Now coming in to pitch for the Dodgers: No. 6, Ron Fairly."
Big John Ramsey, the boon fellow who moonlights as public-address announcer in Dodger Stadium, has a voice that is mellifluous and a catness that is cool. You could tell him you had a dead horse in the bathtub and it's 7 to 5 he would smile and say, "All right. What color is it?" It is, however, 9 to 5 that Big John is going to blow that announcement about Fairly—if Catcher John Roseboro of the Dodgers can sell Manager Walter Alston his Idea, an idea audacious enough to win a World Series.
And much too audacious for Alston, who, if he ever sat in the flaky poker game that goes on in the pressroom at Vero Beach, Fla. each spring, might check a full house. Unless, of course, the Baltimore Orioles place him in that inevitable, if infrequent, situation in which he has learned (as he has patiently learned and painfully learned about baseball and about Walter Alston) that "the unorthodox is the percentage play."
Bringing left-handed Right Fielder Fairly in to pitch to one batter and making Pitcher Don Drysdale a right fielder for that one play occurred to Roseboro in an idle moment. He was idle because a pitch from Drysdale did not get past Willie McCovey—again. It got past Fairly on a screaming line, and Roseboro, who thinks about things, thought about how bad McCovey can look against a left-hander with a breaking pitch. Any left-hander. And he thought about how McCovey makes a large share of his bread off Drysdale.
It is a base canard to say that Don Drysdale cannot get Willie McCovey out. The most consecutive hits McCovey ever had off him is five. True, McCovey has hit Drysdale for .533 (8 for 15) this year, but Don can say, with the overmatched mouse who explained he had been sick, that he hasn't had a real good year. McCovey is actually only .360 (35 for 97) off Drysdale lifetime.
"But let's face it," says Roseboro. "He does hit him. Perranoski is the best left-handed reliever there is, but if you bring him in you have to take Drysdale out of the game. I've caught Fairly on the sidelines, and he has good stuff. I think he has a big-league curve."
"But," Alston points out, with that don't-you-see smile that has infuriated almost three generations (a baseball generation being approximately five years) of artless Dodgers, "Fairly is not a pitcher. I know he has a breaking pitch, but he is less likely to get a pitch where he wants it than Drysdale is. Throwing on the sidelines and pitching on the mound are not the same."
" Alston do a thing like that?" one can almost hear Johnny Podres saying. "You got to be out of your mind. He don't think that fast."
"I can't tell you I'd never do it," Alston says. "I wouldn't say that about anything. But you can say it's highly improbable." But let's suppose it's the seventh game. Let's suppose the hitter is Boog Powell, a big window-breaking left-hander. Let's suppose Drysdale is the pitcher, because Alston has decided that asking Sandy Koufax to pitch a "must" game with two days' rest for the second time in 15 days is neither fair, which Alston always is, nor percentage, which he must always play. And let's suppose Drysdale is pitching well, and Alston doesn't want to take him out of the game. Out comes No. 24 to the mound, and a buzz of curiosity rises from the multitude of 54,000 (27,000 of whom wouldn't even understand an orthodox move because they haven't been to a game all year). In comes No. 6 from right field, passing No. 53 on the way and making a remark that will be precious, because Fairly rises to occasions. Ramsey, the announcer, fighting to keep his cool, knowing in his heart that he must be wrong, takes a grip on himself and his muffled mike and prepares to tell Jerry Lewis and his friends just what the hell is going on.
Yet such a wild move would not be unprecedented. In the early 1950s, when he was managing the White Sox, Paul Richards made a momentary third baseman of Pitcher Harry Dorish while left-hander Billy Pierce pitched to Ted Williams. And one of the things about Alston is that he will listen to your idea. If you're just the barber, he will listen, and he will try your idea if it fits the pattern of percentage which is his way of life—in pool, bridge, baseball and even in his monastic dedication to his family. Because he consults his coaches, his players (too often a majority of them) snicker after curfew about the fact that he cannot make a decision, which of course is not a fact. Alston realizes now that he consulted his coaches too much in his first frightening days in Brooklyn. He knows that a third generation of spoiled kids who are paid to play a game are perpetuating the myth of his indecisiveness. He knows it, he thinks it's too bad, and he lives with it.