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They had even hit somewhat. By May 1 they had six home runs, one more than Eddie Mathews. Everything was on the upbeat except attendance, which is a public issue in Los Angeles; for the first 11 games it had averaged a mere 27,743. ("Where," inquired a large headline in the Herald-Examiner after last Thursday's game had attracted an embarrassing 30,219, "was the crowd?")
Such ingratitude bugged the Dodger management, which clearly had succeeded in supplying the horse for the course. If the team was assembled 50 years too late, it was gathered in the right ball park. Curving symmetrically away from the foul poles 330 feet distant, the high fences had bound the presumably promethean Frank Howard, so last winter they sent him away to Washington. He was their last vestige of the big home run power that scares people, but the move had been calculated.
"Power," said General Manager E.J. (Buzzie) Bavasi, "is no good in this park." Pitching is. Fair pitching looks good in Dodger Stadium and good pitching looks great. Osteen, who came in the trade for Howard, looked great in his first five starts. But he won only two of them, and in the other three his team produced an aggregate of four runs.
"I really don't think the absence of Howard makes that much difference in our offense," said Manager Walter Alston. "Hell, we've been this kind of club for five years. It's an interesting team to manage. You have to do the unexpected. You have to hit-and-run, and bunt, and steal a base. You have to do every damned little thing you can think of to keep the other club off balance, so maybe somebody will throw a ball away and you'll get a run or two that you wouldn't figure to get."
The trouble is, a team with as many young players as the Dodgers have will give you more of the unexpected than you expected. Sometimes because they can't do all of those little things, occasionally because they won't and most often because they just don't. Drysdale's 2-1 victory over the Giants last week might not have been so close if they could have, would have and did. Juan Marichal, who carried an ERA of 0.86 into May and usually gives the Dodgers fits, had a 1-0 lead when Wes Parker (the first baseman and possibly the next bright Dodger star) led off the fourth inning with a single. Willie Davis, who beats out bunts, was the next batter.
"I didn't have him bunt," Alston said, "because I know he's too fast for them to double him. And he hits the ball through the right side pretty well." The right side went unpenetrated and the runner unmoved. Willie swung with malice but not forethought and flied deep to the other Willie. Tommy Davis sliced a triple to tie the score and now, with one out, there was a chance to go ahead of Marichal early in the game. Ron Fairly, a good left-handed hitter, was up. A ground ball to the right side would get the job done. Or, being dedicated to run-sheep-run baseball, one might even squeeze.
"Everybody thinks it's so easy to squeeze," Alston said. "But it's never better than a 50-50 chance. They could pitch out on you. You could miss the pitch completely, or pop it up. So many things can go wrong." Bunting is not as easy as it looks. It is also not as hard as Ron Fairly makes it look. "Well," Alston said, "he's a better hitter than he is a bunter. The last two times I tried it with him he missed the ball." Fairly swung mightily at the first pitch, then struck out and the run never got home.
A run did get home and the game was won in the sixth, but not before both Davises, with Maury Wills on third, had swung at first pitches as if the fence were in Pasadena. If a team is going to play 1915 baseball it ought at least to understand it. It is an unselfish game. A man must figuratively give up his life for his friend if the team is to win, and not many players have that much love in this era of ultimate weapon. Guys who hit singles don't ride in Cadillacs, and all that. Alston himself has said that Gilliam would have finished 15 points higher in his lifetime batting average had he not used so many at bats moving runners from second to third with ground outs.
Alston recently requested permission of the umpires to keep his on-deck hitter in the dugout on some occasions. "So I can talk to him," he said. "The book says you have to have a man in the on-deck circle but it doesn't say which one. You can't go up there and hit for them, but you can at least give them a suggestion of what not to do."