Alone in the cafeteria in that jazzless time, the two sit, watching all the strays and hookers march by the window, watching streets of pink and orange and champagne-glass neon darken slowly.
"Frank...tell me," says Birdie Tebbetts. "You been at this job awhile now. What do you do? The days are so empty."
"For you," answers Frank, "not for me. Never for me."
Another day, Houston on a July afternoon. It seems a perfect place for baseball's annual testimonial to itself, the All-Star Game, that time for reflection and planning when everyone studiously avoids doing either and ultimately proclaims: "Why, it's a Grand Old Game." The Game is alive, too, there in a hotel lobby, alive with bald heads nodding earnestly behind potted palms. Well, yes! What is happening to the empire, The Game? There, look: two All-Stars like that parading through the lobby wearing Nehru jackets and beads.
If that's not insurrection, what is? Whatever happened to the nice, comfortable rebels? Like, say, the guy walking into the lobby right now. Yeah, the one over there, with his hair flecked with gray, his face deeply tanned and seamed, the one with that exploding smile. The old rebel gains a prominent position in the lobby and is quickly circled by old friends and enemies, some of whom are looking for a laugh or information, many of whom are just looking. The one thing all of them are doing is listening, because no one in all of civilization has ever talked more than Frank Lane.
Lane, the former great general manager and champion trader, it was plainly audible, was alive and well in Houston. He has also been reported in a similar condition in Tacoma, Elmira, Guadalajara, any place to which a plane will carry him. Alive and well for Lane means being in baseball, being a part of the culture and continuity of The Game. Walter O'Malley could hunt lions and buffalo in Africa and Branch Rickey could retreat to his Scriptures, but Lane never needed anything but baseball. He was, true, once quite scholarly on the dark interior of burlesque from Ju�rez to Short Vincent Street in Cleveland, but age has now impeded that research.
"I was also once mildly interested in golf," says Lane, "but that didn't last long. I used to get so mad playing that finally my wife said, 'Frank, if I didn't have any more fun than you, I'd quit.' The next shot I took sliced and hit a tree 60 feet away. I didn't say a word. I just took every club and broke them in half. I haven't picked up a club since."
His imperfection may have angered him, but one guesses that he felt guilty about diverting any portion of his concentration from baseball. Every part of The Game, the irrevocable tale of the line scores, the stretching of shadows across the outfield, the mundane information of the guides and other catalogues of data now so neatly piled on his hotel dresser, consumes him. "I can spend all day looking through these books," he says. "There's something romantic in the history of all the players." Like? "I don't know, there's just a feeling."
Lane is perfect for his current job. He is a superscout for the Baltimore Orioles, which means he flies 100,000 miles each year, spends his days in hotel rooms or cafeterias and his nights in ball parks; he sits in the press box or some other area (preferably where fans are sufficiently deaf or callous to his profane raging), his sharply pointed pencils and scoring book in front of him, his eyes flickering, his mouth flapping. Officially, Lane provides the Orioles with critiques of other clubs and scouts minor league talent. Unofficially, he is sort of an ambassador, an antenna for trade talk and devoted collector of information, much of which is valuable and ranges from the foibles of players (on and off the field) to the latest bungling or power play in baseball's high chambers.
"A guy once asked me," says a baseball reporter, "why I spent so much time with Lane. I told him I can learn more from Lane in two minutes than I can in two days from any other baseball man."