wanted in the papers—with the Mets. "I think they were afraid," the employee said, "of what the people would say if the Yankees didn't give Yogi a chance to manage.")
"What I meant," Houk explained, "is that when you get to the clubhouse you gotta be all baseball. But if you're scared to make a boot, you're likely to boot more. A certain amount of kidding doesn't hurt if it isn't overdone—if it's done in a professional way. If you kick one and you have a few guys get on you in a joking way, you get the word pretty good. You gotta keep loose and keep battling at it, you know? I mean if a guy pulls a rockhead move on the bases, and when he gets back to the dugout some guys needle him some, it's better than if they just sit there and don't say anything. He wouldn't know what they're thinking and that would tighten him up even more."
The Yankees had gotten the point. It was morning now and the bus was rolling toward Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., and the laughter was cascading from the rear seats. This was the day the bell rang, when the spring training charades were over and the play for pay began. Ford, the elder statesman, had summed it up in Puerto Rico eight days earlier. "Up to now," he said, "spring training is baloney. Yeah, you get in shape and all that, but those last days are when it really becomes important. This is when you have to get back in the habit of winning."
Somehow the habit had been slightly more elusive than usual. The Yankees had played three successive extra-inning games in Houston's Astrodome only to lose two of the three to the wretched, wretchedly named Astros. In all, they had lost 18 of 30 spring training games, a record that was one game worse than the previous spring's, which in turn was only half a game better than that of the year before. Johnny Keane said early in training, "The reason the Yankees lose games in the spring is that they don't play their good players." Coming into Minnesota for Opening Day, he admitted that the spring campaign had been less than satisfactory. "I'd have liked to win some more games," he said.
The bus rolled between the piles of dirty snow into the stadium, and the laughter continued. The humor was obscure, but seemed to center on the jester Joe Pepitone, who specializes in Rabelaisian comedy. Well, it had been an unsatisfactory spring, but the club was still loose. Very loose.
The Yankees gave away a run in a ragged first inning, and Pepitone did another funny thing to start the second. He played Jimmy Hall's grounder off his chest and booted it halfway back to home plate. Two pitches later Hall had second stolen cleanly but the big jump he had on Jim Bouton, the pitcher, became academic when Bouton's pitch bounced wildly off the plate. Bob Allison hit a one-hopper to the left of Kubek, the shortstop. Hall, assuming Tony would make the play, prudently retreated toward second. This distracted Kubek just enough so that the ball got by him, but Hall's retreat to the base left him with no chance to score. He scored. The ball "stayed down" on the thawed tundra of the outfield and went under Tresh's glove in center.
That set the tone of the afternoon, and things went on that way. Arturo Lopez, playing left field for Mantle in the late innings, set up the winning run for the Twins by losing a fly ball as though he were still in the Astrodome, and the Yanks had dropped another one-run job, making five errors that were recorded.
The defeat hurt the Yankees' standing and the 15,388 attendance didn't do much for the exchequer, but Houk was damned if anything was going to damage the Image he has been remolding so carefully. He pronounced the atrocity "exciting." Then, in an aside to Rick Ferrell, the Detroit Tiger vice-president who had been a visiting fireman at the game, he said the worst error of the day never got in the book. " Bouton throwing that damned changeup to the pitcher," he grumbled. Bouton had indeed served a change, a veritable lollipop, to Jim Kaat, who hitched his swing and stroked a two-run single. A reporter agreed that the pitch wasn't exactly inspired and Houk reversed his field like nobody since Buddy Young was slim. "Well, Kaat's a pretty good hitter," he said. "You can't take chances with a guy like him."
Bouton is a thinker, and just about every one of those since Gaius Cassius has been suspect. One of the things he'd been thinking of all winter was that an alarming number of the alarming number of home run balls (32) he had thrown last year were hit by pitchers. " Gary Peters," he said. " Juan Pizarro," corrected his roommate, Linz. "I don't think I was doing the whole job on the pitchers," Bouton said. "I wasn't concentrating on them. This time I was trying to work on Kaat."