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Loose?" says First Baseman Bob Robertson in the Pirates' dressing room after contributing five hits to a 20-10 laugher over Atlanta on Saturday. "This is the loosest team I've ever been on."
"Unh-unh," says Pitcher Dock Ellis, who doesn't have on his sleek brown leather jacket yet but does have on his sleek brown hip-hugging leather pants. Ellis has just finished shouting, "I must be the sparkplug on this team. I stir up more stuff." Now he says, "Unh-unh. Asheville, '66."
"Naw," says Robertson.
"Asheville, '66," persists Ellis. "Nine-and-a-half-game lead and we lose by 9½. The manager's pressin' and we're bein' loose. We lose four in a row and we're still loose. Manager choked on us."
"Naw," says Robertson. "This one's looser." For one thing, Danny Murtaugh, who returned this spring as manager of the team he guided to a world championship in 1960, is not pressing. He does not give prolonged lectures on fine points of the game, as his predecessor, Larry Shepard, vexed his charges by doing. Murtaugh and his coaches mix right in with the players, who stayed in character last week by slipping loosely in and out of first place in the National League East.
"Loose club. Those are just newspaper words," says Murtaugh around a comfortable chaw of Beech-Nut. "A ball club ought to be happy. Or maybe 'happy' isn't the word. It ought not have any disgruntlements. This club doesn't have any disgruntlements."
But it has almost everything else. A gravedigging third baseman, for instance, in the person of Richie Hebner. He is not uptight about interment. "My father is supervisor of an old Jewish cemetery outside Roxbury, Mass. In a good winter I'll dig 50 graves. It's good work. I get 25 bucks a grave. If it has snowed, you just use a pick and shovel—scoop away the snow and the ground is good and soft. But if it hasn't snowed, the ground might be frozen two feet down. You have to use a pneumatic drill. One time last winter the ground was so hard and the weather was so cold I said, 'Ah, that's deep enough.' There's a law that a grave's got to be so deep, five feet or something, and the rabbi says, 'That's not deep enough.' 'Did you ever see one get out?' I asked him.
"I got lots of stories. One woman, they forgot to take off her wooden leg, and we had thrown several shovels of dirt on her already when somebody came up and said we had to get her back out so they could get her wooden leg. Another woman fell into the grave in the middle of the service. Did a header. 'Get her out, get her out,' the rabbi was yelling. I said, 'Naw, leave her in there and give her a discount.' The rabbi looked at my father and said, 'Who is this you've got digging graves?' "
The Pirates also have a Panamanian former Bible-school teacher as a catcher, although he doesn't look like either a Bible-school teacher or a catcher. Manny Sanguillen was a promising boxer before he finally took up baseball six years ago at the advanced age of 20, and now, with his shirt off, he looks a little like an expanded Emile Griffith. With his shirt on, and his catching gear, Sanguillen is all arms and legs—whereas catchers are usually mostly trunk. Sanguillen's arms are so long that it appears he could pull up his socks without bending over.
Henry Aaron says that Sanguillen has replaced Joe Torre as the talkingest catcher in baseball. Asked if he talks to the hitters to distract them, Sanguillen says, worriedly, "No. Does someone think I trying to mess them up? I wouldn't mess them up. It says in the Bible it is good to make lots of friends, and that way I may bring people into the church. Do they think I trying to mess them up?"