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"Well, I don't know, now that you put it that way," said Ashburn.
"Oh, you're fired, Joe," Eckert said. "That's no way to line up a match." He smiled, enjoying his joke.
He smiled a lot more as he went from camp to camp and in and out of receiving lines. The Eckert smile turns up at the ends, like that of a porpoise, and it is in such contrast to the usual severity of his expression that you would think it difficult to muster. A woman associated with baseball made conversation with him at cocktail hour and found him "charming, in a very dignified way." Occasionally he would show the strain and become petulant over trifles. A bellboy at his hotel picked up a paper he thought Eckert had discarded. Eckert asked for it back. "If you want one that bad I'll buy you one," he snapped. He stewed when delays kept him from appointments. Punctual to a fault, he would arrive 30 minutes early, in the military tradition.
He said he liked people and liked talking with the press, and to prove it he endured as many as three interviews a day, some of them tape-recorded. He answered without cue cards. He never once said No Comment, Off the Record or It's a League Matter. "I believe that the press—that means all the communications media—have a priority," he said. He gave Dick Young three hours in a hotel room in St. Petersburg, and afterward Young wrote, "It could be the Lords of Baseball picked a commissioner in spite of themselves." High praise.
He almost never refuses an invitation. "He can't say no," groaned Reichler. "I tell him, 'Let me say no for you, let me be the slob,' but he keeps right on accepting." To accommodate his schedule, the new commissioner changed clothes in baseball dressing rooms. He rehearsed speeches at the wheel of his car en route to a ball park, where he more often than not delivered the speech without flair but also without flaw. Once, getting to Anna Maria Island for a memorial service for Freddy Hutchinson, the late Cincinnati manager, he asked if Reichler would mind if he speeded it up a little. "Go ahead, Commissioner," said Reichler. Eckert bore down on the accelerator. The speedometer on the rented Chrysler Imperial was soon pressing 100.
"Hey, Commish," said Reichler, becoming alarmed. "You realize how fast we're going?"
"For a man who has flown jets this is not so fast," said Eckert, unsmiling. He pulled down on the steering wheel to improve his sitting posture, already starkly erect. "But don't worry, Joe. I know something about these speedometers. The needle may show 100, but we're probably not doing more than 90."
At night he read himself to sleep with an up-to-date edition of the baseball rule book. "If I am going to judge I must know the law?," he said. But wasn't it a bore? "Well, rule books were not meant to be literature."
Almost everywhere Eckert went he had Reichler as his coach and confidant. They make an interesting pair. Eckert's reserve is monumental, his language precise, his clothes conservative. Reichler talks fast and often and waves his arms; his vocabulary is richly colored; he leans to sports clothes that Say Something. He has a roundish face and dark hair and he wears horn-rimmed glasses; when he smiles he looks a little like a jolly Charlie Chan. Reichler was an institution at the AP, an impeccably honest reporter who knew baseball and was candid with his opinions. Not every owner wanted him for the job ("I would not be much use to you, Commissioner, if they did," he told Eckert). He had always been "on the other side" but, once accepted, he gave himself to his new job completely. He does not think there should be two sides.
Eckert relies heavily on Reichler. He knows Joe is not a yes-man or an owners' man. Reichler monitors the commissioner's activities ("How's he doing, Joe?" baseball executives ask when they see Reichler) and is teaching him baseball. Eckert uses Reichler as a sounding board: "Wasn't that a key play, Joe, that double steal?" "How was my speech, Joe, too long?" Reichler calls him Mr. Commissioner, or, occasionally, when he wants to loosen him up or slow him down, "Commish." If he was dubious at first Reichler is no longer. He says Eckert grows on you. "I will be surprised if this man does not become an excellent commissioner."