has been blown out of all proportion," said Jim Fregosi, shortstop, team
leader and nonbeliever. "I've never seen a gun or anything you would
consider a weapon in the clubhouse."
But there had been
guns, as well there might be on a team owned by Gene Autry. The old movie
cowboy himself had been known to tote a six-shooter or two into the locker
room. Only last year he gave one of his pistols to Pitcher Eddie Fisher.
"It's one of
my prized possessions," said Fisher, a gun collector. "He used it in
one of his movies. I own about 65 guns and I've kept them in my lockers for the
past five or six years. Most of them are antiques. I've even had Tony
Conigliaro's shotgun in my locker. But all of this has nothing to do with
violence. And I'll tell you one thing, I don't have any guns there now. Not
after all this."
The gun stories
have made the Angels the butt of some predictably bad jokes. A bellman carrying
a player's suitcase felt obliged to quip, "I better not drop this, it might
go off." A sign above a hotel cigar stand read, "Please check your guns
here." Opposing ballplayers, enjoying a bench jockey's field day with the
hapless team, inquire whether the Angels would prefer to take batting or target
themselves have converted this potential serious situation into a running gag.
They will stalk each other in the clubhouse in mock shootouts or leap upon
unwary newsmen in make-believe death struggles. A full-blown pregame riot
seemed well under way in the outfield among various Angels in Milwaukee last
week. It was strictly for big laughs.
however, nothing remotely funny about Johnson's curious rebellion. His mockery
of the game cut his fellow players doubly deep. In a world of performance, to
refuse to perform seemed to make fools of those who did, seemed to make
nonsense out of the pure patterns of the game they played. The most strenuous
exercise Johnson permitted himself at the ball park was putting on his uniform.
He did not take outfield practice before games, and his actions in games
approached parody. Occasionally, as in last week's doubleheader at Milwaukee,
he would give tantalizing flashes of his old brilliance, running at full speed
or leaping against a fence for a fly ball. But these brief episodes were
followed by long stretches of inertia.
At best, Johnson
was barely adequate as an outfielder, and his defenders used this deficiency to
excuse his shoddy showing in the field. But he was making plays that would
shame a Little Leaguer.
Two days before
his suspension, in a game against the Brewers, Johnson broke late on a line
drive to left field that bounced by him for a double, igniting a five-run
Milwaukee fourth inning. In the seventh, with Harper on first, Gus Gil hit a
ground single to left which Johnson failed to charge. Harper raced all the way
to third base, from where he eventually scored on an infield hit. Not even base
runners of Harper's acknowledged speed can expect to advance routinely from
first to third on balls hit to left field.
Johnson also did
himself no favors at bat. Leading off the ninth, he slapped a hard ground ball
up the center of the diamond that Milwaukee Shortstop Ted Kubiak fielded off
balance. Normally, an excellent throw would have been required to catch a
runner as swift as Johnson moving at full speed. But excellence was hardly
necessary since Johnson never reached the vicinity of first base, jogging
barely two-thirds of the distance down the line before sauntering off into the
dugout. Phillips benched him the next night in Chicago, and Walsh flew in from
acquired Johnson in a trade with Cincinnati, admitted he had tried
unsuccessfully to persuade him to perform up to his capabilities. The
suspension is testimony to the failure of those powers of persuasion.