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An Old Hand with a Prospect
Pat Jordan
June 14, 1971
Men play out their time—those who are too young and those who have become too old—in the minor leagues. And there, in failure, a man sometimes finds success
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June 14, 1971

An Old Hand With A Prospect

Men play out their time—those who are too young and those who have become too old—in the minor leagues. And there, in failure, a man sometimes finds success

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Many inexperienced pitchers have speedy deliveries such as Kison's. Usually such deliveries mask their fear and ignorance of their craft, as if just by moving quickly through all the motions they define themselves as pitchers without having to impose their will on such motions. Kison's movements, however, are quick and consistent, not because he is defined by them but vice versa. He has neither to slow nor vary them, just as a finely tuned watch has neither to slow nor vary its workings.

The second batter goes to a full count before he lines out to center field. Kison is no longer throwing as hard and recklessly as he was in the bullpen. When Huyke calls for a curveball, Kison shakes him off.

"I've never had a sore arm in my life," Kison had said earlier. "When I hurt it, I was more confused than worried. I did not tell anyone and took my next turn. I walked eight guys in three innings, and when the manager, Red Davis, found out the reason, he was frantic. He yanked me right out. He was afraid if anything happened to me it would affect his career. If I were an older pitcher, like Quezada or Cordiero, say, the manager could take chances and no one would care. If my arm doesn't come around soon, I will quit."

Kison retires his third batter on another well-hit ball and walks off the mound. Red Davis, who was smoking a cigarette on the top step of the dugout, goes quickly over to Huyke, who is waiting for him near home plate. Woody can be heard saying, "I think it's sore." Red Davis' head bobs up and down nervously and then he trots out to his third-base coach's box.

John Humphrey (Red) Davis has the sharp features and slack skin of a man who has lost too much weight too quickly. His fingers are permanently stained with the nicotine of a thousand doubleheaders. After 35 years in minor league baseball (he is 55) Davis has acquired an assortment of twitches and abortive gestures that give him the appearance not of a former athlete but of some aged drummer who has stopped too often at Greenville and Mayfield and Corpus Christi.

He has managed 23 consecutive years in the minor leagues, as low as Class D and as high as AAA. And yet in none of those leagues has his front office ever given him complete authority over certain of his players. For instance, Davis had decided to pitch Kison in Waterbury's last home game, to try his arm then, but after conferring with Harding Peterson, Davis postponed Bruce's start until the Elmira trip.

"Bruce is a fragile piece of property," says Davis. "If he gets hurt it will be my fault. If he were an organization man I could take a chance. Often that is the only reason they have a job in the first place, because we can do things with them that we would never do with a prospect. This makes it easier on them, too, because they know they are not getting paid for batting averages or ERAs. If Huyke is hitting .230 it does not bother him. He knows he helps the team in other ways. If an organization man has any personal success it is reflected in the team's success. That is why I would rather have eight organization men on the field any day. They take the pressure off a manager while prospects definitely put it on. And the older men are usually better all-around ballplayers, which makes you wonder why they never made it. Maybe they never got the breaks. Who is to say."

Davis became a minor league manager in 1949. The year before, he had married Estelle Nicholas of Dallas, a girl he met along the way. Since her marriage, Estelle Nicholas Davis has lived in more than 15 cities from Oregon to Connecticut while waiting for her husband to be offered the major league job that has never come. Like so many baseball wives, Mrs. Davis finds it impossible after so many seasons to let her conversation stray far from talk of her husband's profession. One night after a home game, she stood in the darkened runway underneath the Waterbury stands, waiting for her husband to emerge from the locker room. At close to midnight, only a few scouts and three players' wives remained. Mrs. Davis smiled at the three wives and continued her conversation with a friend who was keeping her company, a tall, tweedy man, ex-major-leaguer Buddy Kerr.

"Oh, yes," she was saying in a Blanche DuBois voice, "I root for all of Red's old boys. I've rooted for McCovey and little Marichal ever since Red had them." After a while Mrs. Davis asked, "Did you notice the crowd tonight? Do you think they'll draw here? I do hope they draw, or else they'll have to pack up and move elsewhere." When her husband emerged from the locker room Estelle Davis took his arm, said good night to Buddy Kerr and the three wives and left the ball park.

Of the players' wives, one was a heavily-made-up blonde clutching a gray toy poodle, another was a well-built brunette in a lavender pants suit and the third was a slender, athletic-looking girl in a plain green dress. The blonde and the brunette were in their early 20s and the athletic-looking girl close to 30, although she actually appeared younger than the others because of her short, boyish haircut and because she wore no cosmetics to mar her fine straight features. The blonde and the brunette were talking animatedly to each other about the poodle, whom they referred to as "Baby" and who seemed quite used to being the topic of conversation. The girl in the green dress said little. She stood slightly apart from the others and only smiled faintly now and then, as if she were used to her role—the third person in a two-party conversation. Not only did it appear not to cause her any discomfort, it seemed actually much to her preference. Three years ago the girl in green had become Mrs. El wood Bernard Huyke, and in that short span she had adjusted nicely to being the wife of a perennial minor league player.

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