"I gave 'em the treatment when I thought I had to," Williams said. "You know, kidding them but digging them, too. 'Dammit, Joe, Babe Ruth couldn't have hit that pitch. C'mon, swing at strikes.' "
"Did you ever blow your stack? Really let go?"
"Only once. Everybody in the lineup, seemed like, was striking out on high fastballs, and one day when our pitching was bad I was up to here. Casanova or somebody struck out on a high fastball—the kind of pitch you ought to really cream—and I just saw red. I had this bat I always carry on the bench, something to hold on to, and I swung it hard and, kerpow! I hit the bat rack. Broke two bats. I'll tell you, that shook 'em up a little bit."
Whatever Williams did with his bat there was no team in the league more spirited than his, and those who predicted perfectionist Williams would come unhinged when forced to endure all that imperfection were mistaken. Williams and his Senators were the love story of the year.
"That first day at Pompano Beach," he said, "I told them, 'I know you've heard a lot about what an impatient guy I'm supposed to be, but I think you'll find I'll have patience. The only thing I will absolutely insist on is that you hustle. I played this game 25 years, and it was always fun for me, fun to practice, to take extra hitting, even after a game, and that's the way I want it to be for you. So I expect you to hustle. I'll insist on that.'
"And they did, they hustled all year. And I wish you could have had a tape recorder on that bench, all the noise, all the clanging and banging.
"The dugout in baseball has always been a place where guys went to sleep. The very fact they're not playing works against them, so you try to keep them in the game. 'What pitch was that? What's the count?' I'd see a guy check the scoreboard. 'What are you looking there for? You oughta know without looking. Get in the game. Two-zero pitch. What's he going to do.' Next time the guy'll notice."
"Is that why you did so much platooning, to keep everybody sharp?"
"Well, sure, that's part of it, but platooning is really the only way to do it anymore, unless you've got a standout player who's strong enough to play all the time. Otherwise, there are 40 different reasons to platoon any player. If you play eight guys all year and there are seven on the bench twiddling their thumbs, when you need 'em they can't do it because they haven't played.
"We had Eddie Stroud pinch-hitting, but I was always thinking of ways to get him into the game. One pinch hit every other day isn't enough to keep you sharp, 100 pinch hits a year aren't enough, but if you can play twice a week, or once a week, and pinch-hit a couple times in between, then it's not completely foreign to you when you're sent in there. You're playing, you feel good, you win a game once in a while with an important hit, gives you a little incentive, makes you want to practice more. But if you just sit a guy on the bench and leave him there, sooner or later he says, 'Well, nuts,' and you can't blame him.