"But I am not paid," Tebbetts says, "to point out other teams' weaknesses. I 'm waiting to see how smart these American League writers are. For the first time in years they have to pick a pennant race instead of just putting the Yankees on top and writing something funny about Lopez finishing second. Nobody picked us, so I assume we have no chance. But I notice they're coming around asking questions now instead of telling people what's going to happen. That's good, but I just worry about my own team."
Tebbetts didn't seem worried as the Indians streaked (23 for 30) through June, then stretched 11 runs in four games into a 2-2 split with the White Sox. They were doing almost everything right, and so, it seemed, was Tebbetts.
They were scoring runs—not a ton, but enough. Max Alvis, in a hospital with meningitis a year ago, was making the middle of the Cleveland batting order as menacing as Minnesota's or anybody's. Ahead of him, peppering the ball to all fields, was little Vic Davalillo. Behind him, home again in Cleveland after exile to Detroit and Kansas City and happier than he has been in six years, was Rocky Colavito, pulling enough home runs to lead the league but punching the ball to right field enough to make Mele, at least, stop shifting his infield to the left side. "He's their silent leader," says Mele. "He concedes his power to help the team. That's the right attitude." Colavito was asked whether he had adjusted to Tebbetts' style of play. "I just go with the pitch," said Rocky, who never went with the pitch before. "Your style of play," says Tebbetts, "is determined by your talent. 'My kind of ball club' only means a ball club with versatility."
The Indians have perhaps the finest array of young pitchers ever assembled. "Overpowering young pitching," Tebbetts says, "with Ralph Terry as the stabilizer." Terry, cast off by the Yankees, is Chairman of the Board at 29, the interlocutor between the manager and callow youth, like sideburned Sam McDowell. "Terry shows them the difference between pitching and throwing," Tebbetts says. "Watching him pitch has speeded their development."
When the kids' underdevelopment begins to show during a game, Tebbetts will step into the hot sun and signal to Pitching Coach Early Wynn. Grumbling salty phrases over the white towel Tebbetts insists he wear around his neck ("so I can see him"), Wynn and his bullpen take over. " Gary Bell and Don McMahon are professional relief pitchers," Tebbetts said last week. "Bell certainly should make the All-Star team." Bell didn't, and Lopez may hear the piping voice of his good friend Birdie some balmy evening when Bell is driving the final nails into the White Sox coffin.
The Indians also have speed, previously a Chicago exclusive in the American League. "If I play Chuck Hinton at first," Tebbetts says, "there's not a faster club in the country."
So what do you give the man who has everything? "We have a weakness, too" Tebbetts admits. "There is no one weak defensive position, but overall this is not an outstanding defensive club, like the Yankees—who are outstanding in the field in every position. I like to play Larry Brown at shortstop because there's not a better infielder in the league. But Dick Howser is a good offensive player. He gets on base and he runs, and we have to run.
"What we need most," Tebbetts says, "is to get accustomed to winning. It's an attitude. Did you read what Elston Howard said the other day? That if the Yankees don't win it they'll have a lot to say about who does? You know what that means? That means the best player on the Yankees now has a losing attitude. That's significant."
Tebbetts deprecates the role of manager by saying things like "luck" to summarize a double defeat of the White Sox, but he manages. In Boston he gave Davalillo a sign to sacrifice. Leading the league at the time, Davalillo bunted—but for a base hit. Tebbetts yanked him, and there was a little review of policy at a closed meeting after the game. "That No. 1," Davalillo says, "keeps me in my place."
No. 1 manages by omission, too. Against Chicago, he developed another starting pitcher with an act of faith that was awe-inspiring to the White Sox pitchers, who labor under the shadow of Lopez' quick hook. Lee Stange is one of those pitchers who can't do anything, except get batters out. "You like to hit against him," says the Orioles' Boog Powell. "His fast ball is straight, and his breaking pitch isn't much." The night before, Stange had shut out the Orioles on four hits, none of them by Powell.