SI Vault
Jack Mann
May 03, 1965
The once austere Yankees are now dedicated to fun. They got off to a bad start, but who's worrying?
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May 03, 1965

A New Comic Act In New York

The once austere Yankees are now dedicated to fun. They got off to a bad start, but who's worrying?

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Bouton concentrates on many things, including Linz. Ball clubs don't pair on roommates by drawing numbers out of a hat. The old Brooklyn Dodgers figured that the placid Carl Erskine was a modulating influence on the then moody, volatile Duke Snider, and Gil Hodges had more than a little to do with the maturation of the red-necked Don Drysdale. Sandy Koufax' father is glad the tough, uncomplicated Carl Furillo was his son's shepherd in his tender years, and so on. But ball clubs never couple two "flakes." That can be like mixing nitric and hydrochloric acids.

All rules, however, are made to be broken. A less imaginative man than Yankee Traveling Secretary Bruce Henry might have hesitated to make an entry of Bouton and Linz because both are qualified flakes. But keeping them apart would have been as insensitive as splitting Laurel and Hardy. Besides, it makes sense. Bouton is married and works at it; Linz is a bachelor and works—nay, labors—at it. Bouton has a place for everything and everything in its place; Linz is lucky his head is firmly attached. Bouton wakes up smiling; Linz is a monster of frightful mien in the morning.

Spud Murray, the Yankees' venerable batting practice pitcher, didn't seem the type, somehow, to be carrying an Ayn Rand book aboard an airplane, and he wasn't. It belonged to Linz, who needs help with things like carrying books aboard planes. Bouton helps him all the time. The phone rang in their room one day, and Bouton answered. The alarum was the voice of Linz. "Something different every day," Bouton said to a visitor as his roomie's voice crackled from the phone. Bouton put it down and went through the room like a house detective. "He thinks he lost his Little Black Book," Bouton explained. "I packed it in his suitcase, but he won't be satisfied unless I tell him I looked for it." The day before Linz, an otherwise amiable sort, had vowed to reduce the city of Houston to oneness with Nineveh and Tyre. He had sent one of his custom-made shirts to the laundry with one cuff link attached and those stupid bush people had lost it. "He'll be all right after a cup of coffee," Bouton had said reassuringly, and Linz was.

The Boutons and Linzes are the people who were being seen but not heard around the Yankees a couple of years ago. There are others who weren't even being seen. The fact that Cotton Deal, with only a little help, can knock off The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle doesn't make him a superior pitching coach, but his staff is appreciably happier than it was under some of Deal's predecessors, like the humorless Jim Turner or even the cool Johnny Sain. Jim Hegan, the bullpen coach, never could hit much as a big-leaguer, and Vern Benson, Keane's right-hand man, was only a transient in the majors, but they lend any team class just by being around. That's part of what has happened to the Yankees. The players don't know much about Keane yet, but they're mildly amazed at his baseball acumen, and that makes them respect him. Gaining respect is only one part of being a manager, but it's the sine qua non.

There still will be grunts and snarls and silences in the Yankee clubhouse at times this year, because there will be troubles. The worst trouble, of course, would be a disabling injury to Mantle, who is as expendable to the Yankees as Roland was to Charlemagne at Roncesvalles. "I'll be able to run good after a couple of weeks." Mantle said just before the season began, and then ran good after two innings, pulled hamstring and all, to steal a hit from the Twins' Tony Oliva deep in left field. "I'll settle for the same number of games [143] I played last year," he said. So would everyone, including the man who knows him best, Whitey Ford.

"I guess you could call him inspirational," said Ford, a pragmatist. "First of all, we know he scares the other pitcher. And when he's in there the guys play harder. Yeah, a kind of gratitude, I guess, but mostly they're ashamed not to, if he can play the way he's hurting."

If he can't, there's trouble. But they have Hector Lopez in reserve, and Hector is the best part-time hitter in baseball. Or they might platoon Hector with Arturo Lopez (no relation), who bats left, throws left and thinks right. If Arturo Lopez can play major league ball, and it seems he can, he could turn out to be the folk hero the Yankees haven't had since they captured the Italians of New York in the '30s and '40s with Lazzeri, Crosetti, DiMaggio and Rizzuto. Arturo is a Puerto Rican from The Bronx, and not the high-class kind of Bronx. He can tell you about the currents in the Harlem River around 138th Street because he swam there or nowhere, and about the stigma he felt about going to Morris High School, where you were presumed guilty and there was almost no way to establish the innocence that might possibly get you transferred to a school like Stuyvesant.

Arturo is no kid. He tried for a time to get away with a faked "baseball age," but it didn't work. The Yankees already know that he never played professional ball until he was 24. He will be 28 years old this week, and he has served a four-year hitch of sea duty in the Navy and gotten married and sired four children and sold insurance and been a teller in a bank and begun studying law by mail and dropped a fly ball and blown his first big-league game and passed up the built-in alibis about sun and wind and spongy field and said he blew the play.

You begin to understand Arturo when he tells you about his parents. His father repaired sewing machines and his mother sewed. "It was tough," he says, "but they didn't quit trying. They didn't go on welfare like the slobs. Now my father is a foreman, and now I have a shot and that's all I want. That's all I need, because I'm physically and mentally prepared to play this game."

Lopez is an American who describes himself as Spanish, as another would call himself Irish, refusing to deny his heritage or to consider it a disadvantage, and when he tells you something important his handsome face lights up. The eyes narrow and the straight white teeth set and the lips curl a little; he looks hard, a little cruel, the way Jean Laffite or El Cid might have looked when something was very important. The physical you know about, because he is built like a lifeguard, or like the middle-sized boxer he was, or like the guy who came up with a sore arm because he punched somebody in the mouth for a very good reason and dislocated his thumb a few days before he reported to his first professional baseball camp. When did he know he was mentally ready for big-league baseball? The black eyes glistened, sparkled.

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