Devine had traded so well through the years that Busch entered the 1964 season convinced that he had an excellent chance to finally win his first pennant. Instead, the Cardinals spent much of the first half of the season in the second division—in part, my experience tells me, because the ball club had to adjust to a lineup that did not have Stan Musial as the wheelhorse around whom the rest of the hitters could rally. Never underestimate the psychological importance of the one big hitter in the lineup.
As the Cardinals sputtered, Rickey did not hesitate to hide his dissatisfaction with Johnny Keane. Why should he? He was getting paid to advise Busch, wasn't he? If his criticisms of Keane also happened to rub off on Devine, the man who had hired him and still defended him, that was scarcely Papa Branch's fault.
Keane was too mild, Rickey insisted, too soft. His players had little respect for him, they talked behind his back, they second-guessed his strategy. Well, of course they did. If U.S. Grant had been leading an army of baseball players, they'd have second-guessed him all the way to the doorknob of Appomattox Court House.
Still, in fairness to Branch, the anti-Keane sentiment went considerably beyond the usual griping. There were eight or nine players who were not particularly reluctant to let it be known that the only thing wrong with the Cardinals was their manager. The most openly critical of the players was Dick Groat, a team leader.
In early August, with the Cardinals going badly and the situation deteriorating, Bing Devine decided to do what he could to save Keane's job. He called in Dick Groat and told him as forcefully as possible that he should apologize to Keane before the whole club.
"That sounds pretty silly to me," Groat told him. "If I'm going to apologize there ought to be eight or nine other guys lined up right behind me. But if you really think it will help the club, O.K. Call your meeting and, for whatever good it will do, I'll apologize."
Well, this may have been an effective way of shutting the players up, but it obviously wasn't going to change anybody's opinion. What Devine was really doing was showing the players that he was standing solidly behind his manager. And whatever they thought of Keane, all the players did like Bing Devine.
And now we come to one of those accidents of timing that are so frustrating to all of us who like to believe that there is an order to life. Earlier in the week a friend of Gussie's, while on a business trip, had bumped into Eddie Mathews, the Braves' third baseman, and began to kid him about the "dissension" that was supposed to exist on the Milwaukee ball club.
"What are you laughing about?" Eddie said. "We may have some problems on our club, but we don't have any more than you people have on yours."
When he got back to St. Louis, Gussie's friend asked him, casually, whether there was anything to what Mathews had said. "Oh, he had to be kidding," Gussie said. "If there's any dissension on the club I'd know about it."