It was 30 minutes to game time and the tension was mounting. The San Francisco Giants hadn't lost a game in 12 days and their manager hadn't snapped at anyone in almost three hours.
Some men are irascible out of sheer talent, but Herman Franks is a sell-made grouch, almost never angry at anybody but almost always pretending, with Actors Studio credibility, that he is. Yet he is human, and what mortal could put out 100% orneriness with a 10-game winning streak and Juan Marichal ready to go? Franks munched his cud and gave Willie Mays some Keynesian insights on capital gains. The smell of success was almost too sweet until Herman saw his lineup card, taped to the back wall of the dugout, over the water cooler.
"Hey, get that thing offa there," Franks barked at an attendant. "It's been over the bat rack the last two nights." The attendant attended to it, quickly—baseball superstition, of course, like Birdie Tebbetts' not getting a haircut until his Indians had lost a game.
Whether or not the maneuver placated the gods, it called attention to the lineup. For his next trick, Franks had devised a team of nine right-handed hitters to minimize the menace of the Pittsburgh Pirates' fearsome southpaw, Bob Veale. In eight positions that had been easy, but who's on first? DAVFNPORT, 1B, Franks had block-lettered, then settled back to rehearse answers like, "What makes you think he can't?"
Nobody asked the question, because the Giants were Going Good. It is a conviction among baseball men that a team going good can get away with anything. Going good does not necessarily mean a team is hitting well or otherwise covering itself with glory. All last week the Giants had to scratch and claw to score runs, and they needed help from the Pirates and the Mets both to keep the winning streak alive. Going good is getting the help you need. It is a Met rookie hitting his first big-league home run to "win" the game in the fourth inning, then pulling his first big-league rock on the base paths to give it back in the 14th. It is the Pirates' management looking out the window at a steady rain all day, then deciding it's a bright idea to play that night—even against Juan Marichal. It is getting only three hits off Bob Gibson twice in a row and yet beating him twice in a row. Going good is winning.
So Third Baseman Jim Davenport, half an inch shorter than the 5 feet 11 they give him in the book, put all but his index finger into one of Willie Mays's gloves ("I wouldn't use a first baseman's mitt if I had one") and went to work, troubled only by the recollection that in a burst of esprit he once told Franks he could catch, too. "Bring all your gloves, boys," Franks told his troops. "We may have invented a new system."
Davenport can handle any baseball batted or thrown in his vicinity, but if somebody made a normal high throw at a normal first baseman's altitude, it could go in the box seats and splatter egg on Herman's face. Shortstop Hal Lanier did just that in the seventh inning, but Franks was still going good. At the beginning of the inning, with Marichal holding a 2-0 lead, he had replaced Davenport with Len Gabrielson. Gabe is 6 feet 4 and he caught Lanier's throw. Davenport would have been a spectator.
Davenport would have been a basket case if the Pirates' pitching rotation had been reversed and he had been playing first a night earlier. In that game Gabrielson, in rapid succession, caught the ball with his glove and Willie Stargell with his chest, and Gabe doesn't know what hit him yet. Had Davenport been in Stargell's path, Franks could have sold Jim for $136.50, assuming that diced infielders sell at the same price per pound as chopped chuck.
Davenport didn't know if he could play first or not but, making his first put-out, lifetime, as a first baseman, he pulled his foot off the bag an instant before he caught the ball. The play wasn't that close, but the importance is in the sheer artistry of a caper that some first basemen take years to learn. Davenport executed it as neatly as ever Whitey Lockman did.
The majority maintains Gil Hodges was the master cheat ( Hodges now modestly admits he got "about 15" outs a year that way) but Lockman was underrated. Davenport said he was just trying to get his foot out of the way, and Franks says he doesn't remember this fact, but when Herman was making bed check as a Giant coach in 1958 Lockman was rooming with a rookie named Davenport. Some of the larceny must have rubbed off.