Lane says now: "I always did what I had to do. That's why I like Ulysses Grant. He did what he had to do. He was human. He had courage. All those jealous Union generals tried to block his moves, but he had his say. To Lincoln or anybody." Such boldness and individualism, particularly in baseball, is often alienating. His colleagues soon concluded that Lane was, as someone once said of Disraeli, "a self-made man who worships his creator." He was also viewed as a destructive vagabond, a mountebank and, finally, a failure, because he never won a pennant. Yet Lane, despite his volatility and undisciplined emotions, was one of baseball's finest general managers. Busted or lifeless franchises were Lane's specialty, and resuscitation was always quick and profitable.
Lane was president of the American Association when Chuck Comiskey asked him to take command of the White Sox. It was the one job in baseball nobody wanted, and Frank was warned of the problems: Chicago, then in eighth place, had never drawn a million people in its history; the White Sox were financially impoverished. In his first year Lane traded or waived 38 of the 40 players on his roster, and during his seven years with Chicago he made 241 deals involving 353 players; he acquired Minnie Minoso, gave up Catcher Aaron Robinson for Billy Pierce and Catcher Joe Tipton for Nellie Fox.
These three players, plus the hiring of Manager Paul Richards, made the Sox a contender. Lane broke with Chicago when Chuck Comiskey, listening to people who thought Lane was receiving too much credit, failed to back him up in a violent dispute with Commissioner Frick. When he left, Chicago was healthy, the franchise value (worth $6 million) had been doubled.
St. Louis, which was losing money, was the next stop for Lane. Gussie Busch, disappointed with the ineffectiveness of his farm system, told Lane he had no restrictions. Only one player was not to be touched: Stan Musial. "I never tried to trade Musial," Lane declares now, "no matter what anybody says. That is one of the great myths in baseball." He did trade the revered Red Schoendienst (among a few dozen others). "Hell, the way they carried on there, you'd a thought I killed Schoendienst," he says.
Lane moved the Cardinals up in the standings and brought the people through the gate; the Cards climbed from seventh to fourth in 1956, and the next year lost the pennant in the last two weeks of the season. He left St. Louis in 1958, tired of the brewery intrigue and politics, grown irritated at the intrusion of brewery officials and a corresponding loss of his own power. " Gussie Busch," he says, "is one of the grandest guys anyone would want for a boss—but I couldn't convince him a ball club can't be run like a brewery business."
Goodby St. Louis, hello Cleveland. Horse racing and an uninspiring ball club had been taking large chunks out of the Indian attendance. Lane's contract stipulated that he would receive 5� for every fan over 800,000. Also a new Cadillac. Lane prospered and so did the Indians, but it was a tempestuous relationship. Under Lane, the Indians moved from sixth place to fourth in 1958 and then finished five games out of first place in 1959—and Lane managed to jolt the sensibilities of everyone. He committed the unspeakable act of trading Rocky Colavito—a local patron saint who induced substantial ardor—he fired and rehired Joe Gordon, his manager, during a pennant race; and then in 1960 he swapped managers with Detroit, Gordon for Jimmy Dykes. "Even though both of them desired the trade," says Lane, in a blush of remorse, "I was never proud of that one." He left Cleveland after the 1960 season, lured away by a cigar-smoking, frenetic insurance man.
The alliance between Charlie Finley of the A's and Lane was comedic, but it was also the sudden denouement of Frank Lane. The negotiations between Finley and Lane were beautiful. Lane, hitting point by point, began by requesting a four-year contract with an option at half pay as a consultant. Next, he demanded a fantastic salary and an elaborate capital-gains arrangement. And by the way, Charlie, "How about a new Eldorado Cadillac every second year?"
"You got it all," said Charlie. "One thing, though. How about settling for a 300SL Mercedes-Benz convertible? That's first class. It goes faster than you can talk. I also want you to drive around wearing a $100 10-gallon hat. So everybody sees you."
Fine, Charlie. "We're in business," said Frank.
The top executive in baseball, as Finley proclaimed at the time, was fired eight months, 22 days, three hours, 18 minutes and six seconds later. Finley was suspicious and untrusting, said Lane, and he demanded subservience—something Lane could never give. "I think," said Finley, "it's most appropriate for a mule to answer someone like Lane." Lane was out of baseball now, and brooded in Acapulco at the expense of Finley. Finally, Finley made an effort to stop paying him, and Lane sued. Finley claimed Lane was not actively seeking employment.