The problem, so everyone says, is that Frank Lane is the only scout in history who cannot see. "Frank often was called a great judge of talent," says Nate Dolin, a former vice-president of the Indians, "but I don't see how he could see well enough to judge it. His eyesight was bad, but he didn't want to wear glasses. A drive with Lane as the chauffeur became quite a thrill." His ears, for years an unused part of his anatomy, are not his eyes, Lane insists. "Hell, I can see," he says, explaining:
"That's a bum rap, but I know how it began. It began when one day I called this club owner up who had owed me a large sum of money for a long time. I knew I would get it eventually, but I needed it then. So I told him I needed it because I was going to have an eye operation. The money came. Sometime later I show up in the press box in Chicago. So in comes this pitcher, who is one of them no-windup pitchers. I never did like the idea of no windup. So here is this pitcher warming up, and Lee MacPhail is sitting next to me, and I mumble, 'no windup Larsen, eh?' Lee sort of looks at me. And then I mumble again, 'no windup Larsen, ha!' Lee now has a worried look on his face, and then I say the same thing again. Lee finally says, 'Frank, that's not Larsen.' I knew that. I was just cursing Larsen for starting that stuff. Ever since, they think I'm blind. Hell, I can see."
O.K., but Frank Lane never relied on his eyes anyway, and more than a few thought his performance as a general manager over 12� seasons with Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland and Kansas City indicated as much. The trade was his device, and they ought to put him in Cooperstown for the way he used it. He went to sleep with his own convoluted reasoning and the waiver list underneath his pillow, and all he ever needed when in action was an ample supply of throat spray, a telephone, a pad and a book full of numbers. During his career he executed over 500 deals, some with craft, all with desperation. The frequency of his trades, whether the result of some psychological compulsion or just an extension of his personality, was his strength and, at times, his weakness.
"I've never known anyone else," says a Lane watcher in St. Louis, "who simply had to trade. And the bigger the player, the longer the player had been with the club, the more excited Frank got about making a deal for him. In the middle of a deal, Frank actually quivered. His lips trembled. His body shook. I've just never known anyone like him."
The exchange of players is not a simple exercise. It requires cunning, patience, occasional manufactured naivet� and a determination not to be lured away from your original objective. In other words, if you need a shortstop do not settle for an outfielder, even though he is more attractive than the shortstop. Lane seemed to possess all these qualities, and he never panicked when required to handle the hairpin curves on those circuitous routes that many trades follow, where discussion might travel over five clubs and 15 different names. On one occasion Lane spent 36 hours over a weekend angling for one player.
"It was Saturday," he says, "and I was in my pajamas talking to Hank Greenberg, and this waiter brings in my breakfast. Then, in the afternoon, the same waiter brings up lunch, and I'm still on the phone. And still in my pajamas. Later, here comes the same guy up with dinner, and I'm still looking the same and doing the same thing. Well on Sunday morning this waiter comes up with breakfast and there I am in the same position, wearing pajamas and shouting into the phone. ' Mr. Lane,' the waiter yells, stepping inside. ' Mr. Lane, is something wrong? Are you sick?' So I says, 'No, just a bit punch-drunk, son.' "
The player, Minnie Minoso, was finally landed, but such success is, if not rare, certainly scarce. The people who trade players are not ignorant of their merchandise, and all of them are aware of the elementary moves and precepts, foremost of which is not to "come out looking bad." Only the gambler, they know, can get busted real good, and he has rapidly become extinct in The Game. Lane was a gambler, but he knew and respected his opposition: Gabe Paul—he wanted $1.05 for every dollar, which made him less difficult than John Quinn, who always demanded $1.10. George Weiss—he was just interested in insulting your intelligence. Bill DeWitt—well, he did not sell the Reds for $7 million, a $2.5 million profit, and still retain rights to 15% of the stock for his son, because he was stupid. Bill Veeck—liberal, imaginative and a bulldog.
Of course, Branch Rickey was the consummate artist. All others, including Lane, learned from Rickey. "He was more like the old frontier salesman," remembers Bill Veeck. "He would load his wagon down with goodies and go from town to town, selling this shortstop as an all-purpose defensive nostrum and that pitcher as a specific for doubleheader blues. The artist in him demanded that he hypnotize the customer with his sales pitch and that when the time finally came to close the deal he could pull the right card out of his sleeve—to undoubted internal applause. The greatest proof of Rickey's genius was that you always knew what he was doing—except when he was doing it to you."
At least in one case, Rickey was probably too effective as a teacher, or perhaps the student Lane had been unusually attentive. Rickey, with his usual bag of good, young shortstops, stopped in Chicago to see Lane. The two were watching the day's game when Luke Appling, long a star but now aging rapidly, waved at a ground ball. Lane went into his usual Donald Duck rage, whereupon Rickey offered his condolences.
"Too bad, Frank, your infield is in sad shape," said Rickey, pulling a list of names out of his pocket. Next to each name a price was marked: Bobby Morgan—$250,000; Rocky Bridges—a meager $150,000 and three players. The list was long, but down near the end was the name of Chico Carrasquel. The price was $50,000 and 3 players. Lane expressed restrained interest.